Monday, April 30, 2012

Isaiah 58:11

This arrived via email last week.  I passed it on to a friend who'd just had a heart attack, and today it occurs to me to make a gift of it to my friend Karen East, who's been bravely writing about gardening and life even as the most difficult weeks of the year approach.  Click and savor for a couple of minutes.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Be Gentle With Yourself"

Among the (many) facets of grief which I had to discover for myself after Josh died was that of fatigue.  I was submerged under wave after wave of physical and mental exhaustion, complete and unrelenting, for months.  Even today, three and one-half years later, I find that two or three consecutive days of intense work deplete my resources entirely.  I may have ambitious plans for the third or fourth day, but they are seldom realized.

In the wake of breast cancer, I have discovered yet another loss, one which I did not expect at all.  I have a long way to go in terms of re-building my physical strength and stamina, but I am not plagued by constant fatigue anymore. The surprise is that my natural capacity for emotional resiliency has almost completely deserted me.

Thursday afternoon, after two days of challenging pastoral visits to people spending time in various medical facilities, I headed out for a doctor's appointment of my own.  A simple follow-up visit, with no real purpose that I understood.  I went anyway, thinking that it might serve as a cap to this whole breast cancer narrative, a sort of experience of closure.  ("Closure" being a term which I generally scorn.  But, whatever.)

I lasted for 35 minutes in the waiting room, and then I left.  The receptionist was a bit taken aback, and insisted that my wait would not be much longer, but I knew that I was finished.  Quite.  I knew that ahead lay the disrobing, the examination, the conversation about possible options for future procedures ~ and I had lost the wherewithal even to sit still in the waiting room for another ten seconds.  Another full minute and I was in danger of complete meltdown.

Combativeness ~ that would have been my M.O. a few years ago.  I don't have it in me anymore.  I carry so much sadness; such a sense of isolation.  A friend of mine is fond of proclaiming that she can bounce back from anything, but her anythings have not included lost children or lost body parts.  I think it is probably a good thing, and a source of compassion for others, to recognize that there comes a time when the elasticity of the spirit is stretched to the point of frayed limpness.  

I think that, despite my own reality, I am still a good pastor and spiritual director to others.  My imagination, my ability to tolerate ambiguity, my passion for fostering others' encounters with God liturgically and academically and prayerfully and pastorally ~ those are all intact.

It's myself whom I have to learn to care for.  "Be gentle with yourself."  That's what I hear in my prayer.  This afternoon in a workshop on using the arts in spiritual direction, I persisted in smoothing out the contours of my clay shapes and turning them into containers of varying forms.  

A couple of days ago, I sighed as I left a hospital visit, wondering almost aloud why God has such a penchant for vanishing when people are most in need.  There are so many of us in need of hiding places within the cool, smooth container of God's Spirit, places in which we might be gentle with ourselves.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Sisters

A bit of background: While I was on retreat last week, immersed in silence, the world lumbered on, and numerous concerns on which others were focused made their way into our masses in the form of prayer requests.  One day early in the week, the presider offered prayers for the LCWR in the face of the CDF's newly released critique, and expressed his solidarity with the sisters.  Huh?

Clarification came when the next day's presider explained the the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (known in earlier centuries as the Inquisition) had issued a report criticizing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for its over-attentiveness to issues of poverty and social justice and for its failure to focus on the Vatican's priorities in the areas of right-to-life and human family and sexuality issues. The CDF has established a panel of men (?) to oversee the sisters' organization for the next five years. 

There has been extensive coverage of this issue online, some of which raises serious questions about the integrity and competence of the oversight panel.  If you are interested, all you have to do is google "American Catholic sisters."  For today, my focus is on a twitter campaign launched by James Martin, S.J. , "What Sisters Mean to me," which I read about over at my friend Fran's place.  Twitter is not a part of my own communications arsenal, so I'll proceed with a blog post, per usual, and offer some observations about the profoundly Christlike presence of the women religious I know best, the Ursuline Sisters of Brown County, Ohio:

1.  They traveled from France in 1845 to  what was then the wilderness and is now the edge of Appalachia in southwestern Ohio,  and quickly established a school for girls, where I received my 7th-9th grade education 120 years later.

2.  They have been teachers, counselors, partners, ministers, supporters, encouragers, consolers, and I'm sure many other things I don't know about to countless of the people among whom they live, including my own family, for 167 years.

