Category Archives: Meditations

Something that encourages thought and reflection

Heart it Races

I’m sitting writing this in midtown Manhattan before my Portuguese class and nearby there’s a couple fighting and another couple with their arms around each other and someone else eating dinner out if a styrofoam container. The buildings around me are many stories tall a few stars beyond them are already shining because we’re well into fall.

I’ve been thinking lately about being small.  Also about small decisions and how they add up. How you find yourself in New York City, taking a Portuguese class so you can communicate with your Brazilian in-laws in Times Square. All the things that led you here, and all the little decisions and moments that will lead you to wherever it is you end up next.

On my way home. I like the way the clouds in Brooklyn make the sky feel like a ceiling which makes me feel both larger and smaller. I like the number of people on the subway and the sidewalk. A man and a woman sit down on the train, the women pulls out lined yellow paper with two packing lists, one labeled “dogs” and the other “humans.” The guy across from me keeps looking around and shaking his head. There’s so much I’ll never know.

I like how Jesus rarely gave any straight answers. There were just questions answered with questions and stories. Understanding always eludes us. But he did say this “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which, in the end, doesn’t require enlightenment, because it isn’t so much about a dramatic life-change as a thousand small decisions, made daily, to love.

Three Sentences

If you’re reading this blog there’s a good chance you read other Episcopal things or have Episcopal friends, in which case you probably know about the current big news in the Episcopal church, which is the strike taking place at General Theological Seminary, which led to then being fired, which leads to a lot of angry and sad clergy and lay people.

A fee weeks ago I marched with 300,000 other people in hopes that some action might be taken by our leaders before we wreck our home, this earth, and it felt almost like a prayer, like a thing you do because the world is broken and you are small and there is hope that someone will hear your voice.

In the end, I don’t know what will happen at General or to our planet or to the church, but I know that a place to start is in prayer, in hopes that God will hear us in the midst of our confusion and that, despite our missteps and all the ways in which we are lost, we will hear each other.

Small but Not Still

Boa noite! I’m currently taking a Portuguese class(hence the song. I don’t understand the words – I’m not very far along yet), which is why my posts have been pretty late at night (I’m writing this on a train at 10pm) .

I recently finished reading Capon’a book, and I wrote out a few thoughts here.

Between being in the middle of an unusually busy time at work, taking a class, a few other projects, and the normal day to day stuff of being an adult, I’ve often felt recently like I’ve been running from one thing to the next, and one of the reasons I liked the book was because it was about slowing down and appreciating the world for what it is, rather than what it means.

Of course, there is a lot to do in this world. This weekend, for example, I’m participating in the People’s Climate March. There will be thousands of others, including a lot of people of faith. Climate change is one if those issues that should not be set aside, though we all know it’s easy to do so. I hope you’ll consider coming if you’re in New York (and maybe even if you’re not) and if not I hope you can participate in this work in other ways.

I sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by the problems we face. Andrew W. K., who writes songs about partying and an advice column, helped me out a bit in this area. Prayer, he says to an atheist advice seeker, is about being humble and reminding ourselves how small we are. Which, I think, is at least part of the truth. It’s a part of the cycle of action and movement and silence and rest.

So I’m praying and doing what I can, recognizing that I am small, but that is no excuse for apathy.

Thoughts for Thursday

This past Sunday they let me have the pulpit. I know, right?? x) Here’s what I said.

——

968781_10101191674536855_1751022478_nWhen I was a young girl one of my favorite times of the year was summer. Summer meant freedom from schoolwork, long afternoons playing with neighborhood children, and best of all: family vacation. We always went around the first of July, which coincided nicely with my birthday on July 8th. One year we were in Florida, I was about seven or eight, and we stopped at a local grocery store to get a birthday cake. My parents told them my name so they could add it under “Happy Birthday”, and an hour later we returned to pick it up.

On the way home we noticed something about that birthday cake: “birthday” had been misspelled as “brithday”. Raucous laughter ensued.

Ever since then when my family has gathered to celebrate my birthday, when the cake comes out we make sure it says “brithday”. My nieces and nephews are usually in charge of cake decoration, and so the story is told every year about why we spell Auntie Kathleen’s cake wrong.

Over the years this has come to symbolize something special for me; the nostalgia of family vacations, of riding in our minivan for hours, sleeping in hotels, and our favorite beach-side restaurants. When I eat that brithday cake I am remembering the times that my family came together to bond and become the cohesive family unit that we are today. I feel connected to that specific time and place, but also all of the times since then that we have come together around a misspelled birthday cake. And, hopefully, the times that we will in the future.

I’m sure you have stories like this too. Stories of family events gone wrong, or special occasions that everyone remembers fondly. Stories and traditions that are recalled when the family is all together and passed on to new generations. As members of the family of God, we also have stories that have been passed down to us; stories that link us with our collective spiritual family past, present, and future.

Today we read from Exodus. In that reading we learned about a very important event: Passover.  Although it seems to be a strange list of instructions it is, nevertheless, a text we can connect with because it concerns a celebration supper—much like my birthday cake, it too is a special meal with a special story.

