Manifest.

“Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” – 2 Tim 1:8-10

“The Lord manifests Himself to those who stop for some time in peace and humility of heart. If you look in murky and turbulent waters, you cannot see the reflection of your face. If you want to see the face of Christ, stop and collect your thoughts in silence, and close the door of your soul to the noise of external things.” – St. Anthony of Padua

(Part 4 in a series, “Made Known”)

These last two weeks I keep tripping across the word manifest in readings and scripture. It seems to be popping up everywhere. That’s usually a clear nudge of the Holy Spirit that he wants me to spend some time with that word and ponder it a bit.

At the beginning of 2020, when I was contemplating this series and brainstorming a list of words that I thought would guide my reflections, manifest was one of those words at the top of the list. At the time, I thought to myself, well, maybe there’s a practical reason for that. My husband is a private pilot, and a manifest is a listing of the cargo on board an aircraft (or another vessel, like a boat). When filing a flight plan, I sometimes hear my hubby asked by Flight Planning, “how many souls on board?” – that always gives me goosebumps! It’s such a vivid reminder that we may be made of flesh and bones, but as we travel through this world on our earthly journey, we are bearing souls of great importance, cargo that is precious in the eyes of the Lord.

That’s good, I thought. There, see, Holy Spirit. We’re done.

But no, the word kept recurring over and over again,  so I started looking deeper.

As an adjective, manifest means “clear or obvious to the mind,” or, as another dictionary entry noted, “something theoretical made real” if used in a spiritual sense.

Those are good descriptions of the word, and the Word, too. And suddenly, in meditating on those meanings, this verse came to me:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” (Phil 2:5-6)

There’s not much in this verse that is clear or obvious to me when I think about “things to be grasped.” I’ve spent time off and on pondering that verse in the last two years and never had any revelation. Is it that Christ empties himself because he knows that man cannot comprehend the idea of the Incarnation, that He might desire to be born and walk beside them for awhile as their brother? Or is it that sort of desperate grab that we are sometimes all guilty of, when we see something good slipping through our fingers, beyond our reach, and can’t quite comprehend why it’s eluding us? When we turn and say to God, “I want that – why won’t you give it to me?”

So much of the life of Christ is hidden. We know of his public ministry, we get a glimpse of the last three years of his life, yes. But we don’t know much about his childhood or young adult life. Even at the Resurrection, we have an incredulous Mary Magdalene at the tomb who mistakes him for the gardener, a doubting Thomas who is determined not to believe unless he places his hand in the wound of His side, and two men traveling on the road to Emmaus who can’t seem to recognize it’s Jesus until they sit down for the breaking of bread at the evening meal. All flesh and bones, like me. All fumbling around a bit when things seem to be dark and unresolved. All unable to grasp that Christ had emptied himself out as a babe in a manger, so that he could grow and experience our humanity beside us. Walking, talking, praying, eating a meal together.

So I prayed with that last week, asking the Lord to show himself to me – to be made manifest and reveal what that pesky word meant for me at this point in my life. Asking why he seemed to be so hidden these days. No response to that question.

I tried again with a different tactic:

“I’m writing a series about You,” I told Him in prayer this week, almost with an edge of indignant righteousness, “I’m eager to have your name Made Known. Help me out here.”

Flattering the Lord gets you nowhere, I discovered. He doesn’t really need my flattery. I imagine if ever the Lord could do an eye-roll, that little tirade got one.

That brought me back around to the last definition this weekend and “something theoretical, made real” as I sat in Mass today, for the first time in over two months – face covering donned, hair pinned back (to hide the gray that’s been seeping in, absent a trip to the salon during COVID-19) and found myself grumbling, “I am frustrated, Lord. I want my old ways and old life, back. Lord, why won’t you give that to me…?” Although I was grateful to be there in Mass, I was struggling to reconcile “what was” with “what is” – at least for now.

I was…grasping. And I knew it. He wasn’t the one who had gone into hiding.

And then, at the very end of the services, after the final blessing, after being told by the Deacon to go forth and proclaim the Gospel, we were allowed one by one to walk down to the front of the church to receive the holy Eucharist, and then asked to turn and walk out of the church.

And I totally understood that last definition of manifest as I approached the altar. My heart started pounding and my feet were moving faster than I wanted them to go in my anticipation. After weeks of being deprived of this precious gift, to receive it today – no longer did the circumstances and setting matter. No sight for the bungee-corded off, socially distanced pews with hymnals removed and eyes-only faces peering out of bandanas and masks from the congregation; I only had eyes for Him. No more cares for the sad Sundays of on-line Mass being said on You Tube in front of my T.V. set; Christ was right here in front of me, and suddenly, He was VERY REAL. Arms open wide, speaking nothing but love straight into my heart:

“No more hiding,” He said to me, “I’m giving myself to you, and that’s all you really need.”

I wept as I received, and then turned and walked away down that aisle. That overwhelming sensation of His words and sincere offering began to slowly ebb away. I had to remind myself to breathe for a minute or two.  But I was fortified and fed. Ready to bear my share of hardship for the Gospel. Not afraid to travel back into unknown, uncertain, faith-is-not-what-is-seen-but-what-is-unseen moments once I stepped outside those church doors again.

Thanks be to God. He always shows up.

No longer thrashing about in those murky turbulent waters looking in vain for my own reflection, I could see Christ clearly today. I hope, if you’ve been grasping to find him in your own little corner of the world, you’ll look past this time of COVID-19 turbulent waters and see him, too. Turn off the news. Find solitude. Make way for him to manifest himself deep down to the very core of your soul. Pray.

