Monday, December 24, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Christmas Eve

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

(from The Hymnal 1982, hymn 56)

The house is quiet. And full. Everyone is reading. One on the couch, one in the coveted comfy chair, one on the stairs, one in her room, another somewhere else. The contentment of solitary pursuit settles over the house like a favorite quilt.

There is a difference between enjoying alone time and being lonely. I remember feeling completely alone once in the midst of a group of close friends. Their laughter surrounded me, yet I was exiled from it. I don’t remember why. I don’t know what interior or exterior drama left me in that barren space. But the ache was familiar.

Ordinary and extraordinary incidents can hold us captive, can push us into the isolation of disconnection. We encounter personal demons and real life tragedy. We are brought to our knees by the aching absence of one we cherish. Or sometimes we just feel left out, or left behind, or out of sync with the world around us.

Yet I also know the quiet and the solitude to overflow with grace. To contain moments in which I let go of all pretense and find myself immersed in the flow of creation. To offer the pleasure of serenity. To be a place of meeting, where I encounter my savior and know myself beloved.

I welcome this day’s quiet, which heralds the end of one path of waiting and the beginning of new expectation.

O come Emmanuel! Come God with us! Restore us and remind us once again that there is no landscape bereft of your love.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Saturday of the Third Week of Advent

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of humankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.

(from The Hymnal 1982, hymn 56)

The doll stands atop the bookshelf in our family room. She seems oddly out of place, in her Vietnamese elegance, amongst the family photos, scattered papers and DVDs. She is neither cute nor cuddly nor worn with love like the Velveteen Rabbit. Nevertheless she stands there, an icon of passionate childhood devotion. My father bought her just for me. My father brought her back with him from Vietnam.

Or maybe he sent her. Was she a birthday or Christmas or homecoming gift? I don’t remember. I remember that he was away at war, that I read my first book aloud to him on a reel-to-reel tape, that I kept a picture of him pinned to the bulletin board in my room. More than his absence, it is these moments of connection I recall. This must be the result of the power of love and faith. My mother, my church, and the military community in which we lived kept us focused on connections.

I never named this doll, never snuggled with her, never employed her in my many games of house or school. Yet she holds a place of honor in my house. She is a tribute. To a father’s love which procured a gift for a little girl out of a war zone.

There are many sad divisions in our lives. Some are caused by war. Some are caused by hurts we inflict within our families. Some are caused by stupid arguments we refuse to mend. Some are minor; some are cataclysmic. None are beyond the healing grace of Christ. Come desire of every nation. Come desire of every household. Come desire of every heart. Come and bind us together. Come and bind us to you.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Friday of the Third Week of Advent

O come, thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

(from The Hymnal 1982, hymn 56)

The rain is pounding as I wake. At least it is not snow, I think. But it is snow in the Midwest that closed an airport and delayed the arrival of an eagerly expected guest in our house. The waiting continues.

I sit in the rain-dark morning, illumined by the lights on the Christmas tree. My oldest daughter is packing her lunch for school—one more day before break. The waiting continues.

One more day before we can give ourselves over completely to holy other time.  I yearn now for the release that comes with immersing myself fully in the rhythm of ritual and play and prayer and festival.

Three more days of Advent. Three more days of the waiting.

Three more days that are lengthening, even as we reach to light the fourth candle, revealing that the waiting strengthens rather than depletes our hope. The light grows brighter, closer; the wild star is already piercing the heavens as the fullness of time draws nigh.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.

(from The Hymnal 1982, hymn 56)

The tree occupies a significant amount of space in our small living room. Because we have travelled at Christmas time in recent years, it has been some time since we brought a tree into our house. But this year we are staying home, and I find myself eager to gather up once again traditions that have been set aside.

And what will they look like now, these rituals and activities that have lain in the wings while our family life has moved on? We have changed, as individuals, and as the complicated dance that represents us as some kind of whole.

What furniture will need to be displaced, what patterns of living rearranged, what spaces opened to allow for our joyful preparations? What will we discover about who we are and about the one for whom we prepare?

The coming of Christ opens a new way. Every time. At all times. This time.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree,
free them from Satan’s tyranny
that trust thy mighty power to save,
and give them victory o’er the grave.

(from The Hymnal 1982, hymn 56)

I notice the new sign as I drive by and wonder how long it has been there. The well-crafted, attractive new marker for the inn occupies the place vacated by a once proud beech.  The tree had stood there strong and tall, majestically arching over a vast space. Until a storm last year took it down.

Now a bed-and-breakfast, the inn inhabits the former grand home of a family that a century and a half ago invited neighbors into their living room for evening prayer—and started a church. A church that grew into the cathedral congregation now occupying the block across the street, a beacon of life in its urban setting.

The destruction of that beech tree gave way for other signs as well.

I recently traveled to South Sudan on a mission of friendship. Out of an amazing set of circumstances, a relationship has been engendered between the Diocese of Bethlehem in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Diocese of Kajo-Keji in South Sudan. I carried with me greetings from one Bishop to another, teaching tools to share with the children I would visit in the schools we have built together, and an important gift. Carefully wrapped in tissue paper, a wooden cup and plate, chalice and paten. A faithful craftsman of the cathedral congregation in Bethlehem turned two sets of these vessels. One I placed in the hands of the Dean of Emmanuel Cathedral in Kajo-Keji. Its twin resides at Nativity Cathedral in Bethlehem. Both were crafted from the very branches of that beech tree.

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots,” writes the Prophet Isaiah.

From the roots of a family, from the roots of a beech tree, from the roots of a war-torn country, from the stump of Jesse, hope continues to flourish. O come, Emmanuel.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

(from The Hymnal 1982, Hymn 56)

“Do you know what a messiah is?” the teacher asks a group of preschoolers. This takes a certain amount of courage. Anyone who has worked with young children knows a question like this is just begging for a show-stopper answer. My friend Henry, age four, does not disappoint.

“It’s a wild animal with white and black spots!”

His mother tells me she inwardly rolled her eyes and wondered what the teacher was thinking. Of course this group of young children have no idea what a messiah is. What kind of a question is that? What kind of an answer is that? Then she reconsidered. Perhaps his answer is right on the mark.

Our messiah is decidedly wild. After all, that was one of the problems Jesus’ followers had with him. He didn’t act in predictable ways.  He couldn’t be counted on to keep the Sabbath in a respectable manner or to avoid hanging out with the wrong kinds of people. He challenged authority, stormed market places, and cursed fig trees.

We do not have a tame messiah. And I am thankful. When the world around me is a tempestuous storm, I need a God of might and strength and beauty. A tame messiah just won’t do.

I think it is very gutsy of us to pray the collect for the third Sunday of Advent and mean it: Stir up your power O Lord, and with great might come among us. Do we really want God’s power stirred up? Are we ready for God to sweep into our lives full of might? Are we ready for the messiah, The Wild Beast of God?

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Monday of the Third Week of Advent

O Come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

(from The Hymnal 1982, Hymn 56)

It turns out to be a spool of thread. Actually, it’s an empty spool and a plastic one at that, which explains the volume of my yelp as my bare foot encounters it. “This is why I ask you not to leave things on the stairs!” I fling in the general direction of my younger daughter’s room. She likes to collect such items. Of course carrying an empty spool all the way up the stairs to her bedroom is a bit much to expect.

