Lenten Word #45: Absent

  • Poem: Sonnet 98: From you have I been absent in the spring By William Shakespeare
    From you have I been absent in the spring,
    When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
    Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
    That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.
    Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
    Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
    Could make me any summer’s story tell,
    Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
    Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
    Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
    They were but sweet, but figures of delight
    Drawn after you, – you pattern of all those.
        Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
        As with your shadow I with these did play.

Lent Word #44: Die

  • Music video: Disturbed – Another Way To Die
  • Poem: Music when Soft Voices Die (To –) By Percy Bysshe Shelley
    Music, when soft voices die,
    Vibrates in the memory—
    Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
    Live within the sense they quicken.
    Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
    Are heaped for the belovèd’s bed;
    And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
    Love itself shall slumber on.

Lent Word #43: Remember

  • Music Video: Remember When by Alan Jackson
  • Poem: Remember By Langston Hughes
    Remember
    The days of bondage—
    And remembering—
    Do not stand still.
    Go to the highest hill
    And look down upon the town
    Where you are yet a slave.
    Look down upon any town in Carolina
    Or any town in Maine, for that matter,
    Or Africa, your homeland—
    And you will see what I mean for you to see—
                 The white hand:
                 The thieving hand.
                 The white face:
                 The lying face.
                 The white power:
                 The unscrupulous power
    That makes of you
    The hungry wretched thing you are today.

Lent Word #42: Do

  • Music Video: I Do by Musiq Soulchild
  • Music Video: I Do by Jessie James Decker
  • Poem: Do Not! By Stevie Smith 
    Do not despair of man, and do not scold him,
    Who are you that you should so lightly hold him?
    Are you not also a man, and in your heart
    Are there not warlike thoughts and fear and smart?
    Are you not also afraid and in fear cruel,
    Do you not think of yourself as usual,
    Faint for ambition, desire to be loved,
    Prick at a virtuous thought by beauty moved?
    You love your wife, you hold your children dear,
    Then say not that Man is vile, but say they are.
    But they are not. So is your judgement shown
    Presumptuous, false, quite vain, merely your own
    Sadness for failed ambition set outside,
    Made a philosophy of, prinked, beautified
    In noble dress and into the world sent out
    To run with the ill it most pretends to rout.
    Oh know your own heart, that heart’s not wholly evil,
    And from the particular judge the general,
    If judge you must, but with compassion see life,
    Or else, of yourself despairing, flee strife.

Lent Word #41: Bread

  • Poem: Bread By W. S. Merwin
    for Wendell Berry
    Each face in the street is a slice of bread
    wandering on
    searching
    somewhere in the light the true hunger
    appears to be passing them by
    they clutch
    have they forgotten the pale caves
    they dreamed of hiding in
    their own caves
    full of the waiting of their footprints
    hung with the hollow marks of their groping
    full of their sleep and their hiding
    have they forgotten the ragged tunnels
    they dreamed of following in out of the light
    to hear step after step
    the heart of bread
    to be sustained by its dark breath
    and emerge
    to find themselves alone
    before a wheat field
    raising its radiance to the moon

Lent Word #4: Reward

reward_scrabble

As if I did something
To earn this
Whatever is being given to me

As if you did something
To deserve what you are receiving
Payback for whatever came before

As if
We cannot give it away
Soon enough
This consequence
This result
This outcome
This punishment
This grace
This reward

In the time it’s mine
I cannot ignore the weight
How this burden takes both hands to hold
How the heart cannot bear it up
Except with clenched teeth and tightened jaw
And a conscious lifting of shoulders
Shrugging upward with the whole self
Hefting it away from the ground
Before I pass it along again

Though I wish I could just drop it
Rather than putting it into someone else’s keeping
But maybe to put it down
Would create more wear and tear
Than continuing to carry it
And sharing it hand to hand

Words for Lent #1 = Mercy

Mercy-2

To lie back under the tallest
oldest trees. How far the stems
rise, rise
before ribs of shelter
open!
To live in the mercy of God. The complete
sentence too adequate, has no give.
Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.
And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.
To float, upheld,
as salt water
would hold you,
once you dared.
To live in the mercy of God.
To feel vibrate the enraptured
waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
to clenched fists of rock.
Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
many-stranded.
To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
Arcs
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?
Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
flung on resistance.