He’ll come and find you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visible.

“Jesus moved about within Galilee; he did not wish to travel to Judea, because the Jews were trying to kill him. But the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near.

But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, he himself also went up, not openly but as it were in secret. Some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem said, ‘Is he not the one they are trying to kill? And look, he is speaking openly and they say nothing to him. Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ? But we know where he is from. When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.’

So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said, ‘You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.’ So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.”

                                                                                                                  John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

(Part 3 in a series, “Made Known”)

I’ve been carrying that excerpt from John around in my head and my heart for these last two weeks of Lent, and I’m not sure why.

Maybe it is because I am struck by John’s description of Jesus, moving stealthily to Jerusalem in secret, and then accused by the inhabitants of “speaking openly” once he arrives. Such resolve.

Maybe it’s his crying out in the temple as he hears the murmuring and muttering around him that stirs my heart. Such zeal.

Maybe I sense the urgency behind his message as he tries to convince the unbelieving that he is the Christ, the one they’ve been waiting for. A message that falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts. Such compassion.

Maybe, it’s all of these things that attract me to this passage, yet give me pause to stop and consider who Christ is in my life. Visible or invisible?

Sometimes, things are not what they seem. Not what we expected. Not what we were looking for.

To borrow a quote from one of my favorite books in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy:

            “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost…”

Certainly to those in the temple, Jesus was glitter-less and crown-less. He didn’t measure up to their idea of a king rushing in to save the day. In fact, earlier in John’s gospel, Nathaneal tells Philip, who proclaims to him that the disciples have found the Messiah, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). And Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would have a comely, not kingly, appearance (Is 53:2).

One who appeared at first to be rather ordinary, in the short span of three years in public ministry,  turns out to be suprisingly extraordinary.

Yet, presented with miracle after miracle, witnessed by thousands, personally involved and invested in this man they find intriguing and mysterious enough to follow across the sea…many of them turn away in the final hour that is now rapidly approaching here at the end of Lent. As we will soon experience in Triduum, even his disciples will fall asleep, strike out in anger, lag behind, run away…sell him out for thirty pieces of silver. Deny they ever knew him.

You know me,” he insistently tells them, “and also where I am from.”

Do I really know you, my Lord and Savior? Are you truly visible to me in my life? Have I set you ever before me – are my ways, your ways?

Are you visible to others, through me?

Wise men followed a star to find him. Fishermen left boats and nets to seek him. John the Baptist upheld him as the Lamb of God when he was still far off, barely visible. John knew.

We say in our creed at every Mass that we believe God is the maker of all things visible and invisible. That’s not always so simple, is it? We like things we can touch and feel and be sure of. We prefer concrete facts and figures and final answers.

We like to see – and be seen.

Lord, I know there are times I fail to see you – in events and circumstances and others. And I know there are times that I can’t see you, but you clearly see me. You know ME.

As I pass through this last stretch in the desert of Lent and cross over into Easter, keep my eyes fixed on you, there in the distance – on the hill and high upon that cross that will be my salvation and redemption.

You are the one who came to save us, emptying yourself when you knew we couldn’t grasp your great love and mercy for us any other way…dwelling in quiet obedience and walking unnoticed among us for thirty years…breaking that silence and opening tombs as you fulfilled your Father’s mission in your final, glorious death and resurrection.

Be that still small voice in the cave, Lord – the one we hear when we can’t see you.

Be the one who makes the earth quake and tosses the mountains into the sea, too. The one who shows his mighty arm when you know we need to see you.

We know you. 

Let us never forget where you are from, and who sent you.

 

Have a blessed Easter, friends.

 

 

 

 

Consulted.

Moses sat in judgment for the people, who waited about him from morning until evening. When his father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he inquired, “What sort of thing is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone while all the people have to stand about you from morning till evening?”

Moses answered his father-in-law, “The people come to me to consult God. Whenever they have a disagreement, they come to me to have me settle the matter between them and make known to them God’s decisions and regulations.”

                                                                                              from the book of Exodus 18:13-20

(Part 2 in a series, “Made Known”)

I am writing this in the midst of the national focus on COVID-19. aka Coronavirus.

As most of my followers know, my day job is that I am the person in charge of public information coming out of City Hall downtown. So, when bad things happen, or threaten, or there is a perception bad things are about to happen, my office is charged with issuing a consistent message about what local government is doing about it.

I know full well what Moses was up against in Exodus. Grumbling. Jostling. Upset people full of questions.

What sort of thing is this…that you sit alone among the people, who are waiting for an answer…

I know what that feels like. When people are anxious, or frightened, or confused. Or don’t care. Or don’t believe. 

Because my office becomes the “clearinghouse” in emergency communications (and that’s where we are, folks, like it or not – agree or disagree) – I can identify with Moses and all of those people asking about this or that, do or don’t, travel or don’t travel, panic or proceed…mixed in with a lot of mundane questions about whether someone is coming by to pick up their trash today, or wondering if anybody has any suggestions about how to entertain their 8 year old, who is out of school because they’ve closed all of the schools.

I see all of that, across my desk. I see it most commonly every day, but in a time of crisis, like now, it spills over and spreads out and fills up my office, and seems to take on a life of its own.

And with that, let’s stop thinking about COVID-19 for just one minute, and think about that Exodus. Tired, weary, thirsty, crabby, war-torn, used-up, not-so-ready-to-march-to-the-Promised-Land people, with Moses leading the way.

