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

TCF Topeka Gives logo final

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!

anniversarylogo

Thomas’ Lament

Guercino_-_Doubting_Thomas_hand

Well it’s finished
I w
ould have to go all out
purge myself of doubt
hold on till the final hour
push for verification
of the one veritable transitory power*
to seal what happened
what was and is and ever more shall be
with the indisputable fact,
the terminating stamp,
of my own story.

Why not take their word?
I trusted them enough.
We saw him risen in the light!
Our own eyes feasted on the sight!

Where was I then
delayed in darkness
caught in traffic
held up by bandits
lost down blind alleys?

And when I arrived,
he had come and gone
the meeting was adjourned.
Was it so wrong to have yearned
to know for myself,
not only to have heard,
of what glory they were so assured?

How could he come when I was gone
and leave me, coming,
to be slapped with that second hand joy?

I did not know how he had spared me
how my delay was grace.
So I choking, sputtered
strutted through their glee:
Not me.
Not me.
I shall not believe what I cannot see!

Then you came back.

What were we doing then
eating lunch
talking about the Cubs
debating the umpire’s call?

You came back
or forward
or was it we who moved?

You came and went
climbing out of centuries
striding through solid wall
and stood once more before us all.

“Here, here,” you said
and slipped my hand
into your side pocket
wrapping me with your anguish.

The room spun round.
My skin turned inside out
and my soul’s raw quick
swaddled in the mitten of your wound
chafed next to your rib.

I shrunk
till I was no bigger
than a speck
upon your shoe.

I had loved you
of that I had no doubt.
But your gaping spaces opened my ears
to the triumph shout
of life’s Word
and seared me,
sealed me with the sight
of what till then I had only heard:
that you loved me before I ever knew
that you came back all torn
and maimed for me to see
that I would see
you love me too.

So now I sit
unable to pretend I never wore
the ring of your palm round my finger,
unable to deny
we have been wedded by your pain,
unable to forget
the moist seam of your wound
and the intimacy
in asking me to touch you there.

Unable to swill in perplexity
to feign ignorance
to sulk amidst the heart’s strivings
or fume when things go all awry,
for that which I had heard
which I saw with my eye
which I looked upon
and touched with my own hand
that which has completed my joy
has completed me.

And I am finished,
through
for now, my dearest, dearest love,
there is only you.

Guercino_-_Doubting_Thomas_-_WGA10951

____________________

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  John 15: 9-12

*the one veritable transitory power, from T.S. Eliot’s, Ash Wednesday

Special Note
for Topeka, Kansas Area Readers

TCF Topeka Gives logo final

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!

anniversarylogo

 

Practice, Prayer, and Peanut Butter

 

Genesis129bread1

Food for Life

For breakfast I always have toast (crispy) with peanut butter (crunchy), a good shake of cinnamon, and honey, smeared liberally to make a nice gooey mess. I cut my toast into four squares on a small white plate. I eat it slowly with my coffee, licking my fingers and (if nobody else is around) wiping up the drips of honey and peanut butter on the plate with my tongue.  And I always use Food for Life’s Genesis bread. You know, the expensive funky frozen bread in the organic food section made of nuts, sprouts, roots, berries, sticks, and pebbles from around the world.

Like you, I am a creature of habit. Our habits shape and form our character, lifestyle, health, skills, talents, beliefs, and the kind of people we become.

Because of my breakfast habit, I look for good buys on chunky peanut butter and local honey. I will use gas to drive across town to get it. I read the articles about the decline of bees and the sweeping implications of the decline for agriculture, not to mention my daily portion of honey. I often carry my own breakfast supplies when I travel. And when Food for Life stopped making Genesis bread, I suffered. I saw how my little habit might be verging on an addiction.

Our lives are filled with dozens of similar habits, as well as habits of thought, emotional responses, eating, sleeping, exercise, etc. As these are repeated over and over some of these practices affect many other areas of our lives in negative and positive ways. Our personal habits affect our relationships with others, the environment, and the whole planet.

What habits have you formed in relation to your spiritual life? What do you practice over and over, like a musician, a dancer, a surgeon, or a woodworker? What do you return to daily, each time learning more, honing your craft? Some days there may be struggle and one seems to be losing ground. Other days you are met with an incredible ease and joy in your practice. Over time, years and years of practice, you find yourself maturing, deepening, and knowing more and more of the ways of God. You will begin to recognize the contours of grace, the lessons of humility, and the deep, endless sea of love.