It is so easy to create stumbling blocks for one another, I reflect. Like to one I laid before my other daughter a few days ago. She was actually cleaning the house, dusting just as I had asked. Yet when I watched her give one cluttered surface a less than thorough treatment the first words out of my mouth were, “not like that!”

I saw her trip over my tone of disapproval and land in a pool of adolescent angst. It’s not that guidance about how to do a job well was out of place. But there are many ways to speak respectfully and I had chosen to ignore them all. I know better. As a person and as a parent, I know better. I hugged my daughter and apologized, “I’m sorry I spoke harshly. I know you were doing just what I asked you to do.”

They say that wisdom comes with age. But as they say in this neck of the woods, we grow “too soon old and too late smart.” I am always wishing I knew yesterday what I leaned today. I do not always know the way, and even when I am on the right path, I seem to only stumble along.

We need Christ Sophia. We need to be shown the path, and be taught as we walk it. We need her guidance continually.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Saturday of the Second Week of Advent

Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,
   and bring me to your holy hill
   and to your dwelling.
  Psalm 43:3

“Why is one of them pink?”

“It’s not pink, it’s rose.”

“Ok, so why is one of them rose?”

“It’s for Rose Sunday,” I say with a sense of incredulity. How can he not know that on the third Sunday of Advent we light a rose candle?

“Well, where is the white one?” My husband queries.

“What white one?”

“The one that goes in the center…”

The conversation surrounded the creation of our first mutual Advent wreath, many years ago. It was not the first difference of practice we had encountered as we endeavored to build a household together. I was mystified by his continued practice of putting the milk on the wrong shelf in the refrigerator. After all, everyone knows where the milk belongs.

And everyone knows what a proper Advent wreath looks like. Except everyone doesn’t. I grew up with three purple and one rose candle. He grew up with the white Christ candle in the center. Neither of us had ever encountered the other. A white candle in the middle? Really? Could that work? Apparently so.  It can even work circled by three purple and one rose candle.

As we prepare to light the rose candle this year, more than twenty Advent wreaths later, I pause to consider how little I know about what really matters. Our life together continues to be a series of new discoveries, negotiations and encounters with the other. We offer surprising illuminations to one another. And there remains mystery that invites exploration. Like the mystery surrounding the one whose coming this season heralds. After all, encountering the other is what we are preparing for as we light these candles.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Friday of the Second Week of Advent

In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame;
   deliver me in your righteousness
Incline your ear to me,
   make haste to deliver me.
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold;
   for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
   Psalm 31:1-3

“Mom, you’re embarrassing me!”

“That’s my job. It’s in the Mom Handbook.” We are both only partly joking.

I am grateful for the conversation. I am thankful for the humor that we can each inject into what could be a tense moment, and I am keenly aware of the importance of us staying connected. I sense a window of opportunity closing. There is so much I want to tell my daughter as she seeks wisdom and guidance farther and farther from home. She is moving beyond the sphere of my influence—and protection.

When I was new to this city, I became completely lost one night. Sixth months pregnant, with my two-year-old in the back seat of the car, I discovered that the way home was not simply a matter of reversing my route. There was a specific moment when I realized that nothing was familiar along the dimly lit urban streets. How far astray had I gone?

My husband was the only other person I knew in town; he was unreachable. My sense of urgency was heightened by the two young lives in my care and my need to protect them. Why is it that parenting makes one feel so vulnerable? I tried to retrace my route and to keep my panic at bay.  Finally I crossed a street with a name I recognized. I had never been that far along that particular road, but I was able to get my bearings.

It occurs to me that I want to feel protected just as much as I want to protect those I love. As I go about my life, I reach out for familiar touchstones and signposts. No wonder the image of God as a rock is such an enduring one. I have not traveled this far down the road of parenting before. And the way forward is not always as straightforward as it seems. I often go astray. But when I look at the person my daughter is becoming, I realize I recognize her. I know who she is, and I can get my bearings.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

Take delight in the Lord,
   and he shall give you your heart's desire. 
   Psalm 37:4

“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” my friend queries as she begins her homily. I am arrested by this question and don’t hear what she says next. Is that what I am supposed to do in the wilderness, I wonder? To look for something? I don’t perceive of my excursions into the wilderness as fact-finding missions, I realize. When I intentionally seek out the wilderness, I am usually in flight mode. I flee to the wilderness to escape the noise and chaos of my life. I yearn for the desert island without cell tower, meetings or homework assignments. I am not planning to look for or at anything.

Then there are the times I find myself cast into a wilderness not of my own choosing, a place of loneliness and deprivation. My stance at these times is usually one of endurance. I simply need to survive this dry spell and then I will be all right.

I’m not sure I have ever gone out into the desert to look for something. But now I wonder. Perhaps the desert isn’t “other,” but part of one whole.

What if my heart’s desire resides in the wilderness? What might I find in the wilderness if I go seeking?

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless;
   give me life in your ways. 
  Psalm 119:37

I have an hour before dinner. Just enough time to run to the bookstore and buy that book for my sister-in-law. If I get it today, then it is just possible I can manage to assemble that particular package and get it mailed in time to arrive for Christmas. The book, and those beautiful candles I saw in the shop window next to the bookstore. These are the last items on my list.

“Yes, we have one copy of that book,” the young man informs me. Except it is nowhere to be found. Not on the shelf where it is supposed to be. Not on any shelf it might be. I regroup. I might be able to get it elsewhere, if I have time. I head down the street to get the candles. Only on closer inspection I see that they just won’t do. My hour is running out. My sense of urgency is rising. My brain begins to catalogue all the things I have yet to do.

I know something about the power of lists. Especially repeated ones. They create grooves and habits in our psyches. Organizational gurus tell us that writing a “to do” list gets our worries out of our minds and into an action plan. Except what about those things I don’t want in an action plan? Do I really need to make a list of my worries and keep repeating it? And what about making a litany out of my failures? How does that lead me on the path of God’s truth and love?

It doesn’t.

I think I will make a  “To Don’t” list. On it I will put all the things that distract me from the grace of God. And it’s not even going to be a real list. I am not going to write those distractions down. I am not going to give them that much space in my life or soul.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
   my heart trusts in him, and I have been helped;
Therefore my heart dances for joy,
   and in my song will I praise him.
The Lord is the strength of his people,
   a safe refuge for his anointed. 
  Psalm 28:8-10

“Ok, today I am in my calm mode.”

“That’s because you are not picking up perfection from the floor,” my friend quips.

I look at him quizzically. Then I realize he means Perfection, a children’s game that comes with a lot of small pieces. He knows all about the “game-falling-out-of-my-coat-closet” incident that occurred the other day. And he is correct. The name of the game that played havoc with my morning last week is Perfection.

I am arrested by the image he has invoked. Yes, life is much less stressful when I leave perfection alone, and do not attempt to pick it up once I drop it. Of course the very idea that I am able to uphold perfection in the first place is flawed. My humanity is showing.

