Lent Day 19: COME

feb28_comeThe word that surfaced in several passages today is COME.

We can hear this as an invitation, as it is used in the Psalms. Its sounds like a welcome, a beckoning, a chance to draw closer to God and benefit from the bounty of God’s goodness.

Such an invitation suggests that we are returning. It implies that we have traveled elsewhere, and we are invited to a homecoming. Whether metaphorical or literal, the idea of being parted from a beloved one, and invited to COME back, speaks to most of us. We are all moving to or away from something in our lives. We have probably all been lost or wandered, parted from the integrity of our best selves, from healthy connections to others, from the wellbeing of the world, or from meaningful bonds to Godself.

The theme of Biblical stories encompasses the journeys of God’s people. God’s love is a movement of creating us, making a home for us, letting us go out into the world, encountering us repeatedly along the way, and welcoming us back again and again into deeper relationship in spite of ourselves (ie, homecoming). We may enjoy a respite in a place of sanctuary, such as a garden or a promised land, only to go out into the wider world again, and then have adventures and misadventures, and struggle back toward that place of peace, healing and mercy.

On the other hand, if what COMES is something that happens to us, instead of due to our choice, it can be threatening and risky, or it might be exhilarating. Such is the usage of COME in the letter from Paul to Corinth … as he talked about the arrival of the end of the age, whether people are ready or not. In this case, things come toward us or come at us, and we are cautioned to be vigilant and ready to handle them. If we don’t have the opportunity to prepare, which happens to many of us, then perhaps we turn to God to find ways to respond to the events or circumstances that have come upon us.

Finally, we have the complaint of a fruit tree’s owner, who returns again and again, COMING by to get what he expects from his non-producing tree, then threatening to cut it down. The gardener pleads for redemption, and a chance to spend more time, at least another season, to nurture the tree and coax it to bear fruit. In my reading, we are the trees in need of patience and compassionate care, and the gardener is Christ, tending us with God’s redemptive love.

COME toward the love of the gardener in the garden. The choice to return is always ours to make, but the invitation from God is offered again and again.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary readings:

  • Psalm 55: 1 –Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.
  • Psalm 55: 3 — Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
  • 1 Corinthians 10: 11b — And they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.
  • Luke 13:7 –So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree.”

Lent Day 18: FRUIT

Today’s passages from the Bible talk about sustainable crops with terms such as yield, grapes, and fruit. Human life and human spirit are spoken about through metaphor.

From living trees and vines, we grow. Alternately, without care, we may wither or fall and rot. Interestingly, the Gospel passage also talks about our unique gifts and blessings. Each tree bears its own type of fruit.

black-and-white-grapes-sally-bauerThe kingdom of God is compared to a vineyard, and we’re reminded about the tenderness with which it is domesticated and cultivated. It is surrounded by hedges, fed and watered, pruned and watched. Each of us, a vine or tree in this field or orchard, becomes the ‘pleasant planting’ of God’s love, commitment, and grace.

Without such vigilant care, we are trampled and devoured, and we do not yield a harvest that changes the world.

Seasons pass in anticipation of what will bud and grow. Yet sometimes the one who planted us is surprised by the harvest.

Of course, God may promise such care, but we are also the hands and feet, hearts and mind of God in the world. Whereas Christ may be the leading gardener, isn’t it wonderful to imagine ourselves as the gardeners of our communities and our lives? We are invited to tend and nurture ourselves, each other, and this world.

What fruit do you bear? What presence do you offer, rooted in God’s kingdom, right here on earth? What surprises do you offer to God and this world?

And what aspects of yourself and your life require additional tending, in the form of  self-compassion, self-care or perhaps self-discipline?

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Isaiah 5: 4 — When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
  • Isaiah 5: 7 —
    For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
    is the house of Israel,
    and the people of Judah
    are his pleasant planting;
    he expected justice,
    but saw bloodshed;
    righteousness,
    but heard a cry!
  • Luke 63: 43-44 — No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit.

DAY 17: WAKE

The lectionary texts today offer up the word WAKE. It’s a call out of sleep, out of rest, and even out of death in these texts. It’s a call to be alive and attentive, to be active and present. Its a call, ultimately, to be connected to self, others and God.

In our times, we’re bombarded with messages vying for our attention. Sometimes we’re hyper-aware, and we need the chance to be peaceful, if not asleep. We require a way to distinguish between the busy-ness of responding to countless demands for our time, energy, and resources versus being awake and present in a more focused, fulfilled and beneficial way.