I can only imagine what kinds of disagreements the people were taking to Moses. Was it a fight about who owned what goat? A measure of flour, loaned to a neighbor but never repaid? A petition for divorce? A fight over an inheritance?

We don’t know. We get the sense from this passage, that there were a lot of things, and there were a LOT of demands on his time. To the one asking, the smallest questions are big, and important to them. For their own reasons.

Moses, in the best interest and with great love for his people, is struggling to serve the many – even though his resources – and his stamina – are stretched thin. Because he loves them that much. He’s trying. He’s tired, but he’s trying.

(Note: This is the same guy who agreed to have his arms propped up on the top of a mountain when he was so tired that he couldn’t raise them anymore in order to see that the battle was won. The same guy who pleaded with God when his people were dancing around golden calves while he was off in a cloud of fiery smoke talking to God who was inscribing the Ten Commandments on a stone tablet. That Guy.)

Let’s be That Guy. For just one teeny tiny minute.

Moses answered his father-in-law, “The people come to me to consult God. Whenever they have a disagreement, they come to me to have me settle the matter between them and make known to them God’s decisions and regulations.”

Whew. That’s a pretty lofty answer.

Unlike Moses, we have the resources. We have the Word of God, scripture, tradition, fellowship and communion in our communities. We have the power of the Internet to overcome “regulations” about social distancing to share and encourage and lift each other up. We have podcasts, and video, and live streaming.

We have so much more than Moses did.

Why are we grumbling?

Let’s stop disagreeing about what we do and don’t know, what we do and don’t agree with, what messages from the government we will or won’t accept, about COVID-19.

Let’s focus on how we can make God known. Let’s disembark from our lofty seat on the drama llama, and what we think is in our control (spoiler alert – it’s not) and instead think about our own humanity. And limits. And opportunities.

When I stop and think about who can help prop up my hands when I am oh so weary, my thoughts suddenly aren’t about me, anymore. 

They are about YOU.

I can’t hold up my hands on my own. I need help.

I can’t resolve every disagreement, or every difference of opinion. We are all fiercely independent, but we have to come to some middle ground. Compromise.

I can’t answer every single email or “what about” or “what if” query from the public. I don’t have those answers. We have to have faith that God will pave the way in His time, not ours. It might take months. It might take years. I might not ever see it come to pass in my lifetime.

I can’t tell you what tomorrow holds when it comes to COVID-19.

Moses didn’t really know what tomorrow had in store for him, either.

But it worked out okay.

Right?

What sort of thing is this…that you sit alone among the people, who are waiting for an answer…

The battle is won, friends. We already have our answer.

We are NOT alone among the people.

Be a whole lotta Moses, and be who God called you to be. Help a neighbor, call a friend, send a random card to someone to tell them you love them and are thinking of them.

Don’t sit there, alone. That’s not you. That’s not us. We are built by the grace of God for community.

Pray. Act.

Be That Guy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proclaimed.

“With shouts of joy proclaim this, make it known; Publish it to the ends of the earth, and say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob. They did not thirst, when he led them through dry lands; Water from the rock, he set flowing for them; he cleft the rock and waters welled forth.” – Isaiah 48: 20-21

(Made Known, Part One.)

In my job at City Hall, I have processed hundreds of requests for a proclamation to go to our Council.

It’s not trivial, nor taken lightly. There are boundaries and criteria that I have to consider before I issue the proclamation that is solemnly read, offered up to the recipient, and followed by a photo op with the local newspaper.

Is it local, or national?

Are there statistics to support their cause, and what is the source?

Does it support our community? Or is it exclusive?

My office is the “clearing house” for requests, on behalf of our community. It might seem trivial to some, but it’s a task I take very seriously. To proclaim something, is to deem it trustworthy and true, and worthy of noting. I stamp the County seal with a special embossed County seal that only resides in my office. I am the only one who can stamp that seal on the gold circle found on every proclamation, and I attach that tiny bit of red ribbon by my own hand.

It’s personal.

So when I read this tiny bit in Isaiah – about shouting with joy and proclaiming things to be made known – I know what that means.

Something is at stake.

Revelry and being caught up in the moment – that moment when your favorite team wins the championship, that day your son or daughter captures that trophy for their local team, that day you stand up in front of a room full of people and take a deep breath – and testify for the first time about your relationship with God…

All worthy. All worth proclaiming. All so very…personal.

God is personal, friends.

He wants to lead you through dry lands, to cleft the rock to bring you water.

He wants to provide for you – not because you asked, or proclaimed you love him so much. But because he loved you, first.

You would not exist, would not BE, but that he loved you into BE-ing.

That same God that shouted his name from one end of the earth to another, knew you and knit you. Out of every chaos of time, he paid attention to just one tiny molecule of creation.

He made time for YOU.

He pushed aside chaos and history and all that going on proclaimed stuff of the day – just to create a space unique to YOU.

Every one of us is created to praise and give glory to God. Some proclaim, some prophesy, some preach, some heal, some pray, some fast, some serve in their own special state of life.

God meets us where we are, and calls us to be where He wants us to BE.

His Word is trustworthy and true.

Proclaim Truth.

There is no better seal you can give to your life – your proclamation – than that.

 

 

 

 

Made Known.

“Let him who glories, glory in this, that in his prudence, he knows me. Knows that I, the Lord, bring about kindness, justice and uprightness on the earth:

For with such am I pleased, says the Lord.”

