Back from vacation

         As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd;
         and he had compassion for them,
         because they were like sheep without a shepherd;
         and he began to teach them many things.

                        —Mark 6.34

It feels like coming back from vacation, which I just did. Jesus has sent the twelve out to surrounding towns to heal and call people to repentance. As they are at it, Mark reminds us of the death of John the Baptist, and the cost of discipleship. When they return, rejoicing in their successes, Jesus invites them to a deserted place for some solitude. But a crowd greets them there, and Jesus responds to their needs.

We might think how frustrating, how exhausting for Jesus, seeking solitude and instead being accosted by a needy crowd. But Jesus is not exhausted. He has not been out healing; the disciples were. That's why he sent them out, so he could get some solitude. He was ready.

We are called to join God in the healing of the world. But we are not called to drain ourselves. Our ministry, our healing and teaching, come from our solitude. First we receive God's blessings and grace, then we pass them on.

         God, help me seek your presence
         in solitude and quiet
         so that I may serve you in the hustle and bustle.
         By your Spirit I breathe in,
         so that I may breathe out.

 

   —July 17, 2018

Sheep and goats

The Beloved will sit on the throne and they will gather on the right and on the left. And the Beloved will say to those on the right, “Enter into my joy, for I came to you and you received me; I appeared before you and you noticed me; I worked my miracles and you ignored me.”

And they will say, “When did you come to us and we received you, or appear before us and we noticed, or work your miracles and we responded?”

And the Beloved will answer them: “When you were burdened by your worries and instead you opened your heart to the homeless person, you received me. When you were heartbroken at injustice but didn't know what to do, you noticed me. When you longed for God and despaired of being worthy, and you kept longing. Whatever you do to the least of your awakenings you do to me.”

And the Beloved will say to those on the left, “You have chosen exile and abandonment, for I appeared to you, and you ignored me. I came to you and you separated yourself. I worked my miracles and you turned me away.”

And they will say, “When did you appear to us, or come to us, or work your miracles, and we turned away?”

And the Beloved will say, “When you felt wonder at the stars, or beheld the suffering of the world, you thought it didn't include you. When you witnessed injustice you thought it was somebody else's fault. When you had that awful question you didn't ask it. When you felt the fear of your heart falling open in the darkness, you stitched it tight with pious beliefs. Whatever you did not do in the least of your awakenings you did not do to me.”

And even in their despair, they will choose.

   —July 16, 2018

 

Vacation

Vacation: to vacate,
to make space,
to fill with nothingness,
to become empty, nothing.
To enter the Great Silence,
to be absorbed
in the Holy Abyss of God.

I'm going on vacation,
just because I can.
I will be good for nothing,
an irreplaceable part of the universe
without doing a thing,
and God will love me
for no good reason at all.

May you also be--
unaccomplished.

See you in a couple weeks.

―July 4, 2018

 

 

A national prayer

God of all Nations, we pray for our nation,
for the gifts of gratitude and humility,
for the courage to be gentle,
the greatness to be generous,
the character to be decent to all people.
Make of us by your grace a nation of kindness.
Grant us the divine gifts
of hospitality, compassion and mercy.
We pray for the transformation of our leaders,
the just sharing of our wealth
and the reconciliation of our people.
Open our eyes to our sin and our hearts to your grace.
We pray that we may repent of our violence and greed,
and be freed of the demons of injustice and oppression.
Relieve us of the terror in our hands
and the cruelty in our hearts.
Bless our diversity, discipline our power,
heal our fear, and soften our hearts.
Give us wisdom to see the consequences of our actions.
Calm the fretful among us, and shield the powerless.
Give us faith to serve one another.
Raise us up as a people of love and courage,
a beacon of hope and and dignity and belonging,
a nation of justice and peace and mercy.
May we shed all vanity and conceit
and live in true harmony and deep joy,
trusting in your mercy, and grateful for your grace,
for the sake of the healing of the world.
Amen.
 

   —July 4, 2018

 

Weakness

         My grace is sufficient for you,
         for power is made perfect in weakness

                        —2 Corinthians 12.9

God of power, I fail before you gladly.
I cede my fantasy of strength.

My weakness is the vacuum you enter.
Unable, I stand on the earth of you.

