Too Much Holiness

It has been so long since I have written here and yet I have you all on my heart so much of the time. These last months have been so incredibly full—the only other similar time in my life has been when my children were born and very young. I have been overwhelmed by newness and the birthing of something fragile and beautiful in my life. I have found a new way to minister in the world.

At the same time I am aware that I am like Moses—I stand with sandals not yet un strapped, gazing into the roaring fire in front of me. I am afraid that the task at hand is too great, the hopes of those I meet and accompany too large. Before Egypt I am dazed by fear and confusion.

It began last spring as I looked for a way to become involved in this new city. My heart called me to help immigrants and through trial and error I found this wonderful group of people who were providing a virtual sanctuary to those fleeing violence, oppression and bondage in their countries of origen. I found that even my weak Spanish was helpful and found myself being an interpreter for individuals caught up in the Immigration Court system. Before long I was leading Accompaniments to court hearings and check-ins with enforcement.

Those are the technical duties I am performing. On the level of heart, it has been a whole different realm. What God has shown me over and over is that if I want to encounter the Divine I must do this. I must participate in the accompaniments and the pro se clinic and prayer vigils because that is where God is. I am meeting God there. And through our friends, God tells me their stories—stories of violence and fear, of rape and the babies born as a result, of gang recruitment and threats, of guns held to their heads in the middle of the night. The worst is communicated through tear-filled eyes—what cannot be spoken in words…The eleven year-old boy who cannot bring himself to tell his story, even to his father, sobs and begs not to be returned.

I also hear the stories of bravery—of the young mother who left in the middle of the night with her small children, leaving her abusive partner—of the 13 yr old boy who decided after being robbed and threatened by gang members not to go back to his job as a grocery store sacker but instead to wake up the next day and set off for the US without even letting his mother know where he was for fear she would be victimized, walking for two months alone in search of something better. And the grandmother who traveled by any way she could manage to bring her handicapped and ill grandchild to a place where he can receive the medical care she has only ever heard about.

I hear how afraid they are now—how they only leave their homes if absolutely necessary—how they forgo medical care–how rumors run rampant in their communities and its hard to know the truth.

I hear how deeply disappointed and heartsick they are to know they are not wanted in the States and in some cases despised. How all they want is a better life for their children—opportunity and safety. I hear how sometimes people take advantage of them because they are vulnerable—employers don’t pay them and lawyers take their money without giving adequate services. How they don’t have the money to pay the necessary fees to obtain work permits and other documents. And I hear them say that despite it all the worst day here is better than the best day in their countries of origin. They tell me God is good and God will continue to bless them.

Today reading the words of Peter in Luke’s gospel: “Lord, I am a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself,” I am aware of how there is a huge part of me that doesn’t want to be sent. Sometimes when I stop and just gaze, it feels too big for me. I literally don’t have the words at times. I struggle with my household Spanish. I feel so, so small next to their hope and faith.

But then I return to my heart and I realize that now that my heart has found its home—I can’t walk away. I never really knew that there could be a feeling stronger than my fear—stronger than my confusion—stronger than my apathy. But I know it now—its Love—it binds me to them—it works so so hard to knock down whatever borders I have left– whatever keeps us separate.

I don’t have answers to the larger political questions but the great news for me is that I don’t have to know. I know the Lord of all nations and peoples, the Divine One who will work out all worldly separations in God’s time. I know what the Divine in my heart knows. And although I sometimes stand dazed and unable to put one foot in front of the other, I have heard God call me by name. Please keep my in your prayers.

They have taken my Lord…and I do not know where to find Him

mary-magdalene

 

In many ways, our holidays, seasons, even those created by the Church are a construct. They have their own rhythm and pacing and whether or not we want to move forward, minutes, hours, days march on.  I myself am feeling a little stuck this Easter.  I am stuck hanging out by the tomb.