                                 — Jer. 9:23

Just then the mother bird came back. 

“I know who you are!” said the baby bird. “You are not a kitten or a hen or a dog. You are not a cow or a Snort. You are a bird, and you are my mother.”

                             — “Are You My Mother?” by Dr. Seuss

Oh, the places we go, when we start to think about God, and our relationship to Him. 

My parents, and older siblings, loved to tease me that “Are You My Mother?” was a favorite page turning, late evening, really wish you would go to sleep now kind of book by Dr. Seuss. I read it to my own sons as they grew up. I still love it. What was it about that small, newborn bird, struggling as he toppled out of his nest, rambling around pastures and highways and perils that he had the gumption to just keep asking everyone he met, “Are you my mother?”

Seeking Truth, that itty bitty bird was. Seeking his identity.

Where do I belong, he wonders. I should go, and find out.

And so he does. Flat-footed, thrill seeking, no fear, no question too big little kinda guy with a big mission.

The early days of the disciples aren’t so very far off that mark. Jesus calls to the fishermen of the sea, and they feel a deep longing to travel to a place where they sense they belong. They don’t know what lies ahead, but, are intrigued enough to leave behind the safety of their own little nest – their nets – and take up to follow him.

“Are you the One?” they wonder – afraid to say it out loud, “Are you the Messiah we have all been waiting for?”

I sometimes picture them, panting after Him, eager to keep step with His rapid pace – because time was short, and He had much to accomplish. They don’t know what that is, but, it’s exciting and adventurous and they are along for the ride. I come from a clan of “fast walkers” – so I understand that. We all walk very fast, with great purpose, even if we don’t always know where we are going. We fool ourselves into thinking that forward movement must mean we are making progress. In reality, it can just lead you quickly past green pastures, cows, and a whole lot of  Snorts, by Seuss standards.

What brings you home, friend? Where are you, who are you following, and why?

Christ has made Himself known in so many ways. I’ve decided to spend a few reflections dwelling upon that this year. Because time is short, and I walk too fast, and it might be time to slow down, and encounter Christ along the way.

If you’re up for the journey, walk with me.

 

 

 

 

Skyward.

“And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear…and when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.'”

Luke 2: 8-9, 15

“And while they were gazing into heaven, where (Jesus) went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.'”

Acts of the Apostles, 1:10,11

“The one tree in Francie’s yard was neither a pine nor a hemlock. It had pointed leaves which grew along green switches which radiated from the bough and made a tree which looked like a lot of opened green umbrellas. Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenement districts.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Chapter 1 – Betty Smith

**

And suddenly, lo, we ate a whole lot of turkey and too many mashed potatoes, and flipped over our calendar to December – and came face to face with Advent.

And we found ourselves gazing once again up at the sky, waiting in anticipation.

Right?

Or did you instead (like me) find yourself in a Dr. Seuss-ian kind of way, stumbling from Turkey Day into Advent, a bit surprised, and trying dexterously not to mix up your right foot with your left?

I know I have certainly felt that way in the last week. Am I looking up in expectation, or carefully studying the cracks in the sidewalks of my life, thinking that its the Twelfth Month, that 2019 has come and gone far too soon, wondering if I did enough, said enough, was “good enough” for our Lord and Savior. Worried that, if tomorrow, He came back down from heaven, was I hopping about (probably sock-less and shoe-less, wondering which foot to stand upon), or was I rooted deeply in His Word, planted where I should be, right there among the rubbish in the gravelly and gritty cement of life on earth here below.

Am I thriving?

Or just looking skyward?

In mulling this over, I was compelled to place those two passages (Luke and Acts) side by side, to ponder as we head into the final month of this year.

In Luke, we have shepherds gazing up as a multitude of angels appear to them, proclaiming the good news that a Savior has been born. I always envision angels so thick in the sky above the shepherds that these hardened, rough and tough kind of men must have truly fell to the ground in amazement at such a sight. I hear the rush of the wind across the fields as the angelic chorus reaches a crescendo to deliver the message that the Messiah is here. I see the fear and hear the frantic bleating of the sheep as they cower near the shepherd of their flock, mirroring his own confusion in the chaos of the heavenly host ascending and descending upon a glorious beam of light that must have blinded them, sent them into the cover of bracket and thorny bushes as they huddle, trembling in fear. Man and beast. Angels and messengers. Stables and Saviors. What a sight that must have been.

Despite their fear, they are overwhelmed with the message: Go, and see. See for yourselves what God has done.

And they go.

Leap ahead, away from that humble starry night, and instead enter a scene 33 years later in Acts, on a hilltop. Fishermen far from the sea, out of their element, wondering what’s next and steadying themselves to face saying goodbye to a dear friend, mentor, brother…Lord…Savior. Someone they have only known for such a short time, and have only just recently found once again in the Resurrection. Someone they can’t bear to let go, yet who has made it very clear that He really must leave, but rest assured, He is preparing a place for each one in His Father’s mansion of many rooms. (I would be thinking, what does that really mean? Why can’t I go with you if there are so many rooms?) Once again, as He leaves them, there’s that familiar nativity rushing of the wind through the grassy mountain top. Clouds descend. He ascends. The sky opens and swallows Him up, and the disciples find themselves rooted to the spot, gazing skyward. Maybe a bit forlorn. Maybe a bit lost. Maybe, they think, he’ll be back soon.

And they stay.

Contemplating an exciting yet troublesome and perplexing message of redemption, we have two different reactions. One goes. One stays.

