Love – In Small Doses #11

 

Bite apple2

 The Education of Desire

The woman stared at the fruit. It looked beautiful and tasty. She wanted the wisdom that it would give her, and she ate some of the fruit. Her husband was there with her, so she gave some to him, and he ate it too. Genesis 3:6 (CEV)

Loud, the crash and feral
thrashing of a heart
wedged in desire’s thorns

no exertion heals
the festering wound

at length
mind wears down
bows stiffly
folds into sheer being
draws up soft
sheets of silence

 ___________________

How is it for you to sit still with your conflicted heart, enmeshed and torn by desire and longing for things  you do not have?

Can you stay with your wounded heart until your mind stops trying to analyze and understand? Can you trust as you surrender into the silence?  Will you discover tender compassion for yourself in your own suffering?

Will you hold still while unseen hands place a poultice,
warm and moist, where you hurt the most?

maryjesushands

_____________________________________

Central Academy Lent 2015
1248 SW Buchanan
Topeka, Ks
Each Wednesday from Feb 25 to March 25
5:30 Gather for Soup
6:00 – 7:30 Class

 It is not too late to join us. Don’t worry. You will fit right in!

Call or email to let us know you are coming so we have enough cookies.
Contact Central Congregational Church
(785) 235-2376; centralucc@yahoo.com

I am teaching a five week class on contemplation, Prayer of the Yearning Heart.  It is a great help to practice contemplation in a group. Come sit with us a spell and let peace creep into your heart.

Slamming Doors, Punching Walls

slamdoor2

We don’t teach meditation to the young monks.
They are not ready until they stop slamming doors.

– Thich Nhat Hanh to Thomas Merton in 1966.

The Anglican priest across the table  thought for a moment before he responded to my question. I was trying out my idea of a life and ministry focused on prayer. This man and his wife had formed contemplative communities in India and Hong Kong. “What suggestions do you have for me, a Presbyterian minister, about how I could do this?” I had asked, not even sure what I meant by a life of prayer.

“Holiness takes time,” Fr. Murray Rogers began. “You can’t hurry holiness.”

From birth to death  faith development moves us toward  deeper maturity. Followers of Jesus build strong, resilient, resourceful, creative lives through periods of doubt, struggle, disillusionment, and loss. Our life in God teaches us how to take responsibility for our inner lives – the anger, resentment, bitterness, sorrow, envy, and greed – whatever may be blocking the flow of grace in and through us. To take responsibility for our own attitudes, emotional states, opinions, and behaviors is to stop slamming doors or punching holes in one another. Mature souls require time to ripen and the ability to tolerate the slow pace and periods when it seems nothing positive is happening at all.

Such maturing requires us to look inside, to notice what is there, and to be present to what is so in our hearts moment by moment. In this process of looking we wake up to what is true and real, beyond our drama, blaming, projecting, judging, and attacking. We begin to love ourselves, God, and others more  fully and freely.

This looking inward with awareness and compassion is called contemplation in the Christian tradition. Here we discover that the realm of God is within us, as Jesus told his friends. The practice of contemplative prayer or meditation grounds and fuels our awakened compassion and love, as we carry the fruit of our practice into the world with acts of justice, mercy, creativity, beauty, and courage.

prayerstool

Little seems more important to me than this work of opening our eyes to what is true and real. Our awareness is nurtured by noticing and appreciating the myriad miracles, which surround us each day. A few minutes of silent communion with the Giver of these gifts heals, soothes, brings insight, and draws us into Love’s embrace.

Instead of our conflicts, trials, suffering, and confusion overcoming us, they become the curriculum in the school for our soul. Our teacher is the Spirit in our times of attentive listening and contemplation. As we keep showing up for class, little by little, we are freed and transformed in Christ.

Love in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul – Part II

This lent I will be continuing and adding to a series, Love in Small Doses, which I first posted in 2013. These are short  poetic takes on the themes and scriptures of lent. Each post will invite you to savor, slow down, or be still for a moment.

A teacher who has deeply influenced me is Carmelite author and nun, Constance Fitzgerald. Read her sweeping understanding of the significance of practicing contemplation in our time:

Teachers need to know how to educate for contemplation and transformation, if the earth is to be nurtured, if people are to be delivered from the scapegoating oppression of all kinds of violence, and if humanity is to fill its role in ushering in the next era of life on earth.

