The Hallowed Corners of Life

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(a reprint from deep in the archives today. Because I needed a reminder.)

There are temples all over this place.

The dining room table, the kitchen sink, underneath the pear tree, the halls I walk at the hospital where I work…no tall arches or stained glass, no austere organ music or deep mahogany. Just these hands, this body, these people I weave in and out of every day.

I remind myself of this each day—each ordinary day: the ground I walk on is holy.

On this ordinary day, my two boys are home from school on a long weekend. I’ve taken the day off of work for their well-visits with the pediatrician. Here I learn we are behind on vaccines. And my eldest still has those big holes in the top of each eardrum. And today we find out his vision is impaired too.

The doctor shakes his head. And then he starts talking about surgery for the boy’s ears. Six shots and two flu mists later, we leave, armed with an order for blood work and a referral to a local optometrist.

We get home in the late afternoon and I do laundry, try to write a little, someone has stopped up the toilet, and I’ve promised a friend to stop by with dinner for a chance to hold her beautiful new baby.

These are ordinary things. Nothing particularly compelling in the going through them. They barely warrant a mention, let alone an essay. They are the stuff of life. Ordinary. And if I am not careful, that word ordinary can trip me up—give me excuse to assign little value to these passing moments.

But here the church gives me a good model of how to view time. The liturgical year is divided into the seasons of Lent/Easter, Advent/Christmas, and Ordinary Time. In this case the term “ordinary” does not mean “usual or average.” We get the term from the Latin word ordinalis, which means to be numbered in series. Therefore, Ordinary Time is called “ordinary” simply because the weeks are numbered.

But here’s the thing: in Ordinary Time, we are not focused on a specific aspect of Christ (such as the Nativity or the Passion). Instead, we celebrate the mystery of Christ as a whole—his life, ministry, miracles, and teachings. These days are no less holy, no less important for this lack—rather, they remind us to view all of life through the lens of holy. When God took on flesh and became one of us, didn’t he elevate the dignity of human nature for us all?

We are still in Ordinary Time now, but soon, Advent will be here. I turn a sock right-side-out on this dreary afternoon and think of this: that even in the high holy seasons, the moments of my life resonate ordinary. Doesn’t Jesus touch these ordinary moments too?

… Listen to your life,” Frederick Buechner tells me. “See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” (Buechner, Now and Then)

Life itself is grace. How else could we handle the news of the pediatrician? How else are we to handle the sick parents, the loss of that job, the dream left unrealized, or the plodding through of the same?

There is holy in the everyday moments; there is worship in the hallowed corners of my life. And there is nothing ordinary about that.

A variation of this article originally appeared at The High Calling.

A Prayer for Paris

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This morning, we reel from the attacks in Paris and I light a candle for the lost and wounded. I pray God’s comfort for the shaken world and weep with those who weep. My cheeks are chapped from the long walk in the wind last night and they drink tears thirstily. I lean my forehead against the window and watch the morning light spread like seeping tea. The air in our little valley is still restless and wandering leaves are soul’s bread. Did I once stand in those waving grasses, cheeks scrubbed pink and eyes full of blue sky?

On a morning like this I cannot help but think, what would I do without Jesus?

Yesterday, I read these words:

Organized religion is an attempt to communicate religious mystery to people who have not experienced it, and most often the task falls to people who haven’t experienced it either. What is deemed sacred in organized religion? Not the original revelation, but the robes, the ceremonies, the houses of worship, the scriptures, the ministers or rabbis. The original sacredness disappears in dogma and ritual—physical manifestations—that become holy in and of themselves and are worshiped long after their meaning is lost. Essentially, it is a form of idolatry. Furthermore, people who dare to proclaim themselves mystics or prophets, and declare they are in personal communication with God, are ostracized or worse. It’s ironic that religions now repudiate the very kind of people and dramas on which they were founded. As a result, the biggest threat to the religious experience may well come from organized religion itself.” ~Diane Ackerman, Deep Play

How arrogant, how flawed, how narrow-minded, I found myself thinking. This self-described “agnostic,” this “Earth Ecstatic” as she terms herself … how dare she? I wanted to close the book, boycott her words, shut out her self-absorbed, pleasure-seeking philosophy. She doesn’t have the faintest inkling about what it means to live a life of faith, I mused. And then I listened to myself. She doesn’t have the faintest inkling about what it means to live a life of faith! The self-righteous kind of view leaves me empty, separates me from other image-bearers of God. But when I look with love, when I look with compassion, my heart of stone is replaced with one as tender as fresh-churned butter.

It is true that often those who welcome mystery and wonder into their lives are the ones overlooked. They quietly sit in pews and marvel at the goodness of God. Yet, in the face of tragedy, these tender ones are mobilized. What if we show them what it means to live a life of faith? To be one body, to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn? Instead of judgment, let there be love.

God of the Universe,
you made the heavens and the earth,
so we do not call our home merely “planet earth.”
We call it your creation, a divine mystery,
a gift from your most blessed hand.
The world itself is your miracle.
The people of the world, our brothers and sisters.
Help us to see in their faces your presence.
Upon the people of France
may your stars rain down their blessed dust.
Comfort, comfort your people, O Lord.
(adapted from Blessing of the Land or a Garden, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)

