Saturday, February 28, 2015

No place for haste

Saturday in the First Week of Lent

I would flee to a far-off place
  and make my lodging in the wilderness.
Psalm 55:8

With no morning rush for school or work or activities, the quiet of the house extends beyond its usual time frame. I relax more deeply into contemplation. My mind wanders far and wide over recent events and those long past. I feel like a bird, slowing soaring in solitary flight over a measureless territory.

I am grateful for this season that propels me into the discipline of the desert. Every time I make the Lenten passage, I discover again that the wilderness is vast. And varied. It contains the challenges of rough and unknown terrain. Shifting landscapes. Lament and self-examination.

It also holds the promise of refuge. Of perspective that comes from stepping away from the tumult of my daily life. Of encountering resources when I expected scarcity. 

This is not a place to hurry. It is a place for stillness. And breath. And honoring the holy.

Photo Credit: Anne E. Kitch

Friday, February 27, 2015


Friday in the First Week of Lent

Wash me through and through from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.
Psalm 51:2

After walking by it three times, I finally pick up my fleece sweater and examine the stain again. It has been lying in a heap for more than a week, since Shrove Tuesday when an unnoticed piece of chocolate melted in its folds. I have been ignoring it because I have not had time to hand wash it and because I am afraid to find out it is ruined, that the stain cannot be removed.

There is no time like the present. I head to the laundry room and apply myself to removing the oily mess, then set the sweater to soak in the prescribed cleaning solution. I am relieved when this seems to do the trick; I think the stain is gone. As I rinse it out in order to throw it in the washing machine with the rest of a load, it occurs to me that this is a bit silly. It is already washed—why not just finish it by hand?

I usually find hand-washing a chore for which I have neither the time nor the patience. But as I scrub and rinse the sweater several times, I discover a soothing rhythm to it and a gentle attentiveness. And I imagine God, hand-washing me with similar care. 

I am overwhelmed then by a vision of God washing each of us by hand. Patiently. Lovingly. And in God’s hands, no one is ruined beyond repair, and there is no stain that cannot be removed.

Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Heartful Pondering

Thursday in the First Week of Lent

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart 
be acceptable in your sight, 
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
Psalm 19:14

“I’ll ponder that in my heart,” my friend Laura responds to my request. “At this time of day, the heart ponders better than the brain.”

She is so right. It has been a wild day and I am pretty sure my brain stopped functioning a while ago. No task has been completed from start to finish, but rather I have jumped from computer issue to conference call to scheduling glitch to pastoral conversation to half a dozen half-finished emails and loose ends are flying.

Papers and folders and post-it notes are scattered across my desk like crumpled fall leaves and my mind jumps from one need to another like a rubber bouncy ball. Which is how I ended up on the phone with Laura having remembered a situation I had intended to lay before her a week ago or more.

Thank God for the heart. Thank God for friends like Laura who remind me of the sacred invitation to lay all things before the One who holds us all.

I take a deep breath. I offer up a prayer of gratitude. I lean into the holy, finding strength.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Wednesday in the First Week of Lent

Your statutes have been like songs to me
wherever I have lived as a stranger.
Psalm 119:54

I stand at the kitchen window looking out over the frozen yard. At first, all seems still, but then I sense movement out of the corner of my eye. A rabbit hesitantly emerges from under the hedge and makes its way into the open in short exploratory movements. Earlier this week, I had seen telltale footprints in the snow, but this is my first glimpse of his brown furry self. It is an odd juxtaposition, I think, that this wild creature inhabits my small urban backyard. He is out of place. An alien in a foreign land.

Then it occurs to me that perhaps I am the stranger, standing at the window. After all, he seems more at home in this winter landscape. And he knows more than I do about the change in the season.

I am a sojourner in the Lenten wilderness. While the journey may be familiar, the territory is alien each time. I have never been this way before. As I pray in the mornings, I reach for God’s word, looking for handholds to guide me along the way. Seeking footprints in the sand to follow. Keeping my eyes open for signs along the way.

So I cannot miss the sign here in my yard, a companion for my expedition. And as I watch, he is joined by a partner and the two of them leap playfully making me laugh. I did not know there were two. I had not expected such good company. They gambol out of sight, and my heart lifts with song. 

Image Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Joy that defies

Tuesday in the First Week of Lent
The Feast of St. Matthias

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

I am arrested by the boy’s appearance in the window. He has his face pressed up against the glass, as if he would push himself through just to prove he can defy the laws of physics. His eyes shine with playfulness, and his entire body radiates joy that cannot be contained.