I sometimes believe I can measure my level of stress by the number of balls I am dropping. What would life look like if I only juggled as many balls as I could handle? What if I allowed myself to focus on the task at hand and employ the time necessary to complete it? What if I remember that the number of balls I can juggle has no real effect upon the salvation of the world? What if I remember to rely on God?  After all, the work of salvation has been completed, has been perfected, by the one who holds the job title of Savior.

I think leaving perfection on the floor and walking away is a good idea.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Show me your ways, O LORD,
   and teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
   for you are the God of my salvation;
   in you have I trusted all the day long. 
   Psalm 25:3-4

It is chaos.  I had volunteered to bring the cake. This will be easy, I think. I order the cake from the grocery store. I pick it up. I bring it along with the necessary paper plates, plastic forks, and cutting knife. I drop it off. Then, I prepare to leave.

“Aren’t you going to stay and cut the cake?” the other mother asks. She has organized this party for 80 some kids. She is much braver than I am. I had been planning to contribute, and then escape. After all, several other parents have volunteered to work the party.

“I’m no good at cutting cake,” I explain. This is actually true. It would seem that cutting a sheet cake into reasonably sized, beautifully rectangular portions is a straightforward task. I’ve seen it done. But somehow I missed the parenting class on proper cake cutting. Nevertheless, I find myself stationed at the cake table surrounded by excessively eager children. “Those are big slices,” another parent observes as I awkwardly attack my task. I cannot keep up and begin to lose my confidence and composure. I spy another parent across the room, one of the calmest and most good-natured people I know. Bordering on desperation, I beckon to him, surrender the knife, and escape.

In the middle of the wildness and wilderness of the party, I want to cry out, “Make a path, clear the way, get me out of here!” Where is John the Baptist when you need him? But the way of God is not made smooth for our escape. The way is made smooth to welcome our salvation. Show me the way, O God. Teach me to walk in the wildness of my everyday life, and discover the path that leads to the Messiah I await.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Saturday of the First Week of Advent

Turn again to your rest, O my soul,
   for the Lord has treated you well.
   Psalm 116:6

I sink into the unhurried moment. Finally. It is easier to breath from here. Although I got up at my usual hour, the morning caught me by surprise and it is noon before I can seem to get my bearings. Why am I rushing about?

My body begins to soak up the quietude, and I consciously relax into the richness of the fare here. Then, with the briefest of nods to the tranquility on offer, I pick up my to-do list once again. But I have moved away from the respite too soon and the stress jumps at the opportunity to constrict me.  Like days I attempt a workout at the gym without being thoroughly warmed up, I have no flexibility or stamina.

Why is it I resist the pull to linger in the unhurried moment? Why am I content to take a fast-food approach with my soul, grabbing a quick prayer on the go as if that will sustain me?

The two hemispheres of our brain control different functions, popular psychology often preaches. Yet neuroscientists tell us it is the integration of these two hemispheres that bring to the fore our greatest resources. The brain has the ability to reorganize itself to form new neural connections throughout our life. The more intentional we are about keeping these two hemispheres connected and communicating, the more access we have to our brain’s resources. Creating and maintaining this connectivity takes practice, and is something that cannot be hurried.

Perhaps there is a reason that “hurried” looks so much like “harried.”

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Friday of the First Week of Advent

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
   I have said to the LORD, "You are my Lord, my good above all other."
   Psalm 16:1

Of course it was one of those board games with a thousand small parts. I hear them clatter to the floor followed by the game board as I struggle to rescue a warmer coat from the tightly packed hall closet.

"The spiritual life is a stern choice,” writes Evelyn Underhill,  “It is not a consoling retreat from the difficulties of existence; but an invitation to enter fully into that difficult existence, and there apply the Charity of God to bear the cost." As I stoop to pick up the pieces, I reflect that the family life is also a stern choice. Having already resolved during my morning prayer to keep a spiritual focus for the day, to take the time needed to prepare for my upcoming meeting, to be prayerful and attentive to God during what promises to be a hectic day, the tumbling pieces of the children’s game abruptly shatter my tranquility. This isn’t even a game they play anymore, I mutter to myself with a sense of injustice.

Nevertheless, all of this is part of one cloth. In choosing to be faithful to the married life, in following a vocation of parenting, I also choose the cluttered closet. And the complicated schedule. And difficult negotiations. And raucous conversation around the dinner table. And shyly offered confidences about newly discovered friendships. And forgiveness offered and accepted. None of this is separate from the spiritual life.

(excerpt from Advent with Evelyn Underhill, edited by Christopher L. Webber. Morehouse 2006, p.7)

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Thursday of the First Week of Advent

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion
   slow to anger and of great kindness.
The Lord is loving to everyone
   and his compassion is over all his works.
   Psalm 145:8-9

I awake with a sense of pleasant anticipation. I get to practice a delight this morning--putting chocolate gold coins into my daughters’ shoes.  Today is the feast of St. Nicholas.

In earlier years, this gambit required a certain amount of stealth. Not any more. For one thing, my girls know it is me and not the 4th century Bishop of Myra who puts the chocolate in their shoes. For another, I know I won’t get caught. I can count on being awake before the teenagers.

And they are teenagers. Too old for make-believe and sandboxes and bedtime stories. But not too old for ritual. Or the small things I do to show my love.

“Thanks for the chocolate, Mom,” my youngest says as she heads out the door for school. I am not too old to soak up the small things she does to show her love. Nor for the rituals that point to the Holy One who is gracious, full of compassion, and of great kindness.

Read more about St. Nicholas

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012   

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

Oh, that my ways were made so direct
   that I might keep your statutes! 
  Psalm 119:5

“We all get distracted praying the psalms,” I heard the monk say. I am surprised. After all, he is a monk, and not a new one either. He is no novice, trying out the monastic life and discipline to see if it fits. This gentle soul, who was instructing our retreat group about prayer, has been intentional about his Christian vocation for a long time.  Apparently, even mature Christians get distracted. “When you find your mind wandering during the recitation of the psalm, do not berate yourself. Rather, think back, find the place where you lost your way. Often the verse you were praying has something to tell you.”

This morning his words come back to me. Because as I pray psalm 119, I rewrite one verse. “Oh that your ways were made so direct,” I pray. There it is. That one little slip. Just a word. And a world of difference.

Wouldn’t it be nice, I think, if God’s ways were so clearly delineated that there was no chance for me to stray off the path? Perhaps the way of God’s statutes could be more like those lines at amusement parks and airports that snake between ropes, the people carefully corralled into obedience.

But that’s not how God works. I am responsible for my ways, the psalm reminds me. In fact, my ways are the only ones to which I can be held accountable. Huh.

I still have some work to do. I begin to pray the psalm again.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

In the morning Lord, your hear my voice;
  early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you.   Psalm 5:3

The package greets me as I arrive home after a long drive. It is unexpected; not something I ordered and not an early Christmas arrival from a family member. I look at the return address and a smile warms my face and seeps into my travel weary limbs.

I unwrap the carefully packaged friendship and find my hands cradling a carved wooden figure. The weight and texture bring pleasure as I finger a fine statue of a bearded man with kind eyes holding a book and a quill. “Saint Paul—Patron  Saint of Writers,” the attached card reads.

