Lent: Permission to be Human

Lent is my favorite church season, it allows our feelings of the darkness that is happening on this inside to be experienced outwardly. It is the season where we stop pretending that faith is easy and we walk a line of doubt and belief.

From dust we came, to dust we shall return. 40 days where we let our mortality show, and honestly, let God’s mortality show, through Jesus. During Christmas we emphasize how he was born of a woman and came to earth both fully human and fully God. We talk details about how fragile a baby he was, like any other. However, when you mix his birth story with the sensational story of his conception the human part of the story gets overshadowed (see what I did there…).

It’s the same thing with Easter. When we only focus on the sensational story of the resurrection, we miss the humanity of it all.

On the night of his arrest when the meal was over, Jesus walks into the garden, and he asks his companions to stay awake a while and pray with him. He goes a little farther in and prays to God. “Please don’t make me do this. Please.” He wails and gnashes his teeth, and pleads for his life. He does this three times and in between he finds his friends sleeping.

He is not whining, and I abhor the version where the “devil” is tempting him (in John’s gospel). Because it is this moment, here, why I am a follower of Jesus Christ today.

When I was in college I was a religious studies minor. I learned about God in all forms. I loved reading the sacred texts from different world religions and people’s experience of them. I liked to think through the implications of the belief that all things are sacred from different languages and different parts of the world.

After this, I asked myself, “Why do I want to be Christian when I see God in all these religions?”

I thought about where I had come from and what my history was, does it make sense for this Irish-German American to be a Buddhist? Then I didn’t care what it would look like. Then I cared again. Not so much the “look” from other people, but if I found the Sacred in many forms, why not go with the one my heritage taught? But I still needed one to “hook” me, I needed a passion for one religion over another and heritage wasn’t enough.

Finally, I got to the point where I asked, “What do I want most from God? What is the thing God can give me that the world cannot?”

The answer was fairly simple, it was the thing I had sought most in life: To be understood and accepted.

This wasn’t so much about church or community, I was seeking God, something more than humanity. I do not claim the yoke of Calvinism often, but I do when it comes to the sinfulness of humanity. I do believe in the human capacity for greatness, for goodness, but I also believe that it is we who create the bad in the world, not God.

As I sought acceptance and to be understood from humanity I found myself continually let down. Which is not those people’s fault as much as that gift can only come from God. We are all, if we know it or not, walking around trying to cope with being mortal.

In order to receive all my credits for the degree I had to take a class in Christianity. I had already received my call to seminary and was on my way. (I know it feels like I had done this backwards, but faith and life plans don’t always work together.) And so the only class available to me was Introduction to New Testament.

My faith had grown, I knew who I was, I knew who God was, and I was trying to reconcile the two. It was about this time of year when we were making our way through Matthew’s gospel. And there it was…

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[e] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” -Matthew 26:36-46

The world felt like it paused for a moment. I sat in awe. I wept.

Jesus, son of God, Word of God, the voice of God on earth, who came to earth so God may know us better, just did the thing I needed him to do the most. He grieved, he was scared, he was let down, he felt alone.

Now that’s a God I can get behind. That’s a God who gets me. That’s a God who will understand and accept me because in the end these moments are not weakness but strength, and this Christ knows it.

This story is read at the end of every Maundy Thursday service in my church, one of the last days of Lent and I weep every time I hear it.

It makes my experience of life and this world so fully understood and accepted. And I could not ask for more from my Savior.

I do not know what this Lenten season will hold. The world seems so dark. I do know that I will ask questions and explore my mortality through prayer that may include wailing and agitation and gnashing of teeth and that’s okay, after all, if it’s good enough for Jesus…

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You Will Know, When You Know

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At my first church I moved only a few hours from my Aunt and Uncle whom I didn’t really know. My parents were the older siblings in their families and had children young, my sister and I are almost a decade older than our cousins. My aunt, then having small children watched as I officiate Easter Worship and interacted with my congregation. I was 25 years old. I had been married for 2 years and she could not fathom how “grown up” I was.

“You have a very adult job” she told me. I really wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or a criticism (in my head I heard “you’re playing with fire, you cannot handle this”). I did have a very grown up job, and I was (and still am) good at it. Sure, there are times when my “youth” equates to poor judgement, but as I get older, it’s simply moments of poor judgement, guess what? Who has two thumbs and is human? This chick.