3.  Ursuline sisters taught my great-grandmother to play the piano in the 1890s, conducted or participated in the funerals of my grandfather (in his living room), my grandmother (in their chapel), and my stepmother (in a funeral home).

4.  A few decades ago, having concluded that their massive 19th century convent and school building was exhausting funds that could be better used elsewhere, the Ursulines engaged in one of the few great and unheralded acts of prophetic vision and courage which I've been privileged to witness.  They knocked that beautiful, energy-guzzling edifice down, moved to more modest and efficient quarters, and focused on ministry to people rather than to buildings.

5.  Today, the college that one of the sisters launched in the 1960s so that young nuns did not have to postpone their educations during the early years of their religious lives, years in which they were not at that time permitted to attend local universities, serves the entire region. It provides a warm and friendly setting in which farmers, laid-off workers, homemakers, high-school dropouts, and many others who would never otherwise have been able to imagine the possibility of college are able to earn degrees and embark upon new lives.

6.  While they are busy changing the world through education and attentiveness to those pesky issues of poverty and justice, the sisters are also present to the small but critical moments in the lives of those they care for.  Ursuline sisters have made the ten-hour round trip between their house and mine on several occasions: to bring my grandmother to see her brand-new great-granddaughter, to mourn our son with us, to celebrate an ordination with us.

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture. Let me just add the following:

New friends sometimes express astonishment that my then little agnostic-Methodist self spent three years in a Catholic girls' boarding school.  Their general sentiments might be summarized as, "Didn't that ruin you?"

Well, yes: I did spend those formative years there, in a community of women who ran a convent, a school, and a farm.  Women who throw their entire lives of prayer, education, expertise,  presence, intelligence, and humor into the world in service to others.  Women whose every move offers an example of how to live with grace and goodness.  

I guess they did kind of ruin me.  They ruined any capacity I might have had to accept the status quo, to follow conventional rules for women, to ignore the needs of the impoverished and uneducated.  They ruined any possibility that I might have failed to realize that an 80-year-old woman might launch a new community ministry, or that a teacher of Italian and music might bring communion to the dying, or that ecumenical friendship is a priority of the highest order.

Now, what is it exactly that the Vatican does not see?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What It Comes Down To: With the Dying

I spent some time this afternoon sitting with a 103-year-old woman who is dying.  Which is to say that I spent some time praying, some time remembering, and some time observing.

I don't know this woman at all.  I've often visited with her son, one of my parishoners, who is recovering from a massive stroke, and his wife and their two daughters, and I have listened to humorous stories about "Grandma" and her efforts to conceal some of her misadventures in her apartment, falls and injuries that would have cost her her independence had the wrong people gotten wind of them.  I met her when she was moved into hospice care some weeks ago.  At that time, even from her prone position in bed, she was still a boisterous, no-nonsense kind of gal.  I kind of wondered whether she had ever been a rodeo rider.

Today she is unconscious, heavily medicated, and breathing laboriously.  I had ample opportunity to take in her surroundings and ponder the results of 103 years of living:

Half of a double room, a curtain pulled carelessly between the two sides as a pointless divider;

A twin bed, a couple of machines that apparently do something, a bedside table, a lamp inexplicably turned on;

A sippy cup with a straw, no doubt unused for several days;

Tousled gray hair strew across the pillow, thick and curly;  paper-thin eyelids closed in the sunken sockets of an angular face.  She must have been a beautiful woman.

There is no art.  There is no music.  There are no photographs.  There are no books.

I have told my children many times that should I approach this condition, their task to to get me to the beach.  I would like to die within the sight and sound of the ocean and the seabirds.

I see now that I need to mention a few other things.  If I should land in similarly spartan surroundings, they are expected to show up with some artwork, whatever future i-invention produces the best music, and a stack of books.  If I can't die with my feet in the sand, perhaps I could at least be surrounded by remnants of my life.

And if I am unaware of all of it, if I am already elsewhere despite my body's resistance to its departure, I would like for the sounds to be other than my own ragged breaths.  The second movement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 would be my preference, followed by the Largo from Dvorak's New World Symphony.

Those pieces constitute the soundtrack that I am sliding into the images with which I am left this afternoon.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Oh, To Find a Spiritual Director . . .

While I was away on retreat, a friend wrote to inquire how she might find a spiritual director.  I don't think she'll object to my responding, at least preliminarily, in a post.