Rock Me, Mercy by Yusef Komunyakaa

The river stones are listening
because we have something to say.
The trees lean closer today.
The singing in the electrical woods
has gone dumb. It looks like rain
because it is too warm to snow.
Guardian angels, wherever you’re hiding,
we know you can’t be everywhere at once.
Have you corralled all the pretty wild
horses? The memory of ants asleep
in daylilies, roses, holly, & larkspur.
The magpies gaze at us, still
waiting. River stones are listening.
But all we can say now is,
Mercy, please, rock me.

Lent Day 44: SERVANT

Today is Maundy Thursday of the Holy or Passion Week. As we have mentioned in many postings during Lent, sometimes the scriptures turn our ideas upside down. In today’s texts, we consider the call to be a SERVANT.

washingfeet1This call first asks that we be willing to have others serve us, as well as to be served. It’s harder than you’d think, to be the one that needs or allows someone else to care and support you. It’s hard to accept help, even by having someone else cook for you or wash your feet. After all, letting someone else wash your feet requires that you expose yourself, make yourself vulnerable, and put yourself into someone else’s hands, someone else’s care.

For many of us, it’s easier to be the one doing such tasks for someone else. In fact, even when we are called to be SERVANTS, as long as we’re doing something for someone else, like fixing a problem or taking action, we often feel empowered and somewhat in control.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s tough to be willing to humble yourself to the role of SERVANT. There’s an awesome column in the April 2016 Rotary magazine about an airline executive in an expensive suit, who came to deliver airline tickets to Mother Theresa of Calcutta. He was directed back to the toilets, where she was scrubbing them. Not missing a beat, she assumed he was a volunteer, so she handed him a brush and showed him what to do, and left him there to scrub toilets. He told that story for the rest of his life, because for that brief span of time, he was part of her work and mission.

Those with the greatest earthly political and social authority and power are called to be SERVANTS and disciples, just as are the most humble. Our faith calls us to an ethical accountability to each other, from those we love dearly to those we have never met. We are also responsible for creation’s well-being, starting with this planet.

Jesus’ final commandment, which is one of today’s texts, gives the standard by which we measure our service. It is rooted and channeled as love for one another, as Jesus loved us.

This may sound simple enough, but think about a lifetime of scrubbing toilets for thousands of sick people, and it may take on a new perspective. Yet we don’t all dedicate lifetimes to such pursuits, but we can set aside segments of time and attention to support such work, one way or another. That has certainly been an invitation of Lent.

As God’s people, we are asked to submit, by choice, to the love and leadership of God. In ancient Hebrew writings, this submission was directed toward God, often through God’s representatives, and often in sacred spaces such as the temple. Kings, queens, priests, judges (some judges were women) and prophets bowed their heads, made their confessions, offered their sacrifices, followed the law, and raised up their praise to One with greater power than they could embody. In Gospel texts, submission comes by following God through the embodied, incarnate presence of Christ, who calls himself a servant to those who follow him.

Today, on Maundy Thursday, faith communities offer many spiritual practices that allow us to serve each other. Below are some of them:

