The Sea in the Fish…

Chronicles of God's Life in Me.

Blue Heron

I’m becoming accustomed to seeing her in the mornings when I walk, tall and steel grey out among the gentle rapids of the river which winds along my trail.

She looks half prehistoric, half over-stretched long and willowy elegant swan, only blue.  And her legs are so long that most mornings, she appears as if she’s walking on water.

One morning recently, as I rounded a bend in the trail, I took a small jut off to the left on a rabbit trail down to the edge of the rapids. A few large rocks stand not far from the shore, and when the water is down, they make fantastic sitting places. That morning, as I reached the edge of the water, I saw that she was only fifteen feet or so from me, but with her back turned. Somehow I had managed to sneak up on her without knowing I was doing so, and by the time she had turned, I was settled on one of those rocks looking for all the world like part of the natural furniture.

She came closer and I tried to be as still and silent as possible, wanting to take her in as best I could, wanting to learn her in all her glory.

I’ve come to expect her in the same place along the trail. She is like the storied aging faces of the morning walkers who I see every time I hit the trails, without fail.

There’s one man, a mechanic (he always has on his blue work shirt with his name and blue work pants) who is old enough to be my dad. He always has delightfully unusual things to say as he passes me on the trail.

There was one morning a few months ago when I hit the trails for the first time in a month after having worked hard in the summer for a friend, and that morning as he passed me speed walking, he said “hey stranger! I ain’t seen you in a long time! Miss seein’ your pretty face.” I think it was the first time I realized really that I was in a particular habit, and my habit was intersecting with others so that I became expected to be somewhere, a particular part of a particular landscape, and a particular ritual.

Now when I see him in the mornings, I study him from afar, like the heron, wanting to learn him and what is his glory.

There’s the quirky man with the too-short neon-yellow shorts, a runner with legs like a wild-game bird and an amazingly warm smile whose first lap around the trails takes place with a trash bag, not because he has to, but because he cares. He reminds me of my beloved fourth-grade teacher, another quirky warm man of the same build. Running or walking, I usually take my time, and so sometimes this man passes me six? seven? times during my half an hour or so along the river. But always he waves and smiles, every time.

There’s a middle-aged lady I see nearly every morning I’m out, with a kind and beautifully lining face. Her hair is in this beautiful stage between youth and age, naturally the color God gave her for this time of life. She has a mischievous glint in her eye and a gently smug knowing about her. She’s the kind of person one might seek out for her wisdom.

There are the doctors, a middle aged man who looks rather fit and classic, and his young apparently Indian woman friend who looks like she walked off the set of ER or some other medical drama. They talk quietly with an intimacy that tells they are friends.

There’s the other man, also middle-aged, with a great smile and this certain gait when he walks. He wears old-fashioned ear-phones (the kind with the head-band which resemble ear-muffs in the way they cover your entire ears). He sings and hums as he walks. Sometimes I can imagine what he looked like as a boy – his face still has that kind of innocence about it, but the innocence that comes from knowing, from having lived, from choosing a certain life. Or maybe innocence isn’t quite right – goodness, contentment, something…

These are blue herons to me, the spectaculars of a certain landscape of my life, unique in their humanity and yet ordinary.

This morning as I walked, I decided how I’m on the look out for more blue herons, the marvels of particular times and places, the way ordinary ritual and ordinary being lends itself to revealing glory if only we stop to study and learn, to really see.

Saturday afternoon joy…

A generational thing

Yesterday at lunch, I sat across from a friend who told me he worked the merchandise table at the Michael Card concert that was on campus Tuesday night.

We’re only about ten years apart, this friend and I. Not a shocking stretch of time.

But he didn’t know who Michael Card was!

Actually, no one working the merchandise table did. None of them had ever heard his music.

Another friend was walking down the sidewalk before Tuesday morning chapel when Michael Card was supposed to speak. This friend is an 80’s child like me, he’s not a student here, and he’s in a long-haired full-bearded hippie stage. Walking along, he asked a few random students if they knew who Michael Card was, just out of curiosity and potential amusement. One student said “Not really… wait! Are you him?!” Oh my… Apparently said student might have seen an advertising poster once, enough to know that Michael Card isn’t exactly clean cut.

