Today is the day of the new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you, Jesus says. And I look out at the world and see such a great need for love. Fear has closed too many hearts and eyes and throats. The enemy has found a chorus who cry of hate and exclusion and scarcity.
How do I speak love out of and into the desolation?
The familiar words of the psalm bring tears to my eyes. How is it that God knows? My pain, my fear, my insecurity. The words in my prayer book are ancient and translated and sacred. Today they wrap around me, connect with my soul, and pull my innermost self to the surface where I am exposed to this day.
And I understand that this day is what I have been given. This day. This indeterminate weather. This uncertain time. This light. This body. These thoughts. This time of prayer.
And the One whose way is through the waters of pain and fear and insecurity. Troubled waters. Sanctified waters. Waters of new life.
The time has come. I cannot stop the minutes or hours slipping away as my Lenten passage now approaches a certain end. Each day this week has its own place, its own rhythm. And I am ready to be carried along, but I wonder if I will stay above the torrent or be drowned in it.
In the Celtic tradition, a pilgrimage was not so much setting out on a path as setting out onto the waters. To begin the journey was to get into small boat, and then see where God would take you. Can I let go of the last moorings that tie me to a certain stance within the wilderness? Can I leave the desert for the uncertain sea? Can I set myself adrift in this time?
My mother used to say that if you pray for patience, then God will give you plenty of opportunities to practice. Dare I pray to be set adrift?
Send out your light and truth, that they may lead me,
and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling;
As I drive along the river, I look across to the highway that parallels my route. I could have chosen that way and arrived at my destination. However, I am enjoying the stone houses, red barns, fields, creeks, and winding roads that make up this particular course.
Given a choice, I will almost always choose the back way. I like to know my way around and have familiarity with more than one track. And I am almost always open to the adventure of discovering a different way to arrive somewhere. But, somehow in my spiritual life I have narrowed my choices.
For weeks I have been thinking of my Lenten journey as being on a path—one particular path. I have visualized this trail moving off into the distance, not always straight, but always clear. Now today I perceive the limits to this vision.
God does not set one path before me, but opens the way before me, including choices as I go. Nor is this simply a path divided, with one right way and one wrong way. Rather, I am offered ways along the way. I do know that some choices are more life-giving than others, and that I am called to be discerning about God’s work in my life. But if I am to know God as the creator of all, if Jesus is the salvation of the world, then there is no place I can stray that is beyond the reach of God’s loving embrace.
Soon I will turn my steps more directly toward the foot of the cross. I will remind myself that there is more than one way to approach holy death. And that meticulous steps do not bring me to God, but rather following the light and truth.
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.
I could be on any road headed anywhere. The fog that has enveloped this morning’s landscape presents me with a wall of white. I cannot see far ahead of me, but have to trust that the way will be revealed. I assume that the road continues, my evidence being past experience.
Even as long as I have been walking with God, I do not know the way. Each morning as I wake and get out of bed, I have to put my trust in God. That God is merciful and gentle and loving. That God’s way continues. Because if I don’t trust in that, I could not stand. And evidence of past experience tells me that above all, God is merciful.
Everyday I set my feet upon the path anew. Everyday I walk a way I have not been before. Everyday I bring a different self to the journey, because I have been changed by the encounters of the day before. And everyday I open my soul to hear of God’s loving kindness so that I can step forth.
It is almost impossible to move this morning. In the dark, I hear a lone bird chirp. Once…then again. She knows it is time to welcome the day even if I am unsure.
As I reluctantly put my feet on the floor, I wonder if birds ever wake up feeling tired. Do they work late into the night, perhaps gathering bits of softness for nests that anticipate new birth? Or do their beings, which seem to respond to minute shifts in seasons, effortlessly balance work and play and rest? Are they ever unhappily wakeful at night, yearning for the moment they can first open their throats to sing?
I consciously push aside my lethargy, trying to focus myself for prayer. Lately my attention to the Lenten path seems to have lapsed. Am I tired of watching, or too tired to be watchful?
As the sky lightens, I see a robin perch on my windowsill, soon joined by another. Even as I lean in for a closer look, they hold their place as if to say, “We are here with you, because all of creation is watching and waiting.”
The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in,
from this time forth for evermore.
“FYI,” the group message begins, “I am at the HS, and will be home shortly after 4”
“@ the cathedral be home by 5 or so”
“I have rehearsal at 330, and will be home a bit after 6.”