You might begin by reading a bit about spiritual direction.  The term itself is something of a misnomer, indicating a relationship in which one individual exerts some sort of authority or control over another.  It's a residual phrase from the desert monastic movement of the early centuries of the church, and retains a bit of the flavor of that era, when the curious, the broken, and the seeking ventured into the desert in search of the solitary figures who had recused themselves to a dry and barren land of prayer and of God, seeking a word of wisdom and guidance.Today, however, spiritual direction is more accurately described as spiritual companionship, a relationship in which two people walk with God together, one of them more experienced and knowledgeable in recognizing the ways of the Holy Spirit, who is herself the real director of the venture. 

Some helpful books include Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction or The Practice of Spiritual Direction.  Each offers an interpretation of the spiritual direction relationship and a window into the dynamics of spiritual companionship.  I'm sure that others reading this post have their favorites, and I hope that they'll include them in the comments section.

You might think and pray about your reasons for seeking a spiritual director.  It's often easier to talk about spiritual direction in terms of what it is not ~ it is not pastoral counseling or therapy or spiritual instruction or Bible study, although many of the same questions and issues that would be addressed in those situations emerge in spiritual direction as well.  Spiritual direction is an opportunity to grow in attentiveness to your relationship with God; it opens the door to a deeper recognition and understanding of God's labor and love in your life.

Nuts and bolts: The website for Spiritual Directors International provides both a directory and a set of interview questions for your potential director.  You might ask your own priests or pastors for some referrals; ask your friends, ask your professors, ask your choir director, ask anyone who mentions some form of engagement with spiritual direction.  If there is some sort of program for the training of spiritual directors near you, call and ask for a list of possibilities.  And ask your online friends: in today's world, it's becoming increasingly common for spiritual direction to take place via online services.  

Qualifications:  There is no nationally recognized certification or licensing for spiritual directors.  However, there are a number of excellent training programs, and you might wish to research any of those from which your potential directors has received training.  Ask a director whether he adheres to ethical standards for spiritual directors; ask her in what ways she continues her education and maintains accountability to her calling.

Slant:  There are a number of approaches to spiritual direction.  Ask whether the director follows any particular school of spirituality or philosophy or direction; ask about his or her own experience of spiritual direction.  Ask how he or she generally approaches a meeting or session.  And then, if you decide to give it a try, ask questions as you go, if you are so inclined.  I recall reading a post a few years ago in which a woman described "what a spiritual direction session is like."  It was nothing like any spiritual direction I have ever participated in, as either director or directee!  I recall thinking that if someone came to me expecting something similar, major disappointment would ensue.

And finally, after you've met with someone a time or two, ask yourself:  Is this director a person of integrity, generosity, and imagination?  Is this someone who listens with compassion and attentiveness to what I have to say?  Is this a person who asks questions about or makes suggestions for prayer that are meaningful to me?

Do I sense God's grace in the air?


Sunday, April 22, 2012


Hanging around waiting for spiritual director: the view out the third floor window.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Silent Retreat

One more church service to lead, one more meeting, the conundrum of packing for temperatures that are supposed to range from 40 to 90 degrees, and then:


See y'all if I come back.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tipper the Dog, 1996-2012

We found Tipper at the APL, an abused, skinny, and scared year-old pup.  Josh chose her -- the other two kids still remember the dogs they had to leave behind -- and named her for a restaurant in Put-in-Bay, on the Lake Erie Islands, that he had remembered from a class trip.  She was transformed by a loving family and a warm bed (ours) into a cheerful, lively, and loyal friend.

The last few months have been challenging for her, and it became increasingly difficult to watch the dog who used to accompany me for walks of three and four miles as she struggled to make it down the block ~ tail still wagging.  She stopped eating and drinking three days ago, and needed to be carried down the porch steps last night, so this afternoon The Lovely Daughter and I made the sad trip to the vet.  She rested quietly in our arms and left us peacefully.

I will miss my walks with the dog who made everyone smile when they saw us, and I will miss the dog who could always find the softest place in the house in which to recline.  Tip was a GREAT DOG.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Marathon to Wernersville Retreat: Will She Make It?

There was the Maundy Thursday service, with the play written and directed by the pastor.  There was the death of a former parishoner.  There was the Easter Vigil, something never before seen in this town.  There was the Sunrise Service and the breakfast and then the Easter Service at the usual time.  There was the grieving family, none of them known to the pastor.  There was the graveside service to plan and lead.  There has been this day filled with research and conversations about a prickly issue that makes the pastor feel more like a lawyer than a minister and yes, she knows the difference.  There is the dog who is probably not going to last the week.  There are still a couple of meetings and visits.  There is the mother-in-law's 80th birthday.  There is one more service, at which, mercifully, a guest is preaching. 

