Tag Archives: wonder

Resurrection’s Rude Affront

But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.   Mark 16: 6-8

It is no wonder that they didn’t get it at first.

The distance from his line to theirs
is years of light -
from sorrow to joy,
despair to hope
death row to picnic in the park.

We still don’t get it.
We still haven’t made the perilous journey
beyond the edges of the known territories.
We want mostly to slouch around the tomb
spicing up death
dissecting sorrow.
Misery is kin.
Failure familiar.
But the man acquainted with grief
is intimate with gladness.

And when they arrived,

he was gone.

Of course,
just when you think you are going to put your hands
on divinity,
just when it seems to be holding still enough
to catch
just when swirling matter and energy
hesitates
pauses 

it’s gone to Galilee.

And we are left holding the spices.

Best make a pie
for death will not lie down
to wear grief’s flavor.
There is a joke here,
a cosmic practical joke.

If you go to the tomb
to tend to the dead
and talk to the angel,
you risk losing everything
that holds your life together.
But after you have already
lost most of it anyway
in the event that has brought
you to death’s house,
you really haven’t much to lose.

It is the suffering, the anguish
that has you scurrying at dawn
to touch for one last time
your love.
It is there you may see angels,
when all hope is lost,
all reality laid low.

Then the words of angels
will strike you,
crack you
open
and leave you spilling
down the sides of mercy.

Someone is laughing
and you still damp with tears
had hoped to spend the night
in sorrow’s arms.

A rude affront to ones
adjusted to the gloom,
this grinning angel,
garish almost in his gleam.

 

This post is excerpted from Quem Quaeritis?Whom Are You Seeking by Loretta F. Ross. This readers’ drama has been performed extensively, including a performance by the Metropolitan Memorial Methodist Church in Washington, DC.
The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
Read more about prayer www.fromholyground.org,
Contact the author lross@fromholyground.orgwww.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

 

 

Solving Problems Elijah’s Way

Elijah and leaseI took my puppy, Elijah, for a walk to chew over something I had read by Nicolas Berdyaev. “There is something morally repulsive about modern activistic theories which deny contemplation and recognize nothing but struggle. For them, not a single moment has value in itself, but is only a means for what follows.”

Berdyaev was a Russian Christian philosopher who spent a lot of time in exile, first for criticizing the institutional church (Russian Orthodox), and then for not accepting the  Bolshevik government.

Contemplation as a “legitimate,” widely recognized means for understanding and finding resolution for the issues we face is largely denied or relegated to something one might do for a few minutes in the shower, or before drifting off to sleep. The prevailing images for our corporate approach to problems include struggle, battle, war, and exertion of power, control, or persuasion. Such approaches assume winners and losers, victories, and defeat. The struggle approach both creates and thrives on resistance.

Elijah, I am discovering, is a dog with a contemplative bent. He stops still in the middle of the quiet street, sits down, and looks at the house on our right. He looks at the roof, the yellow flag waving in the breeze, the rows of orange, magenta, white, and yellow mums. He looks at the front door with the flowered wreath. He watches a flock of starlings rise out of the oak tree and scatter across the blue sky.

I tug on the leash. “Elijah, come. Let’s go.” He, intent on his reflection, will not budge. He gazes at the windows. He tiElijah contemplatinglts his head and looks at the shrubs. He sniffs the air. “Elijah, come!” I have to write a blog, do bookkeeping, and clean off my desk. I want to cross off “take dog for walk” on my list and get on with things. He looks at me calmly, sighs, rises, and trots along.

Contemplation begins and ends with surrender, with saying I do not know the answer and with recognizing the truth that we all see truth from different perspectives – “through a glass darkly.”  It is sitting down in the middle of things and looking long and hard and sniffing the air. It is refusing to be dragged along by someone else’s agenda. Contemplation is the willingness to walk around an issue, nose, nudge it, and tilt one’s head in order to view reality deeply and truly.

Contemplation requires one to divest oneself from a particular outcome, to detach, let go and trust the Spirit working in the spaces we create by our self-emptying. Contemplation is not about being efficient and productive, nor does it promise quick resolution. Contemplation cannot be made to be a means to anybody’s end. Instead contemplation asks us to see ourselves and whatever dilemmas we face as subjects of the ends and purposes of One who is greater than we.