But it is scary for all of us. How do we know we are saying or doing the “right” thing? Sometimes I have to impart wisdom in life or death situations and it’s scary. Yet, I can say this with confidence, I’m a smart girl, I actually do have a lot of wisdom to impart (through the grace of God), despite the fact that I am only 36 years old. So… here’s some tidbits.

When you’re mad at God, it means that you love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul. Scenario: I am a chaplain in a hospital. A family is trying to care for their mother who is dying, it will be hours, not days. She is cursing God, she is in pain, she is grieving for her life. The family (a more conservative type of Christian) is sincerely worried that she will die and “not be right with God” and therefore go to hell. They believe this despite a lifetime of Christian service and faith. I sat with them, I talked through it with them, and then I asked them a question. When is the last time you were angry at someone, I mean really angry? Was it with someone you knew casually? Or was it someone you loved?

The last time we were truly mad is not over the guy who cut us off on the interstate.  The truth is, we only are truly angry at the people we love most. Our partner, our children, our parents, our friends, ourselves. When your mother is cursing God, it’s because she loves God, if she didn’t she wouldn’t care.

I know it hurts, but that’s how you know it is love. Scenario: I had trouble getting pregnant and high risk pregnancies, so much so that I became friends with the ultrasound tech. For over a year I saw this woman bi-monthly, weekly, and then bi-weekly. Each time we would talk for about a half hour. When I went back for baby #2, she had just returned from maternity leave with her first. “I’m scared all the time, and I cry, constantly, at everything, does this ever end?” Yes, sometimes, no- no it does not. Yes, the hormones subside and you will cry less, but this feeling of dread, fear, and hurt? This feeling that you no longer have full control of your heart? No. She looked at me with massive amounts of dread.

It’s the consequence of experiencing real love. Any relationship involves risk, it’s the nature of relationship, but putting yourself out there in the most vulnerable ways possible and allowing yourself to experience real love, well, there is always a fear of losing. I have said this with new parents, with people grieving for someone who died, and to people at the end of marriages. When the pain is so devastating, so raw, so real – that’s when you know it is real love.

You will know when it’s time. Scenario: A woman sits before me in kidney failure, she is tired of dialysis, she is exhausting her children and she hates it, she has been talked to about hospice over a dozen times. “What do I do?” she asks me. Of course I can’t answer that, so I say to her what I have said a hundred times in the past.

When it comes to life and death, you’ll know. And when you know, you know, until then, you’re not ready. When it comes to life and death – of a person, of a marriage, of any relationship – if you don’t know (no matter how hard and painful it is) then you’re not ready. Because when it comes to a death, you and the ones you leave behind have to know, beyond a doubt, in the midst of their grief that they did everything possible and that you are sure or they simply will not be able to live with themselves. I have seen it time and time again, the moment where the wrestling ends and every fiber of their being knows what to do. 

All these scenarios happened within the first 5 years of my ministry. They are words of wisdom I have repeated time and time again. They are not “new” and I did not “think of them” they were gifts of the spirit. Moments in which I got to be the incarnation of Sophia (God’s wisdom). Yesterday I was reminded of them again and I wanted to share. Love to you all.

Preparing for Lent

So I’ve been working on our Lenten series: The Abundance of Enough. Lent is 12 days away… *breathes into paper bag*). I helped my bestie a few years ago as she was doing a series of the same title. I’m a good “bounce ideas off of” person and I helped with some visuals for the series.

This year our stewardship theme was “More than Enough” and as we thought about bringing stewardship practices into a year round commitment I came back to this theme. In preparation I’ve been reading books like: The Way of Simplicity, Plain Living, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go and An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture.

Yesterday, I read and collected scriptures and prayers for the series. As I did this I was interrupted by staff in the office and emails from people because Thursday was the first day our office was open after the snow storm (and my 8 year old who was on her 5th day off of school). I also juggled personal finances, attempting to scrape up enough money to make it to payday. I was not successful.

SO I focused on something where I could be successful… Whenever I prepare for Lent I begin to think about my lenten practices. Several years ago I started taking lenten practices very seriously. This year, I will be asking our church to do the 40 bags in 40 days challenge, and I will be joining in.