And on Monday there is a long drive, and perhaps a dinner with two good friends, and a reunion with a trusted spiritual director, and then there will be . . . 


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Protestant + Steadfast + Sister

I almost titled this post  "Neither Non Nor Wayward ~ and not a Brother, Either" ~ but that would have meant toppling right into the trap laid for me.

Frequent readers of my blog know that I spend a considerable amount of time crossing worlds, especially Catholic and Protestant worlds.  I like it that way.  There's no question in my mind that I am called to the Christian faith, Protestant dimension, and that I am called to ordained ministry in that context, but I am most appreciative of the first 1500 years of Christianity and of the many gifts of contemporary Catholic faith, and also very much called to practice much of my faith life as taught and encouraged  by Ignatius of Loyola, a Catholic if ever there was one.  It's not always easy and I often bump up against difficult inconsistencies, but there's that whole "my ways are not your ways" thing, so I live with it.  Contentedly.

Some time ago it dawned on me (slowly, yes; I'm extremely slow about certain things) that Catholics and Protestants alike often refer to Protestants as "nonCatholics."  As soon as I realized it, I stopped doing it.  Why would I want to self-identify, or identify others, as something I or they are not?  It seems to me that the preface "non" implies a certain degree of either diminishment or exclusion with respect to the noun in question.  

(Interestingly, in my days as a teacher in an Orthodox Jewish day school, I was most often identified as a "Christian."  Clearly I was not of the majority there, but in general Jews seem content to identify others as who we are.  They don't resort to the term "nonJews.")

A few days ago, there was a debate over at The Deacon's Bench over whether or not Catholic priests should bless children during the Eucharist.  It seems that there are a great many rules and opinions about blessings and about children of which I was unaware but hey, this is their argument, not mine.  I still don't know much about it, having just stopped by on a friend's recommendation (?) this morning and skimmed the post ~ and the 150+ comments!

But there it was, that term "nonCatholic."  Suddenly I felt . . .  hmmm . . .  extremely irritated.    Moreso when I read another comment to the effect that many Protestant churches do not welcome children.  Excuse me?

And then, the grand piece de resistance: the referral to "wayward brethren."

OK, really? 

I am Protestant.  I am steadfast in my faith,  which has not been a matter of smooth sailing for me.  And I am female.  I am delighted to be all of those things.  

So, please.  Do not refer to me as one of your nonCatholic wayward brethren.  (I don't think I've ever done the reverse, by the way.  Some real bloopers have come out of my mouth, but "nonProtestant wayward brethren" is not one of them.  John Calvin et al. said some bad, bad stuff about the Catholic Church, but we are, thankfully, no longer in the 16th century.)

Protestant.  Steadfast, focused, and on track.  Female.

Please use correct terminology.

That's all I ask.

Suicide: Some Things

It's been three years, seven months, and one week.

I was able to celebrate an Easter communion liturgy with genuine joy and hope.  The promise of a bodily resurrection into new and whole and healed life is very real to me.

Josh's death has not stopped me from caring for my family, completing my education, becoming a spiritual director, being ordained to ministry, pastoring a church, and dealing with breast cancer.

But, in case you were wondering:

No, I never stop thinking about him.

No, I am not finished with the the horror, the denial, the anger, the bargaining.  I have no plans to accept this.  I suggest to God every day that I would gratefully trade absolutely everything in my life (other than people) for Josh's.

On Friday, out to pick up some lunch at the bakery, I ran into a professor I know from John Carroll, and his wife, whom I had not met before.  Their fifteen year-old-son died in a ATV accident two and one-half years ago.  Friday was his birthday; we had all just been to the cemetery, apparently only a short distance from one another, before coming to the bakery.  She told me that he would have been eighteen, preparing for college:  What college would he have chosen?  What would he be planning for his life?  

I told her that Josh would be twenty-seven and that I often wonder: would he have stayed in the corporate world; would he have started at Chicago's B-school by now?  Or would he have abandoned that path; would he be at the Art Institute or on the road with his camera?  

She commented that suicide must be particularly difficult.  I agreed, but added that we must both find ourselves thinking about how different our lives would be if only things had gone otherwise in the last five minutes of our children's lives. That we have all been the victims of stupid, stupid actions by impulsive young men. And she agreed with that.

I suppose that if you had seen us in the bakery, you would have had no idea that our conversation was about our dead sons and our dashed hopes.