This figure has traveled to me from the desk of a colleague and friend. It carries with it years of writing and vision and expectancy. It embodies her grace and friendship. And as I place it where it will now reside in my prayer space, it conveys her works of faith, and labor of love, and steadfastness of hope. These gifts arrive and replenish my own store of faith and love and hope. That’s how generosity works.

I began the day with the practice of prayer, pledging myself to watch for God.  And here, now, is Saint Paul who will keep me company through this year’s Advent adventure. Saint Paul, and my friend, and all those who appear along the way, as I am attentive to the grace of God.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Monday of the First Week of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.     The Book of Common Prayer, p. 211

The boy practically prances down the aisle, his toddler tennis shoes lighting up as he goes. I remember when my children were young enough to wear "light-up" shoes. It is the First Sunday of Advent and the boy is in procession, following the cross on his way to Children's Chapel. He grins at me as he passes, and my attention is caught by those shoes. I am reminded of the psalm, Your word is a lantern to my feet, and a light upon my path (Psalm 119:105). He literally has lanterns on his feet and is shedding light on the path as he goes.

During Advent we intentionally arm ourselves with light. In my town many follow a cultural tradition of putting one lighted candle in each window. As I drive home from work on these early winter evenings, I pass through streets where the windows of every business and house boast this one light. It has become part of my Advent discipline to enjoy this path home. These are not the riotous Christmas lights that cover houses and lawns on other streets offering a different kind of cheer. Rather these simple candles hearken back to another time, when a single flame in the window would combat the darkness of long winter nights and offer beacons to lead the traveler safely home.

"Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness," we pray during this first week of Advent. It dawns on me that casting away the works of darkness is not always a herculean task; even one small flame or one pair of light-up shoes has the power to dispel the darkness. I would like to follow this boy and his light-up shoes. I am sure he could lead me safely home.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Advent 2012

Once again I will be offering my daily Advent Meditations. This season will include some of my favorites from earlier years. The posts will begin on Monday, December 3, 2012.

I will be traveling to the diocese of Kajo-Keji in South Sudan during Advent this year. Daily meditations will be posted here. However, as I will not be able to post from Africa, my reflections about my stay there will have to come to this space later. I am sure my travels will open me to rich experiences that I cannot imagine from my current vantage point. I ask your prayers for my time there.

If you would like to subscribe to these meditations via an email list, you may do so through the Get Connected link on the Diocese of Bethlehem website. Once you fill in your name and email in the box, you can choose Expectant in Bethlehem from the options.

May God grace you with unexpected gifts this Advent.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Wisdom in Yearning

A Meditation on Psalm 14

The fool has said in her heart, “There is no God.” On any given morning of any given day, even the most devout person can look for God and find…nothing. Perhaps this is because she looks on the world and sees only brokenness. Or perhaps it is because what she knows about God is not the same as knowing God. Or maybe her sense of being bereft stems from the dilemma that even though she knows God, she has lost hope and her way.

  The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
     All are corrupt, all commit abominable acts;
     there is none who does any good.”
  The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all,
     to see if there is any who is wise,
     if there is one who seeks after God. (Psalm 14:1-2)

All a person has to do is read the front page of any newspaper to understand the fool’s point of view. And God? God looks down from heaven on us all, to see if there is any who is wise, if there is one who seeks after God. The fool doubts God in her heart perhaps because she has confused yearning with alienation. It is this yearning, this seeking for God, that God calls wise.

Wisdom, according to the psalmist, is not knowing all about God, nor self-assurance, nor resting in the satisfaction of having it all worked out. Rather wisdom equals seeking after God. Wisdom comprises knowing that there is a relationship to be had with God and that it is one worth pursuing. In one sense, God does not satisfy us-- because we are never done knowing God.

I know what I yearn for on those mornings when I wake and God seems an abstract notion with no power to heal or save or protect. I yearn for the knowledge of God’s tender love. Not head knowledge, but heart knowledge. I am convinced that the most important work any of us can do is to nurture our spiritual life, to recognize and follow our yearning for God, and to appreciate the seeking itself as wisdom. I pray that my yearning may be satisfied in such a way that I yearn for more. Because when it comes to God, and God’s love for us, and God’s desire to be in relationship with us, there is always more.

Once Jesus fed a multitude in the wilderness with only five loaves of bread and two fish. When the people were satisfied, when all had eaten their fill, God was not done with them. Jesus instructed the people to gather up the fragments left over. What could Jesus do with fragments? Another miracle apparently. They collected twelve baskets full: more fragments than there was bread to begin with. Gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost, says Jesus. Nothing and no one. Jesus knows there is no end to our yearning and no end to God’s abundance.

Writer, artist and Methodist minister Jan Richardson captures this additional miracle in her poem, Blessing the Fragments.

Blessing the Fragments

Cup your hands together,

and you will see the shape
this blessing wants to take.

Basket, bowl, vessel:

it cannot help but

hold itself open
to welcome

what comes.

This blessing
knows the secret
of the fragments
that find their way
into its keeping,

the wholeness

that may hide

in what has been

left behind,
the persistence of plenty

where there seemed

only lack.

Look into the hollows
of your hands
and ask

what wants to be

gathered there,

what abundance waits
among the scraps
that come to you,

what feast

will offer itself
from the fragments
that remain. 

[Jan Richardson in her blog The Painted Prayerbook on July 22, 2012]

The feast is in the fragments. Wisdom is in the seeking. The fool has said in her heart there is no God…and yet she holds out her cupped hands waiting for the fragment that will answer her yearning.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Way It Goes

Why think God has not touched everything
that comes to your

True, He may have kept the best
for Himself.

That is just the
way it

(Rabia of Basra c.717-801, translated by Daniel Ladinsky in Love Poems from God)

Deflecting the Senseless

On Irenaeus
A sermon preached by Canon Anne E. Kitch at Diocesan House
June 28, 2012

Last night our Diocesan deputies to General Convention enjoyed a wonderful dinner hosted by our Bishop. The evening was part of our preparation for General Convention, which begins in a few days. It was a delightful gathering. And while we did discuss issues and schedules and the place of our diocese in the larger Episcopal Church, perhaps the most important part of our preparation was the fellowship, laughter and camaraderie we shared. I can truly say I am grateful for my companions as we travel to Indianapolis next week to take our part in the counsels of the Church.

Given that I have been somewhat distracted by my preparations for the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, I could not help but admire the serendipitous appearance of this passage from Second Timothy designated for the commemoration of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. “Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies.” (2 Timothy 2:23)

I will confess to having contemplated the upcoming General Convention with a certain sense of dread; I know I have complained, to anyone who would listen, about the budget, the issues, and the process. The problem with complaining is the more you do it, the better you get at it. It not only becomes a habit, but it actually reinforces certain neural pathways changing your brain so that you are even more prone to complaint and negativity. More recently I have tried to exercise a discipline of being positive, of reminding myself of the gifts I bring and the grace that must be present in doing this work.

Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies. Which begs the question, how do we discern the wise and sensible controversies?