I’m all for the practices where I ask, what can I take on spiritual/give up spiritually. These are important, but I have found the more ancient ways of deprivation to be most helpful for me in my practices.  Especially as a middle class American.

As I was reading about the Cistercian spirituality of buildings I couldn’t help but think of the Reformed tradition and our churches, they are purposefully plain. This has been my inspiration for the last few years where I have worn all black, no makeup, no special hair products, and no jewelry (search the blog, I wrote about it extensively).

I thought about what it would mean to remove decoration from my home and my office. It was an interesting thought, but as I looked around my house I kept going back to the word “abundance”.

I live in a suburban home with an abundance of space. Don’t get me wrong it’s not huge, but it is a good size, more than we need. I have a closet full of clothes that I walk into and “search” for something to wear. I have 2 refrigerators, a deep freezer, and a pantry full of food and still “need to run to the store.” I have shelves of movies, netflix, amazon prime, and cable, yet still complain, “there’s nothing on tv.”

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I’m a slave to abundance, a slave to options. Why do I need all this? Will there ever be enough?!? We live in a constant state of the food of Thanksgiving and the gifts of Christmas on a daily basis.

It’s time to simplify. I canot serve 2 masters.

Even though Lent is less than 2 weeks away (where’s that paper bag), I’m going to start today, because eating out should be a special event with my economic state, not a habit. Because I don’t need any more clothes, or whatever crap it is I want to buy. And honestly, I could feed our family on whatever is in our house for more than a month, so I will.

I will not buy groceries until we’ve eaten what we have (exception: fresh produce that I eat and NOT throw away, dairy products, or eggs). I might have to get creative, but I will do it. We will eat leftovers and not throw them out. I will use things until they are gone and not for one meal until I forget about them. Also, the paper plates are going away and the laundry will be put away. It may not seem connected but part of the issue is things are bought (socks) because I haven’t folded laundry and paper plates are used because we haven’t washed the dishes.

Abundance is a luxury I don’t want to afford. I want to do better. We already recycle and compost in our house, we grow our own food in the summer and herbs all year round, now this Lent, I’ll take another step to a more simplistic way of life.

I’m also playing around with fasting and silence one day each week, I’ll keep you posted on that…

 

 

(Wo)man in the Mirror

In 1987 Michael Jackson released “Man in the Mirror” a single that in many ways, was a riff on Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

At about 7/8 years old I did not know Gandhi’s quote, but I did know Michael. And I took this song very seriously. I wanted to change, I was desperate for it. If I could change all of my problems would be solved. I lived in a world where, true or not, the perception was that everything was my fault. If I could only change my ways, all would be right in the (my) world

What do you do to change? The southern baptist girl asked: You pray.

When I first learned to pray I prayed in a child-like way. I prayed as a way of stalling before bedtime. Every friend, family member, dog or cat I could think of. I once prayed for all the animals in the zoo.

One day, as a teenager, my youth leader was talking about prayer. He asked us, “when’s the last time you prayed for yourself?”

I had never prayed for myself. Not really.

I had prayed for things, but not for myself. I prayed for a bike, to be smart, to be thin, but never “for” myself. Never thanking God for the person that is me (Baptists would NEVER have done that). But this progressive mystical Presbyterian youth leader challenged us to go home, stare at ourselves in the mirror, look directly into our eyes and say:

“I am a beloved child of God, with me, God is well pleased.”

I went home and looked in the mirror, put my face as close to it as possible and stared in my eyes… for about 1 second. Then I quickly left the bathroom. Each day I would try again. Crying. Until it was a regular practice. Then one day it stopped again.

So years later I went back to it. And I stopped again.

Today I read a prayer today that reminded me of this practice. It’s found in the book “The Way of Simplicity: The Cistercian Tradition” by Esther De Waal:

The bodily appearance of the Lord was changed as he prayed

and thereby he wished to bring home to your mind the power of prayer,

because prayer

makes you different in your inmost being and meditation

changes you into a new self

and renews you.

‘With our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord’ says Paul,

‘we are turned into the image which we reflect’,

that is, we are transformed

into the very image we gaze upon.

I stopped because I started seeing someone else’s image of me more important than my own or, most importantly than God’s.

Why should staring at God’s creation be so difficult?

