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

Lent Word #3: Transgression

us-passport

  • Video ‘Teaching to Transgress’ with Bell Hooks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQUuHFKP-9s&list=PL2B275096C8DDFF3B
  • Reflection in poetry on Lenten Word Transgressions:Transgressions by Gail Doktor (c) 2/17
    On the way
    Why shouldn’t the first word
    Be the one that means to travel
    To cross overBoundaries
    Borders
    Lines
    Words
    Ideas
    Bodies

    I stop at trans-
    Trans   port
    Trans   late
    Trans   scend

    And as for –gressions
    Re   gressions
    Ag   gressions

    I want to subtract and change
    The syllables to something else
    More beautiful than itself
    And yet itself
    In part and whole
    Makes it
    What it is
    Whatever that may be

    And even in this
    Crossing over becomes
    Different for me
    Than for you
    Or for us

    Becomes other
    Becomes else
    Beyond the original
    After all

    Moving
    On the way from
    En route to
    Between
    Crossing through
    Trans-  and  -gression

    © Gail Doktor 2/17

 

Ash Wednesday: Musings on Mercy

I tried to find a theme song for today’s word: MERCY. Listened to several, and kept wanting to interrogate the lyricists, if not the singers. What does mercy mean in our pop culture? In mainstream media, it seems to be an unequal exchange that is dangerous for the one in need of the mercy, who may lose everything and gain nothing, subjugating self to another.

This is not the sacred love that I understand as part of mercy. Wrote this as a reflection.

mercy-openarmsrain5
Mercy
© Gail Doktor 2/17

I ask the pop songs
What it means to seek mercy
And learn from the best-loved
Most highly-rated lyrics
Performed by old men and mere children
And never-aging women
And here’s what they teach

They beg
They moan
They offer to sacrifice life itself
All of that
To receive it
To be given
Mercy

Their words claim to be
Bent low
Humbled and knee-bent
Prostrate and pleading

But mostly their bodies are upright
Hands wide
Reaching out
Strong voices soft then loud
By God, demanding it
Importuning it
Not giving up until they get it

What does it cost those artists
Oh, they agree to give away
Well, everything
Body
Being
Breath

Yet I suppose that very offering
Of self
To self-less-ness
Is the heart
Of being ready
To experience mercy

That presumes
You really do it
And I cannot say I believe
They … the singers … do
Want it, I mean

Really
You only want it
You only want mercy
When all of that
Body
Being
Breath
Is already gone
Or at risk of being gone

But what will you give up
Give away
Offer to exchange?
Will you trade everything
Sacrifice all
To be restored?

And what if you get back
What you gave away?
Body
Being
Breath

Wasn’t it easier to give it all away
Than to live inside it again?

On the other hand, perhaps mercy
Allows you to live inside
Body
Being
Breath
Differently than before

It seems
The pop singers cannot answer
Because they do not know
They only suppose

So I will have to lose myself
To find out
And to know myself
Body
Being
Breath
On the other side of such mercy

By then I won’t have to ask
Someone else
I’ll have my own song
Or nothing at all

See this post for more on MERCY.

Lent Day 45: ANSWER (revised)

In the Lenten season, today is sometimes called Good Friday or Holy Friday. It’s also known as the Day of Anunciation of our Lord. Today many faith communities hold vigil through the long hours we believe Jesus hung on the cross during his execution, dying. He called out to God from the cross. And then for a few days, his human voice was silenced by death and entombment.

How ironic that the word rising up in today’s texts is ANSWER. God is dying today. God is being silenced today. Like those first followers, we hold vigil through the emptiness and absence, where presence was once available. We are keeping watch through the hours when God couldn’t stand with us and answer us, not in the way we expected.

How often have we felt that same isolation and sense of abandonment? Of being left alone in the middle of chaos, without any calm or clarity, without any sense of support or solidarity? This feeling of being left behind, being left alone, to fend for ourselves and mourn and hurt and try to find a way to go on, is part of the Holy Week experience. It is part of the human experience.

On Easter Sunday, we will celebrate the truth that emptiness and absence are good news. That a tomb, once filled with a corpse, is empty. That God isn’t in the tomb anymore, but God’s love and grace are vital, real, palpable and returning to us.

On Good and Holy Friday, when we call out, it seems as if God isn’t answering. And while that may not be true, it feels like our lived reality. I’ve met plenty of people, in the hospital or in their own homes or even in the church sanctuary, who feel abandoned by God.

In the Book of Esther, Hebrew scholars point out that the name of God isn’t mentioned even once, yet a Jewish woman becomes a heroine, saving her people at risk of her own life. Looking at the text, the rabbis say that this is a metaphor for the times when God has been absent from the reality of Jewish lives, such as when they were in exile. And yet the people remained faithful to their covenant with God, worshipping and considering themselves chosen, trusting that God’s hand would move, that God’s power and presence would be revealed, and that their side of the relationship could be upheld, even when God wasn’t evident in the events of that story and the oppression they were experiencing. They found God in their deliverance.