I believe Jesus gives some hint when he tell us, “If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light.” (Luke 11:34) In pondering how we might keep our eyes healthy, a line from a familiar psalm came to mind, “Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless.” (Psalm 119:37) Keeping our eyes healthy and our bodies full of light is a matter of where we place out attention.

In this context, Irenaeus presents a wonderful example for us. Living in the second century, Irenaeus was a third generation Christian. He was brought to the love of Christ by Polycarp who himself learned of the redeeming love of our Savior from John the Evangelist.  Irenaeus paid attention to God. He faithfully proclaimed the Gospel and is best known for writing, Against Heresies, in which he clearly discerned what were the wise and sensible controversies of his day. He set out to refute the extreme Gnostic position that emphasized the spiritual to such an extent as to deem the body and the physical world as corrupt and even evil. Irenaeus asserted that God created the world and all that is in it, humankind included, and that what God created is good.

Irenaeus paid attention. He set his eyes on worthy sights. He observed where the attention of many followers had strayed, he called attention the problems of these heresies, and he placed his attention on loving Christ and telling of that love.

Following the example of Irenaeus, we need to pay attention to our own sight and be willing to examine what we call light in ourselves and observe if we have been mislead. We need to seek out wise teachers who can call our attention to the one true light.

If we want to discern the wise and sensible controversies, if we want our eyes to be healthy and our bodies full of light, we need to set our eyes, our attention, on what is holy. We need to look for and see and pay attention to God’s grace, ever abundant and present.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Real Presence

A sermon preached by Canon Anne E. Kitch
Thursday in the Fourth Week of Easter, May 3, 2012

“So many years since I saw you last,” writes the poet David Whyte in a poem called “Remember.”

So many years since I saw you last,
that I couldn’t recognize
your brotherly presence
even as you sat beside me.

So many memories hidden
from a busy present,
that I ate with you without seeing you,
a stranger amongst other strangers,
talking, talking
about nothing in particular.

I wonder, were we ever to meet
with God as we still lived
and breathed, would we do exactly
the same thing,
let time go by
about the weather,
not even knowing
how to ask the question?

So many years since I saw you last. As Jesus prepared to die, he loved. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)He loved them all, even the one he knew would betray him. With love, he washed their feet. Even the one. With love, he shared bread with them. Even with the one. Jesus again and again offering his love, even when it would not be received. Jesus employing a generosity that he meant to be generative, to generate more gifts of love. Very truly I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. (John 13:20). I wonder.

I wonder, were we ever to meet
with God as we still lived
and breathed, would we do exactly
the same thing,
let time go by
about the weather,
not even knowing
how to ask the question?

What we know, and what I believe the poet knows, is that we meet God all the time.  In all sorts of everyday people and places. Very truly I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. Jesus calls us, invites us, commands us not only to give love, but to receive love, because this draws us closer to God. Remember.


So many years since I saw you last,
that I couldn’t recognize
your brotherly presence
even as you sat beside me.

So many memories hidden
from a busy present,
that I ate with you without seeing you,
a stranger amongst other strangers,
talking, talking
about nothing in particular.

I wonder, were we ever to meet
with God as we still lived
and breathed, would we do exactly
the same thing,
let time go by
about the weather,
not even knowing
how to ask the question?

Once we were one
and now we are two
and the second has grown
and forgotten the first.

The ancient love
we felt a mere fable now,
a story across time,
a distant recognition
across the table,
an ache beneath
the glance and
the seemingly necessary,
ordinary request
to pass the salt.
                                                            (David Whyte)

Very truly I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. We are called to open our eyes and hearts and selves to receive the love of Christ in all sorts of places and from all sorts of people and in all sorts of everyday actions—even in the ordinary act of passing the salt.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter in the Wilderness: Come, rejoice!

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been:

Love is come again
like wheat that springeth green.


In the grave they laid him, Love whom hate had slain,
thinking that never he would wake again,
laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:

Love is come again
like wheat that springeth green.

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,

he that for three days in the grave had lain,
quick from the dead my risen Lord is seen:

Love is come again
like wheat that springeth green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,

thy touch can call us back to life again,
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:

Love is come again
like wheat that springeth green.

John Macleod Campbell Crum (1872-1958)
The Hymnal 1982, 204

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Holy Saturday

April 7, 2012

Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave?
   your faithfulness in the land of destruction?   
Psalm 88:3, 12

As the morning becomes full, my house is still sleeping. Yesterday we gave ourselves to the telling of the passion. My daughters gathered with other youth to offer the gift of solemn devotion to their congregation. Flute and oboe. Voices layered together in song and intercession and words of wisdom. Young feet walking the way of the cross creating space for all to follow.

We left in silence, we left Jesus in the tomb, we left spent.

God promises rest. But this is not yet it. This is the waiting, the vigil, the brink. Love is with the dead.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Good Friday

April 6, 2011

Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.  John 13:36-38

The morning has broken, the night is spent, the cock has crowed. Now I must live in the aftermath of my inadequacy.

Last night an older woman knelt before me and gently, reverently washed my feet. Then I, in turn, knelt before a young girl on the edge of womanhood and cradled each foot in my hands, washing off the dust of wherever her desert journey has taken her.

Last night the moon was full as we walked across the parking lot. The fullness of time.

Last night I slept soundly.

But today,
today even as the sun unwraps before me the gift of a dazzling spring morning,
today is only darkness.

How will I find my way?

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Maundy Thursday

April 5, 2012

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35

I give you a new commandment. The phrase runs through my head as a kind of mantra as I contemplate the tasks of the day ahead. New commandment. Mandatum novum. Maundy Thursday.

I give you a new commandment. I have enough trouble with the old ones, I think. Especially that one about not wanting what others have. Although I am sure my day could be well spent wrestling with any of them.

In another part of the house, I hear my daughter practicing piano. Recently her proficiency has jumped to a whole new level. Now the strains wafting through our old house are Bach and Dussek and Haydn. She is more diligent than I ever was at her age—or any age.

She starts and stops, repeating phrases, working with just on hand, then the other. Bit by bit she connects notes and adds layers of tone, tempo, and expression. Phrases become movements, which in turn are miraculously transformed into sonatinas.

I give you a new commandment. Mandatum novum. Love one another as I have loved you. This will take some practice.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Wednesday in Holy Week

April 4, 2012
Listen to me and answer me;
   I have no peace, because of my cares.
I am shaken by the noise of the enemy
   and by the pressures of the wicked.
  Psalm 55:2-3

Is snacking on pretzels really breaking my Lenten fast, I wonder, as I carry a handful back to my desk with me. After all, pretzels are a traditional Lenten food.

I am hungry today. I ate a full breakfast, then two tangerines, and now these pretzels. I brought lunch from home, but I am already contemplating going out instead. Maybe even getting dessert.

I realize the pretzels themselves are not the problem. It is snacking that is off limits for me during Lent.  But that is not really the issue either. It is the hunger. What I hunger for, yearn for, is not something the pretzels can fill.

I am acquainted with this hunger. I recognize that the only way to assuage it is to abandon myself completely to the emptiness. I discern the temptation to stop short of the bareness that precedes new life.

