Sunday, December 08, 2019

#Advent Word Day 8: #worthy

Our culture tends to equate worth with the outward trappings of some kind of success - net worth, doing "worthwhile" activities, over the realization that we are all, by our very being, beloved of God and therefore have worth. As humans,we tend to want to know where we stand in relation to others. Again, those external meansures of "worth" are one of the ways we line ourselves up against one another. "I'm better at..." "I have more/better..."of "I'm NOT...." For Jesus, every person mattered, he was as willing to attend to, to heal, to feed the ones who were seen as the least in value. How do we let go of this. both in ouselves and the way we look at others? How do we allow deep into our souls and psyches this sure sense of the value of every single person? #adventword

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Advent Word Day 7: Unity

Oh, my. This small word elicited a big sigh this morning. As the meditation pointed out, unity requires reconciliation, which in turn requires radical openness and listening and vulnerability. It requires that especially from those of us who have power and privilege. Sadly, I am not hopeful about that in these contentious times. It seems that instead of listening to one another, the “sides” seem to want to out-talk and out-shout one another to prove their point. I can’t even stand to watch the news any more, as it seems every day there is another example of mean-spirited, self-focused hateful nonsense, and it feels like we are slipping farther and farther from the kingdom of God envisioned and preached by Jesus. This is a hard part of Advent, this slowing down, this really seeing things as they are. John the Baptist was unequivocal in his demands that his followers repent and change their ways. Our prophets call for the same, especially from those of us who claim to follow Jesus. Will we hear them and  what will be our answer?  

Friday, December 06, 2019

Advent Word Day 6: House

When I first saw today’s word, I read it as “house” the noun, as in the place you live, or “go up to” the Lord’s in the Scriptural sense. But then as I sat with it, the word started to morph in my mind to the verb, house, as in to provide a living space for, make room for. This in turn made me think about the Nativity story, where there is no place to house Joseph and the very pregnant Mary, as well as all of those in our day who, for whatever reason are not housed. It’s easy for most of us to not attend to the fact of the numbers of people for whom homelessness is the norm either temporarily or permanently. We can move past them in the busyness of our lives and not even see them. But in Advent we are asked to slow down, to see things as they are, and when the state of things is not as it should be, we are commended to repent, to stop, to turn and go another way. While perhaps we can’t literally provide space for someone, what is our part in making a way for there to be a place, a home to house even a small percentage of those who lack adequate, safe and affordable housing?

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Advent Words Day 5: Raise

As I reflect on today’s word, the thing that occurs to me is that anything we might raise, as in grow, cultivate, or, as the meditation mentioned, “make stronger, better or more noticeable,” requires work and effort as well as a certain amount of faith and willingness to risk.

I think about raising crops – prepare the soil, plant the seed, provide the water and nutrients, prevent or eliminate the weeds and pests that might threaten the crop – all a lot of work. And even so, crops fail. Nature comes along and throws a curve, hail, a windstorm, a drought, and all the efforts toward raising that crop can be thwarted. Or raising a child. We do everything in our power to protect them and to nurture their bodies, minds and spirits. We hope, we pray, we worry as we raise them, and far beyond into their adult lives. We know that there are things that can happen that are out of our control, but we work hard and hold faith.

Crops and kids and anything else we might wish to raise or raise up require our best efforts and also an ability to let go. At some point, when we have done our part, we have to let go. We’ve heard the story about the person who kept digging up their carrots to see how they were growing and ended up without a crop. And many of us know people who could not let go of the raising of their children enough to let them try things and perhaps fail, and in doing so prevented them from blossoming into their fullest selves.

Work, effort, faith, trust and letting go. All good practices for Advent and beyond.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Advent Words Day 4 Humble

I had my annual one-on-one reflection and goal-setting meeting with the founder and owner or our practice this week. One of the questions on my self-reflection questionnaire asked me to rate my level of humility and vulnerability in the practice group. My response was that it had been a big opportunity for me to do this particular spiritual practice this year. I am new to this place, these people. There is a new computer system for me to learn, new protocols for how to document and bill my patient visits. I moved from a corporate healthcare setting where I was an employee who knew the ropes, the written and unwritten rules, how to act and interact, to a small, integrative healthcare practice that is operated on a collective model. The culture is very different, as are the “rules” and expectations. As in all settings, some of those are stated and obvious and some are more subtle. I joined the practice the same week we moved into our new, larger (and at that time, not-quite-finished) space. The leadership team and my peers were all just a little stretched and tense. There was a LOT going on. And in the midst of this was me, the new kid who did not even know what I did not know, trying to navigate all the newness and feelings of incompetence. I had to ask questions, a lot of questions. I had to ask for help. And I had to ask it of people whom I knew were very busy with a lot of important stuff. To say it was humbling was an understatement.