In struggle you are my strength.
In defeat, you are my victory.

You hallow my falterings and fallings;
in my failures you stand like a tower.

Only in the sabbath of not doing
do I behold your being.

In the unformed abyss of my helplessness
you are the brooding Spirit, the creating voice.

Unable, I cease what can be attempted,
and risk becoming what can only be received.

Give me the courage of weakness,
to open myself to your power.

I am the negative space in which you become,
the nothing in which all things sing.

You are the bell; I am the hollow space.
I am the silence; you are the music.

   —July 2, 2018

 

River

         Aware that power had gone forth from him,
         Jesus turned about in the crowd and said,
         “Who touched my clothes?”

               —Mark 5.30

His power was available for anyone,
rich or poor, privileged or despised,
the power of healing, the power of life,
to be requested or stolen,
without his even knowing.
A river of grace flowing through him,
it was free,
and he was free in the giving of it.

I would be like this, Giving One,
to walk with the power of your grace
waiting in me, at the ready for anyone,
flowing through me,
free,
that I myself could be truly, powerfully
free.

   —June 29, 2018

 

Faith

         “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
               —Mark 5.28

Holy One, O Sea, I sit before you,
and your vastness opens within me.
I open myself to you and become part of you.
Your waves fall and rise in me, fall and rise.
I sunbathe in you, surrender myself to your wind.

A great strength stirs, a blessing flows, unseen.


Even in the smallest place
I reach out for the hem of your garment.
I reach out. I open myself,
and your vastness opens within me.

O Beloved,
in sick rooms and busy streets, in conflicted places,
I open myself to you, longing.
I place myself in your field of healing,
your love's willing sunlight.
I reach out,
and I feel you open within me.

   —June 28, 2018

Daughter

         There was a woman with a flow of blood....
               —Mark 5.25

A ruler, privileged, Jairus by name,
requests of Jesus healing for his daughter
by honor's protocol and a father's care.

A woman—a woman—poor, without name,
powerless, isolated by disease
and impoverished by quacks,
does not ask but steals up behind Jesus.

Her improper, unworthy larceny he honors,
as generously as the proper.
He tends, as the privileged waits.
He relates, where disdain has failed her,
and in a gift perhaps greater than cure,
claims her, cares for her as his daughter.

There is no rule he won't break to heal her,
no ranking, first or last,
he won't subvert to include her.

Check the lie that you are unworthy.
Your inadequate plea opens his heart.
He claims you. More than flesh is healed.

Who is she, where do you see her,
hidden in the crowd?
Who will plead for her?

   —June 27, 2018

 

Terrified child

A child cries out, severed from love,
afraid of darkness,
in a cage of need,
cut off, alone,
in trembling need of reassurance.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Pray for her in her powerlessness.

The terrified child,
if not healed,
can grow up to terrify,
his cry a regime,
shadowing his trauma into the world.
Pray for him in his power.

Resist the terror,
be tender to the children,
create a lovelier world.

   —June 26, 2018

 

A reckoning

In a dream I'm in a park
with my four year old son.
Behind him a boy, about nine,
kicks a soccer ball which hits my son in the head.
He falls, unconscious.

Angry, I say something like “Nice shot.”
I kick the ball at the boy.
It hits him. I am surprised.
He falls.

I bend over my son.


I wake, worried
for all three of us.
 

   —June 25, 2018

 

In the boat

          The boat was being swamped.
                    But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.
          And they woke him up and said to him,                    
                   
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
                                       — Mark 4.37-38
               

Storms rise.
          Dark, threatening, chaos.

God seems asleep, inattentive, uncaring.
          We cry out., not unheard.

          •

No matter what the storm,
          Jesus is with you.

What harm can befall his boat
          you would not choose?

          •

If you go down,
          you go with him.

Indeed we are perishing.
          In Christ we “sleep” and rise.

          •

He is in your worried boat.
          He is at peace. Asleep!

He says, “Peace, be still”
          Inwardly, a great calm.

          •

His peace calms the storm
          of other boats, too

so you can go to the other side
          and serve, risen.
 