I know all this. Nevertheless, I put one more salty bit into my mouth.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Tuesday in Holy Week

April 3, 2012

Help me, Lord, for there is no godly one left;
   the faithful have vanished from among us.
Psalm 12:1

The strands of palm leaves tucked behind the corner of my mirror are already dry and brittle.

We stood among the damp palm branches last Saturday preparing them for the ritual to come. Mothers and grandmothers, we pulled the fronds from the water, split them and folded hundreds into crosses, leaving others long and lean. All the while telling stories, and partaking in the giving and receiving of parenting advice.

And with us too the teenage girls who had cajoled one another into being there, texting their incentives. They told their stories as well, but in that space they also overheard the tales of older women.

Now the palms have been dispersed and along with them the stories. The joyous procession is two days past.

I sit alone and cannot seem to find my way into the narrative of life. Dry and brittle. Help me God.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Monday in Holy Week

April 2, 2012

Save me, O God,
   for the waters have risen up to my neck.
I am sinking in deep mire,
   and there is no firm ground for my feet.
I have come into deep waters,
   and the torrent washes over me.
I have grown weary with my crying; my throat is inflamed;
   my eyes have failed from looking for my God. 
Psalm 69:1-4

The gentle breeze is fiercely thrust aside by a howling beast that rips at my windows, raging. Clouds scuttle across the sky casting darkness upon part of the world while the gold brightness of the sun yet claims its hold on the morning, piercing through the storm to pour illuminating fire on a single maple shimmering its leaves with otherworldly candescence.

Rain splatters against the house and then is gone, leaving behind arbitrary puddles that I navigate around as I leave the safety of my home. The windshield of my car is covered with the bits of life that have been blown asunder.

And what will shield me from the storm of this week?

I do not enter it gracefully, but with trepidation. Can I keep some of myself back? Can I, untrusting, stay upon the shore, the outskirts, the edge?

Perhaps I have the strength for that, to keep myself apart.  But apart is the more fearful place, I know.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Saturday in the Fifth Week of Lent

March 31, 2012

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.
2 Corinthians 4:17

I can feel the difference in the car as I pull into the parking lot. With a sigh of acquiescence I choose the space that is well lit. A teachable moment, I think as I enter the building to retrieve my daughters from their evening activity.  “Come on,” I tell them, “It’s time for you to learn how to change a flat tire.”

They enter into the project with good spirits as I explain and teach and supervise. I offer up thanks to my own father for teaching me this skill. And all at once I know that God is in our work together, in their willingness to put their strength to this task, to take on something new, to meet the difficulty with perseverance and optimism. My own spirit is renewed as I share in their sense of accomplishment.

“Now you know how,” I tell them as we put away the tools. And they do.

And I know as well that they have gained something even more valuable than a life skill: the lived experience of what it is like to overcome adversity.

It is only after we are long home that the rain comes in force.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent

March 30, 2012

Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning,
for I put my trust in you;
    show me the road that I must walk,
    for I lift up my soul to you. 
   Psalm 143:8

“Did you remember to pray about it?” my friend asks.

My expression answers the question--I don’t even have to voice the word “no.” How is it that I forget?

I went to bed with worries last night and they kept me good company, still there to greet me on my waking. I tried to set them aside, to ignore them, to slog my way through. But I didn’t think to pray.

“Do you reaffirm your promise to give yourself to prayer and study?” my Bishop asked me and my sister and brother clergy just yesterday as we stood in our Cathedral to renew our ordination vows.

Give myself to prayer. Offer myself. Surrender. Time and time again I try to walk the path alone when God has promised me, shown me, that this is not the way.

“Praying is a slow dying,” my friend Suzanne Guthrie writes. “In prayer you give up something of yourself and appropriate something of the sphere of the Divine in a continuous cycle of dying and resurrection. In prayer the growing soul leans toward the Light as a seedling leans toward the sun’s path.”

I begin again. I give myself to prayer. Listen for loving-kindness. Lift up my soul to God.

Suzanne Guthrie's quote comes from her meditation for Lent 5 at

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Thursday in the Fifth Week of Lent

March 29, 2012
When my spirit languishes within me, you know my path:
   in the way wherein I walk they have hidden traps for me.
  Psalm 142:3

Languish. To pine. To pine away. To fade away. To get weaker.

Languish. I linger on the word, the perfect verb for my day it seems. Because even as I keep on toward the resurrection, dull life seems more real than new. I hold the word in my mouth, taste its slightly bitter sorrow with just a hint of torpor. Then I swallow.

And I realize within the word itself lies one of the enemy’s deceptions. I am not getting weaker. Trudging on strengthens me. Stubborn determination will do, when inspiration is lost.

Because my feet know, even when my heart does not, to keep on walking. And God knows where I am.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Lent

March 28, 2012

My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning
   more than watchmen for the morning. 
    Psalm 130:5

in the hesitation before greeting the day
while the tea is steeping
when searching for the misplaced book

in the quiet space of the first one to arrive
in the cacophony of too many voices
as the minutes move along

while waiting for the piano lesson to be finished
in the middle of a conversation
after turning off the light

in the midst of it all
I yearn for God

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Tuesday in the Fifth Week of Lent

March 27, 2012

I lift up my eyes to the hills;
   from where is my help to come?
My help comes from the Lord,
   the maker of heaven and earth.
  Psalm 121

I struggle to enter into the discipline of prayer and Lent today. It is not so much that I fear to go forward as it is that I am uncertain how much longer I can wander in the wilderness. I doubt my stamina.

Each time I labored with a daughter in the womb I met this wall. A place not where my strength failed as much as my courage. What if this soul-wrenching exertion will never end? What if the pain becomes unbearable? What if I cannot endure?

And so each time I threw myself on the mercy of those around me. And each time they were there, my husband most of all. To help me bear the pain. To help me find the way. To be the hands that held me and then reached to welcome each daughter.

I need not struggle alone in the desert. I can ask for and without doubt receive the succor I need. God’s mercy most of all.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Monday in the Fifth Week of Lent

March 26, 2012

You have not shut me up in the power of the enemy;
   you have set my feet in an open place.
   Psalm 31:8

I settle in to my drive through the early morning darkness. I have a ways to go to reach my destination, but I left the house in plenty of time. Besides, I know this route.

The day softly brightens as the road meanders through the small towns and woods of these gentle mountains. I inhale the beauty. Then my reverie is unexpectedly cut short by the detour sign and the orange cones that hustle me off onto a side road. I know one way to get to where I am going. This is not it.

My experience with detours along back roads is that the signage is much better suited to getting you off the beaten track than getting you back on. Even if I follow the signs, how will I know I am not driving miles through these woods in the wrong direction?

There was a time when such a moment would have trapped me in anxiety and second-guessing. But this morning it occurs to me that just because I don’t know this path does not mean my way is doomed. The pathways to my final destination must be many and various; it is only my understanding that is narrow.

The way opens before me. I can maneuver within this grace. And as I drive I cannot help but notice that along this unexpected route the forest is just as beautiful.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Saturday in the Fourth Week of Lent

March 24, 2012

Jesus said to him, “All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”    Mark 9:23-24

I answer the ringing phone hesitantly, not sure the intrusion will be worthwhile. But the voice of a woman from the local second hand store presents a welcome opportunity. This thrift shop actually calls me to ask if I have anything to give away, and then sends someone to pick it up. Exactly what I need.