This may be the most basic challenge of religion today: not sexual mores, nor bioethics, nor commitment to justice, not dogmatic orthodoxy, not even option for the poor and oppressed nor solidarity with women, but education for a transformative contemplation, which would radically affect human motivation, consciousness, desire, and, ultimately, every other area of human life and endeavor.

All great change begins with a shift in perspective
within an individual soul and consciousness –

a truth told
a veil lifted
a sorrow rising
a cry piercing
a heart ravished 

I look forward to our lenten journey together and the changes we discover along the way.

BTW: You can do this.
I am an old monk and still slam doors from time to time.

_________________________________

Topeka Area Readers Please Note !

Want to learn to MEDITATE or approach scripture from a PROGRESSIVE PROSPECTIVE?  Here are two FREE options to deepen in the SPIRIT this year during Lent.

Central Academy Lent 2015
1248 SW Buchanan
Each Wednesday from Feb 25 to March 25
5:30 Gather for Soup
6:00 – 7:30 Class
Two class offerings this year

Sign up and RSVP for classes!
Contact Central Congregational Church
(785) 235-2376; centralucc@yahoo.com

I will be teaching the five week class on contemplation, Prayer of the Yearning Heart. Rev. Joshua Longbottom will be leading a study of the gospel of Mark from a theologically progressive perspective.

It is a great help to practice contemplation in a group. I hope to see some of you there!

If silence is not your thing, dig into Joshua’s class on Mark. I promise that it won’t be dull. You will definitely see things from a new perspective!

Made of Yearning and Rumors of God

In the past year I have lived deeply into two books. I returned over and over to taste and savor their wisdom, as though I were sucking on a bone, which had simmered all day long in a crock pot.

In my writers’ group, The Topeka Writer’s Workshop, I marvel at the swiftness of the group’s feedback, their pithy responses, useful suggestions, and on point critique.   My cohorts are all “real poets” in my mind and more knowledgeable about literature and the craft of writing than I am. At our workshops, they leave me in the dust, reading and rereading the rich words on the page.

I am  still at the third line rolling the author’s word choice or images in my mind, chewing at the wonder, and licking the juice off my fingers, when they are ready to move on to another poem or story. I feel the same way at public readings. As the audience softly murmurs admiration and claps politely, I want to holler and whoop, rise to my feet, pump the air and shout: “Wait a minute here! Please stop and let us all think about what you just read! This is magnificent.” And then turn about in a little dance.

Thus, you may understand how taking a year to read one or two book s of poetry suits me well. When I am not dawdling with poems, I devour mysteries, fiction, and spiritual/theological nonfiction. To be honest I am getting my fill of the spiritual/theological/what-should-we-do- about- the-church nonfiction, and plan to branch out into zombies and urban fantasy this year.

Here is one of the books of poetry I lived with last year: Mark S. Burrows’ translation of Rilke, Prayers of a Young Poet . I will share the other book with you in a later post.

orthodox monk

As the seasons of last year passed,  I looked over the shoulder of a young monk composing his prayers to the  Dark Mystery who courted him in his small cell. I watched his struggle for words to name the Unnameable, and for color and line to write an icon that might lift a corner of the curtain that covered his shy Beloved.

I followed the poet/monk into the forest and onto the ever expanding heath, as he entered into the secret intimacy of the One who would not let him go. I sat up with him late at night and tasted that ache of loneliness that borders solitude and finally becomes the gate which springs wide open onto union. The key to the gate is losing that pesky self, which seeks always to assert its primacy to grasp and to possess. I watched the monk’s continual surrender to and reverence for the holy beauty of his own weakness and deep need, where, wonder of wonders, the vast and luminous Dark Mystery makes its home.

It is true that half of what Rilke writes I do not understand, but neither do I understand God. Burrows beautiful translation of Rilke’s poems opened me to the passion and nakedness of soul of the young monk, which Rilke creates for us. The monk, smitten with what he cannot fully contain in his prayers, or comprehend, enlarged my appreciation of the ultimate hidden poverty  of God in the human soul.  I am more comfortable now with my own inscrutable self. And  I am more trusting of the exquisite beauty and uniqueness of God’s presence in the lives of those I counsel.