   —June 22, 2018

 

Just as he is

         They took him with them in the boat, just as he was.
               —Mark 4.36

Not the holy, jewel-encrusted Jesus,
not the Son of God believe-it-or-else Jesus,
but the teacher from Galilee, plain, just as he is.

No emblems, no gesture, no crown.
No doctrine, no special powers.
Just his presence, his open heart, his willing flesh.

Let him go with you. Take him as he is.
He will change your journey (You will be frightened.)
Just get in the boat.

   —June 21, 2018

 

A psalm of lament

God of grace, have mercy on us.
         Judge our evil, O God,
         and free us from our abominations.
The blood of the innocent is on our hands,
         the cries of infants are in our ears,
the sweat of cruelty pools on our brows,
         from the effort of our crimes
         against those those of tender age.

Break our hardened hearts, Loving God.
         Grant us holy anguish and grievous dread.
Gift us with sorrow and burden us with grief,
         and forgive our paltry resistance.
Give us the anger and hope to lament;
         give us voice to cry out, to weep, to rage.

Bless those we have hurt.
         Save them from our evil.
Heal and protect them.
         Accompany them in the darkness.

Forgive us for our complicity.
         We repent in dust and ashes.
Give us the courage to bear
         the horror we have caused.
Grant us wisdom to speak, and courage to act.
         Support us with your mighty hand to do justice,
         to assail the mighty, and to stand with the weak.
Break our hearts, O God,
         and if need be, break our backs,
         that we may cease our cruelty.
Convict us, O God, and turn us to kindness.
         Have mercy on us, that we may have mercy.
For you are a gentle God, kind and life-giving,
         and you redeem us from our fear and hate.
 

   —June 20, 2018

The other side

         When evening had come,he said to them,
         “Let us go across to the other side.”

               —Mark 4.35

You know, don't you, that he never simply means
the far side of the lake?

The other side.
The other side of the tracks.
The other side of the border.
The other side of life.
Beyond the familiar, the safe, the manageable.
The other side of the argument.
Another viewpoint.
The other side of the conflict.
The other side of yourself.
The other side of the veil. The unseen.
Let us go there.
Let us explore the dark side of our hearts.
Let us stand in solidarity with those who are “other.”
See the world in an “other” way.

Don't worry.
The Beloved will go with us.

   —June 19, 2018

Dance partner

In this season many pastors and churches
are changing partners.
You are dancing; you are not married.
               
Receive your partner with love.
Welcome them warmly.
Remember they're a person.

Open your heart.
Listen for the music.
Let the Spirit lead.

Remember who you are.
Honor who they are.
Listen for their song.

Forgive them already.
Walk with them.
Come to serve, not to be served.

Focus on serving the world.
Check your assumptions.
Make it work.

Embrace change.
Be willing to change.
Embody resurrection.

Begin with Yes.
Imitate Jesus.
Pray always.

Follow God with them.
Dance while the music lasts.
Let them go when it is time.

   —June 18, 2018

 

Smallest seed

         The reign of God is like a mustard seed,
         which, when sown upon the ground,
         is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;
         yet when it is sown it grows up
         and becomes the greatest of all shrubs,
         and puts forth large branches,
         so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

                  —Mark 4.30-32

You are a tiny speck of God's infinite love.
When you let yourself be sown into this world,
given to low places,
what seems tiny unfolds,
miraculously multiplied
because it is God,
and becomes great,
a cedar of Lebanon, a mighty oak of love,
a safe refuge for the weary,
a source of life and comfort for the meek,
a welcome home for God's little ones.

We only see the seed,
but the unfolding awaits.

June 15, 2018

 

 

Getting old

Today I turn 65.
When Medicare was invented, 65 was old.
If I'm over the hill, I'm loving the ride.

Seems to me what we learn from aging
is pretty much what Jesus was teaching.
Finding God's grace in loss of power.
Slowing down.
Knees aren't everything.
Seeking joy in relationships, not things.
Forgiving yourself.
Trusting second chances. And third.
The wisdom of lived experience that overrules rules.
The grace of ripening.
Being present. Moving on.
Feeling the living presence of the unseen.
Courage to be gentle, and the firmness in that.
Blessing in dependency.
Befriending death.
Being OK with being drawn into a transcendent mystery.
Allowing change. Accepting loss.
Being a seed, slowly breaking open.
Knowing grace keeps coming in new ways.
Appreciating, not acquiring.
Being, not accomplishing.
Letting God do in you what you couldn't.
Beauty that has nothing to do with strength.
Confidence that weakness is not weakness at all.
Love of mercy.
Trusting that as your outer nature wastes away
your inner nature is being renewed day by day.