Playdates with God: Wonderland


“I’m going to warn you,” he says, smiling. “That’s where all the children sit. They fill up these first two pews here. If you want to sit surrounded by children, that’s fine. But that’s where they’ll be.”
On Trinity Sunday I am sitting in the first pew waiting as my host busies himself around the church, getting ready for morning service. We make small talk and he tells me some of their story. How he’s been a member there all seventy years of his life. How the neighborhood was a blue-collar one when he was growing up—workers of the chemical plants and the other factories that thrived along the Kanawha River.
“These houses were as neat as a pin, then. The lawns were always mowed and cared for. You never saw any trash or old cars in the yards. It’s a different story now. Drugs. Abuse. The church has been broken into several times…”
He tells me how, a few years ago, their membership dwindled into the single digits. They decided that something must be done. So they reached out to the children.
Right about then, six little girls come through the door, holding hands and chattering. Their ruffled skirts are a rainbow of colors—billowing clouds of sparkles. These girls know they were welcome. They go straight up behind the pulpit area and start dancing, gliding across the chancel, twirling and giggling and clinging to each other. Their sandals clop hard on the wooden floor and Wanda J.—who is sitting four pews from the front and who just celebrated her ninetieth birthday—snaps her fingers.
“Girls! Girls! Settle down.”
And they do. They go and sit in the first pew. One by one he brings them over to meet me.
“Are you our new pastor?” One doe-eyed little girl asks.
“Well, I’m just visiting today,” I say.
I watch them settle in the first two pews. A few little boys join the girls and the first two rows of pews are full.
“Do they come alone? Without their parents?” I ask him.
He nods. “Yeah, they come down from the hill up there.”
When it is time for church, about twenty-five sit in the pews—half of which are children. Through the announcements and the Call to Worship I study their shining faces. After the sermonette—in which I tell them about Memorial Day—they sing a song. No accompaniment, just these young voices lifted up.
“Oh, how I love Jesus…” They sing.
“Oh, how I love Jesus…”
As I listen, I am in Wonderland; I grow small. And God grows bigger. No amount of preparation on the sermon I am about to give could have prepared me for the power of that—no sermon could deliver a message as powerful as the one in those front pews. And what God is doing in that tiny church sweeps me off my feet—brings me to my knees.
“Oh, how I love Jesus. Because he first loved me.”
Over at The High Calling, we’re finishing up our discussion of  The Life of the Body: Physical Well-being and Spiritual Formation by Valerie E. Hess and Lane M. Arnold. We’re giving away two copies of the book this week.

How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

the Playdates button:
 

Playdates: Relevancy

She is talking about Psalm 137–the difficulty of it—and when she reads it to us from the pulpit, I feel my insides contract.
The Psalms can be an invitation to stand beside someone who is in a place to pray a prayer like that, she says.
Stand beside. Sometimes that is what is required.
It matters how you read it, she says. When I emphasize Your little ones, I see that this Psalm was written by someone who has seen their own little ones treated this way.
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I feel tears well up as she shares a story of war and death and injustice that explains the Psalm better. Later, she will speak about Lament and teach me form criticism.
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I sit beside my friend Chuck and most of my classmates are here and the sanctuary buzzes with the ruffling of papers and the shifting of bodies. I sit there and the truth of war and death and all the sorrows of this broken world sweep over me as I sit under that ostentatious dome. The sun shines through the stained-glass and I am smitten. I think about the history of this building, the beauty, the stewardship of it. 

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My own little church is cute in comparison, and I feel so small thinking about all the saints who walked these floors, dusted these pews. Suddenly, I am overwhelmed.
I want to be alone with you, I tell Him.
But He is silent and I know this isn’t the time. I am here to learn and to fellowship and even to worship. There are too many people.
I go to my workshop and we talk about why the millennial generation doesn’t come to church and I learn the number of people leaving the denomination each year and that there is a task force tackling this issue.
They see church as irrelevant, the young pastor says. Old-fashioned, hypocritical, out-of-touch
I think about how what is considered relevant changes over the generations, wonder about the relevancy of stained glass and gold-leaf and marble.
 I don’t usually think about these things. But I still have Psalm 137 on my mind.
They just spent 1.5 million dollars refurbishing the sanctuary, Chuck had whispered to me during opening worship.
It didn’t bother me. The place was built in 1915. I figure it needs shined up occasionally. Besides, I am impressed by history and am awed by the thought of all the worship that has taken place under that dome over the years.
But now I am thinking about relevancy and still…Psalm 137.
I want to be alone with you.
I have to wait until after lunch—eat my sandwich quickly, give my cookie away to the elder gentleman who wants to tell me about all the old farms that used to exist where my subdivision stands today.
I excuse myself.
The sanctuary is empty and I enter the quiet. In the stillness, I hear the stir of the passing years. I touch the wood, smell it. I go up to the balcony and press fingers on stained glass in the stairwell. He holds me. He knows I am wondering, questioning relevancy, but falling in love with beauty.

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What is the answer?
I watch light sift through colored glass and dance across the golden rosettes that hug the domed ceiling.
Later, I read a short history of that church—the building, its people. The author ends the narrative with this:
 
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48)

Yes, I think. This is how it must be. 

And we are quiet together as the sun moves through art framed in windows coloring the mahogany of wood that has breathed under this sky and seen many lives move through this space. I breathe too.

How about you? How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. And come tell us about it.
Grab the Playdates button from the sidebar:

Sharing with L.L. Barkat today also:

On In Around button


And with Ann, I’m slowing down.

Confirmed

Sunday Sermon Notes
Confirmation Day
John 21:1-19

I cried all

morning, and when
I rubbed your back you
shood me away at
first. But then, you
leaned into it
because you
love me. And there you
were, in your dad’s
shoes–
because I said you couldn’t
get confirmed in
flip-flops–
so tall, with that
earnest look and I kept
remembering when
you were baptized; only
eight years old, you
rolled your eyes the
entire time and I was
humiliated. But today, you
stood like a man—my firstborn,
no more disport,                                                    
official Body part
now. The words on the
screen were about fishing;
about going back to
what is comfortable. But there’s
no going back, not now. Not
ever.
You have always been
His.

confirmed