Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Let Evening Come

Jane Kenyon’s poem Let Evening Come captures the gentle voice of God, the words of the saints, and the wisdom of the matriarchs and patriarchs of our faith reminding us that darkness is as holy as light, that the endings of days and events and relationships and lives are not the absence of God, but the profound presence of an aspect of God we can only see because we are not blinded by the light of our own egos.

Today, the day of Halloween, begins the Autumnal Triduum. I love that phrase. The syllables move us from the long days of summer, the lushness of the earth and the ripeness of all that is creation, to the waning light that is its own slow holiness. The three holy days of autumn - All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day, invite us into darkness slowly and easily, as only a human constructed calendar touching the mystery of God can.

Today, All Hallows’ Eve, we dress in costume, we get treats from neighbors, we laugh at being scared. Tomorrow, many Christian traditions will celebrate All Saints’ Day, a day we commemorate and remember the saints of the church, those whose heroic faith serves as a witness to us. Saints are bigger than life because, well, they are saints. And their deaths are infused with meaning in a particular way. They died as a witness to the love of God. Some cared for the sick while all others fled for their own safety during epidemics until they, too, succumbed to illness. Some devoted their lives to prayer by walling themselves in small cells, praying for hours and days and weeks for the world until their dying breath. Some stood on the front lines of love and acceptance, standing between hate and humanity when bullets rang out, saving our lives from the hell of hate while giving theirs. 

When I think of the saints, my grief is a small part of the memory, if it’s there at all. Most of the saints lived long ago, and the stories of their lives of faith and their deaths in faith are inspiring rather than sad. They have become saints of the ages and in that transition, left some of their humanness behind. The more modern saints crack the door open on grief and sadness, with the stories of their deaths. The image of the nun wailing over the bloody body of The Rev. Oscar Romero or the photo of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s children viewing his body as it lay in repose remind us that saints are saints because they were often martyred (a Christian word for murdered) for their faith and that martyrdom was wrapped in the grief and sorrow of those who loved them. 

Sunset at Yellowstone's Lamar Valley
Photo credit Laurie Brock
And then, we are invited into the fullness and the sorrowful beauty of our own grief on All Souls’ Day. November 2nd is a day set aside to let evening come, to be enveloped by grief with hope. But we humans are better at hope than grief. Hope is more fun. She makes us feel good with stories and inspiring speeches. 

Grief asks us to stop moving so much, to stop being busy, to stop explaining that we’re okay, and to sit while evening comes. I’m not sure anyone willingly invites grief to the party; she just shows up uninvited, often suddenly and unexpectedly. And we ignore her until we’ve exhausted ourselves with being “fine” and spill a cup of coffee one day and collapse into snot-filled sobs because we miss our spouse or our parent or our friend who died and we just need to feel sad and wail at the world.

And in that moment, God holding grief’s hand and holding ours, too, reminds us that evening does come and God is there. Always. 

A faithful life isn’t devoid of grief; it recognizes grief is holy and sacred. And on the last day of the three holy days of autumn, we are invited to grieve all that has been lost in our lives - those who have died, but also those things our culture doesn’t invite us to grieve. On All Souls’ Day, grieve the relationships that have died because humans are complicated and our relationships mirror that messy complexity. Grieve our animal companions whose love is so pure it gives us a glimpse of God each time we mourn them. Grieve the changes that have come in life that have shifted us into a new place, even if the new place seems like it might be good, change is still a loss, and loss is still sad. Grieve the friend whose picture shows up in Facebook memories a week after she died much too young and much too soon.

Grieve the violent hate that took the lives of a man and a woman in Kentucky who were murdered because they were Black and eleven people who were murdered at Tree of Life Synagogue because they were Jews. Grieve that hope sometimes feels far away, too far away. Grieve that Matthew Shepard’s parents could not bury their son for 20 years after his murder because they were afraid his grave would be desecrated and our LGBTQ+ companions in life are still afraid for their lives, especially from those who also claim the faith of Jesus.