Sometimes, I feel worn out or frazzled all day long. As if I never catch up on rest and renewal. Usually when I feel so depleted, that’s when I’m neglecting forms of self-care, from eating well and exercising and sleeping enough to maintaining a healthy spiritual practice. At such times, when I’m too exhausted, even though I’m theoretically awake, my attention is divided. Then I’m not ‘awake’ in a way that becomes meaningful in my relationships to others, or in my capacity to work or play. So my own ‘wake up’ call is often noticing that I’m stretched too thin and overloaded, overwhelmed, and tired. Then it’s time to restore self-care practices that contribute to greater psychological and emotional balance, better mind-body connection. From these practices come more attentiveness, more energy, and more capacity to ‘do.’

We can be at peace when we’re awake. For instance, we can become centered and focused by drawing on bodily spiritual and contemplative practices such as breathing, meditation, and prayer. This can take place, varying by the style of  practice you use, either in a still position or while  moving (you can pray or meditate as you walk, for instance).

We can use such spiritual practices to calm and prepare ourselves for the demands of the day, or to renew ourselves in the midst of such multitasking. We can become more alert and attuned, connecting spiritually with our own emotional and psychological selves, or connecting outwardly to broader consciousness and energy.

feb26-lent17_wakeIn sacred texts, sleep is sometimes equated with being unaware, complacent, or unguarded. Sometimes sleep in Biblical terms is not desirable. Sleep is also used, at times, as a euphemism for death. By contrast, being awake is a chance to revive from an altered, helpless state into a transformed state of agency, authority, and activity. Wakefulness becomes a form of vigilance and activism.

At other times, sleep in sacred texts is the chance to dream and commune with God’s messengers. Thus wakefulness can be the chance to return out of dreams into this reality with a message from God. It offers enlightenment and wisdom. This is true in Christian traditions, and the concept of being awake as an enlightened being is an ideal in other religions, too.

What wakes you up? And I don’t mean the alarm clock. For me, sometimes it’s caffeinated tea that kick-starts my body and lets my mind catch up. More often it’s the ritual of greeting my husband in the morning, going outside for a walk along the river with the dog, checking in with my daughAlarm-Clockter, connecting with a friend by phone or in person, and singing along to the radio. Small moments  recharge and renew me, so that by the time I arrive at demanding, busy parts of my day, I feel more than just awake … I feel alive indeed. I am excited to be where I am, and ready to engage in whatever the day may bring.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary texts:

  • Daniel 12:2a — Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life.
  • Revelation 3:2 — Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God.
  • Revelation 3:3 — Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.

Lent 16: LIFE

Such a small word today: LIFE. It contains the measure of our whole beings from beginning to end, and even beyond. When we speak of life, we mean so many things. We speak of ‘life’ as the actual quickening of cellular activity itself. Yet it is also the spark of intellect and soul that animates the flesh of our bodies.

In this word is one of the ultimate questions. What is the meaning of life?

feb25_what-is-life-660Sometimes we’re referring to the viability of an individual being, and other times we define it as any form of organic and sentient existence at all. We use ‘life’ to mark the span of time from one creature’s birth until death: moving and breathe and operating as sentient beings. Yet we can also refer to eons of time, such as the age of a planet or a cosmos, as measured by signs of life.

As spiritual creatures, we are always looking past the veil of our own senses, toward a greater and deeper meaning. We reach and imagine beyond the shape and contours of our own mortal bodies to something we cannot quite touch, detect, or cognitively encompass. Our sense of possibility is somehow defined by the limits of our corporeal selves and what we are and are-not.

The concept of life holds, in so many ways, all that contains our meaning. We weigh and express the value of all other ideas and experiences, emotions and thoughts, tangible and intangible treasures, against the weight of our own being, our own lives.

Silhouette of hiking man in mountain
Silhouette of hiking person in mountain

We measure risk by the threat of death and the end of life. Yet isn’t it interesting to consider that sometimes the greatest risk isn’t to face death, but to live our lives fully? To risk life? This is the challenge that today’s texts expose to us.

In today’s text, God’s divine love and presence is considered more valuable than the Psalmist’s own life. Is the writer euphemistic? Could the writer extol God’s love, except by being alive to do so?