The shepherds had no benefit of miracles witnessed, sermons preached, sinners healed, throngs of people pressing in to touch the hem of the cloak of a man who traveled upon dusty roads in small towns and preached from boats on the sea. Coats thrown down, palm branches thrown up. Baskets overflowing with bread. Seas calmed. Tables overturned. Demons cast out. Dead raised.

The shepherds knew none of what would come. They had a message, and they had

Hope.

That brings me back to Francie and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Did that quote startle you at the beginning of this post? I hope so. If you’ve never read it, curl up with this great book next to your fireplace (or in the favorite nook and cranny you find in your local library) and read it over Christmas break. I love the imagery of that Tree of Heaven that Francie describes from her window. She isn’t looking up – she’s looking down on that tree. Branches spread wide in a tree that seems to be gasping for life and the next drink of water or small bit of soil. It’s a tale of perseverance, and trust, and lessons for living for each day. I won’t spoil the book for you, but leave you instead as I close this Advent post with one of my favorite lines at the end of Francie’s story, which I think describes the two contrasting scenes in Luke and Acts as well:

“The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself. This that I see now, she thought, to see no more this way. Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything; as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn’t held it tighter when you had it every day. What had Granma Mary Rommely said? ‘To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.'”

Have a wonderful Advent, friends. Look up. See everything. Let your feet carry you where you may not be too comfortable treading unsteady, foreign ground. You might just find yourself standing in front of a manger, full of hope and anticipation.

 

 

 

 

Long ago and far, far away.

“And he came and preached peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” – Ephesians 3:17-18

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it, there are many dark places. But still, there is much that is fair -and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, perhaps, it grows all the greater.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Yes, I know it’s been nearly three months since I last posted to this blog.

It’s not like I haven’t thought of a dozen clever titles for a post, or a half dozen scriptures, or a handful of clever and oh-so-timely things I want to say here. They all fell kind of flat.

But yet, I am quietly drawn these days to the power of silence. The world is kind of running amok right now, isn’t it? Do you feel like that, too? Today was the beginning of proceedings to try and warrant the impeachment of a president.

We are, indeed, despite your political leanings, a world full of peril and dark places.

Within my own beloved church, we are wrapping up disturbing thoughts and charges and disconnect after the Amazon Synod. I have personally met and talked with a half dozen people in my church in the last month – many of those personally torn, hurt, discouraged, outraged, upset, despondent and yet struggling to find a bright light in all of this crazy bad, no good, something evil this way comes kind of upset.

We are upset.

We are up-SET. Our world is not what we thought. Not what we thought it would be. Not what it should be.

We are torn asunder, and it totally breaks my heart.

Hence, this tiny short post here tonight.

I have spent the last few weeks off social media stupidity (yes, not taking that back) and instead on line in a very intensive, thought-provoking study of the Gospel of John. The Beloved Disciple. The one guy, who, despite all hardships and followers who fell into disbelief upon the crucifixion – chose to stand at the foot of the cross – and believe.  The one who took Mary to be his own mother, to shelter and care for her. Who set up a house for her in Ephesus, who had great revelations about what was to become for the world (Revelations). The one who ran to the open grave on Easter Sunday, yet waited for Peter to catch up to him, out of breath. Panting, bending down, leaning into the empty tomb, to see what he could see. And yet, he waited. While he knew he already believed.

John, the Beloved, already knew. Could already see. Beyond all of the other disciples, maybe even Peter, John knew, and trusted – and chose to believe.

John the Baptist, in like form, yet different, knew Christ from the very seed of his existence in the womb. While still being formed in Elizabeth, he knew and recognized Christ the moment that Mary uttered the first breath of her Magnificat in Luke:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!”

I have thought about that, a lot, this week, approaching Advent.

And my soul finds…courage.

At the approaching baptism of our Lord, John the Baptist spots Christ from far away and declares him, with great gusto and confidence, to be the Lord. The one that he is not worthy to untie his sandals. From very far away, John knows.

Likewise, Mary as a very young girl, likely unsure and shaken about what Word she has just manifested in her soul, races across the hills of Bethany to meet her cousin, Elizabeth. Confused by spiritual circumstances, she seeks comfort in what the world knows.

Even though it’s a miracle to merely think it, she dares to ask:

“Is it true,” she wonders, as she approaches the house of her cousin, “that ye of old age have conceived a child?”

While at the same time, Elizabeth must be feeling the approach of the Lord, thundering down upon every step of Mary’s tiny foot steps approaching her, bearing in every step toward her the promise of Christ. Bringing him ever closer and closer.

“Is it true,” Elizabeth responds to Mary’s query, without really thinking, without seriously having to answer,”that my Lord, the King of Kings, the Lord over all – the promised Messiah! That he makes the child in my womb leap with joy when you enter. That as you approach this very place where I stand, looking out over the valley, I am filled with wonder. How can it be that he is coming to me.”

How can it…BE.

Wondering. Waiting.

Wanting.

Wow.

Is it true?

Is it?

I could write something pithy here, I suppose. About a parallel between the fight between good and evil in Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, or the latest Marvel comic series saga thrown up and erupting on the popular movie screen, coming soon to a theater near you.

Instead, I will leave you with this.

Once upon a time, there was a very simple girl. Her name was Mary. She believed in God, and she prayed every single day for the conversion of sinners. For the ADVENT of the world to come. She didn’t pray for that for herself. She just wanted it to happen for the good of the world. For a Redeemer to come, and save the world. From this hapless, sad state that we find ourselves in. She just wanted a Savior – someone who could see where we had been, where we are, and where we’re going.