One of the things I wonder about is: what would it even be like to live through a day without this terrible weight of sorrow?  I've completely forgotten.  I think, though, that life would probably not be quite so difficult.

Today I am presiding over my first funeral as a pastor. I have planned, or helped to plan, several other funerals, but they have all been for close family members or friends.  The lady who died in this case was ninety-one years old.  Her children are devastated. Ninety-one.  I am envious of sixty-seven of those years.  Can't I get them back for him?

I don't think it does much for my ability to pastor, that I am jealous of a grieving family.  

And probably the parents of young children who have died feel the same way about me.  Couldn't we have just had twenty more years, they must wonder.  Is that so much to ask? 

So, if you are wondering what it's like, I'll tell you:  It's terrible.  It changes, but: so what?  It's still terrible. 

A few weeks ago, an 83-year-old parishoner told me the story of her father's death by suicide, when she was a little girl.  As far as I know, she has had a good life: husband, children, community.  But the horror of a father's suicide casts a long shadow.

I think we would all like a do-over.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ignatian Prayer Adventure 14 ~ Resurrection Appearance

One of the final prayers in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises suggests that we contemplate a first post-resurrection appearance by Jesus to his mother.  Becky Eldridge provides a short response here.

No, there's no such meeting recorded in the Bible, but the invitation to "imagine" radiates from the Exercises, and Ignatius himself had a deep devotion to Mary, so it's not a surprise that he himself would imagine such an encounter.

Last Friday, listening to the reading of the crucifixion from the Gospel of John, I zeroed in on Jesus's words to "the disciple whom he loved,"  "Behold, your mother!" and on the disciple's consequently taking Mary into his household.  The latter is covered in one short sentence, but those of us who have dealt with the physical dislocations required by a child's death know that that short sentence offers only  the merest hint of the crushing weight of responsibility for living arrangements and possessions that must be dealt with.

On Friday, hearing those words, I imagined Mary sadly packing up her things, and what few things Jesus might have left behind and, bent over in horror and sorrow, piling them up on a donkey for the move down the street.  I imagined her that Friday evening, in a room that was not hers, in a house that was not hers, peering out the window into a future that was not hers.  

But, today, I return to a prayer I have made often:  Mary sitting on a bench outside the house on Sunday morning, her face turned toward the sun, her mind and heart trying to grasp the experiences of the preceding two days, when a shadow blocks the sunlight and causes her to open her eyes: her own son, returned to her.  

Really, I have not the slightest difficulty imagining either the scene or the fullness of her heart.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Sermon (Mark 16:1-8): Practicing Resurrection

That’s it?  Really?  That’s the end?  The three women who discover the empty tomb are so terrified and amazed, so bewildered and afraid, that they run away and they don’t tell anyone?

That’s not a very satisfying ending, is it?  But then, as we all know, it’s not the ending.  Two thousand years have passed since that morning, and we haven’t reached the ending yet.

The Gospel of Mark, the one on which the church is focused this year, can be somewhat abrupt.  Not much in there in the way of extended narratives.  We tend to think of the Resurrection story as more extensive, more detailed, because we merge all of the four different gospel versions together in our minds.    

The Gospel of Matthew concludes with the Great Commission, in which Jesus himself, appearing to his disciples, tells them to “Go forth and baptize all nations” and encourages them with the words, “I will be with you always.”  The Gospel of Luke contains the beautiful story of the Road to Emmaus in which Jesus appears on the road alongside two of his disciples, who are walking sadly away from Jerusalem, their hopes dashed, their hearts broken.  They don’t recognize him until later in the evening, when he breaks bread with them – and then they know: he is risen, and he is among them. And in the Gospel of John, which we read at the Sunrise Service this morning, Jesus appears to the devastated Mary Magdalene, alone in the garden on Easter morning, and exhorts her to “go and tell the others” – which she runs to do.

All of these stories swirl about in our imaginations as we recall that first Easter morning.  And all together they offer us a fuller picture of the resurrected Jesus as he was first experienced by his closest followers and friends.  But none of them tells us the ending either – because we ourselves are part of the story, we ourselves are called to recognize Jesus, we ourselves are called to practice resurrection.   

