Thursday, February 28, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Thursday in the Second Week of Lent

In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge;
   let me never be ashamed. 
  Psalm 71:1

“What are the conversations you are afraid to have with God?”

The question will not leave me alone. It was posed by the Bishop to a room full of people who had gathered to contemplate “Getting Through the Day with Grace” during Lent.

I begin most mornings with conversations with God. I have journals full of my conversations with God. Yet there it is. The moment the question is posed, the answers come. Questions I have been afraid to ask. Troubles I have not wanted to disclose. Wonderings I have been too timid to admit. Even in a private journal. Even in prayer.

I know myself limited as a human being. My thoughts cannot encompass God. Some mornings my conversations begin boldly. Some days they are matter-of-fact. Sometimes there is banter, or admiration, or frustration. But then there are the times when I enter into the encounter with the divine shyly, seeking a refuge that I know is there but at the same time can hardly believe is offered to one such as me.

Let me never be ashamed. Let me never be ashamed to have taken refuge. Let me never be ashamed to have taken refuge in God. Because the conversations will keep on coming.

Question, yes. Doubt, certainly. Stumble, inevitably. But may God, my refuge, be my strength, my life, my sanctuary.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Wednesday in the Second Week of Lent

Your faithfulness remains from one generation to another;
     you established the earth, and it abides.
  Psalm 119:90

Nothing is quite like the Middle School Talent Show.  I sit in the audience in quiet admiration. The evening offers much to bring pleasure. The audacity of it all. Who told these young people that they could stand up in front of a crowd and offer themselves with such abandon?  Clearly some one did. Some parent, some teacher, some peer looked each of these young performers in the eye and said, “You can do this…and I want to see you fly.”

They inspire me because I do not know their stories. Which one overcame stage fright just to be here? Who practiced for weeks to be able to play a particular piece all the way through without getting lost? Who had to ask three friends to sing with her before one of them said yes? How much notice did the teen have before he had to step into place for a friend who became ill? I do not know their stories, but I know something of mine. Witnessing their daring softens certain sharp edges in my outlook.

I become aware of a particular kindness in the room that is not mere sentimentality, but true generosity of heart. Some things abide. Adolescents who will reach for the stars, and adults who will invest their faith in the youth to do just that. A faithfulness that engenders faith.

Middle School Talent Shows endure. Adolescent courage endures. From one generation to another.

And when all is said and done, when the room empties and the youthful energy disperses into the night, I carry home a renewed sense of God’s faithfulness in us—from one generation to another.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Tuesday in the Second Week of Lent

You sent a gracious rain, O God, upon your inheritance;
     you refreshed the land when it was weary.
     Psalm 68:9

It has been a good day, I reflect as I settle in for evening prayer. I feel the satisfaction of having put in a good day’s work. I savor the contentment that comes with garnering the fruits of thorough preparation. Facing responsibilities with confidence. Being attentive. Taking advantage of odd bits of time to complete important tasks. Being present in many moments during the day, and experiencing the gratification this brings.

Now it is time for a good night’s rest. Not rest in order to work. Not rest for stress relief or improved health. Not rest succumbed to by exhaustion. But rest for the sake of rest.

Work and rest. I do not always give rest it’s due.

The wilderness landscape offers beauty and challenge. And opportunities for reflection and refreshment and rest. Grace reigns along the desert path as well as in the forest and by the lakeshore and among those gathered for the evening meal.

I lift my heart in prayer and lift my face to God’s gracious rain, accepting with gratitude the gift of restoration.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Monday in the Second Week of Lent

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

“See what crossed my path on my walk,” my friend texts, “forced me to slow down!”

I am delighted and mesmerized by the accompanying photo of a gopher tortoise. If only something that interesting had crossed my path recently.

“If you look closely,” my friend adds, “there is a collar of dirt behind her head. She had just come out of the burrow.”

The tortoise had emerged to bask in the sunshine. What a good idea. Perhaps if I come out of my burrow of expected tasks and outcomes, I just might see something as exquisite as this across my path. Perhaps my breath will be taken away. Perhaps I will be startled into reflection…and restoration.