Whatever you choose to call it –becoming like Christ, following Jesus, being a disciple, union with God, transformation, healing, or growth – relationship with God requires awareness and intentionality,  or in other words:  practice. Deep faith is given through a continual returning to the Source, the Living Water. Daily, year after year, we go back, we kneel down, sit down and place – not our skill as practitioners, or our religious credentials – but our naked need, vulnerability, and longing on the altar of our lives. Here we open our whole being to the infinite One. Through this surrender we are formed and reformed into the likeness of God.

You will find here below a link to the latest of issue of Holy Ground. It is about the practice of prayer and why it is so important to keep at it, to keep praying and learning. Our shallow culture of sound bites, video clips, and surface relationships does not nourish the deep places of our lives, nor does it help us develop the wisdom and depth of understanding our world is crying out for. The peace we are seeking for ourselves and our world, which is writhing in pain, is waiting for us within us. Seek that peace within. Cultivate it. Nurture it. Practice it. And you will become peace for those around you.

This

this simple, humble, solitary, daily
communion of your soul
with the Transcendent power of Holiness

is how the kingdom comes.

 

Read the issue of Holy Ground about Prayer and Practice: Holy Ground Winter 2014

Make a one time charitable donation to The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer

Subscribe to either the print or e-version of Holy Ground for $35.

 Special Notice for Topeka Area Readers!

1d85d0ee-89a5-4445-908a-0e86a93bdfbf

I will be reading poetry with Leah Sewell from 5:30 to 7:30 this Friday, April 4, at Warehouse 414 at 414 SE 2nd St in Topeka.  Come on downtown for a feast of poetry, good conversation, and April fun. Leah is an award winning poet. We would love to see you there.

To learn more: Downtown Poetry Crawl

 poet

Leaning into Lent and Dancing All the Way

Photo by Sheila Creighton Imagery of Lighthttp://imageryoflight.wordpress.com/

Photo by Sheila Creighton
Imagery of Light

Epiphany has drawn to a close and now we are leaning into lent, a word, which originally meant spring and referred to lengthening days. Most of us are weary of this harsh winter. Before we turn to lent, here is a final word from Epiphany, not unlike the long goodbye we are getting from winter this year.

One of the reasons I love Epiphany is because the word, epiphany, is euphonious, which means pleasant to the ear and fun to say aloud. Epiphany sounds like a soft whisper or a rabbit sneezing. There are qualities of this waning liturgical season, which offer good preparation for Ash Wednesday and the journey to the cross.

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart for They Shall See God

Epiphany
generous span in midwinter,
the season of showings,
promises to the swift and clear-eyed
no less than a glimpse of Divinity
high tailing round the corners of our lives.

Now that the trees and earth are bare,
the God we hunger for will dance naked
for those bold enough to believe
in incarnation.

God will dance wild
and free over the frozen land,
while we shiver in our veils
longing to see with faces
bare of illusion
bare of pretense
bare of guile
aching to see
with hearts stripped and clean,
as the maple whose slim limbs slice space
in great chaste swaths,
ordering emptiness,
chalking off a place on the floor of heaven
for God to trip the light fantastic
and leave us all blinded
by a graceful shimmy
rubbing our eyes, amazed.

Oh dancing God
create in us clean hearts
pure hearts
hearts scoured
slick and smooth
as a copper pot
that we may not miss one grande jeté
that we may see
Thee.

Twenty five ago I published the first issue of Holy Ground – A Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life. Back then we called it Making Haqqodesh (Hebrew for the holy ground), I had just established The Sanctuary and thought a newsletter would be helpful as a way to stay in touch with the group of people supporting this new venture in ministry. I wrote the poem above for the front page of that issue. During this year, as we celebrate our 25th Anniversary, I will post excerpts from some of those early issues of Holy Ground from time to time

Here is a bit more from the first issue:

Our deep hunger for God calls out, hollows out, spaces in our hearts, in our lives, and in creation for a sacred meeting with the One who made us and is making us. Our willingness to go down into the emptiness and the out of the way places on the far side of the wilderness thrusts us and our need before burning bushes, where we behold our God and receive our mission.

One of our board members, Catherine Jantsch Butel offered this definition of holy ground:

Holy ground is that burning reality which can only be apprehended – which breaks into really – the present moment (mine or another’s) and which, surprisingly, disorders, reorders, rearranges, resynthesizes all my previous arrangement of Reality.

In twenty five years I have never come across a better definition.

In those early years before the resurgence of interest in spirituality, before the establishment of hundreds of training programs and curriculum in spiritual formation and spiritual guidance, and before the internet I had few models for the kind of ministry I wanted to do and faced many doubts. Yet I always found encouragement and support. Here are a few memories:

Riding across the Kansas prairie with a friend who was also a minister, who after listening to me hem and haw for sixty miles, blurted out, “Loretta, what is it going to take for you to decide that God is calling you to do this?”
Then she handed me a check for fifty dollars.

