Blessing for Wilderness

Blessing for Wilderness (c) Gail Doktor

This blessing grows
In the thicket of thorny cane
Around which you bend and step
Caught on its prickers
So the scratch hurts

The berry sweetness
Ripe and red beneath the serrated green leaf
Bursts brighter on your tongue
Rolls throbbing through your hesitant fingers
Breaks on the ground
Smacks in the mouth
Hard-won among tall grass, lush fern, fallen birch, rotting logs, and working bees,

The wild richness flourishes
In the trampled bowl
You guess was as recently as a few hours ago
A deer’s breakfast, a bear’s luncheon,
Flattened like a nest
Trampled down among arching branches

Here is the heart
Of pain and succulence
You find along the narrow animal trail
You mistook for a human path
Overwhelmed by the scratchy maps
It leaves on your exposed skin as you pass through

As you suck on the just-turned crimson  plunder
In the wake of those first missteps
Off known routes and maps
Coming to a place that is
For just now
Yours alone

You linger
Gather up, gather in
Until you cannot bear to feast anymore
Unless you return with someone else
Offering unexpected bounty

Yet who will follow you
Past all markers into the unknown
For a handful of summer sweetness
And a temporary set of scars
And a blessing stained
Across empty, cupped palms?

Lent Day 39: PASSOVER

In anticipation of the coming Passion Week, which is the holiest week of Christianity between Palm Sunday and Easter, we are reminded that Jesus celebrated PASSOVER with his friends. It was a Jewish ritual.

This seder meal is an act of remembrance of the Jews suffering in Egypt, and God’s act of liberation: freeing the Jewish slaves in the time of Exodus. The great Hebrew narrative goes on to tell of Moses’ leadership through his people’s times of trial and being lost in the wilderness, and acknowledges their wandering and forgetting the covenant with God, and celebrates receiving the ten commandments, and coming to their promised land.

This seder meal continues to be celebrated by Jews each year. Over time and layered by Christian tradition, we now symbolically honor a form of the seder meal as communion: our Last Supper. And during Passion Week, our Maundy Thursday supper is often a seder meal, similar to what we understand was shared by Jesus and his followers.

Below is a diagram of the seder plate in traditional Jewish customs today:

Seder meal

The meal that we celebrate at communion holds echoes that reach back through millennia, into deep memory. Yet it also has meaning now.

People continue to suffer. To seek liberation. To desire their promised land, their home, their place and way of belonging. To need redemption.

I would argue that we share spiritual ancestors and relations. And these meal hold as much meaning now, as they did thousands of years ago. Our faith  ties us to our spiritual cousins: Jews and Muslims. We are all connected by our faithfulness to One God.

This PASSOVER meal, now transformed Maundy Thursday’s meal and communion, reminds us that inside Holy Week, Passion Week, which starts and ends  triumphantly, also contains the trial and execution of our Messiah. It holds its own time of suffering and loss, and three days of absence and separation. Like those who sat down to the seder meal, remembering their past, when we partake of communion, we also remember oppression and liberation. I don’t claim that it’s the same, but that we are bound together by this shared narrative.

Like the seder meal, the Christian communion also ends in hope. Yes, we look backward, rooting ourselves in time and place and history. And yet, we also look forward with hope, believing in the transforming grace and love of God to heal and restore all of us, and ultimately, this whole world. We hope in God’s capacity to bring all of us to a common table in a mutual home … someday.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Leviticus 23:4-6 — These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall celebrate at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to the Lord, and on the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of unleavened bread to the Lord.
  • 22 Luke 22:1 — Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near.
  • 22 Luke 22:7-8 — Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus[b] sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.”
  • 22 Luke 22:13 — So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

Lent Day 38: DEPART

Today’s word returns us to the ideas of traveling, or exodus and return. DEPART implies our movement away from and toward something. It departingmight also refer to a circular movement: out and back again. We have already taken up these Lenten ideas as WAY and GO and ABIDE and locations such as ROOTS and HOUSE and WILDERNESS and LAND.

This movement may be interior: psychological, emotional and spiritual. Or it might be outward: physical and bodily journey.

It might be passages through the land itself, through a sacred worship space, or through time and place. It might be a journey of our mortal selves: mind, soul, heart, and flesh.departure

To DEPART is also to take leave or say good-bye. In many languages, we have different ways to say farewell. Some hold the expectation of a permanent separation. Some hold expectation of being reunited again soon.

For instance, my chaplaincy colleague is French Canadian, and in French, you might say “adieu” during a more permanent separation. It means to go “to God.” You are more likely to say “adieu” if you expect to see each other in heaven, or with God. It implies a more permanent parting.