Fall onto the floor of the earth, let the tears flow. Wipe snot on your sleeve and cry so much you wonder if you’ll ever stop. Wail for all that is sorrowful and heartbreaking in this world. God will be there on the floor with us in our grief and sorrow and wailing. She always is.

Let the holy darkness settle in, and let this holy day give us courage to grieve. Hope will be born soon enough, but for now, let evening come.

Jane Kenyon’s poem, Let Evening Come, can be found here.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Calling Your Soul Home

I’ve been on sabbatical.

You may have noticed, since the action around the blog was almost non-existent for a few months. 

In almost 20 years of ordained ministry, this was my first sabbatical, and I didn’t quite know what to expect. And I was joyfully surprised.

Yes, I traveled. I rested. I cleaned out closets and a few boxes I’d never unpacked since I moved. I rode horses, then rode them some more. I read books that had nothing and yet everything to do with God. And I rode horses again. I rediscovered pray as an act of worship and be-ing instead of just one more thing to do for the clergy resume.

And I realized how little importance most of us give to the commandment about sabbath. My rabbi friends remind me the commandment to remember the sabbath and to keep it holy is the longest commandment as written in Hebrew. That length should clue us in to its importance.

Sabbath isn’t simply not working; it’s a particular aspect of rest. Sabbath reminds us we have work to do in the world, and we also have work to do on ourselves. 

I’ve heard a story about stopping our bodies to wait for our souls to catch up over the years in various incarnations. The basic themes of the story include Anglo explorers or missionaries or archaeologists going through the jungle or mountains or otherwise non-Westernized terrain. They have with them members of the Native culture who are with them. At some point the western men are up early and ready to go and the Native peoples refuse to move. After much cajoling and whining about how the team needs to get going, the Native peoples respond, saying that they walked so fast that they need to sit awhile and let their souls catch up with their bodies. The Western people suddenly realized some deep truth and all is right with the world.

I think the story and example is problematic on several levels, least of which I’ve always heard it used in sermons by white men and the congregation inevitably oohs and aahs as if we’ve never heard that our souls need time to rest.

As if we’ve never paid attention to the commandment to keep the sabbath or the numerous examples of Jesus going away to a quiet place or Mary pondering all these things in her heart or the communion of saints who needed to sit awhile in silence. Not, I think, to let our souls catch up, but to gather our souls back within us. Our souls can move quite quickly, I think. Often faster than our bodies. But they also scatter.

We humans, in our need to be busy and to feel important and to give to everyone who comes knocking, scatter parts of our selves and souls. We also live in a culture where people too often feel entitled to take parts of other people’s souls, even when we hear otherwise. 

One aspect of sabbath is giving ourselves time each week, maybe even each day, to track down our soul. Is it all within us? Great.

Are their pieces of your soul that have been left with parents who are grieving the death of their child from addiction? Did some part of your soul remain with the woman who’s co-worker raped her because her soul is too shattered by violence to hold together for now? Are you weary from the parts of your soul that get broken by the constant news cycle of hate, discrimination, and oppression?

Locate those parts. Know where they are. Call them back to you through prayer, silence, art, or however you find helpful. And trust they will return. Or, if it’s not time for them to return, remind them where home is and that this is not a permanent loan.

The other pieces that have been taken, where are they? Are their people who have demanded pieces and parts of you that you did not want to give, who have not heard your, “no” and keep plowing forward into your life? Women’s souls particularly get strung out in this place, where we see - again - the phone call from a particular person and sigh as we answer it, forgetting we can take a sabbath if needed. 

Where are those pieces of our souls? Who has stolen them, and again, what do we need to do to call them back to us…and what do we need to do to make sure those soul suckers are kept at a safe distance in the future?

When God implores us to remember the Sabbath, God is recognizing that we have a tendency to forget, to ignore, and to disregard the care and keeping of our own souls. Or we commute the sabbath into a day of running errands and cleaning the house and doing all the things that didn’t get done in the busy-ness of the past week.

And God is writing in all the words - DO NOT DO THIS.