“Dinner at 630 then”
Thus my family stays in touch and manages a typical weekday.
We are all coming and going all the time, and if we are not intentional about being with one another, seeing one another, listening to one another, being attentive to one another, we will certainly fall apart. I’m not sure how we would manage without cell phones, but I’m betting we would figure it out because sitting around the dinner table together is something we love.
Each year as my daughters mature our lives get more far flung, the radius of our daily dispersion increasing. In a few months one of them will be leaving home.
Soon we will not be having dinner together and I will not know how they are spending their afternoons. We will find new ways to be attentive to one another. Or we won’t. Regardless, our lives will never move beyond the radius of God’s care and the love we have shared over food and laughter will not lessen by being scattered.
The drops pelt my window and I hear the swish of cars driving on the wet street. I pull the afghan more securely over my lap, appreciating the comfort of being safe inside as I listen to the rain.
But I will have to step out into the storm. I cannot stay here today, regardless of my desire to wait while I attend to the Holy speaking in the raindrops.
Waiting does not always mean staying in one place, or doing nothing. Sometimes waiting involves going about my daily business while knowing that something else is in the works as well. God is working in me and in the world all the time. And I can’t always sit back in comfort until the work is perfected. In fact, if I waited until God’s work with me was complete before I stepped out, I would never engage in the world at all. And if I don’t participate in God’s creation, then ….
Whether still or in motion, waiting takes a kind of courage; the willingness to hold one’s ground or to step out and do, even when all is not in place. Either can involve risk. Both involve trust.
I burrow into my afghan a few minutes more, wondering what God has in store for me on today's journey. Then I head out into the rain.
My heart is firmly fixed, O God, my heart is fixed;
I will sing and make melody.
I awake to sunlight and birdsong and the comfort of being home.
Yesterday was a travel nightmare of delayed flights and missed connections and unhelpful personnel. And late at night, having been left to fend for myself at an airport that was not my final destination, I found myself traveling with another stranded soul, a stranger who turned out to be a neighbor, his destination half a mile from my house.
As I drove us homeward in a rented car, we bonded over hometown icons: the local high school, the music festival that has changed over the years, the new sports complex and arts center, when and where one can expect traffic jams. And then our kids, our parents, our stories of how we ended up here.
And all along the way my heart was thanking God who showed me once again the goodness and kindness of humanity and pulled generosity from me in response. So that by the time I dropped my companion off and finally opened my own front door, my step was lighter than it had been, the burden of frustration erased.
And this morning I continue to rejoice; the wilderness road ahead seem less daunting. Because though I am the one who offered a stranger a ride home, I have received the greater gift. And it is for this reason that I sing and make melody to God.
In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
They shall perish, but you will endure; they shall wear out like a garment;
as clothing you shall change them, and they shall be changed;
But you are always the same,
and your years will never end.
The entire world feels noisy to me today. My whole being wants to rebel against the manufactured sphere in which I maneuver, struggling with internet connection and email that won't load and highway traffic.
Recently I stood at the beach, letting the waves wash over my feet. I looked out across the field of water, taking in the color and the movement and the sheer power. I imagined the moon at work, pulling the water toward her and then letting go, a celestial hand pushing the waves along. And for how many centuries has this ocean watered this beach, and what about the millions of creatures and rocks that make up this sand, and what did this particular spot look like a million years ago, or two million?
All of this magnificence is the sacred work of God’s hands. Yet often I am blind to holy grandeur. I become disconnected from creation, allowing the freeways, traffic, expansive commercial complexes, business offices, check-out lines, industrial carpeting, laptops, and cell phones that surround me to dull my soul.
Yet even in these human-made monoliths, the sacred can be perceived. A beautiful geometric shape, a splash of light refracted into a rainbow, the capacious space in-between things. And God, in all and before all and beyond all.
I close my eyes, take a breath, and open them again. And there is the Holy Spirit, swooping along the corridor, singing and daring me to smile.
I am standing in the check-out line of the discount store when it happens. A sudden overwhelming feeling that I do not belong.
I have experienced this before, this disconnect with those around me that compels me into the lonely landscape of doubt. In a group of colleagues, or parents at one of my daughter’s events, or friends at a social gathering, or neighbors in the town in which I live.
