Category Archives: Epiphany

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.

Re-tired: Embracing the Call to Solitude

I need to be still for a while.

I need to savor and integrate a month of bounty, a year of gratitude.

I need to listen long

to the captivating resonance of relationships,

that singing bowl of community.

A Japanese rin marks the beginning of moments ...

I recently made a big change in my life and how I will spend my hours in the coming years. I retired. When I hear this word, retire, I see myself driving my car over to the repair shop and saying, “Hoist me up, Mike, and put on some Michelin Pilot Sport Pluses all around this dune buggy. I need something sturdy that will hold me to the road in all weather. Mike, my man, I got places to go and things to see.”


As the old year closed I said goodbye to a community I served for over twelve years and began my retirement from traditional parish ministry. The Sanctuary Foundation, which I founded over twenty years ago, will continue. In the coming year I will offer spiritual guidance, teach a little, and finish a new book.


Most importantly, I will practice what I have preached. I will allow the stillness to feed the hunger of my heart, and offer my life with greater integrity to what I feel most deeply called and what the church, regardless of all its good intentions, seems least able to support.


Mind you, I do not leave parish ministry burned out, beaten down, or resentful as some do. This may be because I worked part-time. I also did not carry the same responsibility, which a head of staff carries. And I continued my long established practice of taking a day a week for solitude and prayer through those twelve years. Besides, even though they work hard and balance multiple tasks and responsibilities, clergy continue to show statistically that they are among the happiest professionals. 


I continue to believe in the church, which is to say, that I believe in the wonder of people stepping out of their daily lives to come together to sing, and to lift their hearts and minds to something beyond their own manipulation and control. I believe in the miracle of people, who seek to love, forgive, and work together in spite of their differences. I believe in the Power that inspires their faith and surrender to One kinder and wiser than they. I believe in the Grace which meets us in vulnerability, admitting failures, and in opening our lives to the scrutiny of a loving God. I believe in the Compassion that leads people to acts of justice and mercy and the Love that empowers them to lay down their lives for each other.


In this sense church is a singular, unique mystery, which has grasped the human species. It startles the wits out of me every time I walk into or stumble upon such church in one of its many manifestations.


To leave parish ministry and my particular community of faith felt like parts of my heart were being pulled out by the roots. So deep was the love we shared and the goodness of God in our midst.


So why leave? Over the past thirty years of my service to the church I have found the traditional forms of ministry, as much as I have loved the work, have always seemed to require a compromise of what I hold most deeply – a life lived prayerfully, mindfully, steeped in the substance of the living God. Too often the church seemed to ask me to live more of the world, than in the world. The church, like each of us, is deeply influenced and captive to the values, practices, and gods of a secular culture. I find it very difficult to stand against that tide of endless production, pragmatism, and focus on self and survival.


Instead of becoming of the world, Paul calls the church to a transformation of its mind, its self understanding as it exists in the world.

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12: 2 The Message

I never fit in. My personal tension with the church is not because the church has failed. It is a because I am a monk, albeit a gregarious one. Monk, which means solitary is in direct conflict with church and its sense of gathering. And there’s the rub and the glory.  Service, whether in the hermitage or in the pulpit, on one’s knees or at the bedside of a suffering soul, listening to the pain of the poor or raising money for mission,  always requires a death, a sacrifice of some desire or another. I do not blame the church for this, but, rather, the church has educated and purified me through the very conflicts which tried and tempered my soul.


I, alone, am responsible for following the call of God in my life. I am grateful to my denomination, Presbyterian Church(USA), those intelligent, imaginative, decent and orderly ones, and the Presbytery of Northern Kansas  for making space for their solitary, monkish sister. Now at the end of her service and the beginning of her honorable retirement, she will embrace what called her out of darkness and back to the church thirty three years ago, in a way more congruent with her heart’s deepest desires.


So as you can see, I have some things to mull over. I need time to downshift and decelerate as I make for myself a life more congruent with the word of God as it sings in my heart and speaks to me in the ancient texts. Besides I have a big pile of thank you notes to write, and I need to get over to Mike’s and get those new tires.


I will take a couple weeks off from writing The Praying Life. And I will be back  before you know it. In the meantime I will post occasional thoughts and links here and on the 
Sanctuary Foundation Facebook page.

Holy God,
in your will is our peace.
In this moment is your will.
Here, now.

Let’s hit the road.


With deep love and gratitude to The Reverends Paul Waters, Ron Schultz and Rob Winger and the members and friends of Crestview UMC in Topeka, Kansas.

Dear Reader, I am interested in hearing from you. What do you need? How might this blog speak more directly to the hunger of your heart in the coming year? Email your ideas, questions, and suggestions here , or comment below.

I am looking forward to the journey ahead!

Love and the Wind

Farmer, poet, lover of the land – Wendell Berry:


I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.