Here in our church, we’ve spent these last six weeks of Lent talking about spiritual practices, about the practices to which we are called as Christians, the practices which help us learn and understand what it means to follow Jesus.  Some of them we’ve all recognized easily: practicing gratitude, practicing Sabbath, practicing discipleship, even practicing preparation.  All of these aspects of life contain within them a spiritual dimension, an opportunity to be attentive to God and to what God is doing in our lives, 

 Some of the practices have sounded a little strange: practicing the desert and practicing paradox.  But we have learned ways of following Jesus even in the dry, dusty, and bleak desert times of our lives, and we have learned that paradox is just another word for the Christian journey.  “Those who want to save their lives must lose them,” right?  That’s the essential paradox, the basic combination of opposites, of the Christian pilgrimage: that to gain life in Christ, we must lose the ordinary life to which we cling as though it were all there is.

So what about today’s practice, the practice of resurrection?  Another strange one?  Or another practice that reminds us that yes, this is the core of Christianity:  resurrection.  A new kind of life.  A life that scoffs at death.  A life that does not permit death to be the last word.  Resurrected life is the life of Easter morning.  A life about music, and light, and lilies – but that’s barely the beginning.  A light that turns its back on the tomb.  A life in which God is at work, redeeming all of creation and transforming all of us.

I didn’t make it up – that term, practicing resurrection.  Perhaps its most famous recent use is in a poem with that title, “Practicing Resurrection,” by Wendell Berry.  Some of you might enjoy Wendell Berry; he’s a farmer down in Kentucky and a prolific writer – poems, novels, short stories, essays.  Among his passions are care of the earth, sustainable agriculture, rural communities, nonviolent solutions to conflict, and Christian faith, which he has followed all his life as a Baptist.  In his poem “Practicing Resurrection,” Wendell Berry urges us to respond anew to the challenges of our lives, to recognize that our faith makes claims on us and invites us to understand the world and our lives in ways different from the understanding our materialistic, violent, and careless culture tries to impose upon us.

What can it mean, to practice resurrection?  Today’s Easter reading from Mark, as brief and unsatisfactory as it might seem on a first go-round, offers us two important clues.  

The first clue is found in the behavior of the three women, and of the men who aren’t even present.  The reality is that resurrection is dramatic, and earth-shattering, and threatening – and that a response of fear and trembling, of terror and amazement, is entirely appropriate.  Have you ever done what the men here have done, in what looks to be a bad situation – have you ever simply exempted yourself from participation? Or even in what might be a good situation, but you’re not entirely sure about that?  Have you simply not shown up?  

Or maybe you’ve behaved as the women did in Mark’s version, as Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome did; maybe you’ve attempted something difficult, and then run away?

Imagine the followers of Jesus on this first Easter morning.  D. and I were talking about this the other night.  Imagine how frightened they must have been!  Roman soldiers all over town.  Their beloved leader executed in a publicly degrading and tortuous way.  And the cemetery – cemeteries then were not the pleasant, park-like environments we have to come to expect.  They were on the edge of the city, lonely and unkempt, not places anyone wanted to go, especially not at sunrise.  And now: no body!  How many of you have visited a loved one’s grave recently?  And I’m guessing that no matter how you felt – maybe the heartache and heaviness of a new loss, maybe the peaceful sadness of a loss long accepted – no matter how you felt, you were not expecting the person’s body to be GONE!  Wouldn’t you be terrified if that happened?  Remember, we know how the story plays out, but the disciples did not.  Of course they were afraid!

And fear, and amazement, and awe, these are emotions so strong that they cause people to run away – we don’t always get it right the first time.  Notice that the young man in white, presumably an angel, does not run after the women, shouting at them to pull themselves together.  He does not lead them to the homes of the other disciples. He tells them what to do, but he does not set a timetable.  He seems to accept that practicing resurrection, learning resurrection, is going to involve a certain degree of fear and resistance.   

But that’s not the end of the story.  It may be the end of Mark but, as we know from the other gospels, there’s more to it than an empty tomb and frightened, speechless disciples. They told someone eventually, or we would not all be here today, and that means that they picked up on the second clue for practicing resurrection that Mark gives us.  The clue is found in the words of the angel: “But.  Go.  Tell.”  Three words.  The longer sentence is “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”   

First, there’s a “but.”  With Jesus, there’s always a “but,” always a paradox.  In this case, it’s: this scary, overwhelming thing has happened and you are going to be afraid, you may run away, you may not even be here – BUT: God is still at work.  Not, “But – that’s okay.”  Not, “But – you are no longer involved.”  Not, “But don’t worry about it.”

No!  The  behavior that follows from fear is expected, BUT:


This story has not ended at all!  It does not end with the bewilderment, with the terrified responses of the women.  It doesn’t end for them and it hasn’t ended for us.  We are the continuation of the story.  Jesus continues to labor in our lives, even when we seem to be the ones who have abandoned him.