Keep the Sabbath. Take dedicated time each week to care for your soul. Be still and quiet. Pray. Do nothing (those who read me enough know I’m a big proponent of holy boredom). Fiddle. Weep. Laugh. Pray some more.

Locate all the pieces of your soul. Call some home. Note where others are and how long they might be away on loan. 

And breathe deeply into all that is. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Write What You Don't Know

I've heard that bit of writing wisdom...write what you know.

And yes, there's truth in that. I never need to write a book about physics.

I also think some of the best writing that is waiting to be born onto the page is that which surprises us with its vulnerability and its insight that we ourselves didn't expect when we started the essay.

If you're interested in learning how to write what you don't know in the realm of non-fiction writing, I'll be presenting a workshop this Saturday, August 18th, at Brier Books in Lexington, Kentucky. You can register here or call the store and reserve a spot. I'll be addressing a broad spectrum of non-fiction writing, from personal journaling to essays for publication to articles for newsletters.

Bring whatever tools you need to write (laptop, journal, paper and pen) because we'll be doing some in-workshop writing.

Join me at Brier Books and let's learn what we don't know.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Truth and Reconciliation...It's Time

I appreciate the boldness of the promise in the Baptismal Covenant about evil and sin. It states: Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? And we all reply, “I will, with God’s help,” often not fully digesting the promise we’ve just made.
I appreciate the boldness that in that promise, we don’t quibble about if we are seduced by evil, if we explain, justify, or even enjoy the benefits of evil and sin. We admit we do, and we remind ourselves we, as Christians, are never defined only by our sins because repentance and reconciliation is always — always — an imperative for Christians.
Repentance and reconciliation are not merely options, but expectations Jesus has for those who follow him. We are invited to repent and return to the Lord. This repentance, this turning away from sin and its consequences in our lives, gives us new life and hope.
We promise this to God and to each other, to recognize the times we’ve embraced sin and its consequences, and to repent and find our way forward into restoration and reunion with love.
I love that part, that reconciliation, that restoration of community and relationship, when what has been done and what has been left undone is cast in the past and we step into newness of life. Angels sing, the sun shines brightly, and unicorns skip across the meadows.
What I don’t love is the muck to dig through to get there. I don’t enjoy hearing how I have sinned, how I have benefitted from sin, and even how I have knowingly and even unknowingly sinned against others. I don’t love the truth part of reconciliation.
None of us do, I imagine. Because hearing we are far from perfect, hearing we have acted in ways that do not respect the dignity of others, hearing we have not loved as we can love is not an ideal way to spend an afternoon or a convention.
Yet that part, that hard, messy, even painful part that we call confession, is an act of courageous love. To hear about sin and to hear about the pain sin inflicts, not explaining it away, not saying, “But I didn’t mean to…” (because let’s face it, many of our sins that cut and wound each other are often unintentional), in the face of another’s truth, is a moment we connect to the meek king who is Jesus.
In February, the president of the House of Deputies asked me to chair a subcommittee on Truth and Reconciliation regarding women and sexual abuse, harassment, and gender discrimination in the church. Before accepting the chair, I sat for many days with the promise we as members of the Episcopal Church make to God and each other about sin and repentance. I thought about the sin that places women in an inferior category that allows and even invites inequality, abuse, and harassment. I prayed about how even to begin a process of truth and reconciliation for a sin many leaders in the general church believe is either a figment of the imagination of women or is only a rare event, perpetrated by an occasional bad apple in a leadership position.
Studies and surveys from other mainstream denominations refute both of these propositions.  Instead, they reveal to us that the systemic sin of ignoring, demeaning, and debasing those who identify as women is pervasive in the church, and damaging both to the women who are victims and to the community of the church. These studies show that women do indeed tell their truths, but that those in leadership positions do little or nothing to respond.
Statistics tell us that a woman you know, from whom you have received the Body and Blood of Christ is being subject to harassment and abuse simply because she is a woman. And she is being subject to this harassment and abuse by a fellow Episcopalian.