Last Sunday, my church community partied!  There were trumpets and cymbals and special rituals all over the place.  I celebrated too during those hours.  Its hard not to get caught up when everyone around you is smiling and singing and rejoicing.  But later, after all the sugar wore off and the songs were too distant to hear anymore, I noticed that my heart was still sunk.  I noticed that what had stayed with me from that morning’s scripture was that haunting line from John’s gospel in which Mary Magdalene responds regarding her weeping that, “they have taken my Lord and I do not know where to find him.”

I know that moments later in the story the gardener, who is really Jesus, calls out her name and everything changes.  But for now, I am stuck on my knees, in a puddle of my own tears by the empty tomb.  I, like I am sure you do, recognize that feeling of being bereft, alone and confused.  But why am I being asked to pay attention here right now?  What is Spirit saying to me?  ‘I am not grieving I say to myself.  I am happy.  I am busy.  My life right now is the good kind of full.’

But in writing a note to a friend describing my confusion over my Easter blahs, it comes to me.  In three short weeks our youngest child, our baby, is graduating from college. This time she is really leaving me…she will graduate, move away and never come back the same way she has in the past.  She will literally have her own life apart from me.  No wonder I am in a puddle.

And then I came upon this poem by Jan L. Richardson…

Seen

You had not imagined

that something so empty

could fill you

to overflowing
and now you carry

the knowledge

like an awful treasure,

or like a child

that roots itself

beneath your heart:
how the emptiness

will bear forth

a new world

that you cannot fathom

but on whose edge

you stand.
So why do you linger?

You have seen

and so you are

already blessed.

You have been seen

and so you are

the blessing.
There is no other word

you need.

There is simply

to go

and tell.

There is simply

to begin.

My heart leaps when I read this poem….”a new world you cannot fathom.”  Oh, what a promise!  And…”you have been seen and so you are the blessing.”

So now Divine One, You have my attention–You have called my name.  I think you are trying to tell me not to cling to what has been.  We are no longer there, rather we are here.  We take all that came before with us and we begin this new thing.  Whatever this new thing will be, all we need do is simply begin.

My story

Friends,

A couple of months ago, I was asked to preach on Good Friday.  I did not say yes right away.  I made up excuses because I was really, really scared.  I talked it over with a friend who left me with her wisdom to ponder.  In the end, I agreed and below is the homily/sermon/witness.

Of course it wasn’t just me up there at the ambo.  So I want to thank all of you–my seven readers;)  Seriously, you have been so generous and gracious to me all these years I have been writing my reflections on this blog.  You have been a safe place to share my story. Thank you!

cascarones2

This is a cascaron.  We use these in our egg hunts on Easter Sunday in South Texas where I grew up.  We collect the empty egg shell during Lent.  Paint and stuff them with confetti, readying them for the moment, when they are all found, and become weaponized– cracked on the heads of anyone within reach, spilling out their contents.  Its really like bursting a piñata on someone’s head.  There is much chasing and screaming and inevitably tears.  The process is messy, can be painful, and always beautiful—by the end we are all disheveled and crowned with bits of painted egg shell and masses of confetti—it’s one of my fondest memories—what I didn’t know then was that this Easter tradition, this cascaron, was also a clue.

Years and years would pass after the Easter egg hunts of my youth before I would begin to get an inkling of what the cascaron illustrated and how Jesus’ suffering and death could provide a way to understand my life.

Pedro Arrupe, the Jesuit priest, once urged each one of us to “fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.”  Apart from my spouse, the great loves of my life are our three children.  Being in relationship with them, loving them has decided almost everything.  Decisions were guided by the reality that I was a mom, that little people, then older people, depended and relied on me.  Soon I came to see that becoming a mom was both the best and the worst thing that has ever happened to me. There is a blinding, all-encompassing love and its companion–heartache.

The heartache and losses came like passing storms…when my daughter  was betrayed by her best friend, and when I heard the specialist say my son had multiple learning disabilities, and when a tender heart  was broken by a first love.

