by JOYCE RUPP
The cosmos dreams in me
while I wait in stillness,
ready to lean a little further
into the heart of the Holy.
I, a little blip of life,
a wisp of unassuming love,
a quickly passing breeze,
come once more into Lent.
No need to sign me
with the black bleeding ash of palms,
fried and baked.
I know my humus place.
This Lent I will sail
on the graced wings of desire,
yearning to go deeper
to the place where
I am one in the One.
Oh, may I go there soon,
in the same breath
that takes me to the stars
when the cosmos dreams in me.
To Keep a True Lent
by ROBERT HERRICK
Is this a Fast, to keep
The Larder lean?
From fat of veals and sheep?
Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
The platter high with fish?
Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d go,
A down-cast look and sour?
No: ’tis a Fast to dole Thy sheaf of wheat And meat
Unto the hungry soul.
It is to fast from strife And old debate,
To circumcise thy life.
To show a heart grief-rent;
To starve thy sin,
And that’s to keep thy Lent.
Surely in the brow’s sweat we seek the good,
a jewel desired but in harm’s setting placed.
Gained at a risk, our lives on danger based,
a chasm ‘twixt what’s done and what we should;
Hurt and help are in the single circumstance
and evil taints the hope, the goal contaminates.
So Providence submits to bitter fate –
the cross; its partner in redemption’s dance.
Good comes by increments; so slow its speed!
Humanity rebuffs the pure, God’s Self!
Gives up! The good is placed back on the shelf
Two steps ahead, two back, progress indeed !
Try again! Smudge the tiny ash of grace;
God helps you make the world a better place!
Today is Ash Wednesday …
in order to more readily appreciate the gift of life;
in order to more readily embrace all our possibilities;
in order to courageously offer our vulnerability.
My thanks to Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes, the author of this inspirational poem, and to Table Manna, the blog where I discovered it:
and to stardust you shall return.
The breath of God breathes within you.
only to cling to dust that has no breath.
you need to return to it.
but you can free yourself from trying.
What separates you from the world’s flesh?
become an earthling.
shed all that shrouds your light.
and to stardust you shall return.
Advent is coming to its crescendo …
when heavenly choirs will sing …
and the stable will stir with the raw sounds of new life …
and even so,
I am still acutely aware
that Christmas has not yet come.
Advent is one of my favorite seasons on the church calendar. What can I say, I always cheer for the underdog; and Advent is sort of the underdog of the church calendar. It always seems to get shortchanged by a culture that begins selling and celebrating Christmas while I’m still answering the door to Trick-or-Treaters.
But I will not be deterred! Every year, it is almost my battle cry: I will not skip Advent! I will honor the season of waiting by, you know, WAITING! I will listen to the voices of prophets! I will pay attention to the longing and the yearning, and not simply give in to the voices crying out for instant gratification! I will not be sucked in to a consumer mentality, but will find creative ways of giving of myself and giving sacrificially.
Each year, I answer these challenges with a sliding-scale of success: some years I honor Advent better than other years.
But this year, I have no trouble entering into an Advent state-of-mind. Advent means “coming”; it signals change. It is a time of waiting and hope, of expectation and anticipation, and – sometimes – of uncertainty and anxiety.
No problem. I’m there.
This year, just before Advent began, the session of the congregation I serve finished 4 months of honest, prayerful, difficult budget conversations. And they decided that the best way to be faithful disciples of Jesus and faithful stewards of their resources was to move from full-time pastoral leadership to part-time pastoral leadership.
Their decision invites me into a time of discernment: a time of prayer and listening for God’s guidance about how I am to move forward in the ministry to which God has called me. And this time of discernment brings with it all of those things that are characteristic of the season of Advent: waiting, hope, expectation, anticipation, and (sometimes) uncertainty and anxiety.
It also calls forth the question: How do we wait?
What do we do in Advent that helps us make peace with the uncertainty … and frees us to focus on the hope?
I think the answer is: we remember.
Ancient peoples did not have the scientific knowledge that we have about our solar system. They did not know that the daylight hours grew shorter in the winter because of the earth’s position on its axis. The waning sunlight caused anxiety and uncertainty. Often, they lit huge bonfires on the longest night – the winter solstice – to remind themselves of the sun’s faithful appearance each morning and to comfort themselves with its warmth and light. Their antidote to anxiety was memory.