In the midst of all of this change, I have also had to adjust from being the primary breadwinner in my house while my husband was a full-time student, to being a person who made exactly NO income for several months. I was amazed by the power of my beliefs about my value being related to whether or not I was the one who needed and took from the pot instead of being the one who put in. I was amazed by how vulnerable and humble this felt, not for any good or real reasons, as I was reminded often by my spouse that “we are a team here,” but simply because I had to deal with my value being simply in who I was, not what I did.

So some of my most comfortable and reliable identity markers – that I am productive and independent and competent all were challenged at the same time. It required humility in the sense of truth, neither overvaluing or undervaluing my worth, and vulnerability in being able to admit that I did not know, did not have, could not contribute in the same way that I was used to and comfortable with. In the end, not a bad practice. I am, as we all are, beloved of God. Our value and worth lies in our very being, nothing more, nothing less.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Advent 2019 Words for Reflecting

As I thought about Advent this year, I really wanted to find a way to “observe” it, in every sense of the word; to be curious and quiet and reflective, to take time to stop and really see what this time of waiting and expectation is about. I knew I wanted to put my thoughts in writing, but I felt like I needed some kind of a framework. Then the Advent words showed up and I knew immediately that this was the perfect prompt for my reflections. Wooden stars and a little tree provided another piece of the “how” of this. My plan is to write on the word every day, and when each set of four is complete, to hang the star on the tree.  The final piece is to put it all up on my long-neglected blog, and to share it as others are doing. Because the plan has been brewing and life has been busy, I’m a little late to the party, so  days 1-3 are all arriving at once. 

Day 1 Word: Unexpected  The unexpected tends to make me anxious. I want a plan, some warning – I want to be in control! And yet, unexpected things can be wonderful and fun, spontaneous and in the moment gifts that bring wonderful things that all my planning could not create. I think about a wonderful “find” of something beautiful in nature, that perfect gift that I wasn’t planning on getting but it was just too good to pass up, something my granddaughter does or says that could not have been anticipated. T
here is a fine line between anxious and excited. Maybe a good practice for me would be to see if I can find the latter in the unexpected events and moments in my days this Advent.

Our priest talked in his Advent 1 sermon about the now and not yet of being Christian, especially notable in this season. Another reading held up mindfullness and anticipation. It occurs to me that those two are really the same. Mindfulness of this moment, this now, right there in the cupped hands with anticipation, the not yet. Noticing God at work in the world can only happen if I am present in and to the world. And yet there is also the tension that this is not all, is not complete. Jesus is still coming, God’s kingdom is still coming. Can I be present to the whole of it, the here and now and the not yet without getting so anxious I bolt on the former and foreclose on the latter?

Day 2 Word: Visit The mediation this morning talked about being ready for the unexpected visit, noting that in the Middle East, visitors don’t call ahead but just come, and that because of this custom, there is always a space and provisions ready, just assuming that indeed they will come. I think about how we tend to live in our space, not necessarily always ready for a “visit” but scrambling if we know someone is coming, to straighten up and get something together to offer. This applies to more than just a visit from an actual guest, but also to all those “unexpected” things that throw me into a spin. I wonder how it would be to live in the trust and expectation that the guests might just come, and they might be Rumi’s guests at the Guesthouse, sweeping me out and preparing me for some new thing? To always be ready in healthy anticipation and curiosity, to be prepared, but not in a rigid or controlling kind of way, but with a kind of fluid grace based in trust that holds me both to a standard of living as if the guest arrives soon (or treating myself as the guest!) and relaxing into the expected unexpected.

Day 3 Word: Time
The reflection this morning made mention of time slipping into the future, which of course gave me a Steve Miller earworm. Time, however, rather than slipping, slipping, slipping into the future, seems more to be racing. I remember my mother telling me that the older you get the faster it goes. At the time, of course, I thought that was just another one of those things that grown-ups say. It turned out, however, that as in so many other things, she was right about this one, too! I’m reminded by this daily as I do my morning and evening routines. “Didn’t I just do this, like minutes ago?” is often the thought in my head. Nope, not minutes but hours. Twenty-four of them. Where did they go, and how is another whole day later already?