But there were also the tsunamis… when the counselor told me my daughter was anorexic, and years later when I sat with my depressed, hopeless son trying to convince him his life was worth living.

Those were moments of great loss, the death of dreams…Dreams of lasting health and well-being and unending happiness—of that easy, smiling Facebook life everyone else seems to have.  Instead I was consumed with deep desires of finding wholeness again.

We don’t often speak these desires aloud because they betray our secret––that everything is not okay.  They are conversation stoppers, the stuff of pity and shame that we weren’t able to do better, much less be perfect.

It becomes a temptation as a parent to look the other way when bad stuff is happening, to stuff feelings behind  cupboard doors and sweep truths under rugs.  I gave into that temptation often.  I explained away my daughter’s precipitous weight loss as “stretching out.”   I told myself that my son was just moody and having a little difficulty adjusting to a new city.

But those lies, that resistance to the truth– to what was happening right before me—that resistance to my life–prolonged our suffering.

But this was the problem:  Could I risk being destroyed by accepting the truth and feeling all the pain?  Did I have the courage to ask God, as Jesus had, to be with me…with us… in our pain?

Eventually by Divine Grace, I was able to ask myself the question that Jesus asked Peter in the Garden:  Shall I not drink the cup the Father gave me?  Shall I not accept my life exactly as it is?

And by more Divine Grace, I invited my weakened, fragile daughter to climb into bed with me one day.  I held her and we cried…And I found the way to sit at my beautiful boy’s bed and tell him that the world would be a much, much smaller place without him in it.

I want to suggest to you that one idea that the Divine is sharing with us through the suffering and death of Jesus is that the risk is worth it—and not just worth it—necessary—essential—in order to receive greater freedom and new life—because the day will come, as the poet Anais Nin said so beautifully: when the risk to remain tight in a bud (is) more painful than the risk it (takes) to blossom.

These days when I prepare my cascarones (because I still do even though my children are all grown.)…I see something of Divine surprises and possibilities beyond my greatest imaginings.   Even though I know that my family, like the cascaron, can never be put back together exactly as it was before—somehow we have been wrapped up in the Paschal Mystery and led to a beautiful, messy type of wholeness.

And so I ask you…Is there a place in your life right now that is dying to live?  Are you ready to ask the Divine One to help you take the cup that is before you?

Uber for Linda?

suv

One day last month I was walking home from running errands.  I made choices on that trip home to walk instead of hop on the subway for one stop and to go down this street rather than that one.  It was a lovely fall day and I was happy to be walking in it through a pretty and quiet neighborhood on my way home.

As I approached home–I was maybe three blocks from the apartment–when a black SUV pulled up next to me.  The driver rolled down the window, looked at me expectantly and asked:  “Linda?”  In that moment my mind had a mini explosion.  What the …?

Once again he asked: “Linda?  Uber for Linda?”  And I thought: “oh, no, I accidentally called for an Uber…but how?”  My phone was tucked away in my bag.

You see, I have a name that is, while familiar, rare.  People have stopped naming their newborns Linda.  And I think they stopped a long time ago because I never even hear that name among adults.

I didn’t have time to process when a young 20-something year old came up behind me and said: “I am Linda.”  With that she climbed into the SUV and it sped off.

Be still.  The stones are trying to call your name.

I am reminded of these words by a poet whose name I am afraid I cannot remember.  But I remember the words and what they ask of me as I reflect later on my Uber moment.  I wonder how many times the stones have tried to call my name and I haven’t heard?  How many times a day, an hour, even a minute does God whisper to me; call out to me; or sing my name and I cannot hear.

This time of year is ripe for stillness and paying attention.  Shepherds waiting patiently in the field–still, yet alert, listening–ready to receive the message the angels will share with them.