On the other hand, “à bientôt” is a more casual good-bye. It means, “until I see you again” or “so long.” Similar variations exist in Italian and Spanish and other languages, too.

DEPART means to set out. To go somewhere. To leave one’s current place and venture away. Sometimes this going-away is by choice. Sometimes it’s forced or coerced.

Again, we can consider ethical and real-world instances of this reality: global migrations of people being displaced within their own national borders. Or the stories of people becoming refugees and exiles outside their own home countries.

Our own US history has many stories of migration, either in search of something tangible. Some of our ancestors pushed west, displacing other people (who may also be our ancestors), to lay claim to land or gold or other resources. People moved northward for jobs, or left certain areas due to drought and famine.

Our own history holds the legacy of enforced migration. Indigenous peoples were forced to settle in specific territories far from their roots. People from many nations came here under duress. The ultimate enforced migration was slavery, when people were brought against their will to these shores, and treated as property rather than humans.

We know that immigration remains a contested issue. It has become a political hot potato, polarizing opinions and approaches, often at the expense of humane responses to real crises.

To be clear, human trafficking continues, and the forced and coerced journeys of people continue, on these shores, even today. In my local part of New England, one nonprofit that responds to this reality is Amirah, which provides a safe house for women who have been victims of human trafficking.

This is alot to digest, and it’s not a peaceful topic. Yet it deserves our attention and concern.

On the other hand, let’s take a moment to reflect again. I invite us to return to our own spiritual journeys.

In order to set out on a Lenten journey, when we have the luxury of planning for it, we may need to let go of burdens or baggage. Put them down. Give them into God’s keeping, or share them and place them into our community’s network of care.

A few weeks ago, members of First Congregational Church in Reading wrote their concerns and cares on stones, and set them at the foot of a tree in the sanctuary (which represents the cross). They’re not gone. But they’re externalized, expressed, and symbolically set down.

At the same time, we may need to pick up other tools or practices. We may need to  “pack and prepare” for such movements. We may need to have space for those practices and parts of ourselves that we want to bring along.

Lent gives us a chance to be intentional. To cultivate practices and insights we  may need at other times in our lives.

What happens when we go on journeys, physical or metaphorical, without choice? Due to crisis? Due to events beyond our control? Due to transitions in life, health, or other circumstances? What spiritual and self-care practices do we call upon as assets when we are pushed and pulled into changing, pressuring, transforming times? We may find that some of the calm and centering that we cultivate during Lent, or through regular spiritual practices, becomes a resource at more stressed-out times.

For me, when I’m stressed and in transit, breathing practices become a way of centering and grounding. I have a prayer that I learned in Kundalini yoga. And a way of breathing. It’s also a form of counting and calling on the divine, as well as a way of making sure my body has oxygen and my heartbeat and pulse remain stable. Such breathing helps me stay in this time and place, wherever that might be. It lets me be present. It’s a way of being aware of the connection between aware of body, heart, and mind. It’s a way of feeling God’s Spirit surrounding and filling me, giving me life and connection to something larger than myself. It’s a practice that cultivates space and time to invoke calm and clarity, so that I may  do what needs to be done.

If we anticipate a homecoming, after we DEPART, we may return to pick up the things we’ve set down for this season. Like the rocks at the foot of the tree. We may find that we hold and engage them differently, due to the respite and perspective we’ve gained. Or we may return, exhausted from different exertions, and find it difficult to start up our daily lives again. We may not want to pick up those rocks again. And maybe we don’t always have to. Maybe it’s okay to leave them where they are.

In such instances, we learn from these changes and experiences. We  find new ways to see and relate to parts of ourselves and our lives, after going out on a journey. We can ask ourselves, based on our values and beliefs, what we truly want to retain at the end of a journey, in our homecoming. And what we should release more permanently.

In Isaiah’s text today, God promises that God’s love will always be present, even after the mountains have worn away and departed. In the passage from Hebrews, God comes as a mortal man, as Jesus, in the bodily form of a vulnerable flesh-and-bones soul. He arrives to be like other humans, to know us from the inside out, to suffer alongside us, and to experience the absoluteness of death itself, too.

God comes to us, and leaves us, and yet promises to remain with us always, through the presence of the Spirit. God has let humanity say good-bye and turn away and leave Godself, again and again. And God has drawn close to us, when we have called out, and met us where we are. And patiently waited for us to return, again and again.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Isaiah 54: 10 — For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,  and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
  • Hebrews 2:9-10 — Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

Lent Day 35: ABIDE

abideABIDE? This is one of the words in today’s texts. It is an offer to shelter in the care of One who will provide and support. It is also the invitation to allow that One to take root in us, to find a home in us.