All those hours, gone! And how did I spend them? Some, of course, were productive. I went to work and did try to be truly present there. Time was spent as it is every day, doing those required tasks of life like laundry, cleaning, tending to the cat, preparing, eating and clearing up from meals, personal care and tending…all routines that I can and do perform mindlessly most of the time. And then there is the truly mindless time, mostly spent meandering around the rabbit trails of social media and the interwebs. So much time there some days that could truly be used in better ways. So much of that time slips away without my awareness, without my intent. Much of the time I seem to behave there as if time is infinite and I can squander it in mindless pursuits without consequence. As truly, I would like to believe. Who ever wants to think about the alternative? Especially the reality that more of my life is gone than is yet to come, the fact that there will be an end to time as I know it in this life. I could get caught in anxiety about what is to come, I could get lost in regret about wasted time and chances. But that just uses up more time! The important thing I need to remember that the only time I really have is now. This is the day, the time that matters.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Sermon for February 5, 2017 Salt and Light

If today’s Gospel reading had a title it could be called “The Sermon on the Mount: Beatitudes Continued.” It is literally the continuation of the teaching from last week – there is no pause, no new chapter heading, it simply continues Jesus’ teaching his disciples (and us) about who they are and are to be as his followers.

As we heard last week, the essence of his message to the disciples was not to present instruction on how to obtain God’s blessing as much as it was to remind them (and us) that  we are already blessed by God and as such, called to be poor in spirit, relying on God; to be people who ”hunger and thirst for righteousness” longing for the peace and justice of God’s world to come on this earth,  who are merciful to others, “pure in heart, ” being ethical authentic and congruent in dealings with others, to be peacemakers, and to be willing to act on our convictions no matter the cost. 

So in today’s Gospel, this call to know and manifest our identity as followers of Jesus continues. “You ARE Salt and light”  he says– not as some kind of after-market add-on but as part of our very being and essential nature created in God’s image; a nature shared with Jesus who is defined as the “light of the world” and the “light the darkness cannot extinguish.”

Why salt and light? Well first the obvious - Salt flavors things. Even sweet things are better with a pinch of salt. It was the secret of my mother’s fabulous fudge, not to even think about salted Carmel, and we all know that not having some salt on food can leave it tasting kind of bland and flat. And light of course illuminates. Think about a time when you have been in that complete dark we rarely experience in our urban lives, maybe at camp or out in the country at night, we know that it is VERY dark, and in that situation it can be hard see the way forward or to navigate around obstacles in our path. It’s easy to trip and fall.

In addition to these obvious qualities salt and light both have another interesting quality. They purify and preserve things, and they both do it by acting as change agents on the substance and fundamentally altering the environments so that the harmful things that are present are either destroyed or cannot flourish!  Ultraviolet (UV) light rays (those just below visible light on the spectrum) can penetrate harmful pathogens in water and destroy illness-causing microorganisms by attacking their DNA, and salt purifies and cleanses by dehydrating the environment so that there is nothing to feed the pathogens.

Salt and light - Jesus says, this  is who YOU are as my followers, called to not only liven things up and make them visible, but to be fundamental agents of change in YOUR environments,  cleansing them and purifying them by making them places that are inhospitable to the growth of things that are harmful.  This, he says, is your true nature, what you were designed for, blessed for, called to by the God who wants you to be co-creators in God’s kingdom of peace, love and justice in this world. Called, he says, to cleanse and fundamentally change the structure of the environments in which dis-ease can flourish and grow.

The question then, of course, becomes how we might fully embody this identity, respond to this call and manifest this in our own lives and contexts; to be the agents of change and transformation that God calls us to and that the world, especially now, so desperately needs? How do we find ways to illuminate and purify the flat, dark places in our world? How do we create environments where healthy growth and life can flourish, where what is corrupt and decayed cannot live because there is simply nothing there that feeds it?

One thing I am pretty sure of is that we cannot do it alone. While we are each individually called to live out our baptismal promises, at least in our tradition, this call comes to us in and as part of a community. Just like one little grain of salt can’t really add flavor or beat back the growth of bacteria and one little flame cannot illuminate great darkness or purify very much, one of us alone, while we can do something, cannot do as much as many gathered and committed as one. I think about the power we saw manifested at Standing Rock, the energy that was generated and reinforced when peaceful warriors gathered supported by faith and constant prayer toward a single aim. In our own context, when we gather to do things like Harvest Packs, we can easily see how in a few hours, many people working together with one goal can make a difference. We can think of these as focused beams of light that shine from those gathered and that illuminate not only the unjust and concerning things that are happening in our world, but also light up the positive power of peaceful engagement and focused action.

Just like every point of light and grain of salt, each of us is unique, each of us called and gifted by God to participate in co-creating God’s kingdom here on earth. Each of us is issued the commission by Jesus himself – be salt, be light. Don’t get stale, don’t hide or cover your brightness. Use your gifted blessedness to Illumine, enliven, purify and transform this broken world to one that more closely resembles God’s kingdom.  Engage in whatever way you can in that work to which we  are called in the words of Isiah: “…to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke… to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin….and then, he says,…your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”          

The world needs us and God calls us to transform the world from dis-ease and darkness to God’s kingdom of love, peace and justice with every bit of salt and light that is in us. Can we? Will we? Our answer:  We will, with God's help.