We often think of waiting as passive, simply hanging out until the moment we are waiting for.  We feel the need to multi-task while we wait…I know I do.  I cannot let a moment go to waste and so often my mind is on the arrival of that moment I am waiting for …when this happens or that finally happens then…

But Henri Nouwen, a theologian, writes in an essay about what he calls active waiting.  He says:

“Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you wait to be present to it.  A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is THE moment.”

Be still (alert, listening).  The stones are trying to call your name.

In that moment when the Uber driver called my name, I was lost in the revery of that walk rather than alert.  His call snapped me back into the moment.  I would very much like to be present for even a fraction of my day to hear the whispers, calls and singing of the Divine.

I wonder…how that song named “Linda” goes?

On my bookshelf

bookscoffee

 

I was sitting on my living room floor (really my everything room;) staring into space when I suddenly focused my gaze on the books on the shelf in front of me.  As I read each title I realized they were a prayer I have been praying for years.  I offer it here:

 

I long to become

a Woman of Mercy

a Soul Friend

a Wellspring of Compassion

To receive Glimpses of Grace

To Behold My Life as one in which Everything Belongs

I Thirst for a Mystical Heart

That finally hears the Love Poems from God

and helps to usher in A New Earth.

 

Happy Friday loved ones!

Inspiration from this week

tree

So many of you have told me of the serenity you feel or have felt among trees.  This week I read this in a newsletter and had to share it here.  With all my love…inspiration from this week:

Trees are Sanctuaries
by Herman Hesse

[Listen to Audio!]

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farm boy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

What mother wouldn’t want this too?

Note:  For my lovely followers who might read this and worry for me, I wrote before that I will try to be brave enough to enter into my desire, no matter how uncomfortable or scary it may be.  I truly believe God finds me there and so as I read the gospel for today (Luke 7:11-17) I allowed myself to become the mother in the story grieving for her lost son.  But please know that I do this with the utmost hope and trust in Divine Mercy…at least I tell myself this and offer it as a prayer.

crip_woman

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 5.0

Jesus encounters a widow burying her only son.  He is moved with compassion for her.  He places his hand on the coffin and raises him up, back to Life.

I sink into that mother’s sorrow.  I think of Luke, in a coffin of sorts, of his mind’s own making, but real nonetheless.  What mother has not burned with the desire for her sleeping child to awaken to Life–to be filled with the fire of living?

We mothers (wives, sisters, aunts, friends) don’t often speak these desires aloud because they betray our secret–that everything is not okay.  They are conversation stoppers, the stuff of pity and shame that we weren’t able to do better, much less be perfect.  For me this means I failed at producing a better specimen of human being.

We even sometimes want to hide the realness from our close and dear friends because we don’t want to be a burden or appear weak or less evolved or spiritual or whatever it may be.  We want to appear ordered and in control.

But I am here to tell you that everything is not okay.  I desire a better life for my son.

I desire that more that anything.  I desire for him a curiosity that spills over and conquers fear…a love so compelling that it provides the strength to break the chains that bind him to the “safety” of home…a fullness of life so overwhelming it cannot be contained in the four walls of his room.

I am grateful for small steps and steady growth but I grow impatient with what seems like an eternity as we wait for fullness and health and happiness.  This God that takes the form of a lump in my throat waits with me.  I know this to be true.

And yet, as I see Jesus approach I ask:  Where is my miracle?

Desiring

picMonkey0.6220469885646677I am reading for lovers of god everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics edited by Roger Housden.  I read a few poems every morning and rest on the verse or verses that touch me most.

Today they are these:  “I am the dream you are dreaming.  When you want to awaken, I am that wanting”…from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke.

My heart fills as I realize that God and I meet in my desires-the deepest truest ones–the ones that pierce me, bringing me to tears and never fading away.  I think of the Love I have for those I have been given, the longing for friendship, the yearning for work and wholeness and peace.  I think of the laboring ache for well-being for all of us in this current climate of profound insecurity and negativity.