Here are some lines from the poems in this book I take with me into the new year:

But through it all rumors of God wander
in your dark blood as if along dark alleys.       p.73

Carry that that line around in your pocket for a week or two. Or  write the ones below on a scrap of paper and tuck it under your pillow:

He teaches you to say:
You my deeper sense
trust that I won’t disappoint You;
there’s so much clamoring in my blood –
but I know I am made of yearning.       p 74

And this from the young monk’s letter to his superior:

I live a pious life. I don’t call upon any court,
and my prayer with which I sometimes exalt myself and which I sometimes speak and sometimes live
is: “Make me simple
that I might become ever more whole in You.”  p. 101

In this new year may you be met by the the Mystery of Love in the alleys of your own dark blood.

We all are made of yearning
and the Yearning Itself is Holiness
aching for wholeness in us all.

   Oh, Great One, make me simple, make me little, make me small!                 

                                                                                                                          Loretta +

carthusian nus

 

For any who would like to read the latest issue of Holy Ground, here it is :Autumn 2014 – Let Go and Keep at It  It is about the ongoing task of the spiritual life: surrender. What do you need to let go of and leave behind in the new year?

Your gifts to the Sanctuary Fund and subscriptions to Holy Ground keep us going and are deeply appreciated. Thank you!

Singing Holy Songs in Strange Lands

  541696_by-the-waters-of-babylon

By the waters of Babylon there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?    Psalm 137

O God of Seeing, after we have swallowed the knowledge of good and evil and our eyes are opened, how can we sing your song? When the scales have dropped away, when the clay has been washed off, when we put on the soft garments of grace you made for us, we stumble dazzled by the light, hearts aching for home.

Wayfaring strangers, exiles, we wander here in these soft skins yearning for a better country. We had bit down and tasted, chewed and swallowed that fruit. Our eyes were opened and we had seen. We had witnessed something that we could not speak of, yet must tell. We really weren’t absolutely sure what it was we had seen, but we thought most of the time that it was God. It is true we asked for it, prayed for it – to see God and live, that is. Perhaps it would have been better to have died. Perhaps there are very good reasons why persons who see God rarely live to tell the tale.  For now how could we sing a song in this strange land – this earth where gravity weighed hearts to the soil; and mind lay flattened between the pages of time?

What happens if you do not sing? What happens if your eyes are blinded by the light, and it all unfolds before you? What happens if you know the Lord’s song by heart yet do not sing it? Does it rankle in your soul, turn sour, spoil and grow soft mossy mold? Does it take on a parasitic life of its own, feeding on your body, stealing your joy, eating up your hope?

______________________________________

 Diana, 32 years ago when you were born, they brought you with swollen eyelids, wrapped tight in the swaddling cloths for the first feeding.  When I put your mouth to me, you shuddered. For two days you shuddered as I held you, as one exposed to a chill or some horror. “Lambie pie,” I called you then.

It is too much for us. It is all too much for us. To have eaten what we have eaten. To have seen what we have seen. To know what we know. One day I prayed for hours and could only pray: “Yes, Yes, Yes. Yes there is light. Yes there is hope. Yes there is love.” Even though I felt none of it.

How do you sing a sacred song in a strange land? Maybe you just sing it. Maybe you don’t attempt to be understood. Maybe you just sing what is so, because it is so. For the song’s sake, for the singing’s sake. Could I sing for the song’s sake – for your sake, my sweet Lamb of God? Could I sing you a lullaby as you lie cradled next to my heart shuddering in your mortality?

Once, Diana, you brought me a gift. “This is a prayer stick, mom. I made it for you.” It was a large stick with flowers woven round the top. Could I let the stick pray for me? For I do not know how to pray aright. I lean the stick against the old trunk. “Pray stick,” I say. “Pray now.” I go off to other things, while the stick holds the offering pointing toward heaven. Dare I trust creation to pray for me, to bear my prayer? Here stone, pray. Here river, pray. Here moon, pray. Just by being what you are, a maple branch salvaged from last fall’s ice storm, wrapped round with pink petals, transformed by the touch of a child’s hand into something sacred.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? That is the question. For our hearts are heavy, and we, captive by this mortal flesh sit down and weep.