In the prophetic text of Daniel, three characters put their lives on the line to defy an unjust law, and to continue faithfully worshiping their own God. Their lives are delivered,. So their faithfulness is measured by their willingness to sacrifice their own mortal span of being. And the power of Godself is revealed to the unjust leaders of the land, when God saves their lives, despite the affliction and torture turned upon them.

In Revelation, Christ is once more described as the one who was dead and then returned to life. Divinity is inextricably bound up with life, survival, and being. The ultimate promise of Godself is that we will have a second life, a different life, a life after death. If life contains all of our meaning, then a life that defies the very strictures that form the boundaries of our capacity to understand and experience the world, a life that overcomes death … that is powerful indeed.

So how do I measure the meaning and value of life? I cannot measure the impact of life by time alone. The import of my younger child Jessie, who lived 9 years, cannot be encapsulated by days and years. That is a poor standard to describe the value and impact of her presence among us.

So how do I describe her life? It’s easier to consider her life, versus my own, since I’m in the middle (I assume) of my own life. Her life was comprised of the relationships she formed and influences through her being. Her life could be measured by her way of being a teacher and mentor to older folks, through her approach to balancing suffering against all that made life worthwhile to her as a child. What made life rch and good to her? Engaging in fierce and deeply-rooted relationships, being able to move and claim her own body, feeding and stretching an inquisitive mind that always wanted to learn and question, acting ethically to support causes she cared about and to change unfair circumstances when she could, experiencing sheer joy through playing and laughing or taking risks … Her life was ultimately measured by her loves.

Whether it’s 9 hours, 9 days, or 90 years … our God’s presence fills up the measure of life for us. What are we willing to put at risk for this love, if not life itself? And as I mentioned earlier, isn’t the greatest risk not to die for this love, but to live for this love?

Excerpts of today’s scriptures:

  • Psalm 63: 3a — Because your steadfast love is better than life.
  • Daniel 3:28 — 28 Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
  • Revelation 2: 8b — These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life.
  • Revelation 2: 10b — Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Lent Day 13: WORKS

Today the word that surfaces in the scriptures is WORKS. We can hear this word as a noun such as a creative project that has been completed. Or we can hear this word as a verb, an action we can undertake.

Feb22_LentC_workbootsTo me, whether we think of ‘works’ as a finished project or actions to be undertaken, the word implies legacy. It is something we’ll leave behind after our lives are done. Something that makes a difference, that shapes and changes the world, even a little bit.

The Psalms extol ‘works’ as the evidence of God’s creativity and power through what our senses tell us: what we see, feel, hear, smell, taste and touch. In the New Testament, the idea of ‘works’ takes on the aspect of those actions we undertake in order to be righteous and faithful people.

Of course, whether our acts of faith can earn any portion of God’s grace has been a long debate in Christian theology, a point of division among different movements within our faiths. The debate is academically and intellectually worthy, of course, but I’m glad that I’m not ultimately responsible for these answers.

It matters whether we live ethically, of course. As for whether I can receive God’s grace because of ‘works’, that’s beyond my control. I just don’t know the answer.

We are partners in our destinies, so we shouldn’t be complacent, even if we cannot be sure of the outcome. Admittedly, I strive toward the ideal that God would find delight and joy in the way I live out my days. Yet I fall short of that ideal … well, every day.

Would I choose to live un-righteously, to live without participating in ‘works’ that are faithful, if I thought it didn’t matter to God? Would I live differently, indulgently, recklessly, carelessly, selfishly, if I thought I could live so, and still be forgiven at the end of all time? Probably not. I’d probably still be my messy self, following most of the commandments, but breaking some of them.

In contrast, do I believe that if I live ethically and faithfully, I somehow deserve more love and compassion and mercy from our Creator than someone who turns to God after a lifetime of ill deeds? After all, Jesus forgave one of the men hanging on the nearby cross at the end of his own life, as he was being crucified. We don’t know all the man’s crimes, but his newfound belief was only minutes old, his life was ending, yet he was invited into paradise with Christ.

crossesThe criminal being crucified next to Jesus didn’t have time for any ‘works’ that would help him earn God’s grace. Or did he? Perhaps his one action was his profound internal movement to form a relationship with Jesus in the brief time they knew each other.

Who deserves grace? Who doesn’t deserve grace? Can ‘works’ earn it for us? Can a life filled with the opposite of righteous works, a life measured by the atrocities and violence and oppression committed by a person, place someone beyond grace?