To give some context to today’s reading, things in Egypt are coming to a head. The most terrible of all plagues is about to happen and the result will be a glorious exodus from slavery for a people who had been held in bondage for over four centuries. You’d think this would be a gripping narrative told straight through. After all, that’s what we do when we tell this story in Sunday school.

However, if you’ve never read Exodus chapters 11 and 12 in their entirety, you should try it sometime. What will immediately strike you is how this incredible portion of the Exodus story gets all but buried beneath lists of liturgical details and instructions. In Exodus 11 and 12 there are 23 verses devoted to telling the actual story of the tenth plague and the subsequent release from Egypt.

But nowhere in those 23 verses is this story told straight out and without interruption. In between those 23 verses are a whopping 52 verses of Passover instructions. The verses devoted to instruction outnumber the verses that tell the story two to one. TWO to ONE! Chapter 11 gives us pretty much a straight narrative, but then Exodus 12:1-28 is all instruction. Reading further we get a brief interlude of story again before chapter 12 concludes with another nine verses recapitulating the Passover restrictions, rules, and regulations with still more to come in the first 16 verses of chapter 13. History, it seems, is encased by religious practice. This text shows us that we need ways to remember important events. Specific ways. Simply re-telling the story is not enough—as humans, we need action. Some kind of physical way in which we can enter into the story. This is the truth that I want to lift up to you all today: commemorating important events requires us to not only remember but also to act.

Another way we can see the importance of this commemoration is through the new calendar that is created. So not only do we have physical instructions on how to commemorate an important event, we have a whole new orientation to life. The events reported in these verses represent a new beginning for Israel. At one time or another we have all had central and shaping events happen in our lives—like misspelled birthday cakes, a wedding, the birth of a first child or grandchild. These are seminal turning points, things you’ll never forget, events that even when you near the end of your life you will still be able to claim as key components that made you who you are. But even so, none of those events caused you to do something as radical as to tear up all the calendars in your house so that you could invent a whole new system of time-keeping with that day–the day of your child’s birth or your wedding day or the date on which you graduated college–that day would become New Year’s Day for you from then on.

Yet that is exactly what God tells Moses would be true for Israel. At the beginning of chapter 12 God tells Moses to create a brand new calendar with that day and that month being the equivalent of January. In other words, God is doing an act of new creation. In some way God at least sees what is happening to Israel as re-making the world. History is going to start over right here and right now. That’s why the events themselves are so encumbered with instructions on how best to remember the events forever.

Never underestimate the power of memory, or how God himself may use memory to make us part of something. Our collective memories have the power to bind us together, not only with each other but with generations past, present, and future. To this day, when observing the Passover, the Jews don’t say, “We remember this night how God led those people long ago out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.” Instead they let memory hook them into the divine narrative by saying, “We remember this night how God led us out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.” Another way of putting this is: History is what happened to others, memory is what happened to me.

By the act of remembrance, we become something we would not otherwise be. We become that people. That story becomes our story. When we remember the sacred story, when we connect ourselves to that narrative, we become part of the very act. The act of commemoration links us to the past and to the future; to what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do to free us from our own bondage.

***

Retelling a story is simply not enough for us. As human beings we need action as a way to enter into a narrative, and one of the ways we can do this is through prayer. As many of you know I am the campus minister for St. Paul’s at MTSU. Last week we had our second annual Semester Blessing here in the nave. It is a tradition that I hope will continue on as I believe it is important to ask for God’s blessings and to remember the blessings that we are already experiencing. Gathering to pray for the school year, for the faculty, staff, and students, is a way in which we connect our faith and our life—it is an action that reminds us that God is with us and God is working within us, as well as the community around us.

So what does all this mean for us? How does this apply to our lives? Well, Passover remains the central celebration in Judaism, but in Christianity we have the Eucharist. Passover meant liberation for the Hebrew people, liberation from slavery and deliverance to the promised land. The Eucharist also means liberation for all who partake, freedom from sin and freedom from the world. You have the blood of the lamb on a doorpost in Exodus and the blood of Christ in a cup in the Gospels. Both are stories of salvation, and both are commanded by God to be remembered in very specific, active ways.

In a few minutes we will celebrate the Eucharist. We will tell the story of Jesus’ last supper, in which he brought us into a new relationship with one another and with God. It is open to all who remember that Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. But simply telling this story is not enough—we need action, something physical to connect us to Jesus and the disciples and that Passover feast long ago. When you come forward to receive the bread and wine, what’s happening for you? Are you distracted by the world, or are you fully present at the altar rail? When we come to receive the bread and wine this is, at least for me, a very holy moment.  It is holy because it is when I enter into the act of remembrance—when WE enter the story. We remember what God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. Amen.

Have You Seen My Son?

I’ve been listening to a lot of Benjamin Booker, which is why I’m sharing it above. It’s pretty great, kind of raw, stuff. Also, I’ve been reading Robert Capon’s book, The Supper of the Lamb, which is kind of a cookbook, I think, but more of a reflection by an Episcopal priest and amateur cook. The beginning is all about looking closely and lovingly at what is. So here’s a part I love:

Nothing is more likely to become garbage than orange rink; but for as long as anyone looks at it in delight, it stands a million triumphant miles form the trash heap.