 

I believe that
always
in the face of Noes
the Song must begin with Yes -

yes
body
like
a tube
a culvert
carrying
the
earth’s
refuse
twigs
garbage
whines
knotted, clotted, congealed evil, wads of anguish, passing
through the yes into eternity, cleansed and free. The yes
like a filter, a rinse of spray. You can look at the sin or you
can look at God. If you look too long at the evil, you will
freeze
mesmerized
by it.
So head
on into
perfect
and
funnel
the defiled
to
the undefiled
by virtue
of
your
yes.

Not my will but thine.

 

Link to Sweet Honey By the Waters of Babylon

This post is excerpted from a chapter in my book, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are. Some of these phrases and images have been returning to me lately. As a culture, as a global society, as families, and as individuals we may find ourselves in various contexts of alienation, estrangement, or even captivity. This sense of dislocation and disorientation may be experienced both externally and internally.

Reflection Questions

Are there ways you feel like a stranger in a strange land, taken to a place you did not wish to go?
How do you express your grief?
How do you sing a holy song in alien places and times?
How do you consecrate and make holy the strange lands in the heart and in our world?
Of what does your song consist?

Together we plow the light.
So much love in my heart for all of you.
loretta

Prayer that Hurts

He lay slumped on her lap like a great heavy mail sack stuffed with the cards and letters of creation’s lovelorn. They spilled from him with the blood. “Save me. Heal me. Help me. Love me. Save me. Heal me. Help me. Love me.” Over and over the messages were the same. Some were written in the scraggly script of the old, some in the sprawling letters of the very young, some on the finest stationary. Others were on scraps of newspaper, prison walls, and sheets from hospital beds. Some were stamped out in the snow, and some were imprinted on faces, especially around the eyes and mouth. “Save me. Heal me. Help me. Love me.” http://theprayinglife.com/tag/pieta/

_____________________________
I felt a particular urgency and conviction as I was praying and writing the summer issue of Holy Ground, A Quarterly Reflection of the Contemplative Life. Restricted by a back injury and needing to rest as my body healed gave me time to focus on the needs of the world as the news broke on my iPad:
pockets of conflict throughout the world, atrocities
back to Iraq
another kid dead on a street in Missouri
Ebola virus striding across Africa, now penetrating our borders
melting ice sheets, rancorous election season
and on and on…
Lying there on the couch, I had little escape. What can I possibly do to stem this tide?
I hope you find some help and direction in ways to responding this unique and important period of history. It is no accident we have been born in this time.
Here is an except from one section of this issue on Intercessory prayer. ( You can read the entire issue here.  Holy Ground, Intercede, Part 2 – Summer 2014)

Prayer that hurts

If anyone claiming to be united to God is always in a state of peaceful beatitude, I simply do not believe in their union with God. Such a union, to my mind, involves great sorrow for the sin and pain of the world; a sense of identity not only with God, but also with all other souls, and a great longing to redeem and heal. St. Teresa of Avila

Vulnerable involvement with the broken world will expose our own wounds and need for forgiveness. If I pray for my enemy, I risk having my mind changed. To pray for others is to consent to experiencing the cross. It may be as simple as dying to my own desires for a particular outcome, or dying to my desire to do something other than to respond to someone’s need for prayer.

Intercessory prayer asks what good is my peace, my sense of well-being, when my sister is hurting? What good is my abundance, if it does not give me the freedom and strength to bring my faith and peace to someone else’s weakness and sorrow?

Sometimes intercessory prayer tends to be more a desperate act of love, than eloquence; a messy melodrama, than a polite request. It is as though the intercessor has one foot in the darkness and terror of human existence and the other in the beauty and joy of abundant life. The presence and being of the intercessor becomes a life line through which moves the power of God. To stand in the gap of another’s need without being pulled to one polarity or the other requires spiritual strength and maturity.

The formality and reticence of ecclesiastical prayer is utterly foreign to the Bible. Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, and indecorous. It is more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite monologues of churches. – Walter Wink, Methodist pastor and author

 

child in ghana praying

When I began this ministry of prayer, I did not have a clue as to what praying would mean. I took on too much. I felt too much. I was a child playing with fire. I carried other people’s pain. I became ill. There were periods when I strongly identified with Christ on the cross in ways I wondered if I was going crazy. Over time I learned what God was teaching me about suffering and redemption, vulnerability, and the presence of Christ in our lives.