After all, there is nothing like a tortoise crossing your path to make you slow down and pay attention. And then again, a text from a friend can be just as effective. The invitation to bask in the light of God’s countenance is offered everyday.  Opportunities for restoration come in all sorts of unexpected shapes and sizes.

I wonder what else will cross my path today.


copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Saturday in the First Week of Lent

Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
     you know my sitting down and my rising up;
     you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places
     and are acquainted with all my ways. 
    Psalm 139:1-2

“So, are you really going to use it for your Lenten devotions?”

My daughter is referring to the second half of the Christmas present she and her sister gave me.

The first half was a blank journal. This was a wise and thoughtful gift on their part, because I write most mornings and am always looking for a new journal. They were particularly pleased with their choice; I remember the day in December when we were shopping and they went off on their ‘secret’ errand, meeting up with me later with barely concealed delight as they proclaimed they had found the perfect gift. It turns out that what makes this particular journal perfect are the words, “Keep Calm and Carry On” printed on the front of it.

But the second half of the gift is the clincher: a companion volume entitled, “Now Panic and Freak Out.” This volume is not blank but contains witty and wicked aphorisms like, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” (Attributed to Douglas Adams)

My daughters know me so well.

It was with a sense of irony that I suggested I might use the Now Panic volume for my own daily reading during Lent. One of the joys of sharing daily living with others is being known. Children and spouses and partners can see into each other’s lives with x-ray vision. This can be cause for great upset and great insight. And it can be a catalyst for self-definition.

There are moments when those nearest to me know me with such love that I see the image of God in them. And in seeing, recall God, who sees all my ways and loves me nonetheless. The perfect gift.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013

Friday, February 22, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Friday in the First Week of Lent

I waited patiently upon the Lord;
     he stooped to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay;
     he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God;
     many shall see, and stand in awe,
     and put their trust in the Lord.
   Psalm 40:1-3

It has been non-stop. I pick up one daughter from hockey practice and get her home just in time to take the other daughter to play rehearsal where I spend a short time repairing costumes then leave in order to collect the first daughter from home and drop her off at her at church to volunteer and then swing back by the rehearsal hall to shuttle the second daughter to a theatre space for a different rehearsal and then I run to the grocery store to buy tissues because we all have colds and while there buy four boxes of brownies mix on sale (because it’s always a good idea to have brownie mix in a house with teenage girls) then drop the groceries at home and make my way back to the church to enjoy the spaghetti dinner that my daughter has helped prepare and relax until it is time to pick up my theatre daughter from her rehearsal.

So goes one afternoon in a slew of days that have all played out pretty much just like this. I am almost looking forward gleefully to the moment when my oldest will be able to drive. Almost.

But suddenly, now, there is grace. I arrive home and realize that there are not ten things pending which need my attention today at the latest. There is just this moment. And a comfortable chair and a cup of tea and a daughter making brownies. And the realization that God has made my footing sure along the way. And the invitation to sing a song of praise in this space that grace has opened before me.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Thursday in the First Week of Lent

The heavens declare the glory of God,
     and the firmament shows his handiwork.
One day tells its tale to another,
     and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language,
     and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands,
     and their message to the ends of the world.
     Psalm 19:1-4

The bitter wind practically blows me along the walk toward the store. I take a moment to wrap my coat a bit tighter about me. I haven’t zipped it because I am just running a quick errand and I hadn’t thought the day had turned so cold.

There is something commanding about the fierceness of the wind and, as I pause for a second to take note, I become differently aware of my surroundings. Now, instead of a ubiquitous parking space and shopping center, I see the sky. Clouds scuttle along outlined in navy blue and promising that their color is just about to turn purple. Across the way, bare tree branches stretch against the skyscape dissecting the space into light and dark, rough and smooth, negative and positive.

I remember writing a poem once about the wind, when I was a young girl. I had huddled in the corner of a pasture marveling at the contrast between the bright warmth of the afternoon sun and the mighty cold of the wind that insisted on breaching every defense. I was in awe then.