I have a hard time letting go of “stuff.” I am thrifty and sentimental: a dangerous combination. I am loath to discard something I might be able to use, reuse, or repurpose. When my girls were little, I hung on to every empty paper towel role because it could be useful for some art project. I think I saw one lingering in back of the kitchen cupboard just yesterday.

Sentimentality gets me too. I have held on to the crib both my daughters slept in for so long that I cannot even give it away. It doesn’t meet new safety standards.

Upon examination, I recognize a sinful lack of trust in my propensity for holding on to stuff. As if such accumulation will protect me from the emptiness of need and want.

I know the love of God; and each day I act as if I’m not sure it is sufficient. God help me.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Friday in the Fourth Week of Lent

March 23, 2012

Some wandered in desert wastes;
   they found no way to a city where they might dwell.
They were hungry and thirsty;
  their spirits languished within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
  and he delivered them from their distress.
  Psalm 107:4-6

As I finish my morning prayers, I open the book of David Whyte’s poetry that is my companion in this desert pilgrimage. “Waiting to Go On” is the title of the poem.  How fitting, I think.

As I enter into today, I find I am waiting to go on. Waiting to go on in my course through Lent. Waiting to go on in my search for new life. Waiting to go on, to get on, with the next step.

I hesitate; because this path is sometimes a trudge, a toil, an obscurity. Do I have what it takes to go on?

“All this continual practice,” the poet writes:

All this continual practice,
this sharpening
and attentive presence,
this daily fetching and gathering
this constant maturing
and getting ready

all this work to have one complete day
lived just as it should be     (David Whyte)

I remember this wilderness road is also the resurrection road. I am practicing life.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Thursday in the Fourth Week of Lent

March 22, 2012

But as for me, this is my prayer to you,
   at  the time you have set, O Lord:
In your great mercy, O God,
   answer me with your unfailing hope.  Psalm 69:14-15

I unlock the door and step into an unexpectedly quiet house. I am the first one home today and I breathe in the stillness with relish.

I pick up the mail from the floor, sort through it, take a handful to the recycling bin, and then I just keep going. Stray dishes in the sink find the dishwasher. Clothes strewn across the floor make their way to the laundry room. Sweaters discarded after having surrendered to the unseasonable warmth are folded and put away.

As I tidy, I consider how to spend this unforeseen unhurried time. Read a chapter of the novel I am enjoying? Resolve unfinished household business?  Get a jump on tomorrow’s work?

Outside the afternoon clamors on, but here I settle deeper into the hush and continue my rounds. One task at a time I clear away the clutter and I realize it has become a dance, a prayer, a pilgrimage.

I give myself again to the will of the one on whose mercy I depend. Whose voice I have never heard, whose form I have never seen, who yet speaks tenderly to me and holds me fast.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Lent

March 21, 2012

Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?  Mark 8:19

“But will you help me?” my daughter cajoles as she balks at her turn to do the dishes. I survey the scene and realize it is a light dish night. Only one pot. I point this out to her and tell her to get on with it.

“Well, I’m going to be sulky about it all night.”

“You have the freedom to make that choice.”

“You do know it’s annoying when you do that, right?”

“Yes,” I smile. Of course I know. I have been practicing this parenting technique for years. Giving my children choices right along with responsibility.

And I know because I too have practiced the art of petulance thus adding unnecessary burden to a load. I know the path of seeing scarcity amidst abundance, of hearing condemnation where there is invitation. I too forget the miracle of the loaves.

As I hear the clank of dishes in the sink, I think back over my own work this day, how I labored diligently with purpose—and yet forgot to notice God. How could I choose such a thing?

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Tuesday on the Fourth Week of Lent

March 20, 2012

His disciples replied, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?’ Jesus asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’    Mark 8:4-5

a spouse adept in the art of parenting
the forsythia just burst into bloom
a daughter attuned to justice
the “luv u!” that comes as a text
the grief that has encountered healing
the heart broken open—again

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Monday in the Fourth Week of Lent

March 19, 2012
Feast of St. Joseph

Yours are the heavens; the earth also is yours;
   you laid the foundations of the world and all that is in it.   Psalm 89:11

I wake weary and disoriented. And in this waking I cannot find my way. I do not know the day, or place, or what lies ahead. I grope for some familiar footing. Some sign that will remind me where I am. Is it a day to be anxious? Is it a day for eager anticipation? I brush through wisps of drifting thought and vague sensation hoping to grasp something solid before bewilderment becomes distress.

Then I awake again to the familiar buzz of my alarm. I am in my own bed in my own house and today is not a lost day but a known day with a recognizable pattern. I am not adrift.

Neither am I safely through the wilderness of Lent, I acknowledge as I become more present to my surroundings. The wind blows in the desert lifting sand into a dance then discards the grains unthinking in some other place so that even standing still I can vanish.

But the wilderness belongs to God. Even missing in the desert I am yet in the hands of the One who has counted every grain.

I place my feet upon the floor and step into the day.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Saturday in the Third Week of Lent

March 17, 2012
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.    1 Corinthians 10:13

“OK, that is just wrong,” I say to my friend Jeremy as we walk down the city street.

I’m not sure what offends my sensibilities more, the plush turquoise and cotton-candy pink bunnies decorating the entrance to the restaurant, or the fact that they inhabit what is clearly a Christmas tree, tinsel still intact.

I’m trying to keep a holy Lent. I’m trying to walk with Jesus in the wilderness. Where Satan tempted him. Where he was with the wild beasts. And where angels came to minister to him.

The turquoise bunny is a cheat. It has neither the ferocity of the wild beast to try my strength, nor the power of one of God’s messengers to soothe and heal.

But perhaps it tests me despite my impulse to disregard it. It takes effort and a force of will to combat the empty and co-opted symbols that assault me daily. They seem innocuous. But therein lies their deceit.

I wrestle with the bunny after all. I fight to push beyond it and the detritus that chokes my way. I work to clear the clutter from my path, so I may fully face the cleansing sand that blows fiercely in the desert.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Friday in the Third Week of Lent

March 16, 2011

It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord,
   and to sing praises to your Name, O Most High;
To tell of your loving-kindness early in the morning
   and of your faithfulness in the night season.
  Psalm 92:1-2

As I walk through the darkened house, I know my way. I carry my cup of tea from the kitchen through the dining room, avoiding the chair which I cannot see but I know is there. It is always there, and I always take the same path.

I settle in to my usual place with journal, prayer book, favorite pen. I open my book and open my lips to begin my morning litany of thanksgivings. I always begin in the same way.

I have learned it is the thankfulness that saves me every time.   Everyday is new and everyday is different and everyday is the same and into this paradox I lift my voice in gratitude. Because it is the best song that I know for carrying me through times carefree and horrific, and those uncertain too, for drawing me into the arms of the Holy One who loves me into being.

For when my always isn’t, even then God’s love is.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Thursday in the Third Week of Lent

March 15, 2012

Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,
   and bring me to your holy hill
   and to your dwelling.
    Psalm 43:3

I step out of the car into the flawless afternoon sunlight and head for the ball field thinking there might be nothing quite so perfect as softball practice on a warm spring day. I scan the scene for my daughter and smile as she walks to meet me. I anticipate with pleasure our intersection and reconnection.