God seeks our involvement.  God wants to work through us.  If we want to see Jesus ourselves, if we want others to see Jesus, we have to go and tell.

Now, sometimes it’s really easy to practice resurrection.  Sometimes you’re walking on the beach just before the sun rises, and the purple and orange and pink colors fan out like fingers across the horizon, and then the sunlight sparkles on the ocean, and it’s a resurrection day, and it’s so easy to practice: you run home filled with gratitude, and you can’t wait to go and tell everyone what you’ve seen and how beautiful God’s creation is.

And sometimes it’s so difficult, maybe even impossible.  Maybe you live in Texas and you wake up in a community shelter filled with too many people and you have to walk the three miles to what used to be your house because the roads have all been destroyed and you stand there and look at the heap of rubble the tornado has left you and you are frightened and bewildered and you can’t even imagine resurrection, let alone practice it, and if you could run away, you most certainly would.


Sometimes we go and tell with words.  Sometimes we go and tell by being who we are.  Sometimes we go and tell through action.  But go and tell, one way or another, is how we are invited to practice resurrection.  Our Christian faith calls to us in both the good and the bad, in all kinds of situations.  The words of the angel inspired a ragtag group of heartbroken, frightened, disorganized, and generally clueless disciples.  What might they inspire in us, we who know the story, we who cherish a community that gathers each week, we who worship comfortably in a beautiful sanctuary in a land free of military oppression?  To what do the words “But, Go, Tell” call us as we practice resurrection?

They call us to imagination, to recognition, to gratitude, to openness, to awe, to courage.  

They call us to let Jesus work through us; Jesus, who died and rose for us, who lived and lives again for us; Jesus, who loves fiercely, who loves all of creation and all of us, whether we run away or not; Jesus, whose own death claimed victory over all death; Jesus, our friend who tells us, “Yes, I am the resurrection, I am the life --- But YOU – you go and tell.”  

What is it, to practice resurrection?  To remember each day, in a world in which so much seeks to defeat the message of Jesus, to remember that  we are called to life, to love, and to a new beginning?  Let’s listen to a bit of that poem of Wendell Berry’s: 

[F]riends, everyday do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Love someone who does not deserve it.  Isn’t that what we have all experienced: the love of a savior who wasn’t looking for us to be deserving, to get everything right, to be all cleaned up and perfect, to be wearing polished shoes and new hats? 

And so: practice resurrection.  Run away, if you must.  But then remember: you are part of the story.  Go and tell.  Do things that don’t compute.  Love the Lord whose compassion for you knows no bounds, whose love for you never fails, and who rises this day to transform your life.    

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  And thanks be to God.

Image: Our Easter Vigil Fire ~ something my church has never done before!

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Musician (A Poem for Good Friday)

A memory of Kreisler once:
At some recital in this same city,
The seats all taken, I found myself pushed
On to the stage with a few others,
So near that I could see the toil
Of his face muscles, a pulse like a moth
Fluttering under the fine skin,
And the indelible veins of his smooth brow.

I could see, too, the twitching of the fingers,
Caught temporarily in art’s neurosis,
As we sat there or warmly applauded
This player who so beautifully suffered
For each of us upon his instrument.

So it must have been on Calvary
In the fiercer light of the thorns’ halo:
The men standing by and that one figure,
The hands bleeding, the mind bruised but calm,
Making such music as lives still.
And no one daring to interrupt
Because it was himself that he played
And closer than all of them the God listened.

~ R.S. Thomas

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday 2007

Josh and I were away on a trip together, celebrating his college graduation.  In the early morning he slept in, something I almost never do when I'm at the beach:


I started my Maundy Thursday by driving across the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge toward sunrise on the beach at Assateague, with Bach echoing in the car and birds beginning to awaken on the darkened marsh.

As the sun bubbled over the Atlantic, flocks of willet and sanderlings sparkled out along the edge of the foam, and the just-past-full moon hung above the inlet.

My drive back was marked by scores of shorebirds wheeling over the marsh, a posse of Sika deer stopping to stare, and a loon floating serenely in the early morning sunshine.