I am in awe now, about a creation that can recall me to its majesty in the midst of a day, an errand, a parking lot. I am in awe of God whose handiwork continually proclaims her message of love and might and glory. Whether I am paying attention or not, the chorus of heavens and firmament continue to sing the splendor of God across the world and time.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Wednesday in the First Week of Lent

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
     All are corrupt and commit abominable acts;
     there is none who does any good.
God 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 53:1-2

One look at the front page of the newspaper is all it takes. I am surrounded by devastating news. I try not to join the chorus of “What is the world coming to,” but some days it is just plain hard.

On any given morning, of any given day, even the most devout person can look for God and find…nothing. Today I look on the world and sees only brokenness. Somehow I have lost my way.

But I also recognize this place. I have been here before. It is a particular landscape in the wilderness. The temptation here, the trap set by the enemy, is to confuse yearning with alienation. To long for God, to look for God, is in itself an act of faith.

It is this yearning, this seeking for God, that God calls wise.  Wisdom, I realize,
is not the same thing as self-assurance or resting in the satisfaction of having it all worked out. Wisdom is in the seeking, in knowing that there is a relationship to be had with God—and it is one worth pursuing.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Tuesday in the First Week of Lent

I will make your name to be remembered from one generation to another;
     therefore nations will praise you for ever and ever.
      Psalm 45:18

It is the first time I have noticed anyone sitting there. I drive past this small memorial park often, sometimes several times a day. The simple curved wall memorializes police officers. There is only room for two park benches. Today, one of them is occupied.
The man sits quietly, slightly hunched against the cold. I catch only a glimpse as I drive past, yet his image compels my attention.

Who is he remembering, I wonder. And in his act of solitary contemplation, I am drawn to remember also. I do not know any of the names inscribed at this memorial. Yet we share a space and a story as participants in this community.

You never know who you will encounter in the wilderness. Who might feed, guide, or protect you. Who will be remembered, who will be forgotten, who will remain unknown to most.

I offer a prayer as I drive on into my day. For the man. For those he loves. For those in my community who remain unknown to me, but who are my companions in the wilderness nevertheless.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Monday in the First Week of Lent

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
   I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
      Psalm 52:8

“I know why I don’t make good coffee.” My husband looks at me quizzically. “It’s because I’m stubborn.”

“Actually,” he says gently, “It’s because you don’t grind the beans finely enough, so the coffee is too weak.”

But the truth is I know the reason I don’t grind them more finely. Because I am certain my method of grinding them more coarsely is correct. Even though I have watched my husband grind the beans more finely, even though he drinks the coffee and I do not, I persist in my stance that I am right, and he is wrong.

Pure stubbornness.

For some reason this morning I am able to admit my obstinacy. “Well, it’s because I read once that when using a French press to make coffee, you need to use a courser grind rather than a finer one.”


“So I assumed that I knew better than you did.”

“Even though you don’t drink coffee.”


A smile twitches at his lips and he answers me with more generosity than I really deserve at this moment. “Well, see, this grinder doesn’t do finely ground beans. It is just right for the French press.”

“Oh.” And I know this conversation is not really about coffee. It is about living with someone for a long time and learning to love enough to admit sinful pride and to love enough to forgive sinful pride. It is about trusting in God’s mercy, which teaches us to be merciful to one another. It is about being willing to be flexible, like a green olive branch, and giving oneself over to the love of God and the love of one another.

It is about being given the grace to repent.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: First Sunday in Lent

A Sermon Preached at The Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem PA
The Rev. Canon Anne E. Kitch
Luke 4:1-13

So here we are again. Once more this familiar, and may I venture ‘beloved,’ space has been disrupted by the need for repairs and the accompanying scaffolding.  I remember the afternoon I walked this Cathedral just after the last batch of scaffolding had been removed. I was awed as I took in the beauty of the spaciousness with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of astonishment. It felt new and remembered at the same time. And here we are again. Living in disruption can be wearisome.

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart ( Joel 2:12). This is the call from the prophet Joel heard on Ash Wednesday as we entered the season of Lent. Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart. God calls us to return—no matter where we have been or what we have been up to, no matter how disrupted our lives are, or how stressed, or lost, or simply out of sorts. Even now. Even at the last. Even in the darkest hour. Even in weariness, God call us to return.