It has gotten so bad that I avoid mirrors all together. The demon creeps back, “How can anyone be friends with you? have a conversation with you? Look at you? I mean… LOOK at you, you’re disgusting” The demons are mean.

But it’s time.

Tonight I will close the bathroom door and stare into the mirror. Even if it’s for one second. I would never allow anyone to teach my children (God’s beautiful creation) this way, why would I allow myself? It has to stop.

I will look into the woman in the mirror and I will tell her who she really is. Once she believes it, she can start changing her ways to act like it.

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Why Couldn’t We?

There’s a story in the scriptures that haunts me. (okay, more than one) but this one I return to time and time again. Here is an excerpt:

 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Mark 9:14-29 haunts my dreams. I am possessed by a demon, one since childhood. It’s fear. I have spent countless therapy sessions and spiritual direction session trying to overcome this fear. I have spent years, decades, attempting to drive it out.

Fear can manifest itself in many, many ways. Too many to count. We have individual fears and communal fears. Our parents use fear in positive and negative ways to teach us lessons. Our teachers use fear to motivate us. Politicians use fear to manipulate us. We turn our fear on each other and act out in ways that hurt ourselves and others.

Then we rationalize it, say it’s to keep us safe. We say it’s for our own good, protecting us from harm.

I have attempted every way possible to drive out this demon over the years but have always fallen short.

As a minister I believe in the grace and mercy of God, of second chances (or third, fourth, well an infinite number) but as a human being who has for so long been possessed by fear it seem impossible to drive out.

I return to Mark 9 over and over again and am haunted by this exchange.

There are so many angles to this story I could preach on it for years, but where I lie today is at the disciples feet.

“Why couldn’t we drive it out?” They ask.

This is an all too familiar question. Why can’t I just make this go away. Why can’t we just stop acting out of fear, or better yet having fear at all? How do I stop this demon from controlling my life, where’s my magic wand, where’s my ability to drive this out for myself?

Jesus’ answer is one of the most frightening things I have ever heard. “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

It knocks the wind out of me. I ward off a panic attack. It’s the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard.

Why can’t we? Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I drive out the demon of fear in me that rears its ugly head when things should be left alone? Why can’t it’s demon twin anxiety leave me the hell alone? Why can’t we as a society recognize when it takes possession of us and we fling them into the abyss before we fall to the ground foaming at the mouth?

Jesus’ answer? Because this kind can come out only by prayer.

Do you know how terrifying that is? Fear is fed by our ego, our need to be in control, our need to be superior, and honestly for me, the insecurity that comes with being human and having relationship with other broken people.

Sometimes the motivation to not exercise the demon is masked in the rationalization of protecting ourselves. Just today there is fighting using fear as “protection” in our country over guns, Muslims, refugees, and immigrants. We have a war on women, a war on drugs, and must proclaim on a regular basis that #blacklivesmatter because equality is still a figment of our imagination. The amount of oppression we dawn as “protection” is just a way of feeding that demon of fear.

So why can’t we? Why can’t I?

“This kind can come out only by prayer” Jesus says. Love conquers all. I have to learn to trust myself before I can trust my neighbor. I have to first learn to trust God before I can trust myself.

I am ready to turn this demon over to God. I am ready to give it up in my personal life. I am ready to stop hurting myself and those that I love by pretending to protect when really I am hurting.

I suspect there will be regression and I ask for forgiveness in advance, but there it is, Jesus, I can’t do it alone, will you help me? Will you help my unbelief?

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Those Who Can’t Do… Preach

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It’s a funny thing we do, worship. It’s silly really. For an hour (or so) a week we go into a room full of stained glass and a giant cross and stand and sit and stand and sit in uncomfortable rows known as “pews”. Which I still to this day think sounds like a dirty word…

On the last day of UNCO15 East I was sitting in the back of the room behind a computer watching a room full of worship leaders worship collaboratively. I have always said that UNCO is some of my favorite worship I have ever experienced, but each time that has happened, I have been helping to lead the worship.

I was still “participating”, running the powerpoint, but I was reminded how strange and uncomfortable to sit through worship. I am always amazed when parishioners ask me “I don’t know how you do it up there”. The truth is, I don’t know how you do it. How do I stop from feeling uncomfortable? I “do” things. Worship especially. It’s uncomfortable, its vulnerable, it scary.