Someone who would step in, step up, and intercede on our behalf.

Someone who gets us.

Not because He had to.

Because He WANTED to.

Yes, the world is full of dark and awful things. At the very last things of Christs’ life, he foretold his death more than once. He was really pretty specific about what was to come. He even said that one of the 12 would betray him. He dipped bread with that one at the Last Supper and told him to hurry, and do what he must do.

My soul is beat up, smashed, crushed and bleeding many days now because of many accusations against the Catholic Church that I have heard or had sent my way. Angry emails. Bitter accusations. Questions I can’t answer – yet.

We DO need to answer – we do.

Yes, our Church is broken. It would be easy to scoop up the pieces and toss them away.

While I appreciate all of those comments, I have decided that nothing will deter me from standing with John at the foot of the Cross.

Once upon a time, a young virgin conceived, and bore a son.

The Savior of the World.

Is it TRUE?

If yes, let the rest of it – what is now and was and is and ever shall be – belong to Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greater than 1.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow, but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.”

                                             – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

“‘Well, everybody does it that way, Huck.’

“Tom, I am not everybody.”‘ 

                                           – the Adventures of Tom Sawyer

This has been a week of immense gratitude for me. I have had some tough times personally and friends old and new have rallied around and supported me. I am so very thankful for that.

Sometimes, when you think you are at a low point, friends, that’s when God chooses to reach in and pick you up and set you down on that high, rocky point – and show you where you truly are. Maybe He knocks you off your high horse a bit. Maybe he reaches out a hand to you as the Good Samaritan. Maybe He asks you for a drink of water at the well of the Samaritan woman.

Or maybe He just encounters you on a dusty road to Emmaus. Tired, hungry, thirsty, sad. Wondering why you thought the Messiah must surely be just around the corner, only to think you’ve been let down. Blinded in your own misery, you are just trudging along.

He offers us a glimpse along that road not as a king, but as our friend. He walks with us  and gives us a chance to step off the beaten path, take a deep breath, re-evaluate where we are, and take up our journey again.

He joins us there. He meets us there, because He is the better one, the Father of the Prodigal son who always runs halfway down the road to meet us. The one who beckons to us to break bread with Him at the end of the day.

God shows us through so many ways – friends, trials, circumstances – that sometimes our low point – that point just around the corner that we can’t see, that place that makes us uncomfortable because it’s hiding in our “blind spot” – can instead be a turning point. That our greatest “down” can be the escape door about to spring open to our biggest “up” if we will just have faith and trust in Him.

We need each other, friends. Now more than ever! We are good on our own, but with a friend by our side, we are oh so much better than one. Christ sought out friends in His ministry because He knew this same thing to be true. While He could have wandered among the desert, sailed the Sea of Galilee, traversed that dusty road to Capernaum on his own – he chose instead to walk with us. He wanted to have us beside him. Asking dumb questions, making false presumptions about who He was, failing to understand all of the parables, arguing about who would sit at his right hand, insisting that he could not possibly suffer persecution – all that. Until he finally convinced us “I’m not everybody.” Until he was finally gone, resurrected in all of his glory – and we finally understood what He was trying to say all along.

Sometimes I think, how were the disciples so slow to understand?

And then I think about my own situation. And I totally get where they were coming from.

We need each other. We were built for community. We were built to work together, travel together, pray together, make dumb mistakes and fall down and get up again and rise together.

There is a lot of value in picking yourself up off the ground, dusting the dirt from your pants, and getting back on that road that you stepped off.

It’s even better if you have a friend, pointing out that you have a bit of dirt on your pants, and helping you brush that away. Offering you a hand. Reassuring you that your questions aren’t really so dumb, and let’s talk about that.

If you don’t have a tribe, find one.

If you don’t have a friend to share your spiritual journey, find that person in your parish that needs a friend, and be one.

It starts with you.

 

 

The Waiting Place.

“You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed I fear, toward a most useless place. The Waiting Place.

…for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or a No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.” – Oh, the Places You’ll go, by Dr. Seuss

“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel? He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.” – Acts 1:6-7, The Ascension of Jesus

I am finally back home and entered back into a familiar routine after off-and-on-and-gone-again travel since mid-May. My day starts once again with morning scripture, coffee and cat snuggles on the deck at sunrise, and my life at City Hall has resumed its fast-paced, ups and downs, daily deadlines and challenges. I would have thought by now that maybe this return to my old, normal life-style would have felt, well, kind of normal.

Instead, after a two-week pilgrimage to Israel, a week training in Ann Arbor, MI at Heart of Christ while studying Spiritual Direction with like-minded, soul-filled folks from across the U.S., and then attending the three-day, jam-packed, mind-blowing talks from Catholic speakers about the battle and Spiritual Warfare at the Avila Summit a week ago, I have figured out there is a New Normal.

Let me explain what I mean by New Normal.