Some people do suffer in prayer for others. Saint Therese of Lisieux saw this as her vocation as a Carmelite nun. 18th century Presbyterian missionary, David Brainerd wrote: “God enabled me to agonize in prayer. My soul was drawn out very much for the world. I grasped for a multitude of souls.”

Evelyn Underhill notes, “As the personality of the saints grew in strength and expanded in adoration so they were drawn on to heroic wrestling for souls..Real saints do feel and fear the weight of the sins and pains of the world. It is the human soul’s greatest privilege that we can thus accept redemptive suffering for another.”

I believe we all suffer for one another within the larger mystery of Christ’s suffering. However I also believe Walter Wink’s caution:  “We must not try to bear the suffering of creation ourselves…We can only give it expression and let the groaning pass through us to God. Only the heart of God can endure such suffering. Our attempts to bear them are masochistic, falsely messianic, and finally idolatrous.”

We have limits. We need to know the difference between suffering with another at God’s invitation and when it is merely tragic and spiritualized self-abuse. There is a difference between prayer and acts which are codependent, manipulative, ego driven meddling, and prayer and acts which are life-giving. Knowing when to back off, what is truly my concern, how to protect myself with clear boundaries, and when one’s work is finished comes with experience.

Teach-Girls-End-World-Poverty

It is difficult to open your heart and mind to the raw suffering before you and remain there steadfast and watching in someone else’s Gethsemane. Yet to wait in faith and hope at the foot of your neighbor’s cross is one of the most healing acts we can offer one another. This is because here in the darkness at the end of the road is where divine action meets human limitation and leaps from heart to heart.

Maybe you light a candle, say the rosary, ask others to pray with you. Maybe you go outside and spread yourself over the ground and let all the sorrow and pain drain out of you into Mother Earth. You might pound on the table or the wall. You might shout to the heavens, “Do something! Be merciful! Be God for us.” You reach out, call a friend or a hotline, write a letter, or paint a picture of the great groaning earth crying for mercy. One way or another we each funnel a piece of the anguish of this broken world through our being to the One we believe can help.

Your prayer does not have to sound beautiful. It just needs to be honest. Carry what you have been blessed to bear over the terrain of your day into the heart of God.

Pretty soon your life will be etched with little channels running between the ocean of suffering in this world and the endless mercy of God.

Read entire issue here:  Holy Ground, Intercede, Part 2 – Summer 2014

To receive your issue 4 times a year in mail or electronic version, please subscribe here:
http://shop.fromholyground.org/Publications_c2.htm

 

Irony and Bliss

 

TrinityIcon

On Trinity Sunday I arrived early at First Congregational Church, a block from where I live, and settled into my pew to contemplate the glory of the Holy Trinity. Yes, I know, who does such a thing? But the Trinity is something I can actually get carried away by. Before I left for church I read the beautiful prayer to the Trinity by Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. Her prayer begins with these words,  O my God, Trinity whom I adore; help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in You as still and as peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity.(You can find her prayer below. Be careful, if you read it, though. It is pretty hot stuff for Protestant non mystical types.)

First Congregational United Church of Christ is a denomination, whose Reformed roots I share, and I feel gratitude for.  United Church of Christ folks hired me,  a young Presbyterian minister, fresh out of seminary, and pregnant to boot, to be interim pastor of one of their churches here in Topeka, Seaman Congregational Church. That baby she was carrying, whose footprint you can still see in the sidewalk behind the church, turned 32 last month.

Sheep

As my imagination was roaming around the abyss of God’s greatness with Elizabeth, the good Rev.Tobais Schlingensiepen was moving about the sanctuary checking on his sheep as they arrived.  He passed along the rows in his robe, sleeves billowing, shaking hands, and patting shoulders like a benediction. No skinny jeans and sport coat for this pastor. Nor was he busy checking his twitter feed.  He spoke to the sheep by name, asked questions, looked for nettles, matted coats, signs of infection, injury, illness.  Had any wolves slipped into the fold over night? Were the pregnant ewes eating well? The lambs coming along okay? He checked the weather and the flock’s energy. What do they need from him today? Is what he has planned on track with what he is seeing this morning?

Arriving at my row, he reached to shake my hand. “Hi, how are you today?”

I responded with something like, “Splendid, just fabulous,” all smiles. (Because I really was in that high dazed state of the fullness of love for God that comes upon me sometimes.)