A friend who is a pastor said to me the other day that he had no interest in teaching people how to worship, if you’re in church you should already know. “I have no idea how to worship,” I retorted, “that’s why I lead it.”

I speak truth here. I often begin “prayers of the people” in worship with “Jesus taught us not only to pray for ourselves, but to pray for others.” I don’t know how to pray for myself, that’s why I pray for others.

There’s really not much more to it than that. I’m a pastor who doesn’t know how to worship or pray, that’s why I do it.

Because worship and prayer are hard. The faith thing? Those who can’t believe, pastor.

It’s too personal for me, this thing that is God, worship, faith. I have to “do something” to keep myself from becoming too open, too vulnerable, too moved. Too anything is bad. or is it?

I know a man who lived a tragic life, it was a heartbreaking story. A few of us knew it. He struggled. He was a single man in his 40’s that worshiped and found community in the church, we were his family. But still, in the midst of worship he sat by himself while everyone else sat with their families.

On Christmas Eve during Silent Night he would sob openly and loudly.

You can imagine the comments. This is everyone’s “favorite moment of the year”. This is “the most meaningful moment in all of worship” (pastor eye roll).

Sometimes he would sob alone, another year someone would wrap their arms around him, some of the people in the room “tolerated” it, others cried too, because his sorrow brought out their own. Others looked with empathy, but went about singing merrily.

Worship is uncomfortable, but it is so because (if we’re doing it right) you have permission to be exactly where you are in life at the moment you are experiencing it, to have permission to feel all the feels and think all the thinks. And you’re doing it in front of other people, in a stained glass room full of people.

If I don’t occupy myself in preaching, praying and logistics of worship, I would sob and weep openly.

Every pastor I know who has left church for one reason or another struggles with “attending” worship. Most parishioners I know couldn’t imagine “leading” on a weekly basis.

I need worship. My soul needs to worship. I need to sit and stand and sing and laugh when I say things like “Our scripture lesson this morning comes from the Gospel according to Mike.”

I need to celebrate wins with a community, I need to mourn my grief in public. I need to gather for an hour every week and pray for you, preach the Word of the Lord, administer the sacraments, and ask forgiveness on behalf of the world which is in so much pain.

Worship is terribly hard, if you’re doing it right. I’m not sure I am. And those who can’t do… preach.

Advent: Come Lord Jesus

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Tear gas engulfed the police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., on Monday. Credit Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

I can’t stop staring at this image.

The juxtaposition of light and dark. If glanced at it could look like Christmas lights.

Look again.

It could be blurred Christmas lights with haze.

But it’s not…

It’s tear gas, and machine guns, and gas masks, and the glare of shells on Rambo style rounds of bullets.

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday after the Darren Wilson grand jury decision and my timeline and news feed was full of comments from pastor friends and how they were addressing the decision. My sermon was written, it was finished before I left for vacation, the week before. It was on the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel and mentioned race, but in that quick and general way. It was about the darkness of the season and how we rush to cover up the darkness with twinkling Christmas lights. And then I read this article today, which contained the photo above. The article was good, but I stared and stared at the image.

We rush to cover the darkness…

As I write this a song plays “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent/Wondrous Love” a piano solo by David Burroughs. This is one of those instances where if I didn’t find embedded music that automatically played on websites so annoying I would do it. It’s only a sample, but click here, then go back to the image. There are no words in this version, but here is the first verse of the hymn.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

I want to yell and scream, and if that’s what you need to do, do it. Yell. Scream. Amen!

But as I think about the darkness, the waiting, and the season of Advent – I cannot help but see the images, the images of people standing in silence with their arms raised.

“Don’t shoot,” with fear and trembling we stand.

David Burroughs combines this hymn with “What Wondrous Love is This.” An Advent hymn, with a Lenten one. Two seasons of waiting, waiting to receive our savior – our light in the darkness – and waiting for the end of the earthly journey. A journey that ends with injustice, injustice that was part of the political system. An injustice where the laws “worked accordingly.”

How does this advent end? When does this advent end? How many more lives will be lost? How many more tears will be shed? How many more images like this will appear?

I have no answers, only more questions and to simply say this: Come Lord Jesus, Guide our Way.