“Look,” I say to my daughter who is walking beside me as we pass the childcare room at the sports facility. She sees the boy and laughs, and for a moment the three of us are caught up in a dance of delight.

His exuberance remains with me; I recall his expression later in the day and again my heart lifts.

His is the face of God, shining on me and the universe, daring me to defy those forces that would hold me back from fully encountering the mercy and welcome and restoration that God pours out with abundance. Immeasurable. Incomprehensible. Inexhaustible.

Image Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

Monday, February 23, 2015

The grace of disarray

Monday in the First Week of Lent

If we have forgotten the Name of our God,
or stretched out our hands to some strange god,
Will not God find it out?
for he knows the secrets of the heart. 
Psalm 44:20-21

The house is not neat. The dishwasher flooded over the weekend when some frozen pipes finally thawed and waits in disorderly repose to be tended by a repairperson.  The bed’s mended side rail gave way after two years and needs to be replaced. Piles of teenage stuff that will probably never be taken to their rooms or disposed of lurk around more than one corner. Paperwork that may eventually resolve into this year’s tax return currently conceals the desktop and several bills that need attention. And then there is the email.

I find it difficult to let these things be. I know I can make a god of neatness and order. I can not only berate myself for not getting it all done, but also set absurd standards for what should be accomplished. How hard can it be? Hard enough to bring me to my knees.

The false urgency of the disarray can distract me from the important and holy work of tending to relationships—with my husband, with each daughter, with God.

God knows this about me. And on a good day, I know it about myself. But still the enemy tempts me to forsake my God, and all that I know about love and forgiveness.

This is one reason I walk the wilderness way. To remember. And to be remembered.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Discipline of Discomfort

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
   and why are you so disquieted within me?
Put your trust in God;
  for I will yet give thanks to him, 
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

Psalm 42:6-7

I wake in the artificial darkness of the hotel room, the curtains keeping out even the hint of dawn. It could be three a.m. or nine, with no natural light to tell the time. Somewhat reluctantly, I come fully awake.

I set myself up to pray, and am discontent. I miss the comforts of home and of my prayer space. No comfy chair. No afghan. No cup of hot, hot tea. And I realize that I have come to enjoy a kind of familiar security when I settle in to draw near to the holy.  But this is part of the wilderness road, learning to pray when it is uncomfortable and unfamiliar, when it is ugly and uncertain. Learning to lift my voice in praise and thanksgiving when my back is a bit sore and I am missing my tea and the surroundings are disagreeable.

Sometimes I don’t get to settle into prayer. Sometimes I do not get to feel all cozy before I sink into meditative bliss. Sometimes worship and adoration and supplication are just plain hard to come by. But the discipline of the desert way is one of trust. To trust the preparation and the practice. To trust that God knows the way when I do not. To know that even when my attempts are feeble, God’s graciousness is full.

So I ask God to open my lips, and am thankful.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Friday after Ash Wednesday

Be strong and let your heart take courage,
   all you who wait for the Lord. 
Psalm 31:24

The extreme cold seems to have brought with it silence and stillness, as if it has us all in a kind of chokehold. Nothing moves in the early hour. Even the fierce wind has abated and I imagine the neighborhood around me holding its breath, not daring to step out into this arctic morning.

Then, braving the deathlike chill, a chirping bird.

I cannot see him, but I know he is tiny. One of those sparrows whom God loves. And I am in awe of the vulnerability of that small warm body singing sweetness and exuberance into this frozen landscape.

How can I not be encouraged by such cheerfulness?

The sun begins to shine, its brightness a gift against the harsh cold and I find strength to face into the day knowing that these signs of God’s presence are to be found all along the way.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Quality of Light

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Take delight in the Lord,
and he shall give you your heart’s desires.

Psalm 37:4

Already the quality of the light has begun to change. My morning commute no longer begins in pitch black, and the days are clearly lengthening. As I crest a hill in my evening drive I encounter a twilight I haven’t seen for months. The bare trees silhouetted against the copper horizon stretch the tips of their branches into a sky that is already disappearing into midnight blue as one lone bright star heralds the coming night.

Of course, the light has been changing for weeks. But now I see. Now I notice and take in the promise. In the midst of the bleak and deadening cold, emerge the inevitability of spring and the assurance of new life. 

And as I delight in the horizon and the trees and the colors and that one bright star, my heart expands to encompass God’s glory. In my soul, too, the light had begun to change. Now is the season for paying attention. Now is the time to traverse the wilderness. Now is the hour to remember what God can do with dust.