In a way, when we allow love to abide is us, we become walking, breathing places of holiness. Our bodies and heart and minds become temples: places where God lives.

At the same time, we are invited to seek and find sanctuary beyond ourselves, in connection with God, which often leads to connection to others. Abide … to rest, to dwell. To be: we’ve considered this way in past reflections.

It is a gentle invitation, in its way. And yet to create a home, or to find a home, isn’t so easy. Not for everyone.

Many of us are always moving: changing addresses, shifting locations where we spend most of our time at work, learning, play or living. And some people are exiles. Some folk are un-homed. We’ve reflected on wandering in the wilderness, or being lost or displaced. We’ve also discuss the implications of settling in the land.

In these texts, God promises to be our shelter, even when we’re on the journey to find home. And as we’ve already said, by connecting with God, we make a home in ourselves for God … so that loves goes with us, always.

Yet the call to ABIDE is a reminder to pause. To breathe. To pay attention. To turn inward for a time and be with oneself. Or to soak in the surroundings and let that be the resting place.

To ABIDE is to stay awhile in the presence of love, of God. To find respite.

For people always on the move, the invitation to ABIDE is once more a spiritual practice, a form of self-care that Lent offers. How do you create chances to pause? To ABIDE?

Perhaps just reading the sacred texts. Or standing in the presence of the beauty of nature (God’s creation). Perhaps praying. Or simply closing your eyes and taking a slow, intentional breath. Using some contemplative practice to find your center, where God awaits you.

Try this wonderful prayer as a way and a place to ABIDE:

handsBe still and know that I am God

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know

Be still

Be

Selections from today’s lectionary passages:

Judges 9: 15aAnd the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade.’

1 John 2: 24 — Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.

Lent Day 24: DRIED

lent24_dry_fishToday’s word is DRIED. We often refer to the embodied connection between people and God. Such metaphors place us in our earthly, messy, physical world. They plant us inside our own mortal, fleshy, vulnerable bodies.

When something is dried out, it is withering and dying due to lack of moisture. Or it has been deliberately preserved by removing fluids.

How do people dry out? What depletes us? Sometimes it’s real; we are thirsty. In literary terms, often it’s about lack of energy: mental, emotional, or physical.

lent24_dried_broken_earthIn this case, the Psalmist equates green, fertile soil and waters with life, and dry, parched places as sites of wasting, weakness, suffering, and death. Famine and drought was often a theme in the agrarian societies of the Bible, and the risk of starvation and suffering and death was real. Wandering in the desert, the deadly wilderness where Israelites were lost for 40 years, was also part of one of their greatest narratives: Exodus. Restoration of strength and vitality comes when we have access to Godself and the benefits that come from God.

And yet, at other times in these texts, dry ground is the path to safety. For instance, in Joshua, it was the crossing point through waters that otherwise overwhelm, such as the Jordan or the Red Sea. Life came with release from bondage, and trust in God’s goodness and power, through a covenant relationship.

Ultimately, Gospels and the writings of Paul compare Christ to a wellspring of water. Our Messiah’s love and grace serves as a font of life, too. Baptism, one of our sacraments, includes water. The sacrament of communion includes juice or wine, the liquid drawn from the pulp and flesh of the fruit of the vine, representing also the life and blood of Christ. We have a long history of encounters with water and wine among people of faith.

When you have felt withered and dried up, whether emotionally, psychologically, or physically. What revived and restored you? In what way do you need to be connected to yourself, to others, to creation, or to your God? Often disconnection is the source of the drying-up.

During Lent, we encourage disciplines of self-care, reflection and spiritual practices. These can be ways of seeking renewal.

As you renew yourself, you are also capable of caring for others. Caring for others, thinking and doing for others, is another focus of our spiritual Lenten practices. We can become wellsprings of resilience and hope for others, too. We can refresh other people, and parts of the world, with our choices, words, and acts.

  • Psalm 32: 4 — For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
  • Psalm 32: 3 — While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
  • Joshua 4: 14-24 — For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea,which he dried up for us until we crossed over.
  • 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15 — 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

Lent Day 14: WILDERNESS

Wilderness … this is the ultimate location for a Lenten journey, even if it’s metaphorical. The wilderness is the  mythological place where civilization ends. It’s where you go when the garden is closed to you, when towns and cities aren’t safe, or the busy hubs of humanity are too noisy and busy to allow you to find your own spiritual center.

crossing_mountainsWilderness is the place where roads stop, maps cannot offer a definitive blueprint for the paths in and out, and the GPS shows a blank screen. The place in scripture where trials occur and miracles show up, for the people of Israel,  prophets like Moses and John, and even for Jesus.