I have no love
except it come from Thee.

Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.


One could not put truth more succinctly.
Isn’t this what most of us battle – the dying of the light?


The wind is a wily deceiver,
a furious demon,
a double minded,
shape shifting,
hair splitting,
breeder
of separation.


Don’t listen.


Pray for help to carry
the love we are blessed to bear.


We,
love,
and the light
are
One.


The wind is only the wind.
 

 

The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
Contact the author: lross@fromholyground.org www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross

The Amaryllis and the Evangelist

 

Painting by Dorothy Frager

  

To Look

 at

Any Thing

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say
‘I have seen spring in these
Woods,’ will not do – you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
The leaves,
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.   ~  John Moffit

I am looking at the blossom of a white amaryllis, rising on a thick green stalk before my window. Outside it is snowing hard.

A woodpecker drills at the suet cake, swinging from the feeder. A brown squirrel plows down the power line, shoving clumps of snow to the ground. I am looking long at the amaryllis and that green seam shading into pale yellow tracing along the underside of a blossom.

I look and look – at the milky, translucent petals, the flared green heart of the blossom, the seven curved stamens with their golden haired anthers, the fluted, serrated fringe at the tip of the petals, and that tiny pale shoot rising up between the two large petals – the pistil and three legged stigma. I look at the split sheath covering of the three large blooms. The two pieces now hang limp, shriveling, spent from such sundering.

  

  

And I am

breathless

with the wonder

and beauty.

  

 

 

 

Last evening my home was filled with teenagers. Thirteen kids crowded into my tiny den to watch a video about faith called Beyond Our Differences. Earlier we took a pared down version of a survey conducted by the Pew Research Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey, conducted last year, measured Americans’ knowledge of their own religions and their neighbors’ religions. On average Americans got only sixteen questions out of the thirty two correct.

The teens and I are learning about different religions this year in our desire to build understanding with our neighbors on this planet, discover points of common ground, and to become clearer and more articulate about our own beliefs.

 

On January 6 many Christians celebrated Epiphany, the visit of the wise men from a far away land with their gifts to the infant Jesus. Now we enter the stretch of Sundays after Epiphany that carry us all the way to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of lent.

Epiphany means a showing, a revealing and was applied early on in the Church to this event in Jesus’ life. The previously obscured and hidden God of the Jews unveils his divinity for all people in the Christ child, and folks from a long way out of town show up to see it.

The themes of the scripture readings which carry us through the next eight Sundays focus on the mission of the church as making disciples and reaching out into the world as evangelists. Some churches also use this season as an opportunity to foster fellowship, to repent of our sins of bigotry, hatred and prejudice, and work toward healing the divisions in church and society.

Soon after his birth Christ is introduced to his first cross cultural, interfaith experience in the form of the visitors from afar.  Next, fleeing Herod’s wrath, he and his parents become aliens, refugees,  in a foreign culture in their escape to Egypt.

History is full of stories of the church’s awkward, failed, and sometimes brutal and horrendous attempts to share what they have seen at the manger. History also is full of astounding stories of love, forgiveness, freedom and justice as the gospel has been shared.

 

 

At the beginning of Advent the youth group read Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming messiah:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.                                                             Isaiah 53: 2

I held up a dry, flaky amaryllis bulb with a wad of pale spindly roots. This is where advent begins, I told the kids. This is where God begins to come into our world –through something ugly and apparently useless that you may think ought to be thrown out in the trash. God arrives as things appear hopeless, beyond repair, and we are realizing that there is no way we can figure this out and make things right on our own. When we realize we need help, we are ready to meet Jesus.

A few days later I planted the bulb in a green ceramic pot my daughter made. She would be embarrassed to see it in this pot. Not up to her standards, the pot has some flaws. I love it.

A month later, gazing at the blooming beauty heals my soul. I wonder what it would be to become those long smooth fleshy spears of leaves. I have been busy the past week with numerous contacts, encounters, preparations, and meetings. I have gazed into the pure white petals of many souls. Each person was stunningly beautiful and deserving of longer attention than I had time to give.

 Today I gaze long upon the white amaryllis. A prayer wells up for those thirteen young people and for their parents and grandparents. I love them all like the mother rabbit I saw in a video once. The rabbit was chasing a snake away from her nest. She followed and pounced and picked it up, thrashing in her mouth, until the snake escaped and slithered up a tree. I want no harm to disturb the growth of these souls. I tremble too, at the responsibility entrusted to those engaged in the care of the souls of others.

I am not absolutely sure what it means to be an evangelist.  I do think it has to do with telling the stories of what we have seen. We need to share with one another those epiphanies which bring us to our knees, call us to make long journeys, and inspire us to give away our precious treasures.

I also believe that being an evangelist has to do with offering the gold of our time,

with inviting the poor and needy into our lives,

and looking long and hard at each other

until we touch the very peace we issue from.

