Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Life as Liturgy

Last week was anything but routine in my community. Hurricane Irma, which was Tropical Storm Irma by the time it arrived here, blew through on Monday and disrupted pretty much everything for the rest of the week. Lack of electricity, storm damage to homes, businesses shuttered because of no power, schools out for the entire week—and the story was not unique to our city. Our church housed 100 law enforcement personnel who were sent to assist, so going to work (thankfully the church never lost power) was a reminder that the order of the week was not business as usual.

Almost all our weekday events were cancelled because facilities were used to house and feed our guests. The one thing that stayed on the calendar was our weekly Taize service. I was grateful for that anchor because the activities of the week that help orient me to God through prayer and fellowship with my faith family were on an Irma hiatus.

It reminded me how much I crave order and consistency, and how much life anchored by these occasions of prayer and fellowship is an act of liturgy for me. The various gatherings for prayer, study and meals connect me to God and to my faith community.

Liturgy means “the work of the people” and that work occurred by means other than our usual activities. Our church did much of its “liturgy” last week in the kitchen, preparing three meals a day for the men and women who were making us their home base for most of the week. It was inspiring to see the hospitality offered and the dedication and abundance of volunteers.

I was also reminded that God breaks into routine and offers us the opportunity to wake up from the lethargy that can happen when our lives get so systematic that we go through them on autopilot. In the midst of the dis-order of the week, I had a couple of occasions of God showing up in unlikely ways and places. That I could recognize these for what they were I attribute to the regular rhythm of prayer that forms my own personal liturgical practice.

There are those who discount liturgy, seeing it as old and stiff, but I think a liturgical life gives us a framework that grounds us so that we recognize the Spirit where we might not otherwise. Just as a building needs good framing, a life of faith needs practices that provide order and rhythm, but with space for the Spirit to move through and awareness to recognize the Spirit’s movements. 

What are the practices, the routines that provide the framework for your life, that form your own liturgy? 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Where Are Your Roots?

One of my favorite Bible stories is that of Queen Esther. Recently, the Old Testament text for Common Prayer zeroed in on Haman, the “villain” of the story, who wants to have all the Jews killed because one Jew, Mordecai, would not bow down to him.

Esther 5:9-13 gives this account of Haman as he leaves the first of two banquets Esther has held solely for Haman and the king: Haman went out that day happy and in good spirits. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and observed that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was infuriated with Mordecai; nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home. Then he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh, and Haman recounted to them he splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the ministers of the king. Haman added, “Even Queen Esther let no one but myself come with the king to the banquet that she prepared. Tomorrow also I am invited by her, together with the king. Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”

Haman’s happiness is completely dependent on what others think of him. He’s on top of the world when invited to Esther’s banquet, but then he sees Mordecai and is immediately angry because he doesn’t receive respect from him. This snippet of scripture emphasizes Haman’s roller-coaster mood swings. His pride, which leads him to want to exterminate all the Jews in Persia, becomes his downfall, which you learn when you read the rest of the story.

Haman’s pride is a caution to me to reflect on how I measure my worth. Does my sense of worth come from what others think of me? If so, I am forever insecure, because, like Haman, some will praise me and others will criticize me. People will not understand my motives for acting as I do, and no amount of explanation will change the minds of some.

If, however, I am rooted in Christ, then whether I am praised or criticized, I stand, because I know my worth is found in God. Like a tree that receives both sunshine and storms, I will continue to grow, because I am planted in the good soil of Christ’s love and grace.

Pride and its accompanying insecurity are rooted in fear and fear keeps us from knowing God’s peace and joy. If you look around at the world in which we live, you will see that fear is at the root of evil acts. So this is not a trivial matter. If we are rooted in fear, we will act in ways contrary to the teachings of Jesus. What may begin as a fearful thought eventually grows into an action that cannot be reeled back in.

Letting go of fear is a lifelong process. Growing closer to God can only happen as we let go of fear and entrust ourselves to God’s welcoming love. For God loves us as we are, and when we know this, we can know peace, not fear.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Community

Needing community
the Spirit interceded,
bringing me to
where I am seen for
who I am,
I put down roots and bear fruit in this

place of welcome,
receiving.