My friend at lunch yesterday kept saying “I think it’s a generational thing!” I didn’t let on that I actually did know who Michael Card was, that I grew up with him on my car radio, that he was revered as possibly a church father (since my childhood church tradition didn’t exactly know/say much about the other church fathers or care to), right up there with Rich Mullins. I feel old most of the time compared to all these here youngsters, so I declined to discuss age and generations and the like. Feigning ignorance let me off the hook a little.

What a difference ten years can make!

Last night, I gathered with a small group to practice for an acapella chapel service this morning. We were using hymnbooks – in itself semi-shocking.

One of our songs was “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” The other woman in the group is ten years my junior and came up in a contemporary church. She’d never heard this song! I’m not judging, nor hating. I think I’m just saying!

And then there was a telling moment when one of the men, a man old enough to be my dad and possibly a few years older than my dad, began to lament that with the new seats in our chapel auditorium (beautiful red velvet theater-style seats), there were no places to put hymnals, and this was a conspiracy! He was good-natured and knew he was semi-ranting, but he was also serious, that maybe it’s a shame there are no places for hymnals in our seats. And suddenly *I* felt like just a youngster.

Four-ish weeks ago, I helped lead worship in chapel, and oh the odd conversations that sometimes ensue when we’re waiting for the service to start.

We were musing about the baptistery. Our chapel here is a huge Gothic-style building, and at the back of the wooden stage is a marble baptistery. Who knows really when it was used last for baptism (it was used a year ago as a staging place for a ninja who crept out to the edge spiderman style, and then launched himself the 10 foot drop to the stage during a senior sermon). One of the guys, a guitar player round about the age of 19, said something like “hey, it would be totally awesome if we actually had a baptism in chapel!” Indeed, it would be, if only to see the miracle of someone moved to Jesus instead of moved to play on Facebook during our morning gatherings.

Maybe that’s too cynical of me.

But I think it *is* true that what moves people is different based upon age. Or rather, sometimes based upon formation.

It’s another reason I love my Eucharist people. We have a couple who are in their seventies who attend, occasionally another woman in her seventies, a few guys in their early fifties, a guy in his forties, I’m in my early thirties and there’s another couple in their thirties that comes often, and then seminary students in their mid-to-late-twenties, and the guy who yesterday sat across from me at lunch and didn’t know who Michael Card was.

We’re an odd group in so many ways, somehow by a miracle of God defying all those “generational things” that can get in the way. We eat together regularly, and I suspect this is part of it.

I think too that what we think we’re doing has a lot to do with how we manage well. We engage in liturgy, itself historical and dated, and yet timeless in some ways. Our only music is a piano and voices, and we do use a hymnal though most of the songs I’ve not heard before (they’re not the traditional hymns one usually finds). The liturgy itself is sung, we’re centered around lectionary texts, and nobody is really “in charge,” but instead we share responsibilities to speak, to preside at the table, to read. That’s not to say it isn’t messy – it can be. But on the whole, we make it just fine. It’s beautiful and kind of miraculous. Of course, we light candles too, and it’s hard to argue when candles are lit. (joking)

Last night, the chapel-seat-lamenting man called his wife to let her know he’d be home a little bit late. But instead of saying hello, he held out his phone and we sang “Glooooooooooooria, in excelsis deo” from that wonderful old carol for her in four-part acapella harmony. She told him she was crying when he finally talked to her for a moment. A sweet and beautiful moment that he would think of her. Sweet and beautiful that it moved her. And I, nearly forty years their junior, was moved as well as our voices rang out.

One thing I hope is that as the generations roll on, the things like goodness, beauty, and truth would still speak to every generation, and that somehow we would find a way to invite those behind us into what we perceive as glorious, and find the humility to be invited in so that we might see the light in others’ eyes as they encounter the holy in our midst.

This faith has somehow made it through… how many generations? Many, many. In the midst of so many differences, the common thread running through our shared story is the gospel of Jesus. And that is enough. Enough to stake our lives on and be our common ground.