  • Prepare suppers: light meals at common tables. Often we feature bread and soup. We are cooking and preparing food together, and offering it to each other, serving and feeding one another. We are enacting the final commandment, the great commandment of Christ, to love one another.
  • Celebrate communion today, moving from the shared meal to the shared sacrament. During communion, also called eucharist, we offer bread and wine (or juice) as the formal elements.
    Hopefully our tables are open and welcoming to everyone. This remains a challenge for many churches, who impose limits on those who are formally invited to partake of the sacraments.
    Together we remember and bring into this moment: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus whose whole existence was an act of servitude and passionate teaching and risk-taking for justice and outpouring of transformative love and tender grace.
  • Offer foot-washing tonight, following along with the act of servitude and blessing that Jesus offered his followers after the passover seder meal, which we call the Last Supper. This appears in today’s texts.
    Jesus washed his friends’ feet physically with water and towel, and washed their lives symbolically, purifying them and blessing them and consecrating them to ministry.
  • Prayers will be offered. Ultimately we are seeking “help”, sighing “thanks”, and shouting “wow.” These are the three essential human prayers as suggested by Anne Lamott. Whether spoken aloud or in silent meditation, alone or in community, prayer will open a dialogue between us and Godself, who is eager to be in a relationship with us, and will welcome and hold whatever we share, spoken or unspoken.
    God listens. We may not see or know the response we receive, until we look backward across events. And I can admit, we may not like the answer we receive. Yet I believe God hears and answers all prayers.
  • Read sacred texts. We can listen to the ancient Biblical stories of our spiritual ancestors, and how they approached encounters with holiness. We can hear the messy, imperfect human ways we bungled our lives and communities, and God found ways to heal and redeem us, whenever possible.
  • Creatively express ourselves in worship. We will make artistic offerings of dance and music and poetry and many other creative mediums.
    In this way, we use  Spirit-given gifts to tell stories to each other, inspired by the themes and events of this Holy Week. Through our witnessing to each other, God continues to speak into our lives, not just through ancient texts, but in new expressions.

Selections from today’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 116: 18a — O Lord, I am your servant.
  • I Corinthians 11: 24 — And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
  • John 13: 5 — Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
  • John 13: 8-9 — Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
  • John 13:34 —  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Lent Day 42: STRENGTH

strength-007Today’s word from the lectionary is STRENGTH. Interestingly, often we find that strength comes from being vulnerable, from asking for support and help, from reaching out for connection with God and community.

Our willingness to embrace and share our vulnerability, which is both the brokenness and beauty of our human condition, can become our strength as individuals and as a community. Recently UCC minister Molly Phinney Baskette authored a book called Standing Naked Before God: The Art of Public Confession. One of the themes of her work illuminates their foundational practice of being honest and confessional with each other: telling about the more wounded, embarrassing, broken parts of their lives, rather than only the heroic, well-dressed, upstanding parts of their stories.

Members of Baskette’s congregation share their stories, and allow God to speak through the truth of their transformative and quite human experiences. She reminds us that we aren’t only listening to ancient texts, but contemporary witnesses, when we share our stories with each other.

This willingness to share and connect and be vulnerable, within safe and loving communities, is a source of service and STRENGTH. And yes, sometimes we also tell our stories in places where our truths are less welcome and more risky. We can dare to be so vulnerable, when we trust and turn to God. By connecting in this way with each other, we become the body of Christ.

STRENGTH in ancient texts can be seen as a sign of God’s favor or simply the vitality of healthy human life. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, the speaker, a servant sent to inspire exiled and oppressed people far from their homes, credits God with his STRENGTH. In the Psalms, a military and political leader, a king, calls out to God for continued support and refuge. He admits his need and desire for God’s presence and blessing.

strong_handsIn a letter from Paul to the community of Corinth, written about 2,000 years ago, he says that God’s strength is different from worldly STRENGTH. All the trappings of power and authority that we value are overturned in his writings. People who are otherwise seen as foolish and weak by cultural norms, those who are vulnerable and marginalized, become holders of wisdom and relationship with Godself. The most vulnerable members of Paul’s society become the source of a community’s STRENGTH.

In the Gospel text, Jesus suggests that one may serve and be brought low, and yet flourish. His own life models this practice, and his connection to unexpected people was a great part of his STRENGTH. So also, of course, was his relationship to God.

Confessing, in prayer and story, for each other, is a spiritual practice. The Psalms are often a wonderful place to find the language and themes of confession, of crying out for God, of standing naked before love and mercy. This practice is also a channel for STRENGTH.

  • Isaiah 49: 4 — But I said, “I have labored in vain,I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity, yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”
  • Isaiah 49: 5 — And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant,to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength.
  • Psalms 71:3 — Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress,to save me,for you are my rock and my fortress.
  • Psalms 71:4 — Do not cast me off in the time of old age;do not forsake me when my is spent.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:24 — For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
  • John 12: 24 — Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.