In May 2000, our community went through a terrible wildfire that destroyed hundreds of homes in an entire section of town and thousands of forested acres surrounding us in the nearby mountains. I went to work for City Hall as their spokesperson in October 2000, on the very heels of that crisis with burned-out homes, good people left with nothing but the shirt on their back, an overwhelming sense of sadness and grief about the loss of the mountains that had once been towering pines that were home to trails so dense and green that it really was like walking across a mountain top belonging to God. There was so much to be done to rebuild that the list seemed endless and the climb to get back on top of that mountain top seemed formidable. I gave interviews to regional and national news stations in 2001 about the town’s slowly creeping along progress and the devastation. I went home more than a few times in those post-fire days and cried when I saw the faded green ribbons tied around tree trunks of surrounding homes in the burned out neighborhoods near where I lived, as months stretched into years gone by. Those green ribbons became a stark reminder of the first few days after the fire when they were tied everywhere to say “thank you” to firefighters who saved lives and battled back a blaze that by all rights should have escaped fire lines and consumed the entire town if not for some very brave men and women. It really was miraculous. I remember a reporter from NPR asking me in an interview that was coming up about the first anniversary of the fire (odd, isn’t it, that we mark tragedy with a happy name like “anniversary”) and he wanted to know how I thought the community was doing – what would I say if I had to sum it up in one sentence.

I had to think about that for a minute. 48,000 acres burned. 403 homes lost. Lives changed. We had barely started clearing out the rubble of burned out homes and chopping down dead, burned trees. No light at the end of the tunnel…yet.

Well, I finally told him, it’s a new kind of normal.

We rebuilt the town over the next 10 (okay maybe more like 12 to 15) years. We were all in that Waiting Place together as a community. It brought people closer together – families, neighbors, friends, the church community – everyone. Those long-term impacts and friendships forged have outlasted the devastation.

And since then, we’ve lived through a second fire (Las Conchas, in June 2011) with very few losses and no homes here lost. Thanks be to God for that.

I explain that here, because, that was one kind of New Normal. You face it, you adapt. You recognize the challenges. You plan for how to move on. You wait. But you do move forward.

But this kind of New Normal for me…it’s not of any epic proportion. It’s not arising from any crisis, or even noticeable to anyone, but myself. So I thought it was interesting that, when I thought about writing this post, my memory of that interview with NPR would suddenly come to mind. I am in my own kind of confused Waiting Place right now. Ready to move on. I think I have a plan. But maybe it’s not up to me right now, but God’s plan for me. So, I am that person who was just a few page turns before when Dr. Seuss gets the reader all jazzed up in his famous book:

“You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights. You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed. You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead. Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.”

That’s so…Me after the wonderful experiences I have had and shared with others. No doubt, a lesson in humility that I need to practice being less than the best of the best. Humility. Patience. Obedience.

Wait. He tells me to WAIT.

No doubt, too, this had to be on the minds of the Apostles as St. Luke relates to us in his typical let’s-get-right-to-the-heart-of-it-shall-we manner in Acts. It’s his account that picks up where the other Gospels leave off, which I always admire about Luke. He is a Paul Harvey “rest of the story” kind of guy in this opening chapter and quick to point out that, despite all those great sights, all those soaring to the highest of heights, the Apostles trot out after Jesus to the point of Ascension and pause to tug on his sleeve and hesitantly ask, “so…is the part where you restore the Kingdom? After all, we’ve been waiting a really long time…”

I really wish I could have been there.

And our Lord answers patiently to them that no, now is not the time, implying that they may be waiting in this Place a lot longer than they expected. Little do they know as He ascends that he won’t be coming back maybe as soon as they thought. (Or, by today’s digital standards, He won’t be texting them BRB and recommending they grab some fishes and loaves at the local market to mark His triumphant return.)

Waiting is hard. Waiting in anticipation for some big, exciting, known event on a date certain is tolerable. When our kids were little, they could not sleep the night before we headed off to Disney World, or some other big vacation we had planned. Waiting to hug a friend you haven’t seen in ages, or welcoming home a loved one after a long period of time, or being excited about an event you’ve looked forward to — all good kinds of waiting places.

I find, instead, that in today’s frantic, self-centered and worldly world, I am hanging out in that local market with the Apostles, checking my Apple watch, looking to the skies for some kind of sign, and wondering when He will finally come back to multiply these scant fishes and loaves that I have gathered up in anticipation.

In my New Normal, I have many things I want to pursue. The list gets longer every day. I am re-energized, enthusiastic, optimistic, and have ideas about new ventures, drawing upon newly forged friendships and opportunities that I am discerning.

Lord, I have Places-I-wanna-go!

But the sky remains instead very quiet.

Did I mention that little detail about Patience?

So here I sit this evening, waiting. Praying very hard that all of that which I desire – God willing – in this Waiting Place of mine, might come to pass. I actually concocted my own verse to try and explain how I feel, although it’s admittedly not very good by Seuss standards:

Waiting for the phone to ring, or time to stop, or angels to sing,

Or a mountain top, or a sign to drop,

Right Now, I’d welcome most Any Thing. 

Yeah, maybe I should leave the rhymes to Dr. Seuss.

Fortunately, for Seuss fans, he ends “Oh the Places You’ll Go” on a happy note – the good doctor of rhyme doesn’t leave us lingering there in that Waiting Place, but pushes us on to the final pages:

You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact, and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft, and never mix up your right foot with your left. 

And for us Christians, despite our dumb-founded standing there, looking longingly up at the sky wondering if we should make dinner plans until a couple of angels have to nudge us and tell us to stop gazing skyward and move along – well, hey, we get to end on a high note, too. We receive the Holy Spirit, to be with us here now, traveling among us foolish, mostly too full of ourselves and oh-so-impatient humans. We are still in His good company, friends, two thousand years later, here in this Land of Waiting, daring to lift up our eyes toward heaven – while occasionally remembering to stare down at our feet and try humbly not to mix up our right foot with our left.

