A Spring Blessing

Lent means Spring! (At least in Old English). This Spring blessing comes from Macrina Wiederkehr’s book “The Circle of Life”. She reminds us that Lent is a time when “deep trust in unseen growth is absolutely necessary” and that in Lent we are called to “trust without seeing the face of secret life that stirs, to hope without happy feelings, and to work with what seems to be little fruition”. In today’s blessing, she also offers us glimpses of God’s springtime grace.

Blessed are you, spring,
bright season of life awakening.
You gladden our hearts
with opening buds and returning leaves
as you put on your robes of splendor.
Blessed are you, spring.
In you is a life no death can destroy.
AS you exchange places with with winter
you harbor no unforgiving spirit
for broken tree limbs and frozen buds.
Blessed are you, spring.
You open the closed buds of our despair
as you journey with us
to the flowering places.
Blessed are you, spring.
You invite us to sing songs
to the frozen regions within
and to bless the lessons of winter
as we become a partner in your new dance.
Blessed are you, spring.
Like Jesus standing before the tomb of Lazarus,
you call to us: Remove winter’s stone, come out,
there is life here you have not yet tasted.”

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: What frozen places in your life have begun to open to God’s grace and mercy? What lessons has this past winter taught you? What “life you have not yet tasted” might be waiting for you this season?

Longing, Lenten: A Poem by Brett Foster

Longing, Lenten

“The walk back, more loss. When I open the door
it’s over, so I set to piddling: tidy
end tables, check the mail, draw a bath.
The restless energy finally settles
as I pass the mirror. I peer into it.
My nose touches glass. Not much left,
already effaced, not even a cross
to speak of. A smudge. A few black soot stains
like pin points on the forehead. The rest
of the blessed ash has vanished to a grey
amorphousness, to symbolize… not much.
Except a wish for those hallowed moments
to be followed by sustaining confidence.
Except spirit, which means to shun its listless
weight for yearning, awkward if not more earnest
prayer and fasting in the clear face of dust.”

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: As the poet moves out of the immediacy of Ash Wednesday’s “hallowed moments”, what choices does he face? What is he ready to give up? What is he ready to receive? What part of his experience speaks most profoundly to you?

Praying in Lent

Prayer is not just spending time with God. It is partly that — but if it ends there, it is fruitless. No, prayer is dynamic. Authentic prayer changes us, unmasks us, strips us, indicates where growth is needed. Authentic prayer never leads us to complacency, but needles us, makes us uneasy at times. It leads us to true self-knowledge and to true humility. (Teresa of Avila)

When the heart slowly sinks
into the mire of unhappiness,
when the mind insistently whispers
about could, ought, should, and ought,
when the voice of less-than-whole self
grows irritable and impatient
with the way people are, or are not,
with the way I am, or am not,
let it all be. Move away. Step aside.
Go to the inner dwelling place
where the Christ-light flames endlessly.
Stand in the center of that Love,
untouched be demands, failures,
shattered hopes and unfulfilled yearnings.
Walk past all that hinders kindheartedness
from glowing steadily is my daily routines.
Move into the home of transformation,
into that grace-filled, spacious vessel.
Be restored, renewed, repaired, regenerated.
Come forth with hope, start again
with less control, fewer anticipations
and more peaceful receptivity
in the container of mind and heart.
(Joyce Rupp, Prayer Seeds, Sorin Press 2017)

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: How has prayer changed you in the past? What changes might God by guiding you through during this Lent? Are there particular renewals and repairs you are longing for right now?

A new verb for God?

From Rachel Held Evans’ “Inspired”, a memoir about her relationship with the Bible:

You don’t have to be a Biblical scholar to recognize [certain stories in the Book of Genesis] for what they are. In the same way we automatically adjust our expectations when a story begins with ‘Once upon a time’ versus ‘The Associated Press is reporting…’, we instinctively sense upon reading the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah’s ark that these tales of origin aren’t meant to be straightforward recitations of historical fact. The problem isn’t that liberal scholars are imposing novel interpretations on our sacred texts; the problem is that we’ve been conditioned over time to deny our instincts about what kind of stories we’re reading when these stories are found in the Bible. We’ve been instructed to reject any trace of poetry, myth, hyperbole, or symbolism even when those literary forms are virtually shouting from the page via talking snakes and enchanted trees. That’s because there’s a curious but popular notion circulating…these days that says God would never stoop to using ancient genres to communicate. Speaking to ancient people using their own language, literary structures, and cosmological assumptions would be beneath God, it is said, for only our own categories of science and history can convey the truth in any meaningful way.