I confess, I have debated with my colleagues over that question earnestly, wondering if historic figures who have committed massive atrocities can ever expect forgiveness from God? I have learned that different faith traditions have different ways of understanding how God offers resolution to those who harm God’s children. The chance to form a relationship with God, to be in God’s grace, certainly starts by being remorseful and seeking forgiveness … and even then, how might one offer some form of apology and seek to atone for  massive losses inflicted on whole populations? Perhaps it isn’t possible. Again, this isn’t within my control. It belongs to God.

Of course, while God’s mercy is God’s business, systems of justice and reconciliation are our human business. We have models for attempting to seek reconciliation and justice from those who oppress others and perpetuate atrocities. Even creating chances for redemption for perpetrators whose actions would seem irredeemable. Nations such as those in Rwanda and South Africa have found systems of reconciliation that allow people to remember, listen, learn from the past, confront each other, bear witness to each others’ stories, develop systems of consequences and atonement, and rebuild together. It is a slow and sustainable approach to healing.

This is certainly the work of deep faith … and humans are capable of it because of our capacity to love and hope, beyond all reason. Examples of this level of work are available through the forgiveness challenge. http://www.humanjourney.com/forgiveness/

Meanwhile, let’s return to the word ‘works.’ Again I wonder, can any of us ever earn or deserve or negotiate our worthiness to be beloved and forgiven?

We are connected, I believe, to a God that knows the best and worst about us, and loves us just as we are. That shouldn’t make us complacent. Our God always hopes for more from and for us: that we should stretch and reach toward our potential.

We are called to ‘become’ rather than just ‘be.’ From that perspective, our daily actions … our daily ‘works’ … are the place where we grow and become more fully human.

Below are excerpts from the lectionary:

  • Sing to him, sing praises to him;tell of all his wonderful works.
  • Remember the wonderful works he has done,his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered.
  • For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say?
  • Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.
  • So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from work.

Day 11 of Lent: BLESSED

As we journey through Lent, let us take a moment to consider blessings (the  common theme in today’s Biblical passages).

  • Sometimes blessings are parts of ourselves. Sometimes they’re internal: our talents and strengths, our emotions and thoughts.
  • Blessings might also be external resources: food, shelter, job, and education. They might be relationships with people (ex: family, friends, mentors, colleagues, community) and places such as special environments (ex: beach or mountains) or humanmade spaces (ex: sanctuary, concert hall, studio or gallery, kitchen, or athletic facility).
  • Blessings imply reciprocity. We receive them. We also give them.

blessed_hands1Let us name and count them up. And be grateful for them. Daily gratitude practices for our blessings have measurable benefits; they make a difference to our psychological outlook and also impact our physiological wellbeing. These practices can include praying about or journaling those things for which we are grateful each day.

Part of gratitude practices, beyond naming those things for which you’re grateful, includes feeling gratitude’s effect on your body. Being aware of blessings is more than a mental and emotional exercise, it has direct sensory connections to our body’s wellbeing.

Here are a few links for gratitude practices from different traditions, though much of the wisdom is shared among them:

Excerpts from daily lectionary Bible passages:

  • Psalm 118:26 —  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord.
  • Matthew 23:39 — For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Note: In the excerpts above, the same phrase is repeated. Note that the writers of the Gospel draw from older traditions, the Hebrew texts such as the Psalms, since Jesus and his earliest followers were Jewish. That’s why the same phrase appears in both places: our Christian texts are rooted first in Jewish writings.

Ash Wednesday, Lent Day 1: HEART

feb10_lent1_ash_heartMeditation

Today we receive the hopes and passions of last year’s palms, burned now to a carbon dust. One thumbprint’s measure, worn like a tattoo, but without the conviction of ink on skin.

From ashes we once arose, and to dust our bodies shall someday return. In between … might we be stirred to life once more by the Breath of God?

Selections from today’s scriptures call out to the heart. Yet not just any heart … a heart broken open. A heart rent by weeping and mourning. A world-weary, beaten-up, endured-too-much heart. A contrite heart. A clean heart. A treasured heart. A returning heart.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Joel 2: 12-13a — Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.
  • Psalm 51: 10a, 17b — Create in me a clean heart, O God. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
  • 2 Corinthians 6:4-7 — but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God …
  • Matthew 6:21 — For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.