Isn’t that also what the Israelite prophets did? They spoke of the vision they had seen – a vision of the future that God was planning – and taught the people to trust that future by remembering God’s faithfulness in years and generations and centuries past. “How can we trust that God will save us and not abandon us?” the people ask. “Remember God’s mighty acts, God’s faithfulness throughout the generations,” reply the prophets.
From Isaiah 41: But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off ’; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, l will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
This Advent season, I invite all of us to remember God’s faithfulness … and I invite us to be a prophetic voice – the voice crying out in the wilderness – to those who may have trouble remembering that God is forever faithful and will never abandon us. After all, that’s what we’re celebrating on December 25: Emmanuel, God-with-us. Perhaps in surprising and unexpected ways, but always with us.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Amen.
The interview was with Vigen Guroian, who writes on the connection between gardening and the Christian faith (specifically, the Eastern Orthodox tradition). In the part of the interview that I heard, he suggested that the events of Easter redeem our senses.
I’ve been dodging rain for two weeks, trying to plant blueberry bushes and apple trees and roses and holly and tomatoes and corn and carrots. And in the last few days, while digging and mowing and pruning, I’ve been wondering how Easter redeems my senses.
I wonder about those disciples who went to the tomb, who saw messengers whose clothes and faces shone like the sun. After seeing such a light, were they somewhat blinded to the rest of the world for a time?
After a camera flash, I see spots. When suddenly turning on a light after I’ve been in the dark (or asleep) I am temporarily unable to see.
So, in the light of the news of resurrection, did they leave the tomb with one hand out in front of them, so that they didn’t run into trees and bushes that they couldn’t see?
Or, (unlike camera flashes) does the light of resurrection give such light as to improve our vision rather than diminish it? Am I better able to see the seeds, smell the grass and experience the texture of the petals because of the Good News of Easter?
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, icons are an integral part of the worship experience. These icons are extraordinarily beautiful images of the foremothers and forefathers of the faith, Biblical scenes, or representations of the saints.
The word icon means window. In the Orthodox tradition, it is believed that these visual representations open a window into a deeper understanding of the faith.
Perhaps that is the way in which I experience my senses to be redeemed. Instead of seeing my garden better, I am able to see my garden as an icon, a window: a window through which I am more able to see the fingerprints of God.
When I first bought my house (which is a fixer-upper), someone told me the golden rule of hiring remodeling help:
There are only three criteria that count for any kind of service professionals (or amateurs, for that matter): good, fast, and cheap. You will never find anyone who meets all three categories. The best you can hope for is 2 out of 3. Which two, is up to you.
That has, so far, proven true.
The electricians were wonderful to work with, did quality work and were reasonably priced.
The roofers were very quick at their work … but my roof is still leaking.
I recently organized a Lenten study on food ethics for the congregation I serve. As part of my research, I listened to a lecture by Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation) who pointed out that the selling point of the fast food industry is that they are fast, cheap and easy.
I occurs to me, in both cases, that fast and cheap are thought to be desirable characteristics in everything from hamburgers to handymen.
I don’t have more hours in the day than anyone else, and I have less money at my disposal than many … and so I am often seduced by the wiles of the quick and inexpensive.
But this is the season that challenges us to consider that, perhaps, we were not made to embrace the easiest, fastest or least expensive. We were made for so much more.
The staggering beauty of trees in bloom, the grandeur of fields of purple, the lushness of soft, moist grass, the majesty and ferocity of thunderstorms … nature in springtime forces us to concede that God does not settle for quick and cheap.
I suspect that God doesn’t expects us to settle for that either. What if, instead of fast and cheap, we sought to surround ourselves with things of another quality:
My grandfather (who passed away before I was born and, of whom, I only know the legends of family) was famous for often saying: “It only costs a dollar more to go first class.”
Spring (and, of course, Easter) challenge us to a “first class” way of thinking, challenging us to embrace what is Beautiful, Interesting, Rare, Mysterious, Delicious, Melodic, Abundant, Important.
This Easter, may the risen Christ transform our lives … and our choices.