In addition to once again prioritizing Western (and often uniquely American) concerns, this notion overlooks one of the most central concerns of Scripture: God stoops. From walking with Adam and Eve through the garden of Eden, to traveling with the liberated Hebrew slaves in a pillar of cloud and fire, to slipping into flesh and eating, laughing, suffering, healing, weeping, and dying among us as part of humanity, the God of Scripture is a God who stoops and stoops and stoops. At the heart of the gospel message is the story of a God who stoops to the point of death on a cross. Dignified or not, believable or not, ours is a God perpetually on bended knee, doing everything it takes to convince stubborn and petulant children that they are seen and loved.

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: What is your reaction to the author’s assertion that “our own categories of science and history” are often privileged above poetry, myth, and symbolism as means of accessing truth in contemporary society? How have you experienced “the God who stoops”?

What Am I To Do?

“The gospel imperatives — feed, clothe, heal,welcome, visit, raise, proclaim — are verbs of servant ministry. As baptized members of the Body of Christ, we are a missional community, chosen by God and helped by the Holy Spirit to bring justice to all people and creation. Through our baptism we become the Body of Christ, promising to take up Christ’s mission. Indeed, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said, we are a people ‘living their Baptismal Covenant, following the way of Jesus, living the Way of Jesus.’ The Episcopal Church is the ‘Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement in the world’. Jesus started a movement and showed us the way to servanthood.

Read the Servant Song from Isaiah. Replace wach ‘he’ and ‘him’ and insert your own name. As you read it, imagine yourself as the servant of God who upholds you and whose Spirit rests on you.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon [him];
[He] will bring forth justice to the nations.
[He] will not cry out or lift up [his] voice,
or make it heard in the street’
a bruised reed [he] will not break,
and a dimly burning wick [he] will not quench;
[he] will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:1-3)

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: “How does that feel? What are you called to do as a servant of God?”

Words and reflection questions from “The Way of Love: Go”, Church Publishing 2019

A Growing Season

“The lettuce seeds I scattered in hastily prepared ground before we left two weeks ago have all sprouted. They have made their first true leaves and are crowding others as they continue to grow. They cannot all expand and mature in such suffocating closeness. Since I haven’t yet turned the soil, I have no place to transplant them. Thinning is the only answer.” (From Arlene Bernstein’s “Growing Season”, included in “The Circle of Life”, Joyce Rupp and Maria Wiederkehr, Sorin Books,2005)

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: “Reflect on any suffocating closeness in your life that prevents you from maturity and growth. Is there anything that needs to be thinned out? What is too crowded? [This time of year] is a good time to meditate on things that need more space in our lives.” (Questions from Rupp and Wiederkehr’s book).

Who is Waiting at the Gate?

“The work [of caring for a stranger at the gate] is more than just the rich tending the poor, although that is certainly part of it. Caring is often seen as something the ‘haves’ do for the ‘have nots’. But Jesus’ challenge to us all is one that goes far beyond noblesse oblige, the condescending acts of the nobility on behalf of the poor. The radical notion [Jesus offers] is that we care for each other, I for you and you for me. This moves us beyond the notion of a Samaritan helping out a beaten and abandoned neighbor or a rich man helping out a poor one. On the contrary, Jesus’ message is that we are now part of a radically reconfigured family wherein each one is a brother and sister for whom we are responsible. Through the cross, Jesus has taken on responsibility for us,for the whole world. Now he needs us to do the same, to take up our cross and follow, and care for the world in which we live. That makes us responsible for our communities, our cities, our states, our nation, other nations, and even our enemies. All the sheep are our responsibility. Not just the ones who are like us. Not just the ones who go to our church. Not just Episcopalians. Not just the other Christians. The hard lesson here, one we are all too eager as sinful, broken human beings to ignore, is that it matters how we live and how we care for each other and stand with others. There is someone standing at the gate of our lives. And that person, that community, is waiting for us to stand with them as extensions of God’s mercy, grace, and abundant love.