Preparing for the first gathering of Evening Prayers held in our dining room in my home, I nervously asked my friend, Cathy, “Do you think I am just being crazy?” Cathy looked me in the eyes and said, “No. Loretta, you are not being crazy. You are just being obedient.”

I also encountered warning. A priest asked, “How do you handle failure? These places always fail you know.” I was reminded that to be faithful to the gospel, the Sanctuary must stand in opposition to the world and that holy ground is conceived through the cross of suffering and surrendered love.

Murray Rogers, Episcopal priest and founder of contemplative communities in India and Hong Kong told me, “I am very suspicious of spiritual manipulation. These things take time, you know. You can’t hurry holiness.” He counseled trusting the Spirit, simplicity, and waiting for doors to open.

As you prepare your hearts for lent, what do you need for the journey ahead? The words of counsel I was given twenty five years ago offer me a useful guide for what to carry with me this lent. These are my prayer for your journey:

• An honest friend who will help you discern God’s will for you and offer tangible support.

• Obedience to God regardless of what others might think of you.

• Acceptance of failure and suffering as part of the journey of transformation.

• Simplicity and patient trust in God.

• And a pure heart, a heart scoured slick and smooth as a copper pot, that you may follow your dancing Lord all the way to Easter morning!

May this season offer you richness, astonishment, and a few graceful shimmies, as Christ transforms you from one degree of glory to another.

 

ballet slippers2

Help us celebrate Twenty Five years! Check out our new website, The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer Let us know what you think. What would help you in deepening your faith and peace? How we can improve and best serve you for the next twenty five years?

Well,  maybe not twenty five, but so far I have had no signs from God to stop this foolishness.

Winter Gifts

Eli in the snow

My soul shall be filled as with a banquet.
– Psalm 63: 2-9

At dawn my sleepy lab whines softly. I rise and let him out to sniff his boundaries and empty his bladder. A few minutes later he pounces on the door. Eyes glinting light, he shakes off the blanket of snow on his back. Then lifting one front leg after the other, he prances in the kitchen, pulls a dish towel off the counter and waves it toward me. The toaster, jar of peanut butter, and humming refrigerator sparkle like icicles in the sun.

IMG_0136

I love winter – all of it – grey dishwater skies, wind rattling the siding on the house, cold, ice, blizzards, early sunsets, long nights, and dogs ploughing glad furrows in the snow.

I love that winter is a force I cannot control, but only yield to with humility and respect.

I love winter’s summons to gather up the scattered pieces of myself, burrow down deeply, and simmer in darkness, drawing strength for spring.

I love having to wait and trust in what is unknown and unseen.

Winter grows gratitude in my heart for the privilege of shelter, warmth, running water, and the freedom to stay home. Winter also blooms with compassion and sends me out to help those for whom winter is not some cozy spiritual experience.

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Winter spirituality is a less-is-more Holiness of pared down praise. Winter speaks in koans and says, “Behold the fullness of this emptiness!” Now excess in prayer and lifestyle seem gauche and redundant in a world, stripped down to its bare essentials – all bones and angles, holding out its harsh, nonnegotiable truths.

I had had enough of winter thirty five years ago, when I pulled out of my drive in Kalamazoo, Michigan and headed south to Kentucky. I had spent the previous thirty three years of my life in Michigan and Iowa. I am not sure why I am so hungry for ice and snow now.

Hermitage winter

In contrast to the world of humans with our getting and spending, the natural world never tries to impress or persuade me of its opinion. It has nothing to market. It simply is in its implacability, given over to being what it is – a dead maple limb in my front lawn after the storm, a dried tomato vine, a fox checking the garbage can, a rabbit without regret or apology leaving tracks in the snow.

What is implacable about me, unchanging, or nonnegotiable? I wonder. I am a hermit at heart and welcome snow days. I love people and I love being with people. And love for them burns in me like a furnace and pours out molten in my prayers.

And there is this other love – a love of absence, silence, solitude, simplicity – a winter of the soul, where I sit down to a great feast so satisfying that I need nothing else.