He smiled, looked in my eyes. And asked again, “How are you…,” leaning in a bit more, waiting. He knows how sheep lie.

“I am great!” a little embarrassed by my own high spirits. “Sometimes I feel people shouldn’t be this blessed.”

“I just wanted to be sure you were not being ironic. People use irony so much.”

Let’s take a moment to let this sink in. Is this the world, the church, we find ourselves in? A place where bliss and ecstasy are so rare that they may be mistaken for irony?  Or has irony, that sarcastic twist of reality into its opposite, created a world of smoke and mirrors, where what one says rarely matches with what one means?

Without irony the psalmist shouts, “I was glad when they said, ‘Let us go into the House of the Holy One!’ I among many others have carried a  heavy heart with little or no joy into the house of the Lord on some occasions. And on those days I also know how very much it matters that someone notices, shows concern, and checks for any irony in my voice.

Yet are really happy sheep, saturated with love and joy, rare? I do not think so.

“The kingdom of heaven will come when men and women are willing to be penetrated by bliss.”

Years ago in a very unhappy season of my life I read these words by poet and potter, M.C. Richards.   Richards’ words opened my eyes to my own freedom and responsibility for the joy in my life. I knew deep down that her words were true, absolutely, and I have been wriggling my way into such a reality ever since. I believe that joy awaits us and is ours by virtue of our willingness to open the door, receive it, and to offer that willingness on the altar of the messes in our lives and this world.

Meninger mic

The Sunday before I went to First Congregational Church, I was on retreat listening to Father William Meninger, a Trappist Monk, and one of the leading voices in the conversation on Christian contemplative prayer. We had gathered at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. Meninger is now 81, and an unfettered, jubilant soul, if I ever saw one.

He began the retreat and introduced himself with the Buddhist saying, The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon. Meninger said the way (method, creed, practices, and means of revelation) to God is not God. The way (your way, my way, the Presbyterian way, the bumblebee’s way) is a finger pointing beyond itself toward ultimate Truth.

Meninger might have been channeling the German theologian, Karl Barth, who said that the Bible is a whole gathering of people pointing up at the sky. The Bible is not God; it points us in the direction of God. The particular mode through which God reveals divinity is less than the reality to which it gestures toward. For God is always beyond any particular description, form or conception of God, which we can reduce, carry around in our minds, and try to shove down somebody’s throat as The Way.

Speaking of contemplative practice in the church Menninger addressed the group of 140 lay people, nuns, pastors, and priests from a wide variety of Christian faith traditions, including Assembly of God and Evangelicals. The group included one or two young people under thirty. Meninger is quite clear that contemplative practice arrives for most people in the second half of life and did not gnash his teeth over the lack of young people in attendance at the retreat. “They are not ready yet. They have other things to do first.”

But he refuses to let us off the hook when he says, “Our churches today take their people to the door, but we hold them back. We don’t lead them into the silences.”

At First Congregational we had some silent time.  The worship leader took us to the door and gave us some time to check it out. The bulletin said:  Silence (30 seconds). I would have liked 30 minutes, but I figured that was all that the sheep here could tolerate; and that it helped them to see a time limit in print; and that, further, this silence thing was not going to go on and on and leave them sitting there stewing in their own juices forever.

I think Meninger is right. We do take people right up to the door to the deeper mystery and beauty of God, but we stop short. I see this often. Why is that? I wonder – failure of nerve and lack of faith, or maybe because some pastors do not spend much time on the other side of the door – simply surrendered to Christ in love, being in union with all there is – and want to get through the next point of the sermon and the sheep home before noon.

Old Woman Praying (Prayer without End) Nicholas Maes

Our problem is not that the sheep have never crossed over to the silences. You know how sheep are. They will poke their noses anywhere. They know and have experienced union with God, that shimmering silence and peace which rises up in their hearts, but they will call it something else. Day dreaming, sitting on the deck, holding their grandchildren, looking at a sunset… We all have moments where words fail, time stops, and a moment brims over with beauty and joy.