Slow Motion

My new favorite band is Phox. I was introduced to them a few months ago, and I’ll admit it, I can’t get enough. Some days, I have days where my eccentricities come out, and the playlist jumps around, other days, I listen to one song over and over until I get sick of it. This is the case today with Phox’s “Slow Motion.” Stop reading and watch the video, then play it again as you come back to the blog and finish reading. Go ahead… I’ll wait.

First, Phox should be your new favorite band too. Second, there’s an amazing clarinet solo and dance party- Who does that?!? Unreal. Third, there isn’t anything about this song that doesn’t fit my mood today and my life right now. There is no doubt that I’m moving in slow motion, and given my personality, it’s my first instinct to see that as a bad thing. But it’s not. I’m slowing down I’m feeling the feels, I’m moving out of survival and into a new normal. I’m not there yet, but it’s a slow movement toward those things. The hard part is that the world seems to be moving around me going at hyper-speed.

The majority of the video is spent with her at a party, and while others seem to be carefree, she carries a weight. That weight is sustained throughout the video. Sometimes she is alone in her melancholy, other times, she seems to be joined by the rest of the band. But even when joined their weight is individual (all facing one direction or away from each other), it is not shared as the joy and laughter seem to be.

This really struck home to me. It is easy to share in joy, and joy is contagious. I even smiled at the dance party because it looks fun, people are having fun. It even makes me want to hate hipsters less (okay… maybe not). But what about melancholy? It’s lonely. Others can “be there” with you, others can accompany you, but really you are alone with the weight, the hurt, the anxiety. It’s important not to rush the process out, but it’s not like joy.

Last night I spent a few hours in prayer. I allowed myself to feel all the feels, feel the weight that was on me, feel my heart break for those whom I love in similar situations, let my heart break for where I am in life, that I have to integrate the dark and the light of life and understand that this is a continuous challenge, but a necessary and healthy one. I asked myself, as I often do in these kind of prayers where it hurts. I mean physically, where does it hurt?

I’ve been asking myself this question for years. It started with a clergy coach who was teaching me to be a “non-anxious presence” during meetings. She told me to locate in my physical body where the tension was manifesting itself, when I could release that tension physically, then I could also mentally release the tension. It helped.

A few years later I read a poem by Rabia of Basra (c. 717-801) a Sufi poet. She said this:

“Show me where it hurts, God said, and every cell in my body burst into tears before His tender eyes.”

So when I hurt, I now ask myself this from God, “Show me where it hurts.” I just observe, try not to judge. Last night the pain struck directly to my heart and I mean in my heart. Yes, my chest but on the left side of my body, there is actually an ache in my heart, it’s not on the right side. Locating where the pain is physically manifesting itself allows me to feel and experience the sorrow that is beyond tears. For the cells of my body are crying out. The pain doesn’t immediately disappear, but it’s a way to live in the midst of the fog. In the midst of the slow motion that my life is moving in, while everything around me seems to be moving forward.

If you too are moving in slow motion or know someone who is this practice is worth a try. After some time experiencing the pain physically it will be time to release it, but not internalize it. Today, as I went through the rite of the Sacrament of Communion at the local hospital and I read these words from Jesus:

 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” – Matthew 11:28-30

My experience of God is this, when God asks me where it hurts and I can allow the pain to be exchanged between us in prayer, the burden lessens. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but it does. This is my hope and my peace.

Lord I want to be a Christian

There is a famous prayer (paraphrasing here) from St. Augustine saying “Lord, make me a Christian, but not yet…”

Apparently Augustine had a lover and a kid with her. He wanted to be a Christian and a priest, but he would have to give up his mistress and his child. So he went to a garden and prayed. “I want to be a Christ, but not yet.”

These next three days I will journey through the stories of Jesus’ last supper, the prayer in the garden, the excruciating trial and crucifixion. And eventually, death not having the last word.

I cannot pick a favorite story of the bible, or a favorite scripture, or even a favorite book. I can tell you why I would choose Mark or John’s feeding of the 5000 story over Matthew or Luke. Why the prayer of the shema is so important to me. Why the Old Testament stories add such a complexity to my understanding of family and human life.