In Lent we are invited to enter a different landscape. Perhaps this is not the landscape that you anticipated, but the Christian life, the spiritual journey, is like that. We often end up in unexpected landscapes learning to navigate once familiar territory inhabited by new obstacles. The territory of Lent is wilderness—and the tool of navigation is repentance. Repent means to turn again to God. Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart.

Our liturgical season of the forty days of Lent is modeled after the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness. Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness (Luke 4:1). Jesus’ time and testing in the wilderness comes right on the heels of his baptism—and he was led there by the Spirit. This was no accidental wandering or haphazard encounter. Having just returned from the Jordan where John baptized him and the voice from heaven acknowledged him saying, “You my son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased,” Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tested.  Take note: this is what happens after baptism. Our new identity as Christians is tested.

You may remember from our Baptismal Covenant the question, “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.” One of the key words of this promise is “whenever.” The promise is not “if” we fall into sin, but “whenever.” This is not because we are horrible people, but because we are good people. The Ash Wednesday Collect reminds us that God hates nothing that she has made. Good people get stressed, discouraged, and lost. Good people and good congregations get their lives disrupted. Good people forget who they are. Good people make wrong turns and poor choices. The invitation for all of us from God is this, “Return to me with all your heart.” So at our baptisms we promise to practice a discipline of resisting evil. And here, at the beginning of Lent, we see Jesus being tested—and it is a test. There is not point to this story at all if it doesn’t involve real struggle from Jesus. You can’t overcome temptation if it is not temptation to begin with. It would be a mistake, and not of much use to us, to think of Jesus as a super hero who can bat away the devil like some annoying fly. After all, the story tells us that Jesus was famished—a very human condition.

Jesus enters the wilderness full—full of the Holy Spirit and fresh from baptism—and for forty days is tempted by the devil. We don’t know what all those temptations were.  During that time he doesn’t eat, so at the end of it he is famished, empty, spent. Then comes the final test. Three propositions. Each is about who Jesus is and what kind of savior he will be. Will he provide food for the hungry, beginning with himself, by using magic? Will he save the world by wielding extreme political power, taking on worldly glory and authority? Will he prove that he is the messiah by forcing God to save him from death? Each of the tests strikes close to home. Jesus does want to feed the hungry. Jesus is about saving the world. Jesus does want to show people God’s love for them. But not that way.

On her website, The Painted Prayerbook, artist and minister Jan Richardson talks about making art:

       The challenge of creating a piece of art lies not just in deciding what to include but also
       in discerning what to leave out. Every piece of art involves a process of choosing: not this,
       not this, not this. I can only find what belongs by clearing away everything that doesn’t.
       This is no speedy endeavor….

She continues:

       Once, twice, and yet a third time: with every temptation, Jesus responds to the devil: not this,
       not this, not this. With each response he names what does not belong to him; with each
       answer he gains clarity about what he needs to empty himself of in order to be who he
       has come here to be.*

Jesus enters into this test with the devil famished. It’s not so much that he was down, as that he was empty, and ready, maybe even aching, to be filled. But filled with what? Filled with a renewed sense of call and identity.

When it was over, the devil departed...until an opportune time. Testing for Jesus, for us, is not a once and done thing. Rather it is part of our continual formation. The times of testing are times for us to sort out what doesn’t belong. To set aside what is no longer useful. To let go of things, even of treasures, that are not serving us, or others, or God well. We let go so that we can say yes to God more clearly. So we can know our heart and return to God with all of it.

We do not do this alone. The response to our Baptismal Covenant question “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord” is, “I will with God’s help.” We have Jesus, who has been down this road before us. We have each other; we are gathered as a community to walk through this disruptive wilderness of Lent together.

Our landscape is different—a bit wild and uncomfortable. But that very wildness allows us the opportunity to say, “I am not this, or this, or this.” It allows us to empty our lives and our hearts of what does not serve us, or God, and to encounter anew with fresh eyes and a sense of astonishment the life of love that God has given us.  What would it look like to spend Lent rediscovering our hearts and returning them to God?