That, you know, is why the world exists at all. It remains outside the cosmic garbage can of nothingness, not because it is such a solemn necessity that nobody can get rid of it, but because it is the orange peel hung on God’ chandelier, the wishbone in His Kitchen closet. He likes it; therefore, it stays. The whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string exists because at least one lover has never quite taken His eye off it, because the Dominus vivificans has his delight with the sons of men.

Maybe the world isn’t – maybe you aren’t – there to serve a purpose, but because it is – because you are – loved.

 

Take Up Your Cross

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This past weekend I was in Chicago, where I visited a few museums and lake Michigan and ate some deep dish pizza. I also visited Fourth Presbyterian Church. The sermon was by Shannon Kershner. It was all about the cross and fear:

“Take up your cross,” Jesus said, “and stop worshiping fear and death as your gods. Take up your cross and follow me. Take up that horrible cross as a sign that you believe in the life-giving power of God more than you believe in death-dealing power of fear.”

Definitely worth reading the entire thing.

Thoughts for Thursday

When we pray for another, it is not an attempt to alter God’s mind toward him. In prayer we add our wills to God’s good will… that in fellowship with Him, He and we may minister to those whom both He and we love. (Henry Sloane Coffin, Joy in Believing, 1956)

Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy
never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come,
knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we
can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP pg 831)

 

A dear friend once commented that during our worship service, the prayers of the people is the closest we come to being Christ like. 

When we gather together to pray for each other and for the world we bring the Kingdom of God ever closer. 

I find myself sometimes struggling in prayer for others. I get specific, praying that this or that will be solved or this job will happen or that thing will be resolved. Sometimes I think I know what the outcome should be, and it ends up not turning out that way but being perfectly alright. Maybe something happens that I hadn’t even thought of.

I like just saying people’s names or being otherwise non-specific. Sure there are outcomes I would prefer for certain situations, and I definitely make that known, but who am I to know what is best? I trust that God is “doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for”. 

So the next time you tell someone, yes I will pray for you, don’t feel like you have to dream up a solution to their problem, or pray for a certain outcome. You can simply lift their name up to God, join your own will to His, and trust that God knows what the best outcome is for that person.

And God hears your prayer anyway, no matter what you end up saying. 

Overturning Tables

Early on Monday morning, I went to the post office to pick up a package. They send all the people with package slips to a separate window, but this morning there was no one at the window. We waited awhile. Someone left. Someone got very angry. I snapped at a lady. She wasn’t listening to what I was telling her, but I still felt a little bad about it. It probably was not her fault. Maybe they are understaffed. Maybe someone didn’t show up for work for some reason.

I rarely get angry. It’s just not in my temperament. Often this serves me well, but I do think there is a place for anger. There’s a time to knock over tables and call people out. Maybe at 9am in a post office isn’t really the time.

Last weekend I went to a march on behalf of Eric Garner, who was killed when police held him in an illegal chokehold. People are angry about this and other recent shootings, and rightly so of you ask me (I know you didn’t, but anyway).

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Of course, the anger I felt in the post office is nothing like what others are feeling about the real injustice in the world (I’m not even certain it’s the same emotion).

I think anger is often the right response to many of the things that happen in our lives, and can be useful. An important question is what you do with that anger. Do you take it out on those who are powerless or just struggling to do their jobs, do you harm others, or do you channel it against the people in power, those who abuse their wealth and privilege?

I don’t know how long you can live angry before it starts to eat at you, but it seems like there’s a kind of anger that can be used to create change. The kind that Jesus demonstrated when he threw out the moneylenders from the temple. This anger isn’t petty or self-centered. It ultimately comes out of love for others and a desire for justice.

Oh, Hello

Last week I discovered this song by The Oh Hellos, which I think may be a Chrsitian band. It’s catchy, folky, group-sing kinda stuff, which I always enjoy.

The other day I signed up for SoulPulse, mostly out of curiosity. Twice a day for two weeks it sends you a text or email and you fill out a short survey about your spiritual health. Then it gives you a summary. You can read more about it here.

Measuring your spiritual health seems kind of impossible, if you ask me, but it’s an interesting exercise in mindfulness. Twice a day it pops up in my inbox (oh, hello!), and I have to  think about how close I feel aware of God or how joyful and peaceful I feel.

I often don’t know how to answer these questions. Peaceful compared to what? What exactly does awareness of God feel like?

Sometimes you do know, though, like when you get to interview a 10 year old (like I did last week) or you are with people you love. I don’t know exactly how to measure joy and peace, but I’m glad to be paying attention.

P.S. Here’s a GIF

Disgraceland

Every week at St. Lydia’s we read a poem (I wrote a bit about it here). I read Disgraceland by Mary Karr last week, which goes well with this song by Fink, I think. Here’s a bit of it:

Christ always stood
to one side with a glass of water.
I swatted the sap away.

When my thirst got great enough to ask,
a clear stream welled up inside,
some jade wave buoyed me forward,

and I found myself upright
in the instant, with a garden
inside my own ribs aflourish.

Read the entire poem here.