An awesome day on the calendar beginning with such fragile beauty on the coast.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ignatian Prayer Adventure Reflection 13 ~ Skipping Ahead

I am looking forward to the Easter services this week-end.  If that statement sounds as if it should be non-newsworthy for a pastor, allow me to explain:

Holy Week has been hell for me for the past three years.  With Josh gone ~ my Josh, my beautiful son, the one member of my very nonreligious family who would make the effort to share things with me that no one else cared about, the one who walked under the dark sky and the full moon to the Sunrise Service with me each year~ the memories were too much to manage. 

The first year, I simply skipped all observances. Well, I attempted an Easter Vigil at a Catholic church, but when the lights came up and joy filled the sanctuary, I left.  Too much.  Seven months had not been long enough to absorb our loss, let alone three days.

The second year, as a  student pastor in a large church, I made my way through the whole series of services in a state of complete numbness.  I'm not sure which was the more tortuous ~  the suffering and death of Jesus, events which had become extremely personal in terms of lived experience ~ or the Resurrection, which was not my lived experience at all.  Last year, I went to some of the services at the Carmelite Monastery, but my heart wasn't in them.

This year:  this year I admit to glossing over much of Thursday and Friday of Holy Week in terms of my interior approach ~ I have spent so much of the past three-plus years there ~ although I am making every effort to create a meaningful Maundy Thursday service for my congregation.

This year: this year I am all about the Resurrection.  Finally.  Joyfully.

I'm "skipping ahead" in these Ignatian reflections to the final one in the Exercises, the one Ignatius called "The Contemplation to Attain Love." In that contemplation, Ignatius suggests four ways in which we might understand God, the third of which has to do with how God labors for us.  How God works on our behalf.

A deep appreciation of God as laborer, as one who toils for and in and with me, has taken hold of me these weeks of Lent.  There have been many, many days since Josh died on which I have questioned my basic sanity in continuing with my education and my ministry, with my life in any kind of way.  And yet, here I am, about to celebrate the Triduum with my first congregation, and with a life filled with other opportunities to serve, because God has worked with great diligence in my life.

And, much more important than anything I say or do this week, God's labors on my behalf, most of them through the care and persistence of other people, have filled me with the sense that God's love for my own son overflows, that my own son is safe and cared for and completely held in God's protective embrace.

The man whom I might call my spiritual director emeritus once sent me a little bookmark with a photograph of this Chartres Cathedral statue (yes, I've posted it before).  The statue depicts God creating Adam; I immediately understood it, as he had hoped, as God re-creating Josh.  

Easter: re-creation for all of us.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ignatian Prayer Adventure Reflection 12 ~ Another Morning

A brief offering, and this one really is about Jesus and his mother:

Sunday's gospel reading ended with Jesus returning to an empty temple at the end of the day to look around.

I imagine the same thing for early this morning.

I've just been out for my own morning walk.  It's a beautifully sparkly sunshiny morning, and birds who should not be here for another month are out and about.  I thought about how my own son Josh and I used to go out early in the morning together.  We had a vacation tradition of a breakfast out, just the two of us.  And then my thoughts turned to Jesus, and his mother . . . 

I imagine them standing in the temple, early on this spring morning, the light just beginning to spread out from the east.  She talks about the day of his dedication; she doesn't have to relate yet again the words of Simeon, which have overshadowed her life as a mother as surely as the Holy Spirit did, and which they both know are about to come true.

He reminisces about favorite teachers, rabbis with whom he spent time in this temple when he was a young man.  They laugh over a couple of the more humorous stories,  and wonder who might show up later in the day.

She gazes at him, her heart full, brimming with the love of a mother for her son.  He looks toward the west, his own heart already full of Friday. 

Holy Week - Teilhard de Chardin

Five years ago, Josh and I spent much of Holy Week taking a little trip to celebrate his graduation from the University of Chicago a couple of weeks earlier.  We spent Monday at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  Here's one of my blog posts describing that day:

 Space Window, Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (Washington National Cathedral)

"Is the Christ of the Gospels, imagined and loved within the dimensions of a Mediterranean world, capable of still embracing and still forming the centre of our prodigiously expanded universe?"

~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Breast Cancer Fallout

It was discovered as a consequence of a routine mammogram last fall.  I had scheduled a series of medical check-ups, making an attempt to put all routine health matters behind me prior to embarking upon my first call in ministry.  I got as far as having my teeth cleaned and going in for the mammogram.

Breast Cancer 101 now a month behind me, I need to pick up where I left off and take care of the rest of my body.

I find that I have been unable to make a single call.  Even the idea of the two fillings I need sets my heart pounding.  (Figuratively speaking.)   And the other things?  Terrifying.

Merely observations.  No advice needed.