“How was your day?” I offer in greeting.

“It was good. I had a really good day.”

She moves gracefully though draped with backpack, softball bag, and trumpet case along with other gear. I offer to ease her burden.

“Can I carry something for you?”

“Yes, please!” she smiles at me. But it is clear she has no burdens today, not even an unprepared for social studies quiz can bring her down. Her enthusiasm is outrageously abundant. It is the tempered exuberance of early adolescence, but full of joy nevertheless.

We both waft along on the energy she exudes and it is her buoyancy more than anything else that propels us into the car and across town and into the house where her father receives his blessing as well as she recounts again the day’s events.

“Today is such a good day!” she exclaims once more and gifts me with a hug as she moves on to the next thing.

I have no defenses against such joy. I give in to its tumult and let its rapids carry me along into some lake or ocean knowing I will be cast eventually upon a holy shore.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Wednesday in the Third Week of Lent

March 14, 2012
You are my refuge and shield;
   my hope is in your word.
Psalm 119:114

As the morning brightens, the tree outside my window revels itself—branches first, then buds strewn almost haphazardly along slender twiggy fingers, and finally red filaments of beginning blossoms gain definition. More plenteous than yesterday, the buds and blossoms dance outside my window optimistically responding to the miracle of springtime sun.

This tree is not the same as yesterday and will be different still tomorrow. I note the empty spaces, left by branches lost to fall and winter storms and see too the gaps traversed by brave new shoots. Soon, green leaves will emerge from the refuge of the shielded buds to kiss morning breezes and slap the paws of playful squirrels.

Yet it is the same tree that has kept me company in my morning meditation for years.

I too have lost and gained. And I too will unfurl hopes well shielded through the winter. I will not emerge from the Lenten desert unchanged. But I will emerge: with light and life and love.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Tuesday in the Third Week of Lent

March 13, 2012

That the generations to come might know,
and the children yet unborn;
   that they in their turn might tell it to their children;
So that they might put their trust in God,
   and not forget the deeds of God,
   but keep his commandments;
     Psalm 78:6-7

I sit on the rug and tuck my feet up under me. The storyteller begins, and while it is a familiar tale, I am drawn in. I watch with fascination as with practiced expertise she moves the wooden figures, props that illustrate her narrative: the sheep, the wolf, the shepherd, the sheep pen with its gate.

When my children were small I sat on other rugs with them for story time—at school, at the library, at church, at home. Sometimes I was the storyteller, sometimes the mom with a toddler tucked safely in my lap.

Now I am the adult who is invited to take the weight off my feet and set aside for half an hour the cares I carried with me to this day. There are no children here this time—only grown-ups people this story rug. We gather for hospitality and conversation, planning and visioning, sustenance on our journey. We gather to carry on the narrative in which we live and move and have our being.

I listen to the story. And once again I name the wolf at my gate and once again I am brought up short by the love of the Good Shepherd and once again I set aside the doubts that assail me and remember where to put my trust.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Monday in the Third Week of Lent

March 12, 2012

Restore us, O God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
Psalm 80:3

I sit outside soaking up the unexpected warmth. The winter has been mild, yet even so the early spring day carries in its breeze hope of new life and change. The light bears a different quality than it did only yesterday.

Amidst the tasks of the day, it is this unlooked for moment in the sun that ushers me into the presence of the holy.  An ordinary moment.

I had not thought it would be warm enough to leave my jacket behind in the house. Even as I went out, I expected cold spring air to drive me quickly back inside. Instead I stay and savor.

Once I moved from the Midwest forests to a desert clime. As fall came I despaired. The days seemed endlessly sunny and warm, as if time moved not at all.  Later I learned in that particular place the note the subtle shift of seasons. Even in the desert, the seasons change.

It is time to shed layers, to leave behind the burdens of winter, to lift my face to the light and be restored.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Saturday in the Second Week of Lent

March 10, 2012

One thing have I asked of the Lord;
one thing I seek;
   that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
   Psalm 27:5

The porch light offering its gentle glow to the street, the friendly greeting of a neighbor, the key in the front door.

The warmth filling the entryway, the smell of family dinner, the haphazard spread of everyday belongings.

The welcome at the end of the day, and the end of the travels, at the intersection of this moment and the next.

The dwelling place of love.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Friday in the Second Week of Lent

March 9, 2012

Come, let us bow down and bend the knee,
   and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.
   Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!
  Psalm 95:6-7

Sale on the stuff you love. Shop the Stuff You Love Sale. As I quickly scroll through my inbox in triage mode, the subject line of the store’s email arrests my exercise of the delete key.

There was a time when I had unsubscribed from all such promotions. Having recognized their siren call to lead me into treacherous waters of misplaced desire and distorted need, I found it best to banish them.  But somehow they crept back in, almost without my notice but assuredly by my invitation.

Sale on the stuff I love. Such a bold lie.

What I love is not stuff. What I love is not carried by this or any store. What I love is not a what at all.

Deflecting the deception propels me into different waters, where I am bathed anew in the voice of the one who loves me, who has taught me all I know of love and has more to teach me still.


copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Thursday in the Second Week of Lent

March 8, 2012
You strengthen me more and more;
   you enfold and comfort me.
Psalm 71:21

I start my computer anticipating the screen to display the familiar page of my writing. Only it doesn’t. I forgot I updated my software. So what greets me looks all wrong.

I have avoided this upgrade for so long that I am two versions behind. The update seemed like a good idea yesterday, when I confidently decided the only way to approach a learning curve is to just do it. What was I thinking?

I have hardly begun my Lenten journey through the wilderness and already I am weary. Weary of navigating through unknown territory. Weary of a daily need for finding resources in strange terrain.

I yearn for the coziness of the habitual, where problems fall into recognizable categories and solutions are readily at hand within a menu and custom formatted toolbar.

But now I am confronted with yet another crossroads that requires something more of me. The dialog box taunts me with risk.

“You are about to save your document in the super cool new format.”


“Doing so will give you lots of new features, but you will have to depart from the comfortable landscape you know.”


I can hesitate here for only so long. Have I so soon despaired of finding new life? Have I limited my vision and thus overlooked the balm that strengthens and enfolds me? I take a deep breath and click continue.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wilderness Yearning: Wednesday in the Second Week of Lent

March 7, 2012
Others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. Mark 4:18-19

The day stretches before me with possibility. So many choices to make.

Yesterday I wove my way among experiences looking for the perfect formula for satisfaction. I chose one place to settle, but saw one better. I chose again and then perceived the limitations of my selection. I chose a third time and still did not escape the desire for other things: different weather, richer accommodations, more fulfilling experiences.  You would think my familiarity with such lures would inure me to their silly sparkle, yet still I follow right along.

Now I hold still before today. I am almost startled as the door across from me sharpens into conscious focus and I notice for the first time the particular green of the valance across the white wood of the frame. I take in the beauty of their juxtaposition. The door itself offering unexpected possibilities for contemplation before I even open it to enter in to today.


copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012