Be dexterous. Be deft. He’ll be back.

 

 

Crossing Samaria

“(Jesus) had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria, to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman answered him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” – John 4:1-10

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”  – Dorothy Gale to Toto, upon landing in Oz.

A few weeks ago, I was standing on the Mount of Temptation near Nazareth. The wind was blowing like crazy, and I was struggling to hear our tour guide describe the view of the vast valley that lay before us. Yes, this was the place that the Devil brought Christ, and tempted him to lay down his allegiance to the Evil One that would bring him great kingdoms and riches. The one who begged him to throw himself off the cliff, to ask the angels to catch him, “yet before he cast his foot upon a stone.”

Someday, I will write about that. But today, my attention was hooked on something else that the guide was pointing to in the far off distance – Samaria.

Back in the day, he explained to our group, it would have been forbidden to go there. It simply wasn’t done. Samarians were the outcasts of Jesus’ time. Travelers went “the long way around” that God-forsaken land.

And yet, the great disciple John, whom I think loved our Lord the most and likely knew him the best, says with great intention that Jesus “had to” pass through Samaria.

It’s funny, those words. We use them all the time in our common speech.

Oh, I can’t go to your party. I have to wash my hair.

Oh, so sorry. I can’t meet you for dinner. I have to take my son to an appointment.

Our lives are full of things we say we “hafta” do. When in fact, there is just One Thing we must do – offer all that we are up to God – to his greater praise and service and glory.

Imagine if Dorothy Gale would have plopped down her house after a tornado, killed off the wicked witch, and accepted the praise and glory of the Munchkins. No yellow brick road. No encounter with an evil witch. No returning home at the end of that journey. No “hafta” statements there. She could have been okay with just staying in Munchkin-land. They were already leaning toward making her Mayor.

It’s not so different with this story. Jesus clearly chooses to pass through Samaria. It’s not an accident that he meets the woman at the well. He was full of purpose and moving on. Indeed, was there ever really an actual “accidental” meeting with Christ and the people you meet in the gospels?

What was remarkable to me, that day with the crazy wind on top of Mount Precipice, was looking out at the vast landscape before me and thinking, “why would anyone go around that, when they could go through that?”

As Americans, that’s our tendency and tolerance, I think. Short cuts. We see, we conquer, we trample over that. I was sincerely struck that day gazing out at the scenery that Christ had to make a conscious choice to enter a place that was unfamiliar, unknown, unsafe, unworthy, unrecognized. He had to really WANT to go there. Even the disciples were likely pretty uncomfortable with his choices (“let’s leave him here and go find some food…”)

He engages a Samaritan woman in conversation at the well (another Uh Oh moment for the disciples). It’s one of the longest conversations recorded with any individual in the gospels, and for good reason. After he questions her, and her life, he offers her the true Living Water.

She was trapped, she was thirsty, and he offered her a drink.

Like most of us, though, she feels compelled to know the One whom she is speaking to. We all fall into this trap, don’t we? We want to label a name, and a place, and catalog what we know, so that we can independently judge it, now and forevermore.

He catches her by surprise, though, with his response about her ramblings on about the well and the Messiah.

“I who speak to you am He.”

I AM.

She leaves her water jar, folks, for a guy she just met. She runs to tell everyone she meets in town what he said about her – all of its truth and ugliness (this, from a woman who is so ashamed of her life style that she seeks to draw water at the hottest part of the day at noon…)

When you are standing there on that cliff, that’s what is mind-boggling. Yes, you realize just how hard that diversion is to avoid Samaria is. It costs you maybe two or three days’ travel to “go around” and not “through” that land.

But your greater revelations is how hard it was for her, to meet someone like him at the well. An unexpected encounter.

How awesome is it, that our Lord decided to break through yet another tradition-held barrier in his last weeks before Easter. How compelling is it, that He decided to tackle uncharted territory and fight his way across that. It would have been so much easier to go around.

In the Wizard of Oz, it’s not so different. Odd friends unite – a tiny Kansas girl, a scarecrow, a tin man, a lion and a small dog – all gather to support each other trekking through the forest of the Wicked Witch, to get to the Emerald City. For dreams they don’t even realize. For character traits they don’t possess. For a yearning for something they don’t have.

The woman at that well was yearning, too. For the living water that Christ offers. The kind of water that – even though you brought a vase to collect it – you leave it behind in your excitement to splash it onto your face and cup it in your hands. To drink just once from the true Living Spring.

I wonder, sometimes, what happened to that woman at the well. Did she leave her home and follow Christ?

“And many more believed because of his word.  They said to the woman, it’s no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the World.” John 4:41-42

Sounds a bit dismissive, doesn’t it. John seems to negate any future consideration of the woman. Not because she wasn’t important, but because her role in the on-going Salvation of history was completed when she simply arrived at the well.

How many of us stand at the well, and wait?  How many of us try to derive our own selfish “I AM” statements long before Christ ever arrives? How many of us wait too long, over-thinking and over-analyzing the cost of total surrender at the well, where we are reluctant to cast aside our empty jug in order to proclaim the life-saving water of Christ?

How many are willing to cross Samaria?

Or to journey on a road unfamiliar?

Lord, grant me the grace to follow you when the way is hard and no one rises to meet and support me. Make me the channel of your grace. When you are weary, let me be the one to offer you a drink. You, who are the fountain of every living water and the one who gives the true offer of Life.