Lenten Word #7: Return

knock

  • Reflection in poetry on Lenten word:

Return by Gail Doktor 2/17
To come back
Suggests that I ever had the courage
To step away at all

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

 

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 30: HOPE

hope_by_licks_ninjas2HOPE rises up as a theme and as a word in today’s readings. HOPE is a seedling, planted inside us. HOPE is a practice, that we cultivate with regular care and use so that we can call on it when we’re in darker, more desperate times. HOPE is a relationship with a creative power, a loving presence, beyond ourselves, so we’re not “in this” alone. HOPE fosters trust that something more is possible.

HOPE sounds frothy. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

And that’s true. How do you HOPE when everything has gone wrong? When life and death is at stake, and nothing is fair, or just? When it’s not only yourself at risk, but those most beloved, and more vulnerable, and you cannot protect them? How do you HOPE, when you have no power or authority or resources to change circumstances or events to create better outcomes? When you cannot restore integrity and dignity to the situation? How do you HOPE, when you’re overcome, overwhelmed, and out of control?

hope_by_burythereckless-d6vz97yThe Jewish writer Victor Frankl, reflecting on the human capacity for survival and belief in the face of catastrophic events like the Holocaust, calls humans “‘why-shaped beings’ … on a continual journey of discovery.” Hospice physician Dr. Ira Byock paraphrases the work of Victor Frankl, observing that people who are dying do not suffer so much due to bodily changes or pain, or what Frankl calls the ‘how.’ People suffer due to loss of purpose, meaning, or what Frankl calls ‘why.’

HOPE comes from finding a sense of purpose or meaning. HOPE is the ‘why’ that motivates humans to endure, sometimes beyond imagination.

Or as the poet Emily Dickinson so famously wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Lines from this poem, illustrated by an artist who painted a wall of birds, spans the pedestrian bridge connecting Dana Farber Cancer Center and Brigham & Women Hospital. It creates a passage of HOPE for people living with life-limiting illnesses. My daughter and I often lingered there, watching the painter as the images came alive, and for years after, as I wheeled her to treatments that might extend and enrich her life a while longer.
Sometimes our own contemporary writers and thinkers and activists are prophets, too. People like Mother Theresa or Victor Frankl, or a poet like Emily Dickinson, see and touch something sacred. And share those insights with us, and help us walk the Way of Christ, 2,000 years later.

We are asked, over and over in Hebrew scriptures and Gospel passages, to choose and act from a place of HOPE and resilience instead of fear. When we act and speak out of fear, we’re often making imbalanced choices that are likely to hurt ourselves or someone else. Our faith balances out fear with hope and love.

Of course, fear has its place in humans; it keeps us alive in its most primal form. Fear isn’t wrong, but it has counterparts through hope, compassion, and resilience that we also need to consider and engage.

Our faith grows out of grappling with and acknowledging fear. I mentioned, in an earlier posting, that even saints like Mother Theresa and St. John of the Cross have known fear and depression and dark times in their lives. They have wrestled with those conditions, and named them, and turned them over to God. They have felt alone, isolated, emptied of all hope, and pushed through a time of darkness that seems endless. And yet, such people, in ancient times and modern days, have found their way back to a more centered and connected sense of self and being, even in the face of seemingly-insurmountable odds.

Sometimes hope arrives when we continue to practice our beliefs and rituals, even when they seem empty or hollow. Our practices of faith, such as prayer or working ethically in the world — even when it seems we cannot change situations and systems in meaningful ways through our own efforts — create the channel, the conduit, that allows the Spirit to reach us.

Ultimately, we aren’t asked or expected to pray or work alone. We are invited to do it in partnership with the Spirit.

Hope grows through connection versus isolation. Hope is turning a hand to what needs to be done, even if it’s a small portion of the greater change that we’re seeking to create. Hope is choosing for integrity and wellbeing, not just for ourselves, but for others, too. Sometimes hope is the capacity to choose at all.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary passages:

  • Psalm 126:5-6 — May those who sow in tears  reap with shouts of joy.Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,shall come home with shouts of joy,carrying their sheaves.
  • Isaiah 43:1 — Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
  • Isaiah 43:5a — Do not fear, for I am with you.
  • Philippians 2: 23-24– I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.

Lent Day 28: YIELD

The word that rises up in today’s texts is YIELD.

  • YIELD may be a verb that means to submit or surrender.
  • YIELD can also be a noun. It is the material outcome of a process, such as the result of a mathematical equation, or in more practical terms, the quantity of grain or other produce harvested at the end of a growing season.

In its active, verb form, YIELD suggests giving oneself into another’s power or authority. In daily use, we YIELD when operating a motor vehicle, giving right of way to someone who is already in in traffic.

Yet it has much deeper connotations. It implies an unequal relationship. We need to be cautious about how we read and use the word YIELD in this context.