During our Lenten explorations, we have considered praying as an act of dialogue with Godself. Yesterday I affirmed, again, my belief that God listens and ANSWERS.

We believe, in our faith tradition, that God continues to share revelations with people today. God’s answers didn’t end in the times recorded in the Bible. God listens and answers now, too. God speaks into our lives in this era, just as God spoke thousands of years ago.

Some of my colleagues hear God’s voice or God’s messengers, either as audible voices, internal leadings, or a dream or other form of message. Personally I often experience God’s influence through life events, and have to look backwards over the past, to identify the pattern of God’s response. I often recognize God’s tangible answer in hindsight.

Listening, and being in dialogue with God, takes practice. Like any form of spiritual exercise, it needs repetition and regular use to be most available to us.

On the other hand, God can hear our most desperate cries, even when we’re not usually in the habit of calling out to God. Anyone can pray. Any words will do. And no words are necessary. Prayer is also a bodily act. It’s an incarnate practice.  Just scream. Just hum. Just sigh. Just walk or dance or rock or hug or kneel or lay down or weep or laugh.

pray_for_others_shutterstock_92688232_1The other side of this ANSWER is that when God calls, we are asked to ANSWER. To respond.

So another question we may want consider is, when God calls out to us, do we answer, too? Are we even listening? Trust me, that’s a question I pose to myself regularly, as I discern my way in ministry.

Our relationship is reciprocal, at its best. God seeks us, we seek God. God listens, we listen back. We cry out, God responds. God calls, we answer.

Of course, we always have the choice. We can ignore the call. We can turn away, opting not to answer. Or we can turn toward the call, and say, YES.

Sometimes, like the Friday when we remember Jesus’ death, we are asked to persist through the silence. Raise our voices. Reach out. Seek connection with God. We may feel as if we’re being ignored or forgotten. We may not hear the reply right away. Yet assuredly, God is listening, and God will answer.

Selections from today’s lectionary:

  • Isaiah 52:15 — So he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
  • Isaiah 53:1 — Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
  • Isaiah 53:8 — All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way,
    and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
  • Psalm 22: 2 — O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
  • Psalm 22: 8 —  “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
  • Psalm 22: 24 —  For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
  • Hebrews 10: 8a — Then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.”
  • Hebrews 10: 16-17 — “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord:
    I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”  he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
  • Hebrews 10: 23  — Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
  • John 18:4-5 — Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”
  • John 18:23 —  Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
  • John 18:37 —  Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

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 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.

Day 12 of Lent: WAY

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from: fabforgottennobility.tumblr.com

Lent is a time of spiritual journey and pilgrimage. We turn inward to learn more about ourselves, and we also look outward at our connection to the world. We practice following Jesus. We walk in his Way, with the help of the Spirit.

The Way implies movement. We are beings who move and grow: bodily, emotionally,  psychologically, and spiritually.

Humans are creatures of motion, traveling through time across varied geographies and landscapes. Our sacred stories are filled with motion. We depart, we journey from point A to point B, we get lost, we wander, and we arrive. We cross borders, bridges, and boundaries. We go through rivers and deserts, lakes and mountains, wilderness and cities. We pause at crossroads. We pass through doors and portals. We detour for walls and barriers. We turn back. We keep going. We ascend and descend. We swim, walk, run, ride,  or fly. We stop at places of safety: wells, oasis, gardens, temples, tents, and other places of refuge. We leave and go into exile. We return home.

We also stretch and expand with our minds, our emotions, and our spirits. So what does it mean to walk or stand firm in Christ’s Way? Consider the Gospel’s most basic and ethical commands: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Within that statement are the anchors of a covenant: God, self, and others (including creation). These are Jesus commandment, in their primal form, for living ethically.

During this season, you’re invited to ask yourself, what parts of walking in the Way come easily to you? And what parts need more attention?

Following the Way combines what we learn from scripture and tradition, and what we learn from intuition, intellect and experience. In today’s scripture, we hear that God’s word (the Bible) is one guide for the Way. Christ’s life of ministry serves as a template. Plus our church says that God is still speaking in the world today, through the people we meet and the insights we gain. Prayer serves as a chance for redirecting ourselves, as we respond to current events. Our community can be a resource as we study and follow the Way of Christ.

Sometimes the Way is more than a metaphor, it is also a physical pilgrimage. People travel certain roads, and visit specific sacred stations or sites, as a bodily journey through the landscape, toward a specific destination. The Way is embodied by a route that you navigate using maps and GPS. Examples of pilgrimage include walking along the Camino de Santiago between France and Spain for Christians or the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) for Muslims. Pilgrimage is a universal experience that can also be found in other faith traditions around the world.

  • Genesis 15: 4a — But the word of the Lord came to him.
  • Psalm 27: 11 — Teach me your way, O Lord,and lead me on a level path.
  • Philippians 4: 1 — Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
  • Luke 13: 32b-33 — ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.