Community’s gift—being seen,
being known,
being accepted—
being a part
rather than
being apart.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Choices

A poem/reflection on Matthew 4:1-2

The wilderness is a place of starving,
of stripping. A place where
what seemed important,
now seems either
necessity or nothing.
Senses become clearer by sparseness
or consumed by what is now gone.
When you are starving you have
a choice: to focus on what
you no longer have
or
to be filled and nourished by
your emptiness.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Stones

“And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones.”          Matthew 3:9


It is often tempting
to rely on
the faith of others,
past experiences of awe,
rote practices now devoid of meaning.
But these are stones.
Too heavy to carry far,
they are designed
to make, to mark a path
forward. They are not
sitting stones
but rather
stepping stones
on the journey of spiritual growth.

“Move on, move on”
they say.
“Find new stones. Your life,
like a garden path, is a
collection of such stones,
of Ebenezers on which
to tread.”

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Place to Thrive

Recently, I confided to a friend my struggle with a basil plant. It had been trimmed and used for a number of months, and was pretty bare of leaves, and those it had were small. I had purchased a new, full basil plant because the existing one wasn’t able to contribute much to my kitchen, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw the old one in the trash. Early one morning, I took the plant outside and dumped the pot at the base of one of the trees along my street at the entrance to the building where I live. I made sure it was right side up and figured it would get rain and sun and have a chance to survive there.
 
For several weeks I watched it as I went in and out of my building. It began to perk up and put out new leaves. One day I noticed that someone had transplanted it to a planter outside the door of my building. It had been seen and loved and cared for. Now it is green and healthy, and I am glad that I placed it where I did and that someone else realized its potential and gave it a chance to thrive.

Psalm 40 reminds me of this plant:

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.

Our lives at times are similar to that basil plant. Sometimes we find ourselves in places where life is hard, where the gifts we have to offer are not wanted or valued. Like the Psalmist, we may be in the desolate pit. I know I’ve been there, in that place of wilderness, of mire and clay, questioning my life, my worth, my gifts. God came and lifted me, in the form of community, friends who reminded me that I matter. Transplanted into a different environment, an environment of love and nurture, we can thrive. May we be those who help life to thrive, and when others are in places where they feel withered and worn, may we see and love and care for them.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Forty

Forty. It’s one of those biblical numbers. Forty years of wilderness wandering led by Moses. Forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness. Forty days from Jesus’ resurrection until his ascension. And others.

This forty wasn’t biblical, though. It was a forty I could hardly believe. Forty years since I graduated high school. At first, I thought the math was wrong. Surely we were getting ahead of ourselves! But then I did my own math and realized that it was really true that I graduated forty years ago, class of ’77.

I almost didn’t go to the reunion. I hadn’t seen anyone from my graduating class since our 20 year reunion, except for one classmate that I ran into at a book signing several years ago. I was friends with just a few on Facebook, but since I no longer live in my hometown, and had not attended one of the feeder elementary schools for my high school (which deepened relationships among many of my classmates) I was ambivalent about attending. Plus, I’d come out of the hardest couple of years in my life just a few months earlier. I wasn’t sure I was up to the conversation in such a large group that I hadn’t connected with in so very many years.

But I went. And I’m glad that I did. One of the unexpected gifts of the wilderness journey I went through and have come out of has been reflecting on who I am and where I’ve come from. Not necessarily where I geographically came from, but a looking back at my life, and deeply looking within, both with the aim of helping me to know myself more fully, and at the same time, know God more fully and how God has been present with me in the various seasons of my life. I’ve learned a lot, though there is still much more to learn.

I learned a little more this past weekend as I joined some of my classmates for the reunion. I was reminded of how our group shares a common geography. We all lived in a not too big area of East Point, Georgia. We were solidly middle class, for the most part. No country club memberships, no cotillion, no multi-week summer camps (at least I wasn’t aware of any of these among my classmates). I’m not criticizing any of these, and my children were the beneficiaries of some of these in the city I live in now, but it was not a part of my growing up years, nor that of the classmates I spent the most time with.

Maybe because of what we shared, I felt a bond with those who gathered, even the ones I had not been close to in high school, even the ones I didn’t get a chance to talk to at the reunion. As I drove the hour-plus drive home afterward, I reflected on my history. I’ll do more of that over the coming days and weeks. And I won’t let twenty years pass before I reconnect with the classmate-community that shaped my teenage years and influenced my life in many ways.

One of the elements missing from most of my adult life was that connection to high school and college friends. When I journeyed a difficult path I came to a greater appreciation of my friends. Friends were my lifeline when life’s circumstances seemed overwhelming. Gathering with my classmates, celebrating where we came from and where we are now, I know my web of relationships has grown. I look forward to deepening the friendships I renewed this weekend. I certainly claim the truth of Proverbs 18:24: There are persons for companionship, but then there are friends who are more loyal than family.