I can also tell you I am a Christian today because of the prayer Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I am the daughter of a catholic and a mainline protestant [and the step-child of two southern baptists(ish)]. Although church was on and off, my family is Christian, I was raised with church on Christmas and Easter and some times in-between. I was also raised with the concept that these were the things we did before the family gathered for the holiday meal.

Despite being “raised” Christian, there is no question when I “became” Christian. I know when I accepted that God was working in my life, I can look up the dates I was baptized and joined the church, I can tell you the story of my first communion and I can also tell you the moment I became a Christian.

An aside: saying “the moment I became a Christian” is really creepy to me. Having been raised for a time in the southern Baptist tradition I have to say this is a little too close to “when were you saved” but there really was a definitive moment I decided to be Christian.

Life wasn’t good and I struggled. I received my call to seminary when I was 18, but life happened, or continued to happen I should say. I ran from God for 2 years after this call. I know, not that long, but I ran hard, my life crumbled. I moved to Memphis running away from my hometown, I moved to Louisville, running away from Memphis.

I ran from Christianity most of all, not from God, but from religion. I could not give up on God… ever. But I wasn’t so sure about Jesus and the church.

My junior year of college I transitioned from a Music Education degree to a BA of Arts in music with a religious study minor. I studied world religions and I loved it. I was not “seeking” for a specific religion but wanted to learn and study all the different ways people knew and experienced God.

To fulfill the requirements for the degree I had to take a course in Christianity, admittedly I was not as happy about this. Yet, Introduction to New Testament I went… The class was taught by an ordained southern Baptist and was full of bible-thumping born-again engineers fulfilling their humanities requirement. I hated every moment of it.

Except, I had to read the New Testament. And I got to the moment of the Garden of Gethsemane (I like Matthew’s version the best). And I was transformed.

I read this prayer, and I had prayed this prayer:

“Now that’s a guy I can follow.” I even said out loud in my apartment. This guy gets it. This God gets it. I can follow him. I can teach his teachings, I can pray to a God who gets it. This Jesus gets me, he understand what it is to live this life. That life is hard and complicated, that there are impossible choices to make.

“Please don’t make me do this” Jesus prays. “I beg you.”

Yet at the end of the day, I believe in the gracious mercy of God and I am at God’s will to be used in the way God would have me be used – for love and compassion even if that means pain and heartache at times.

This is why Augustine left his mistress and child. This why I not only went to seminary but why I am in church on Sunday morning. Even more than that – it is why I don’t actually care if anyone shows up for service tonight, or tomorrow, or on Sunday. Their loss if they don’t.

Because I am a Christian who believes that God knows me through and through, because God – present on earth, fully human, in the form of Jesus – was alone in a sea of followers who worshiped him. Abandoned, he begged and pleaded, for life to be different – for this life he was living to be different. He begged to not have to make an impossible choice. He begged that someone else would take the burden away – make the decision for him. But God doesn’t work that way…

And Jesus knew it. And so do I.

God doesn’t stop the human feelings of burden, of wishing it wasn’t so. I know what I must do, ultimately what I will do, but until then, I beg you, don’t make me do this.

So I will be in worship tonight, I will serve communion, and I will read Matthew’s version of the garden of Gethsemane. I think it would be great if you were there.

Will you stay awake and pray with me a while?

Christ-Gethsemane

 

So… How you going to do all this?

That’s an excellent question and one worth exploring.

How am I going to do all this?

I will make lists and charts, and talk things over exhaustively.

I will make a plan and not stick to it in any way and procrastinate and change my mind 50 times and then wish I had stuck with my plan all along.

I will carefully and methodically lay out my paperwork and then promptly spill coffee all over it.

I will get food on my keyboard and complain and clean my desk to make room. I will lay in bed and wonder why I cannot be more focused or sit at my desk and wish I were in bed.

I will choose music with the precision of a madwoman and then get lost for hours in new artists.

I will laugh

I WILL cry

I will try to remember why I’m doing it all. and spend an hour daydreaming about what I would do differently. I will come up with 20 plans that are better than this one.

Then somewhere deep inside a voice will whisper, “I believe in you, you can do this, do not forget I am here for you.” and I will start writing and editing, reading and talking, thinking and scheming about a better world and how my speck of dust, my little Whoville can be changed for the better.

And after all that, if I’m lucky, I’ll remember to pray and praise my maker for the life, the depth, and the choice to do or not do all this.