*Jan Richardson Lent I: Into the Wilderness, Feb 10, 2010,

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me
   and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.
  Psalm 42:3

I resist the temptation to open my email. Just barely. The icon at the edge of my screen beckons, promising news and distraction. I only need move my cursor over it and click. Then it will bounce itself open spilling its contents and obligations into my already populated inbox. Several times I catch the almost involuntary movement of fingers skating diagonally across the touchpad toward the lure.

I take a breath and refocus. Email is not the task at hand. Nevertheless, it entices me with its disguise of urgency, even as I know that the life right in front of me is what is important.

How often I allow myself to be lured into focusing my attention on technical problems that seem easy to resolve, fixable, doable, telling myself, “This will only take a minute.” And in doing so let living slip by. Lunch with a friend. Much needed rest. An overdue conversation with a family member. Prayer.

Prayer. That’s always a good idea, I remind myself.

O God, help me set aside the distractions that keep me from seeing your light and your way in the world; call me closer to you, for I am often led astray.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Friday after Ash Wednesday

Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me,
   for you are my tower of strength.
   Psalm 31:4

“I’ll be there in a minute,” I say to my daughter as she exits the car, heading for her trumpet lesson.

I intend to go and sit in the waiting area. I have brought work with me so I can use the time well. I just want to return one phone call before I go in. I dutifully make the call, only to reach voicemail. I realize I have no message to leave, so I simply disconnect. And then I just sit.

I have work to do. I should go in. But the late afternoon sun has warmed this winter day and it is pleasant in my car. I choose to be still. And as I slow into this time and place, the world around me slows as well. I become aware of my surroundings, notice the play of light on the bare tree branches.  I hear the faint thump of a basketball coming from the next drive over, a teenager enjoying this afternoon’s respite from winter chill. I see the neighbor walk to her mailbox, checking for anything that may have arrived, then lifting her face toward the sunlight.

I should go in. But then I realize I haven’t stopped all day. So I stop now and give myself entirely to the moment. To rest. To reconnection.  To thankfulness. An entire world exists beyond my calendar. And as I settle in to the quiet, I feel the cords that have entangled me slip away. I hadn’t even noticed they were there.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Our steps are directed by the Lord;
   he strengthens those in whose way he delights. 
  Psalm 37:24

The fog intensifies as I cross the ridge and head down the mountain road. For a bit I follow another car, its taillights a welcome guide. But then it turns off to follow its own route and I am on my own, traveling the rain soaked roadway though a dense fog in the darkness.

I strain to see the way ahead, concentrating on the more subtle signs that keep me safely on the road. Intellectually, I understand why the high beams of my headlights lessen rather than enhance the visibility. But at a purely gut level it makes no sense to me that casting a brighter light on the way ahead does not help the situation.

Sometimes that way ahead can only be followed with concentration and focused sight. Slowly. Cautiously.  Sometimes shining a bright light only increases blindness.

There is no way to hurry this journey. I decide to take it as it comes—and discover that this landscape offers much for contemplation.

There is no way to hurry Lent. Direct my steps in all ways, O God.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wilderness Yearning: Ash Wednesday

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

“It seems like an odd thing to say, but I’m kind of looking forward to Lent,” my daughter says. We are in the car on our way to the annual Shrove Tuesday pancake supper at our church.

“It’s a time to be reflective,” she continues, “You know, like how it is when it snows and even if everything seems panicked and loud outside, the snow somehow makes it all more quiet and peaceful?”

The provocative image catches me up short.  I think of a world blanketed in snow, beautifully silent.

In the early morning, as I lift my forehead to receive ashes, a few flecks drift past my eyelashes. Flakes of ashes, falling as softly as snow. What would it be like to be blanketed in Lent? To wrap myself in a shawl of quiet reflection, less busyness, more intentional listening?

What would it be like to allow the gifts that Lent offers to soften the noise of daily trouble?  What would it be like to enter into this season lifting my soul to God, to be marked by the dust of my beginning and the dust of my end and to trust in loving-kindness?

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

Wilderness Yearning

Once again I will be offering my daily Lenten Meditations, beginning on Ash Wednesday.

If you would like to subscribe to these meditations via email, 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 Wilderness Yearning from the options.

May you discover something new in the wilderness this Lent.