From “The Way of Love: Go”, Church Publishing, 2018. The image of Hondurans waiting at the gate is from the Weekly Standard.

For reflections in solitude or in the company of others: This meditation is a reflection on Luke 16:19-31. You might want to read the Bible passage and consider what questions it raises in your mind, and how the meditation answers them. Or you might move at once to questions like these — who is waiting at the gate of your life? When have you (or your family, or your community) been in the position of waiting outside someone else’s gate?

What Truth Does

“Truth never frightens. I remember once walking out in the winter to greet my father as he returned from work. He was a little late that night and I waited by a street corner near our house. The cold can enliven thanks, my wool coat became a sacred robe, how happy I felt to be alive. I waited in a world of magic, smells of good food, the street lamps, the smoke coming from chimneys, the candles burning in windows, the snow. Angels feasted, as I did, on existence, and God kept saying ‘Have more of what I made.’ I saw him coming. We ran into each others’ arms he lifted me as he so often had — twirled me through the air, his hands beneath my arms. That is what the Truth does: lifts and lets us fly.”

Words written by St Catherine of Siena, 14th c mystic, and interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky in “”Love Poems From God”.

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: How do you respond to St Catherine’s assertion that “truth never frightens”? What memories do her words stir in you? When have you experienced the delight (in other persons orn in God) that she describes?

All About the Love Project

“So what is this love project? When people ask the question, ‘Why did God create the universe”,’ the answer of the major religions is that God created the universe as the setting in which women and men can learn the hard work of giving and receiving love. This is God’s project. This is the love project. Religious people are often the strongest argument for atheism. We can be so unkind and cruel. Points of principle (often of a pretty abstract form) become reasons for schism. We have a long list of folks we dislike, which often includes adherents of other religions. In the past, we wrote lengthy tracts defending patriarchy and slavery. We can be smug, indifferent, and downright unpleasant. It is worth remembering that our core experience of God is a unity that surrounds us with love. The primary theme underpinning the message of countless prophets, teachers, and priests is that the divine calls us to focus less on ourselves and more on others. The big picture here is really important. Any religious community that does not lead to the goals of peace and love is wrong…Now being in a community that is focused on the life-enhancing love project is not easy. It is hard. One of the reasons religious people can be so unpleasant it that they are human. And people everywhere have moments when they enjoy being selfish, tribal, unkind, and even cruel. Sitting around in a like-minded group and complaining about [people we disagree with] can be great fun. So don’t be misled. focusing on the love project is hard work and challenging. Do know, however, that it is worth the struggle, challenge, and hard work. A life focused on self is tragic and lonely; a life focused on love is rewarding and enhancing.”

From “Faith Rules: An Episcopal Manual”, Ian Marks and Sandra Gottlich, Church Publishing, 2016

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: To what degree have you experienced God as “a unity that surrounds us with love”? Where and when have these experiences happened? Where and when have you experienced — or taken part in — the “tribal, selfish, unkind, and even cruel” behaviors the authors describe? What is your reaction to the authors’ assertion that “religious people are often the strongest argument for atheism”?

Dancing with Jesus

…Grace is something that belongs to God, but that God lavishes upon upon us. God has designed God’s world as a great dance of life and grace, with parts written in for us from the beginning. These parts we are to learn by watching and imitating Christ, the principal dancer. We are not, initially, very good dancers. We are quite clumsy, and we can’t hear the music very well. But that’s all right, because God has designed the dance to accommodate us, and varied the music, so that there are whole sequences that are appropriately danced by lumbering creatures and toddlers like ourselves. The music and choreography is designed to make us look natural and graceful, in the right place at the right time, even if we ourselves have only the haziest notion of what we are supposed to be doing. The principal dancer works around us, weaving our well-meaning efforts into the whole, drawing us out and responding to us, making us look good with his own gloriously graceful dancing…”

(From Jane Williams’Lectionary Reflections: Years A B & C, SPCK 2011)

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: Try imagining yourself stepping into God’s dance. What might be holding you back? What encourages you? Where and when can you hear God’s music in your life?