Self-rejection

It’s been difficult for some time now for me to just open up and write, put my thoughts anywhere in a place seen by others.

I don’t know what I’m afraid of. Maybe asserting the wrong thing, standing in convictions that are offensive somehow to someone, or fearing being perceived a certain way. It’s been this way for awhile, the fear, and I haven’t really known what it was about. I’ve just known that saying anything has been hard. And that’s not really normal for me.

A week or two ago, I was reading very randomly a book I found in stack of stuff upstairs on my little hallway cupboard. Henri Nouwen. I ought to know better than to read him unless I’m ready for my world to be rocked. He gave me the words for what ails me:

Self-rejection.

I guess I’ve known that, somewhere deep. Maybe I just hoped it wasn’t true.

It was more than an inability to write. It was kind of an inability to live really. This small epiphany came on the tail end of three weeks of inner hell when I realized I would graduate in May, and began to scramble to make a decision about what was to come next.  I was frantically making decisions, just deciding on something, anything that seemed right. And then two breaths later, I would renig and go an entirely different direction.

I felt crazy. I think I was driving my beloved profs and friends crazy who were trying to walk the insanity with me well. Finally, one of them in his frank and honest way told me that he couldn’t figure out what was taking place, but it seemed like I was at a war within myself, not over what to do, but over who I am, and maybe I ought to slow down, take time.

It was hard to hear. I was filled with shame at being this very person I despise being, the person who can’t make a decision, who doesn’t know where they’re going. I never wanted to be that one who said when asked what was after college “I don’t know. Think I’ll just wait and see.” But that’s kind of where I am. I don’t really know where I’m going, and I do think it’s a wait and see kind of thing.

Self-rejection is a horribly crippling thing. It’s madness, really. There’s the frantic powerhouse voice in my head (yes, I’m admitting to voices in my head) just kind of yelling orders and shoving my soul this way and that. But under it is this quiet, timid voice barely speaking, maybe because I’ve so gagged and bound what my true desires are. And then there are the mid-range voices – the voices of reason, the voices of those who love me, maybe even the voice of God. The dictator voice resists them, and the tiny voice barely dares to echo them.

I did say it was madness.

What I’m finding is that self-rejection is utterly disorienting. It cuts at the fiber of my being. It denies all of my true and right desires. It disregards my health, my shalom, my sense of belonging in the world.

A fine example: There was a seven year stretch in which I moved seven times, not out of any fault of my own, but because I was following a man in ministry. So the fact that I’ve stayed here in this place for almost four years feels remarkable to me on some level. I’m in the midst of life-giving relationships which are so beautiful for really the first time in my adult life. I’ve come to know the roads, the seasons, a church body. I feel like parts of me have begun to root.

But staying here has been out of the question.

I came in knowing I was headed for grad school and that it was never going to be at the seminary up across the road from the little liberal arts college I attend. I was better than that. After all, I have brilliant people in my corner urging me towards the Ivies for the next stint of education. Why in the world would I sell myself short and waste myself on such a no-name school?

My snobbery is shocking.

And it’s a symptom of the self-rejection, this thing that drives me hard and fast toward whatever will “make them proud,” however I can “be successful.” It’s terrifying in some ways. Could I have gotten all the way to a Ph.D. just to discover it was all for the crowds and approving nods, and yet have wasted precious years of my life in denial of my true desires and who I ought to become?

The degree isn’t the problem. I still likely will go all the way to a doctorate at some point because I really want to teach at the college level, and that’s what is required.

What freaks me out is the fact that I would reject a place based on a name or some vision of success I had for myself without knowing a thing about the school in question.

And moreso, it bothers me incredibly much that I would just deny the true and good desires resounding through my inner depths. What is wrong with allowing myself to make a decision based on desires that are not success oriented? Rarely do people receive acclaim for staying put. Rarely are they praised for wanting to stay in a place they have connections. I mean really… people making academic decisions based on current relationships? No one does this.