Wilderness is the place where people are lost and tested and confused and stuck and changed. Where people stay for 40 years or 40 days … If people return from the wildlands, they’re often different.

Several faith communities are using the book Lessons from the Wild Wood as a Lenten guide this year… as in invitation to get lost. To make mistakes. To fail. To learn from our own vulnerabilities and flaws, and grow as spiritual beings by taking risks.

wilderness_mtWho are we when we come back from the wilderness? If you make it back, perhaps you went through a time when you felt abandoned and alone. Yet if you come back, and you reflect on that time, perhaps you recognize the ways that God was present even in those remote spiritual or physical sites. Often people who return from the wilderness are more actively spiritual in their beliefs and practices, and they can point to specific examples of how God showed up for them.

Not everyone makes it back. The wilderness can cost your life. The journey can take its toll. Whether we’re talking about spiritual or bodily journeys … the risk can be real, in either example, when you step into the wilderness. And the resulting transformations from such a time apart in the wildlands can be just as real.

Lectionary scripture excerpts below:

  • Then the Lord said, “I do forgive, just as you have asked; nevertheless—as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord— none of the people who have seen my glory and the signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors.
  • Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
  • When they were few in number,of little account, and strangers in it, wandering from nation to nation,from one kingdom to another people,  he allowed no one to oppress them.

 

 

 

Day 5 of Lent: BRING

Today’s excerpts from scripture can cause us to ponder, what do we bring into this season? What do we carry with us, in our minds, bodies, and hearts? Are these things we bring gifts or burdens?

The challenge, ultimately, is to bring all aspects of ourselves into relationship with our community, our creation, and our Creator. All of ourselves … the parts of which we’re really proud and the parts we hide out of hurt, fear or shame.

Part of the opportunity today is to consider that sometimes the things we bring into a relationship with ourselves, our community, our larger world, and our God may serve as both blessing and burden. In this way, we may be able to re-frame how we understand and engage certain concerns or celebrations.

We can consider bringing our whole selves in different ways:

  • Part of what we bring into this season is a gift of ourselves to others … stretching or offering more of ourselves as a gift … so let’s name these blessings we’re making available. We make this offering to be more present (in some way) to ourselves, to each other, to creation, and to God, following Jesus commandmant to love God, and our neighbors as ourselves (notice the three entities named in this commandment: God, others, self).
    For example, I aspire to offer time set apart just for my family, being emotionally available to people with whom I have intimate relationships by making time to talk and be together, committing to personal wellbeing through practices such as better eating and walking daily, or being aware and ethical about the environment by using renewable resources such as  a washable cup vs a disposable to-go cup.
  • Part of bringing our whole selves means sharing our burdens or brokenness. And who isn’t burdened or broken somehow? So we can take this chance, during Lent, to bring these concerns and vulnerabilities to our community and God also.
    I confess, in my own life, a few of these tendencies and ask for support around them. I acknowledge my preference to be anxious and controlling when I need to relax and collaborate. I admit that I get quiet and withdraw, faltering in consistent communication where it’s most needed, in stressful times. I say right here that sometimes my body’s softness and roundness (all euphemisms for harsher internal critical words I use about myself, like flab and obesity) embarrasses me. I inhale and confess that I avoid being honest and direct when I sense conflict or tension surrounding an issue.
  • Can we share our whole selves, whether we understand these parts of ourselves as gifts or burdens? It’s easier, sometimes, to bring and share our gifts to help and support someone else than to bring and entrust our vulnerabilities to someone else’s care.

Allow this season to be a chance to put down burdens, let them go, and give them over to God. feb14_lent5c_bring_steam_trunkThis doesn’t mean we get to set aside accountability. We remain responsible partners in our relationships. Yet we can share the burdens, as well as the gifts.

Let us trust that those gifts we bring will be put to use, and their purpose revealed. And also trust that if we relinquish some of our burdens and concerns, God will hold them with us.

Later we may look backward, and reflect about what committing ourselves fully,  bringing our whole and broken selves into these relationships, renews in us at Lent’s ending. What will we bring away from this season? What insights, personal growth, experiences, healings, or renewals come to us, as we enter into the spirit of exploring and acknowledging our own mortal brokenness? Of trusting and believing we are in the presence of One who loves us enough to bring our lives into God’s own keeping?

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Deuternonomy 26:10 — “So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.”
  • Romans 10: 15 — And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
  • Luke 4: 1 — Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.
  • Luke 4: 8b — “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God.’”