Image Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

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

The flakes float feather-like. Caught in the light, they are suspended for a breath by illumination before they continue their soft inevitable fall. More like dandelion clocks in a late summer breeze than frozen water crystals. I stand still, my morning progress impeded by their impossible splendor.

For the most part, the snow this year has not been gentle. I have been keeping my head down, dodging chips, flecks, slivers of icy sleet that come hurling at me, flung in my path in a kind of assault. But this playful snowfall calls me to look up and out and take to heart the outrageousness of God who delights in the individual intricacy of each impossible flake.

Impossible too is this morning’s path of contrition, lament, and penitence. But it is with relief, finally, that I step onto the road where I can only discover that I am nothing but dust. As dust I do not have to travel with my head bowed, fighting against the bitter wind of disappointment and failure. As dust I lie waiting to be gathered up into the breath of God. As dust I am ready to be made new.

Flakes of ash brush my cheeks as I lift my forehead to be marked. Flakes of promises made and promises broken. Flakes of forgiveness. Flakes of hope. Flakes of impossible love.

Monday, February 16, 2015

On the Move

Excerpt from a sermon preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Scranton PA
on February 8, 2015

How did you get here this morning? What life circumstances, what twists and turns, what challenges and promises and hopes compelled you to choose this? How has your life in Christ led you to this moment? Whether you have grown up in this place or walked in the door for the first time, whether you have grown up in the church or felt called to it in later life, or stumbled into it along the way, you will discover, or have already discovered, or know deep in your heart that the Christian life is not about staying in one place—no matter how comfortable that place can be.

Jesus begins his earthly ministry on the move. Baptized by John in the Jordan, he is immediately driven by the Spirit into the wilderness. From there he passes along the Sea of Galilee calling to Simon and Andrew who immediately leave their nets and follow him. Farther along he immediately calls to James and John who also follow. They head right into Capernaum where Jesus teaches in the synagogue astounding all with his wisdom and before you know it they are at Simon and Andrew’s house and Jesus doesn’t stop even then. Simon’s mother-in-law is ill and Jesus wastes no time in raising her up and once she is healed she immediately begins to serve others.

When Jesus raises her up it is a significant moment. It is a resurrection act. The same words are used for Jesus when he is raised up from the dead. And this resurrection act engenders service and healing. The woman immediately serves others, which after all is the ministry of Jesus. And then Jesus multiplies this act by healing many, many others who come to the house that day.

But what happens next is also astounding. The next day, Jesus gets up before the busyness of the day, goes out to a deserted place away from everyone else, and prays. He spends time with God. He takes time for reflection and renewal. And when they come looking for him, he does not return to the house where everyone is searching for him and where certainly there are more people to be healed. Instead he says, let us go on to the neighboring towns so that I can proclaim the message there also. For this is what I came out to do. Jesus’ gifts and ministry will be multiplied because he chooses not to stay in one place and heal those who come to him, but rather to goes out and beyond. I am reminded of our own Baptismal Covenant which calls us to seek out people in order to serve.

The Christian life is not about staying in one place. Jesus travels, raises up, heals the sick, steps aside in solitude to pray, and then moves out and beyond to carry healing to more. It is this movement that I find compelling: that ministry is followed by renewal and regrouping and then going forth, going out, taking the show on the road rather than staying in one place and doing all the good work there is to do.

The Christian life is hardly about the status quo. It is not about figuring it out and then settling in. It is always about moving on and proclaiming the gospel. Let us go on to the neighboring towns so that I can proclaim the message there also, for this is what I came out to do.  We are called to place ourselves in the loving hands of Jesus and step out. We are called to raise up the downtrodden, to serve others, to engage in acts of healing, to cast out darkness, to place ourselves before God and be renewed, and then to go—to go out and beyond.

God is hardly the champion of the status quo. Have you not known? Have you not heard? Our God is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, who numbers the stars and knows them all by name. God does not faint or grow weary and God’s understanding is unsearchable.  Youths will faint and be weary, the young will fall exhausted, but those who wait for the Lord, those who place themselves in the hands of the living God, they shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Place yourselves in the loving hands of Jesus. Raise up those who are downtrodden. Engage in acts of healing. Cast out darkness. Place yourself before God and be renewed. And then go. Go out and beyond. Go forth and proclaim the Gospel. And expect God to be at work in your life—to strengthen you when you faint, to raise you up when you fall, to call you into spiritual growth beyond where you last lay your head and into a lifelong relationship of transformation and love.