But I have never known what it is like to be loved and accepted outside of my family and the hometown I grew up in until I came here. The people presently around me see my beauty, my gifts, my strengths. They also see the horribly quirky semi-obsessive far-too-passionate awkward weirdness that is all mine, and somehow still love me. The sense of rightness, the sense that I have a place here… it’s really beginning to sink in. But self-rejection would have me up and leave that for success.

Today I sat around the table in the small kitchen of the little stone church eating homemade pumpkin curry soup and garlic breadsticks with this group of friends I gather with a few times a week for Eucharist. It has become so life-giving to me. Days like today, I am quiet and just listen to the conversation, or join it when I am invited in. It was good to just be there, with them, in this kind of peculiar thing we do a few times a week.

It seems crazy to make grad school decisions based on that. But it’s my true heart. I love these people and this place. I love being known in all my beauty as a person and all my utter ridiculousness, and knowing others the same.

No decision has been made. I’m waiting, taking time with myself to ascertain what I really want and need. But naming self-rejection was a huge part of this journey for me.

 

Giving birth to God

It’s the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of the liturgical new year.

I cannot explain my feelings surrounding this day. For me, there has been a few months of longing for today. It was this way last year too – longing for Advent. In some ways, it’s odd – longing for a season of longing.

I think I could liken it to wanting pregnancy.

I’m in my early thirties. That proverbial clock is ticking. And there are days, especially when I learn of the new pregnancies of others, that my longings to be pregnant kick up.

It cannot happen because of where I am in my life. I know this, and most of the time, I am at peace. But every once in awhile…

I think what I’m wanting in those moments of longing for pregnancy is the process of expectancy and mystery. I want for the deep knowing that something is growing in my body, in my being, something I can feel and see. I want for that mysterious moment when after its all through, all the love I had hoped I would feel turns out to be deeper and fuller and more than I saw coming as I hold this little person which came from my own flesh through an act of passion and self-gift, in my arms. This being which came from my body, I hold with my body. It’s remarkable.

My longing for Advent seems a little like that too – to be swept up into the mystery of expectancy. But the birth is Jesus, incarnation breaking out somewhere in my life, in our world.

Sitting in the sanctuary this morning, turning the pages in my mind and considering the story, I paused at Mary, about how the church is often likened to her, and how she has been venerated through time.

It seems fitting in some ways to identify ourselves with her. Isn’t that in some way the point, that in her humanity we sense the mystery of what has taken place in our midst?

I am touched by her waiting. She was given an invitation with a promise, that her yes to God would mean she would bear the Messiah. But I cannot help but wonder how many times through his life she had to remind herself of the virgin birth. He was a grown man before he started his ministry. He encountered death before he was fully revealed to be who she had been told he was.

In her seems a paradigm of what it means to wait, to watch. Was she intensely awake to his life, watching for every sign of the fulfillment of the promise made to her?

Our calling is her calling, to let the Messiah be birthed into the world through us.

I encountered these two quotes this morning:

I must be the virgin and give birth to God.” – Angelus Silesius, 17th c.

What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be Mothers of God.” – Meister Eckhart, 15th c.

The entire Mary story is beautiful.

But what stirs me today is the knowing that God created from her body.

When God made Eve, he took from the flesh of Adam to fashion another human being.

And when the Word became flesh, he sprang from Mary’s flesh, and entered into the world. Before he dwelt among us, he dwelt within her, her body creating from its intrinsic knowing and wisdom the very flesh of Jesus which since has been taken up into the God-head.

In our calling to find ourselves in Mary, in her story and her life and her birthing of the incarnation of God, isn’t it the same way? Doesn’t God, as the Word becomes flesh in us, take from our flesh, our being, our lives to bring about incarnation? Isn’t there deeply something of us in the way we come to bear witness to him in our world? What is birthed through us bears our marks and that of the church, this body as whole.

God partners with our giftings, with our sensibilities and strengths – or maybe especially our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. God partners with our flesh, our very beings, to bring about Word all around us. Maybe that is one of the deepest mysteries, how from our humble state God fashions a new kingdom.

I wonder about those nine months for Mary, if in her dreams she felt the weight of the revolution kicking in her own body, squirming and moving. I wonder if she could sense the expanses of the kingdom as her hands pressed her swelling belly.