What the church may fail to do is give us time, space, and permission to savor, taste, swallow, and deeply enjoy these moments and value them as holy. Instead we get anxious, feel we are wasting time, need to stick with the agenda, or are being lazy. We worship the relentless, mean, crushing, 24/7 gods of consumerism and production instead of the endlessly abundant, overflowing goodness of the Trinity. As neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson writes, we have a serious problem in our brains and in our culture with our ability to take in, soak in, and absorb the good in this world which is constantly pouring itself out upon us.

On Trinity Sunday the Holy Spirit at First Congregational kept opening the door and I am sure quite a few of us there that morning went over the threshold to  communion with the Trinity.

The sublime guitar and violin duet did it for me.

Pastor Tobias did it too.He swung a door wide open in his thoughtful probing of the creation story in Genesis 1 as he invited questions and observations from his flock. He gave us some history and asked us to see beyond the story to the minds that told this story and found incredible hope in it in a time of their captivity. In this poetic account of the beginnings of things we find a God who stands outside, beyond the fingers of time, space, creation, and history. Here is a God who is sovereign over all that I can possibly imagine and not subject to anything that has been made or thought by the creation. Here was a God who was more than my little piece of history and present suffering who had made a world that is good, surely a God worthy of my hope.  Such a wide open door inspires a long silence, a bent knee, and a prolonged dwelling in the wonder of this God.

So I say, be bold in leading ourselves and others into the silences! Encourage ourselves to take more than a tentative sniff.  Take us gently by the scruff of our necks and say, “Come on, try it. I will go with you.”

Holiness likes to camp out in those nooks and crannies of time and space, for which we tend to have such disdain. We even call them “dead spaces.” Look again. Such unscripted moments are empty tombs resonant with the echoes of a risen God and the swift beat of wings.

Go ahead. Take a chance on bliss.

 

More about fingers and the moon

More about William Meninger

Elizabeth’s Prayer

Note to Topeka Area Readers
Father Meninger is interested in offering a retreat in Topeka next year.  Any persons interested in helping to make that happen please comment or contact me. lross@fromholyground.org

 

 

Barefoot

“Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals,
for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3: 5

 

The flap of skin hung limply as blood spilled from my big toe. I was always stubbing my toes, but that did not stop me from going barefoot. All summer long my feet, painted Mercurochrome orange , were recovering from some new assault. I stopped my play long enough to howl and go inside for a band aid, which soon fell off and turned up later in the sandbox or on the kitchen floor.

I went everywhere barefoot. Rides in the car with the ribbed, rubber mats on the floor and to the A & P, where the linoleum was slick and a little sticky. My feet loved the smooth oiled wooden floor in the Dime Store, where you could watch the cashews riding a little merry go round under a heat lamp and buy them warm and salty. I sprinted over the hot blacktop parking lot to place my order for a chocolate dipped cone at the Dairy Queen. Creeping over sharp edged dirt clods in the garden, while crying, Ouch, ouch, ouch!”; quick little steps over the sharp gravel in the alley;  sprinting and sliding across the playground through dew drenched grass, I gathered information about the world through the soles of my feet.

I used my bare feet to climb up the playground slide, perch on the jungle gym, and entertain my friends by picking up pencils with my toes.  At Mrs. Wendel’s house next door, I sat on her  kitchen chair waving my feet and spreading my toes in the air as I ate the world’s best cookies. I found Nancy Drew mysteries at the public library with its cool polished floors and lovely smell of books. In winter I toasted my tootsies over the oil furnace grate in our dining room. Summers I challenged my brother to contests over who could hold his bare foot on an ice cube the longest.

Out at Grandpa’s in the country, I stepped carefully around chicken droppings. I hated the slimy feel of the stuff between my toes. I dug my feet down in warm beach sand, kicked up the soft talcum puff of dirt roads, splashed in creeks, slipped on mossy rocks, and screamed to discover that the strips of gooey mud clinging to my feet turned out to be leeches.

In the timeless land of a child’s summer,  I headed out each day, banging my feet against uneven sidewalk, where tree roots heaved and broke concrete into toe traps for children and the elderly. I caught my toes on furniture, had them run over with tricycles, wheel barrows and stomped on by my brother. (He will deny this.) My feet were acquainted with the occasional sickening goo of dog manure and the large disgusting toad, who liked to take a snooze in the cool of the evening just outside the back door. I checked the bottom of my foot for warts for weeks after the two of us collided and the toad lurched out from under my foot into the darkness.