And ice cream. Jesus was all about that.
If there's one thing I've learned in 65 years, it this:
Treats for everybody.
Have some on me..

―June 14, 2018

 

 

A prayer for the church on earth

God of mercy, we pray for the church,
and for all who have a love-hate relationship with your church.
We pray for our struggle to be faithful, and our failure to struggle.
God, it is your love, not our opinions, that unites us;
may we bear fruits of justice, not judgment;
may we let go of being right for being loving,
and work for the mending of the world.
We pray for those for whom the church is an unsafe place,
and those who return again and again
to make gentle this bruised community.
We pray for those who are oppressed by the church,
who are too queer or angry or hurting or black or visionary for us.
We pray for hearts to hear your Word beneath the roar of our fears.
We pray for eyes to see the path of humility, grace and surrender
so often obscured by our pride, dogma and domination.
We pray for the honesty to confess our greed, our violence,
our white supremacy, our complicity with war and poverty.
We pray for your breathing Spirit alive and afire among us,
your beating heart among us, your mercy and grace among us.
Burdened by powers and privileges, we cry out for your Spirit:
awaken us. Heal us. Set us free. Help us follow Jesus.
Light our structures afire with your love. Burn our hearts.
Enflame our souls. Free our spirits to love outrageously,
to heal boldly, to confess and forgive with abandon,
to do justice with joy and hope and courage.
Make us people of mercy.
Give us faith to die, and die nobly,
and, gladly defiant of all that kills us,
to rise in your love, rise with grace, rise to serve,
to serve the lowly beautiful ones, your secret beloved ones,
our siblings, our strangers, our saviors, our Christ.
Bless your weird church, weirdest God, in the name of Jesus,
that we may be a blessing.
Amen.

   —June 13, 2018

Seed growing secretly

[Mark 4.26-29]
         
The mystery of God
is as if someone scatters seed on the ground,
         letting it go, letting it go,
         allowing what is fecund to return to its source;
and she sleeps and rises, dies and is raised,
         surrenders to the unseen, and returns,
         endures the dark loss, the helpless awakening;
and the miracle grows in that unseen place,
         the gravid darkness, life-giving grave.
         Something beyond, beneath, does this,
         and the sower knows she doesn't know how.
It emerges slowly, the grace:
         first a promise, then a sign,
         then the whole thing in its fullness.
And when the time is ripe,
         when the fruit gives itself up,
she enters with the sharp blade
         that separates seed from chaff,
because now is the time.

You are the seed to be scattered, dead and buried,
         and raised, transformed, and given over.
Your life is the seed, you let go of it,
          and after much dying and rising
          it produces, you know not how.
We are the seed, God's people,
          and only after much death and resurrection
          do we become life-giving bread.
God is the seed, growing secretly in you,
          bearing fruit abundantly.
God's promise is the seed in this world,
          God's grace, silently flourishing beneath our feet.
          ripening, ripening.

   —June 12, 2018

 

Marriage

Recently Beth and I celebrated our 38th anniversary.
Faith is a lot like a long marriage.
It takes time. It takes commitment.
It gives more than it takes.
There are good, easy times, and some hard ones.
You lean to trust that.
You learn to trust the Beloved.
You learn to trust yourself.
You learn to think of the Beloved
more than you think of yourself.
You learn.
It's not a thing you have, it's a way you live,
a way you be yourself, a way you grow,
entwined with another, evoked, reflected.
You come to see yourself more clearly,
more blessed, more gifted, more beloved.
You learn the long road of forgiveness.
You discover the walled garden of vulnerability,
the power of letting go, the sweet fruit of gentleness.
You learn the thousand shapes of love.
You share in something eternal.
You experience the grace and gratitude
of making something grand together
neither of you could have done alone.
Every day, you say thanks.
 

   —June 11, 2018