Pink zinniaBerdyaev makes another point about the denial of contemplation: “Not a single moment has value in itself, but only as a means for what follows.” When we seek to respond to the difficulties and problems we face from a contemplative stance we have a different perspective on time. A moment is not just the means to some greater end. A moment and all it contains has value in itself, for itself: A dog sitting in the street watching the man mow his lawn.  The gray cat sunning herself on the flowered bedspread. The hot pink zinnia licking up the light.  Such are some of the moments in this day free for the seeing and appreciating, each whole and holy in itself. Time is not given so we may accomplish our agendas, so that we can plow through the moments of our day gouging out what we figure we will need for the next moment. We are not given time in order to be ruthless strip miners of the ground of our being, carting off what we can sell or store up in barns or banks.

Elijah stops again. He gazes at the swings in the park, the slide and merry go round. He looks up at the tall pine trees with their thick drooping branches. I follow his gaze and see the branches riddled with slender yellow pods of young pine cones.

A shift occurs in us as we begin to comprehend and appreciate the infinite worth and endless wonder inherent in each moment of our existence. The pragmatic, narcissistic, restlessness which ruthlessly turns everything and everyone into a cog in its agenda of efficiency and accomplishment sits down on its haunches in the middle of everything and looks at what is so. At last it is quieted and stilled by the fullness of a larger Reality than itself.seal sunning

What riches we miss, when our heads are full of our own answers and solutions. What truth remains hidden in those unseen, unsavored moments, when the dog pauses, when the cat yawns, and when the yearning of your heart stops you in your tracks to feast on the beauty of your own precious life.

Elijah sends his love and is available for walks at the drop of a hat.

Elijah lease 2

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Beauty and Making Cookies

42-15885238On the afternoon of the day my friend died in a hospital bed in Iowa City, my daughter and I made cookies. In the Kansas kitchen overlooking the finch feeder, while seventeen finch gobbled two pounds of thistle seed (95 cents a pound at Allen Farm and Feed), we measured flour and brown sugar, butter and ginger, and mixed them in the yellow bowl. Patting out the dough on the cookie sheet, we stopped to taste. “Umm, very good!” she said.

There, while she stood on the orange chair with a brown apron hanging to her ankles, I saw for the first time how the smooth curve of her cheek presses against space with such exquisite beauty. 

How is it that we linger for days and weeks over the latest atrocity and evidence that evil is afoot and keeping steady employment? As a nation, we dissect and examine sin and evil from every angle, as we are seduced into complicity through our own fascination with it. We ask the best minds of our day to analyze and respond to iniquity yet rarely consider intently the nature of beauty and how to create and sustain it in our lives and world.

Many seek beauty, but it is more often to possess it than to appreciate it.  As I impose my will on beauty, as I shape and prune it, cage it in my heart, and bow down and worship it with my reason and my money, it becomes a god, something I look to for my well being and satisfaction. Then beauty turns on me with its shrewish demands and shrivels into something harsh and burdensome which sends me off scurrying to polish it, insure it, buy more of it. No more is beauty a source of delight and joy. I have diminished it and myself by my lust, greed, and envy.

A young nurse stammered to tell me of the beauty she had seen last week. “I went for a walk with the dog down by the pond and I have never seen anything like it. After all the rain, the pond was brimming, spilling over the sides. I heard the water roaring through the drainage ditch. I saw God’s power, and everything was so green.” Tears glistened in her eyes.

True beauty is free. Our spendthrift God scatters it with lavish prodigality over the universe. The Trinity ceaselessly dusts us with beauty like pear blossoms sifting in white drifts on the lawn.

Would that we could approach our lives like kids on an Easter egg hunt at dawn – our world drenched with wonder and surprises nestled under every bush. When Moses was on the far side of the wilderness keeping his father-in-law’s flock, he turned aside to see the great sight of a burning bush. What amazes me about Moses is that he turned aside. He stopped doing what he was doing, turned his attention away from his work, and risked letting a sheep wander from his protective gaze, to see why the bush was not burned up. (Exodus 3)

Think of it. The liberation of the Hebrews and the rest of salvation history rested on this man’s freedom to wonder. The capacity for wonder and curiosity are essential to spiritual growth as well as to justice. A lot of prophets and saints knew how to dilly dally, how to daydream, how to poke along and stop and sniff the odd, the curious and find the hidden treasure under the lilac bush. The expectation and consent to be dazzled and amazed set the stage for God’s entrance into our lives.                 

                                    Diana and easter egg

May you discover the courage and grace this day to dilly dally,
to wonder, and to be astonished.

       

sanctuary-tree-tiny1

This post is excerpted from a book I wrote, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Sheed & Ward, 2000. pp 192-194. http://theprayinglife.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php You might like it.