Sometimes feeling those desires and letting them dominate my consciousness is so uncomfortable but realizing they are the meeting place for me and my God, I think I will try to rest their a little longer when they arise.

I focus on how that space feels.  That space holds everything really-pain and joy and sorrow and fear and a little desperation alongside hope and promise–darkness and light.  I realize I am most alive there.

Rilke writes on, ” I grow strong in the beauty you behold.  And with the silence of stars I enfold your cities made by time.”

I know I have seen the beauty Rilke speaks of in the West Indian mom and daughter sitting across from me on the subway chattering away in a language I cannot understand; and in the smile of the boy who works in the package room downstairs as he tells me he has enrolled in college so he won’t be working this shift anymore; and under the Manhattan Bridge where I sit often and watch the East River lap up on the rocks beneath me; and in the my husbands sparkling eyes as he tells me all about his day.

In Rilke’s words I hear the continued call to curiosity and to wonder and I promise to find something(s) each day, perhaps even each hour, to help God grow strong especially here and especially now.

Inspiration from these weeks

I read this quote on R. Rohr’s Instagram account last week or so and it has accompanied me through these weeks of uncertainty in our larger and my smaller world.  More than anything right now I want to Trust!  Trust that God is holding us in the palm of God’s hand, that we don’t need violence and fear, that Love is truly the way out of all our mess and that God can turn the messiest of messes we create into a thing of beauty.

touch your face

I am trying to consciously look for God’s face all around me.  Its easy to see in nature, especially the natural world that has found a way to flourish amidst this city.  Easy still to see God’s face in my new friendly neighbors and doormen and dog people at the park.  But some things and situations do frighten me at this time when so much is different and new. I am frightened as well by the unrest, violence and hatred that seem to be everywhere.  For those moments I especially need this prayer…to remind myself that the truth is that it is God’s face that is everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.  Please join me in this prayer.

When the task prescribed to you is walking…

The eternal is acquired in one way, and it is different from everything else precisely because it can be acquired only in one single way. It is the difficult way that Christ indicated by the words: “Small is the gate and narrow the way, that leads to life, and few are they that find it.” The comfortable—precisely the thing in which our age excels—absolutely cannot be applied with respect to an eternal blessedness. When, for example, the thing you are required to do is to walk, it is no use to make the most astonishing inventions in the way of the easiest carriages and to want to transport yourself in these when the task prescribed to you is walking. And if the eternal is the way in which it is acquired, it doesn’t do any good to want to alter this way, however admirably, in the direction of comfort. The eternal is acquired only in the difficult way.Søren Kierkegaard, in Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) was a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic, and religious author who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher.

Chula in a rare moment of rest.
This reflection came to me this morning via the publication, Give Us This Day, a book of daily scripture readings and reflections.  What struck me the most about this is the imagery Kierkegaard uses for helping us understand how we are called to discomfort as followers of Christ.  “…when the task prescribed to you is walking,” he writes, don’t spend your time inventing an easier mode of transportation.  I wonder about this today because my major task of these days is walking our easily distracted puppy.

When I walk this puppy, I want to speed along, to exercise, get my steps in!  When the puppy walks, she is in major exploratory mode.  She tells me over and over with her meanderings and stops to sniff at this and that, that there is so much to the world around me that I am not noticing.  

There are so many dogs!  She makes me stop and talk to their owners–dog people are overwhelming good people, at least when they are with their dogs.   

Would you look at this flower!  She shows me the there new flora and fauna around here than what we had in Seattle.  

Can you take it easy and pay attention?  She reminds me that sometimes you just need to stop in the middle of the sidewalk, bridge, road, park–really just about anywhere, and take it all in.  

I am humbled and grateful to think about how God put this special softness in our hearts for our pets and how much more they do for us than we ever do for them.  

I know there is so much more to Kierdegaard’s message than what I pull out this morning but I think that all I am required to do right now is walk and stop and pay attention.