We can YEILD when we are seeking mercy, either from the threat of death, or when we are seeking a form of forgiveness for a transgression we may have committed. It can be an act of sheer survival, or a renewing spiritual practice. The event, the experience, determines what YIELDING means to us.

surrenderYIELD may mean surrendering to a greater physical, political, or military power. This might be an authority, a person or a system, that is unjust. In this sense, to YIELD is to be coerced or forced into an act of submission that is not of our own volition. Such power, such hands, do not wish us well.

When YIELDING is done without consent, this does not mean that our human dignity is gone or our capacity for resistance is over. If we yield to an aggressor or an oppressor who will harm or damage us … then to find a way to survive and endure becomes the act of resistance, when that is possible.

Through social examples of resistance, we see that YIELDING can mean to submit to powers that overwhelm us, and yet endure. Such stories can be found in the reflections of Jews who lived through the Holocaust. And we can find it in the stories of marginalized people who have been oppressed in United States history, such as the lives of Civil Rights activitist. Yet this legacy is not limited to African Americans with histories shaped by slavery and racism. It also involves Native Americans (First Peoples) whose homes and ways of living were systematically wiped out. And this story isn’t limited to the USA, it can also be found in societies which have confronted their recent violent and oppressive histories, such as South African or Rwanda. More examples find their way to our attention survivors of regimes which continue to be oppressive, such as North Korea.

When used by people of faith in a more holistic context, YIELDING to Godself can mean to place oneself into the care and keeping of a just and compassionate Creator. In this relationship, we can expect that God hopes and works toward the best for us. Our YIELDING is a form of vulnerability and reciprocity in a relationship that leads us toward more healthy, holistic, integrated ways of being human.

YIELD, as the harvest, is the valuable outcome of our labor and nurturing over many seasons. It is the result of our efforts. And such YIELDS are ever empowered by our relationship with God, and how God blesses our lives.

yeild2Sometimes YIELD means a literal harvest. It arrives as forms of nourishment and sustenance for people’s bodies: crops from fields, picks of orchards and vineyards, herds of livestock, catches of fish.

Sometimes YIELD is the metaphorical harvest of our beliefs and practices: the virtues and characteristics we cultivate in our lives. We call these the fruits of the spirit, such as kindness, patience, wisdom, mercy, and hope.

At its best, to YIELD is to be in relationship. And YIELD is also the tangible benefit from how we live our lives as people of faith.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary passages from the Bible:

  • Psalm 53: 6 — O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
  • Leviticus 25: 3 — You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land.
  • Leviticus 25: 6 — You may eat what the land yields during its Sabbath.
  • Revelation 19: 10a —  Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus.”

Lent Day 27: SAINTS

We often use the word SAINTS. We usually mean those who have lived particularly righteous lives, made extreme choices to follow their faith, those who have been martyred for their faith. Sometimes we refer to those faithful souls who have died and gone ahead of us.

In today’s readings, I would say that SAINTS refers to those who ‘seek after God.’ It’s a description that can work in today’s world, as well as historical contexts.

Being a SAINT is not an implication that such people are perfect. They’re not. People such as Mother Theresa, named a saint by the Catholic church, reveal the depth of their doubt and fear through their own writings. Writers such as St. John of the Cross, writing centuries ago, called the times when he grappled with isolation, depression, and despair as ‘the dark night of the soul.’

Wrestling with faith deepens it. It’s part of the human journey.

So don’t think that being a SAINT is about being perfect in deeds, words, thoughts or emotions. Humans simply cannot live perfect lives.

What we can do, in any circumstance, is ‘seek after God.’

In that seeking, we choose more often to reach for thoughts, feelings, and actions that bring us closer to God’s hopes for us. Those hopes are rooted in our personal, individual choices and deeds. Yet what starts with individuals flows into communities, systems, and impacts all of creation.

We become ‘saints.’ We’re not born that way. We learn this way of being. We put it to work. We practice ‘seeking after God.’

SAINTHOOD is a measure of a lifespan comprised of small moments. And we won’t always be at our best. Nobody ever is.

Even Jesus got angry or impatient: at fig trees, at markets in the temple, at his followers, at a woman he called a dog. He got tired and needed respite from crowds. He asked for the cup to be taken from him, when he wrestled with his own darkness, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet he struggled with those moments and grew as a person, and became a more gentle and compassionate human.

When are you pressed by fear, doubt, anxiety, sorrow, depression, anger? Those are the times when it may be most difficult to seek after God, yet that’s precisely when the practice of being connected to God, to faith, becomes most vital. Even if it seems like an empty exercise, because you’re down in the pit of despair, it’s the time to call out, to pray, to turn your mind and heart to God.

‘Seeking after God’ isn’t a brief moment. It’s a lifestyle choice. It’s a constant, daily practice. It’s a way of being. When we live by ‘seeking after God’ we are in the state of becoming saints.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary passages:

Psalm 53: 2 — God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.

Revelation 19: 3b — “Praise our God, all you his servants, and all who fear him, small and great.”

Revelation 19: 7b – …for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.