I am sure it is the enemy who whispers in my ear at these moments, who has caught me unawares, and who has been rifling through my soul and brought to the surface all my insecurities.
This is an unsteady place to stand, for if I do not belong here it is either because I am less worthy than everyone else…or more. Neither is a true picture of what it means to be made in the image of God.
So I breathe deeply, and in my mind I reach up my hand to place it in God’s only to discover I have been held all along. And in the next breath I tell the enemy to take a hike.
I throw up my hands in defeat; the document I need for our taxes simply cannot be found. I looked in all the usual and likely places. And then I looked in the unlikely places. And then I looked again. Lost is a conclusion I am not ready to accept—so even though this is a problem with a solution, it feels like a complete rout. And the last straw in a series of frustrations.
In so many aspects of my life I am sure of my footing. I like to keep it that way. I work hard so that I do not misstep. I plan ahead. I keep track of details. I get creative with problem solving. I take pride in my efforts. And there is the problem.
I know that all I need to say is that I need help. I have experienced the love of God upholding me many times in the past. Yet even now, I fall into the trap of thinking that simply working hard enough will always smooth the way ahead. Or that at least I should not stumble over the same things.
But I know that there are some stumbling blocks that will always be mine. And that I will learn more about myself each time I stumble over them. And that it is not in my power to remove them. And that the love of God will be there each and every time I fall. And that whether I stumble or limp or stride, God has sent people who love me to walk the path with me.
from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.
As the familiar hymn tune washes over me, I unexpectedly begin to tear up. It is a Sunday like any other Sunday and nothing has happened to make me feel particularly vulnerable. But perhaps that is the point.
How many times have I sung these words? Yet this morning, I hear them differently. They bathe my soul filling crevices where I yearn for loving reassurance. I didn’t even know I was thirsty.
Here I find my greatest treasure; hither by thy help I've come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, bought me with his precious blood.
What did Robert Robinson, only 22 when he wrote “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing,” know or seek that led him to author such beauty? Could he have imagined me, a middle-aged woman more than 250 years later, being touched by what he penned? And who will come after us, what other weary travelers who have lost their way will find solace in these verses?
None of us knows the joys or burdens we bring with us to lay at Jesus’ feet. And it is here, not in this building but in this moment of uncertainty as I am thrown into the very presence of God, where I find my greatest treasure.
The photograph has always captured my attention. When I was teenager, I made a painting of it, replacing the black and white and gray with vibrant imagined color. Yet even then, I captured the pensive visage of the young girl, my grandmother.
I never knew that young girl, only the elegant mature woman she became. I have no stories of her growing up. In the photo she is pictured with her mother, my great-grandmother, who I knew not at all. Yet this morning, as the light hits the photograph hanging on the wall, I look again and sense the strong bond of connection. I am linked to this photo by blood and light.
Could these two women have imagined me? Did they sense they were casting their expressions forward for another generation to receive? They have passed on to me certain characteristics, visible and invisible. Eye color, a pensive look, faith.
Light makes things visible, provides energy, travels through time. The girl and the woman are literally captured in the light. In a process that we take for granted, but someone had to discover, their image was cast onto light sensitive material then made visible and preserved by being bathed in chemicals. A photograph. Writing in light.
Did they appreciate that day that their lives, like the light that made them visible then, would travel through time? Did it ever occur to them, as it does to me in this moment, that we are all the result of God writing in the light?
I wake in the early hours to the fierce wind encompassing the house in a mighty embrace.
It calls to me of joy and power and elation. I want to throw myself into the arms of the gale, to feel its strength and vivacity. I want to submit myself to its cleansing power and to feel myself uplifted and carried along by the surge of its purpose. I want to align myself with its frightening splendor.
I hesitate for a moment with the cookie in my hand. Then, rather than take a careless bite, I put it on a plate. For good measure, I add a small colorful paper napkin and picking up my cup of tea head for a comfy chair. If I am going to indulge in a treat, I decide, I am going to really enjoy it. The point of a single cookie, after all, is the sweetness of each small bite.
Sometimes the difference between plenty and scarcity is simply a matter of attention.
The question is not whether God provides for us in the wilderness, but whether I know how to see it. Where have I missed the abundance of God, or the opportunity to enjoy a sweet morsel of kindness? How often have I gobbled up offerings of compassion, consideration, gentleness without a thought and thus missed the benefits?