What does revolution kicking in my womb feel like? What squirms and moves in the birth waters within me? Can I sense the expanses of the kingdom in my own body waiting to find expression in our world, our time? What would it be like to be the virgin and give birth to God? What “yes” is being asked of me, and can I bear the suffering I will experience for it?

The lectionary texts this morning centered around the theme of keeping awake. In order to experience the mystery of expectancy, we must be awake to our lives, to the lives of those around us, to the swelling of our being when the Spirit moves upon us. One of the beauties of pregnancy, I remember, was how incredibly awake I was to every change of my own body. I felt alive in ways I had never before. To be attentive to how alive my body feels as Spirit courses through me, expanding my being… is that my call?

My prayer today comes from the Isaiah reading, reminding me of a woman ready for birth, swollen with a new body within her – both her and not her all at once…

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…”

May it be that the church could pray this. And may incarnation be – in your being, in mine, and in our world. Amen.

(Lectionary readings for today in the Western tradition are these: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Cor. 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37)

Church with flesh

When I heard the news that Leymah Gbowee had won the Nobel Peace Prize back a month or so ago, I could not have been more pleased.

I first heard Leymah’s story from her own mouth in a documentary called “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” in a women’s studies course. I remember being touched by how human she seemed, and yet how weighty her life was as I heard her speak. If you don’t know her story, she led a women’s movement in Liberia to peacefully end the war which was tearing her country apart – and succeeded.

For me, Leymah is a modern-day contemporary picture of what sainthood through the years might’ve looked like. She is church with flesh. The women she led: church with flesh. 

Today is All Saint’s Day in Western tradition. Last night, I stayed up late reading martyrologies and the stories of some of the more recent saints to be canonized in the Catholic church, trying to get into the humanity of those celebrated today.

I’m not Catholic. I fell into celebrating this day by something of an accident. When I consider saints, my theology probably looks much more protestant – I hold that saints are about how God worked in and through the church through history. And sometimes that comes in the most ordinary of ways.

Today, I think of Leymah, a living saint. I think of the monks portrayed in the movie “Of Gods and Men” whose lives were in danger, but who stayed, committed deeply to the community they were rooted within in Algeria, and died violently. I think of Mother Teresa. I think of the saints of old as well – Felicity and Perpetua (the first saints I ever knew the story of), St. Catherine of Siena, St. Benedict. So many stories have spoken to me of what it means to be church with flesh.

But for all the stories which are told, there are so many stories left untold – stories of ordinary people enacting ordinary faith in the ordinary daily ins and outs of living life.

If war had never torn Liberia, would I know Leymah’s name?

If the monks in Algeria hadn’t met their untimely and violent death, would there be a movie about their lives?

How many other nuns walk the streets in poverty and illness stricken places with no recognition other than the pleasure of their Lord? And how many years did Mother Teresa love before anyone noticed?

What speaks to me deeply is the humility of beginnings. For all those we celebrate today, I suspect there was an ordinary but persistent faith which preceeded any recognition. And when they were called upon to act, they followed the trajectory of ordinary faith to something which seemed to onlookers to be radical, moving, extraordinary.

Today, All Saint’s Day, moves me to think about my own beginnings, about how my sainthood is being lived out in the ordinary, and where the trajectory of my heart, my prayers, my practices, lead.

And today, I stand in gratitude for the stories of saintly others through time who are the legacy of my own faith, bringing to me this gospel, this story, this Jesus.

 

 

Pilgrim leaf

Through the soft-spotted window of the third floor

it dances, one scarlet point upon the orange anatomy,

golden veins stretching through the paper where

autumn is written.

 

From the end of a baring twig it launched

caught up in one last elegant frolic with the wind,

dervish lost in spirit and in splendor, destined

to find the ground.

 

But it did not.

 

Last night, or maybe the one before, a weaver wove its orb in

passionate intricate performance of its design

oh the disappointment which must’ve swelled him to see

not one last late autumn fly vibrating in the silk, but only

a lone leaf which had flown.

 

And there it hangs, suspended in the silk, wrapped in air,

pilgrim lost half between its mother and the land.

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