 

 

 

 Thank you to Dorothy Frager, who looks long and hard,  for permission to use her painting!

 The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
Contact the author: lross@fromholyground.org  www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross

 

 

Whatever

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,
And everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand . . .
W.B. Yeats

The animals were talking about taking a trip. The holidays were over. They had eaten their treats and chewed up their toys.  A kind of malaise had settled over them. “Is this all there is,” they wondered, “an empty bag of kitty treats and a few shreds of raw hide doggie chews?”

Ahs, the collie dog, stretched and yawned. A few months back he lost his best friend, Amos Moses Wigglesworth. The exuberant pup gave Ahs a new lease on life. The two wrestled and tore about the yard, chewing up flower pots and dragging tools from the garage. Then one night while chasing rabbits Amos found an opening in the woods and followed the scent to the highway where he was killed chasing cars.

Seal, the grey cat, said, “I told you he was dumb as a stump.”

Her son Gavin, who avoided the ill-mannered canine as much as possible, came out of the woods, “Whatever. It was all so random. A dog comes. A dog goes. Hey, would you like to see my new tattoo? I’m thinking about getting my nose pierced too.” His mother sighed and wondered why he couldn’t be happy just catching mice like cats did when she was young.

Unlike Gavin, the black rabbit, Captain Midnight missed the dog. He shared his food with Amos, who had a taste for alfalfa, and Captain got a kick out of watching him chase the possum.

“Do you think I will ever see Amos again?” Ahs asked Captain Midnight. There had been altogether too many deaths and departures in the household for Ahs’ taste. Captain’s sister, beautiful Isabella Hepzibah died barely two years before of a virus. The girl who fed Ahs left last fall and didn’t come back for months. Creatures, coming and going all the time, who ought to stay put in the fold, were making him cranky. How could he keep track of things? And now there was a new dog, a big nosy golden retriever named Gregorian Chance, who wanted to be the lead dog.

That was how the idea of a trip came into his head. Maybe I just need to get away. Maybe I can find Amos. Then the star came out. After that it wasn’t hard to convince the others to go with him. A star tossed into the heavens like an enormous twinkling ball shone brighter than the full moon. Gregorian Chance said right away they should go fetch it. Captain Midnight said they should just follow it and see where it led them.

Gavin said, “Whatever.”

Seal said they had all that they needed right here and everyone would feel better, if they just had a little tuna fish and took a nap.

_______________________

The season following Epiphany (January 6) to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of lent, moves us from the intimate scene of Jesus’ birth toward the task of sharing a personal truth with the rest of the world.

The lectionary scriptures for these Sundays emphasize that in God’s sight there are no distinctions that make some people clean and others unclean, nor differences that leave some people outside the embrace of God’s care. The focus is that Jesus came for all people.

The challenge today as well as in the first century is that Jesus is a gift many have no desire to receive or see any use for. Theologian Marva Dawn writes that “the major characteristic of the postmodern condition is the repudiation of any truth that claims to be absolute or truly true. ‘Christianity might be true for you, but not for me,’ our children used to say with modernist relativity – but now they are learning in their schools and from the media that any claim to truth is merely a means of hiding an oppressive will to power. The result is the malaise of meaninglessness, the inability to trust anything or anyone, the loss of any reference point or ‘web of reality’ by which to construct one’s life.”

Little appears in our postmodern culture to hold the human family together in a shared focus of purpose and meaning beyond the latest escape into entertainment or sensationalized news event.

Dawn says that the effects of postmodern life “on young people seem more like catastrophe, confusion and chaos.” She notes along with other scholars that “postmodernism has moved young people from the alienation of the 1960s to the schizophrenia or mutiphrenia (a legion of selves with no constant core of character) of the 1990s and 2000s. Having no point of reference, no overarching story, no master narrative, people don’t know who they are.”

_______________________

Then the star came out. Of course it had to be something like that – something bigger than they, beyond their ken. It needed to be something they couldn’t chew up, pee on, or hide in the hay.

What they were looking for was something worthy of their faith, worthy of making the trip – worth the courage and energy it would require. They were looking for something to kneel before.  Was there anything in the world to lay out their passion for like that? Was there anything commensurate with the largeness of their souls, anything worth being valiant and noble for?

Hearts are made for giving away, yet it seemed every time they did, something bad would happen. Usually it meant one of them would get lost or die or be betrayed. They were seeking one true thing – but they were afraid that the only true thing might be that there was no true thing.

The star glimmered in the bitter air. “That is so random,” said Gregorian Chance.

“Whatever,” said Gavin.

Would they hear the voice of the falconer?

Would they risk getting hurt again? Would they make the trip?

Will you?

Read more about prayer at  www.fromholyground.org

Contact Loretta at
lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary

Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross

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