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Manure and a Praying Life

Note to Praying Life Readers:

If you are a subscriber to Holy Ground Quarterly Reflection on  Contemplation  or support the The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer you already have received in your mail the letter posted here. A mistake was made by the printer on the envelope enclosed for you to mail in your gifts. The wrong address is printed on that envelope. The printer is sending a postcard to you with the correct address. We have contacted the post office about this error. If you have already sent the incorrectly addressed envelope, please let us know by email or phone lross@fromholyground.org . We will let you know when it makes its way to the correct address: 1600 SW Campbell Ave, Topeka, KS 66604.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. As for the printer, he is deeply repentant and will be forgiven shortly. I figure another twenty-four hours and God’s grace will have overcome my anxious fretting. Besides a wise person told me when I began this ministry, “Your mistakes and failures are like manure for God’s garden in your soul.” I am anticipating a bumper crop in 2014! 

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The Sanctuary Is Celebrating 25 Years !

It all began with a resounding NO. Twenty seven years ago I applied for a church position as head of staff.  Few, if any women were heads of staff anywhere in those years. Still I held out hope, even though I was warned. The clerk of the Presbytery told his wife (who told me), “She doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting that job. And besides, it would kill her creativity.”

When the phone call came and the caller broke the bad news, I wept and stomped my foot. My daughters, who were outside playing, began pounding on the door. Dashing inside, breathless and red-cheeked, they shouted, “Mom. Mom! The wind is blowing. It’s blowing hard. Blowing all over the place. We need something to catch the wind with!”

Laughing in spite of my tears, I reached under the sink and pulled out a couple of big black trash bags. The girls ran back outside. I stood at the door, watching them race up and down the yard with the bags billowing behind them, catching the wind. Their wild exuberance and thrill in the blustery Kansas day, swept away my tears and anger. I felt rinsed clean and surprisingly reoriented.

It would be a while before I fully understood what God was up to in that heartbreaking no. Slowly I began to dare what seemed impossible: to pursue a ministry, which focused on the spiritual lives of people and prayer. As I began to say yes to this deep desire, door after door swung open. At some points I almost wished someone would say no, for I had little idea how to actually accomplish it.

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A ministry of prayer, which included a lifestyle of prayerful solitude, as well as organizational structure, as I envisioned it, was so removed from my denomination’s understanding of what pastors do. There were no models within my tradition. There was no provision for salary, pension, or manuals on how to do this “decently and in order.” I had only something I sensed was missing from many churches – something I and others hungered for – and the will to somehow supply some of these missing pieces.

The work has been challenging. I made mistakes. The Spirit has refined my motives and fine-tuned my sense of what I am to do, and is still challenging me to grow.

I have been immensely blessed. After twenty-five years of listening to people’s stories of their faith, it is still miraculous and thrilling to watch the wind of the Spirit of God at work in an individual soul. I see how personal transformation radiates out into the world, initiating family and community change.

Through the years God has been faithful. Needs are provided for and inspiration given.  You have been faithful too. Once when I was about to give up, one of you who had come for a visit to the hermitage said, “I have faith in you. I believe you can do this.” I have never forgotten those words of encouragement.

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You are why The Sanctuary exists. Your desire to deepen your faith, willingness to struggle with difficult issues, to pray and nurture yourself for service to your church, community, and the world has summoned this little “Roadside Fruit Stand,” as one of our board members called it.

You are also the how of The Sanctuary, for we are nothing without you – a far-flung community of varied faith expressions, people of compassion, wisdom, and love. You provide accountability for this ministry, a community, and a covering of prayer, as you teach us what you need and how to better serve you. You spread the news of this Fruit Stand out here in Kansas through your friends and contacts. Your subscriptions and generous gifts make this possible.  Thank you so very much!

As we celebrate 25 years in the coming year, we have some surprises and good things to share with you. Watch for a new website coming soon. Meet some new board members. Get the inside news on the progress of Loretta’s new book, Account for the Hope. Keep up with us on Facebook and our blog, The Praying Life, Pinterest, and Twitter.

We remind you to renew your subscription as it comes due. (The date of your subscription expiration is on your address label in the upper right hand corner. ) And please donate to The Sanctuary Fund. Your subscription fee allows us to break even on publishing costs. Additional gifts to The Sanctuary Fund enable us to maintain our web presence, offer spiritual direction at reduced rates for those of limited means, pay for business operations, and keep this roadside Fruit Stand open.

If you have questions  about your donation or subscription, let us know. And please keep sharing your feedback, ideas, and comments on how we can best serve you. You can phone us at 785-354-7122 or email at lross@fromholyground.org. We always love to chat with those we serve.

The wind is blowing here in Kansas today. Dried leaves rattle as they tumble down my street. The maple shakes out her falling locks, shedding what is no longer useful, and waves her dark branches to an approaching winter storm. To begin this celebration I am going to reach under the sink, pull out some trash bags, and go catch some wind. Will you join me?

Yours, chasing after the Holy Spirit with love and gratitude,

Loretta F. Ross

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5: 22-23

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