We have indeed fallen into this sin. We are sitting in the muck and mire of a dearth of justice, equality, and love.
But the Good News is we don’t have to stay here.
Jesus holds out his hands and invites us to take them, pulling ourselves upward and outward into newness, into equality, and into love. We can turn from this sin, to strive for justice and peace, mercy and love, and equality and dignity for women in our church and in our world. We have a chance to step into the messiness of confession and hear the truth. We will feel uncomfortable as we hear these truths. We will want to explain situations away, argue the budget can’t afford this work. We will want to move quickly to an easy but unhelpful and fragile restoration, saying fervently that hearing the stories is enough.
Our process of reconciliation and restoration in the church calls for confession and a turning away from this sin, an action that changes us. Some call these acts of contrition. I call them doing justice. After all, as Cornel West reminds us, justice is what love looks like in public.
I had the privilege of speaking with the Rev. Allan Boesak, a minister in the South African Dutch Reformed Church and anti-apartheid activist about his work with truth and reconciliation in South Africa. I asked him what he would suggest to us as we contemplate a truth and reconciliation process. His answer was profound.  He said, “We forgot to ask what justice would look like to those who were harmed.”
The holy words of truth, justice, and love guided us and filled our prayers as our subcommittee engaged in this process. Two resolutions came from the time of conversations, prayers, and work of the women on this subcommittee.  In committee, the two resolutions were combined. The resolution calls for a creation of a task force to hear the truth of women and men in our church who have been demeaned, abused, harassed, and discriminated against because of gender. Thankfully, our Methodists sisters and brothers did a comprehensive survey several years ago and have generously offered to assist us as we begin the courageous act of faith and love to hear the truth in our own denomination.
We explain in the Resolution:
for the purpose of helping the Church engage in truth-telling, confession, and reconciliation regarding gender-based discrimination, harassment, and violence against women and girls in all their forms by those in power in the Church, making an accounting of things done and left undone in thought, word, and deed, intending amendment of life, and seeking counsel, direction, and absolution as we are restored in love, grace, and trust with each other through Christ;
My hope is that the General Convention heeds the example of Jesus and thousands of years of faithful Christians and humbly, lovingly, and courageously enters this time of confession and reconciliation as we strive to love each other as we desire to be loved. My hope is that women and men of the Church will want for those who identify as women in the church the same rights, dignity, and safety as those who identify as men regularly receive. My hope is that we pass the resolutions as a tangible witness of our belief in this reconciling love Jesus preached, lived, and believes we can embody.
My fear is that we find speaking words of justice and love much easier than acting on them, that voices will continue to embrace excuses and shortcomings as “that’s just the way it is” or we will continue to deny that gender discrimination is alive and even nurtured in the Church. My fear is that we will continue to deny the place of women in our faith.
I fear, but I hear the voices of women and remember always, always to hope.
We are the children of Tamar, of Rahab, and of Ruth. We drink the living water brought up from the depths by the Samaritan woman who asked for that living water at the well and who held with Jesus one of the longest conversations in the Gospels. We cry out for justice and help with Hagar, the first person in Holy Scripture to name God.  God heard her and hears our cries yearning for justice and help in the face of oppression. And we sing with Mary who birthed Jesus into the world with courage and love. We live in the hope of the women who went to the tomb and who were entrusted, above all others, to announce the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because of their witness, because of their love, we live in hope. I live in hope that we will follow their witness and as a church, embark on the journey to be restored to that place where women and men are equal in all aspects of our faith.

Many thanks to the women who served on the subcommittee for Truth and Reconciliation and especially to Jennifer Reddall and Julia Alaya Harris for their dedicated work, faithful prayer, and many editing sessions with me as we wrote this Resolution.  The Resolution can be viewed here and should come up for a vote in the House of Deputies today or tomorrow. Your prayers and support are welcomed as the Episcopal Church hopefully takes this courageous step into truth and reconciliation.

This article originally appeared in House of Deputies News, July 6, 2018 at the this link.