Mercurochrome

Other hazards included stickers, splinters, bee stings, broken glass, and the ultimate horror of my mother: a rusty nail. The Rusty Nail loomed nearly as dangerous as polio or a communist in my childhood.  Once, running across a dock to leap in the lake, I caught a dock cleat between two toes. I played and swam all day. In the evening mom took me to Doc Jackson’s office where he cleaned out the debris between my toes and gave me a shot.

I even fought with my feet. My brother and I staged what we called feet-foot battles on the couch in the living room. The game was that we were trapped on a cliff with a thousand foot drop off and had enough food for only one of us to live for a year. We also had broken our arms in this scenario, so we had to fight for our survival with our feet and kick the other off the cliff/couch into certain death.

When a trip required shoes, I usually couldn’t find them. I remember when mom finally put her properly shod foot down.

“Put your shoes on! You can’t go uptown barefoot.”

“Why not, Mom?”

“Because old men spit on the sidewalks.”

That news gave me pause. Uptown there were no signs that said No shoes. No shirts. No service. I liked the signs with dripping blue icicles and the invitation, Come in. It’s cool inside! It would not be until after I had left home that my parents had air conditioning. Until her death a few years ago, my mother’s idea of a special treat was still going out somewhere for a “cool drink,” which meant lemonade or  Seven Up and air conditioning.

Today arthritis has crippled the joint of one of my toes. Something called Morton’s neuroma led  to the purchase of orthotic insoles. One toenail has decided to grow like a ram’s horn, partly due to injury and genetics. My mother had one of these toes too. Yet I still walk around the house and yard barefoot as much as possible and catch my toes on furniture.

 

I don’t know if my distaste for shoes has anything to do with my love for God, though the Holy One does seem to have a preference for a bare foot. When God told Moses to remove his sandals before the burning bush, God did not say take off your hat or your cloak or your tunic. Removing shoes is a sign of respect in many faiths. Perhaps God is asking us here to put nothing between our naked selves and the holy ground of God’s being.  No pricy Manolo, Gucci, or Louis Vuitton’s, but rather, the simple and sometimes stinky vulnerability of a bare foot is what pleases the Lord.

We can pick up an amazing amount of information through the soles of our feet. They also hold countless memories.  Maybe buried in our DNA is a holiness sensing device, which only works when we take off our shoes. I have attended church services where the custom was for people to leave their shoes at the entrance to the Sanctuary.  They worshiped together barefoot. There was something so dear and, at the same time, profound in seeing all those shoes lined up in neat rows at the door with people sitting around or kneeling with their little piggies hanging out.

Holiness demands honesty and simplicity. Pretense, denial, deceit, and anything I might put on to cover up the truth of my own weakness, shame, or deep need must be removed, as we move closer to holiness. There are so many things we can put between ourselves and direct contact with the holiness of God on this good earth. God’s partiality for a bare foot over a resume wipes away any illusions that my worth is related to my bank account, or accomplishments. Maybe God is only a sucker for a well turned ankle, but I think it is our childlike, barefoot vulnerability and humility which God can’t resist.

I miss those barefoot days. I think I was closer to something essential, earthy and real. I want to spend less time walking back and forth in sensible shoes in the ivory tower of my head, and more time trodding the messy ecstasy of the naked sole.

God of the Bare Foot,
help me this day to take off
whatever I try to put on
between myself
and your wondrous love.

 

This is a revised version of a blog previously posted 7.26.2010

Special Note 
for Topeka, Kansas Area Readers

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Topeka area residents, watch for a fun way to support local charities, including The Sanctuary Foundation. Save this date: June 3, 7:00 am – 6:00 pm, at  Fairlawn Mall. 

On that day your gift to The Sanctuary Foundation fund will be increased by a pro-rated match gift from The Topeka Community Foundation. Watch for more details on how to stretch your dollars in supporting the wonderful work being done in Topeka.

  • We are looking for helpers to sit at our booth for an half hour or so to share with people why The Sanctuary is important to you.
  • We also  need comments from those we serve about what The Sanctuary means to you, how we may have made a difference in your life, stories, anecdotes, etc to help us let others learn more about us. You can comment here, or at our website , on our Facebook page,  by emailing us at lross@fromholyground.org.

Thanks to all your help over the past twenty five years
we are still going strong!

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