Wednesday, December 20, 2017

To wait or to watch

We can only see where we shine the light. jnd_photography/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

To wait is to stare at a loading symbol on your laptop.
To watch is to observe your still hand awaiting inspiration.

To wait is to tap your toes and drum your fingers.
To watch is to realize how they mirror your heartbeat.

To wait is to stand by the microwave as your lunch heats.
To watch is to consider the alchemy of ingredients and preparation.

To wait is to mark the darkening sky from the warm indoors.
To watch is to venture outside and crane your neck to the stars.

To wait is to cross out days on your calendar.
To watch is to look back at a year, a decade, a life, and discover its arc.

To wait is to note what is happening.
To watch is to learn what is.

To wait is to solve by avoiding.
To watch is to address by encountering.

To wait is to welcome impatience.
To watch is to invite patience.

To wait is to prepare your mind.
To watch is to prepare your heart.

To wait is to hesitate.
To watch is to embrace.

Prayer #319: A Waiting Advent, or Awaiting Advent?

Imagine you are driving at night. Imagine you are moving slowly on a winding, pitch-black mountain road. You are waiting for the next bend, and (for obvious, scary, car-crunching reasons) you do not want to miss it.

See the headlights casting their glow in front of you.* You are watching the headlights. They illuminate three feet ahead of you -- nothing further, nothing behind. All you have to get you through the trip on are these lights, and your slowness, and your watching.

Advent is a season to practice watching, the kind that consumes your whole body and spirit. Without it you will not catch the star brighten. Without it you will not glimpse the couple running in the night. Without it you will not hear an infant wail across the sand. Without it you will not know God.

God of the realm beyond the headlights, keep watch with me -- today, tonight, and always.


* With thanks to E.L. Doctorow for the image.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Life is a process of editing

The author's depiction of her family, drawn at age 6 or 7.

My parents are downsizing. Which means I'm upsizing -- that is, re-inheriting all the mementos I thought fit to store over 24 years of living in their house. And for a sentimental person who also believes that a future biographer will want to review every artifact of her formative years, the process is excruciating.

How excruciating? On my most recent visit home, I spent four hours getting six memory boxes down to three, not including the rolling cabinet of extra photo prints or the box with my American Girl doll paraphernalia. I was covered with dust, peeling cardboard, and disintegrated rubber bands. I discovered items I'd never seen (my baptism candle), items I'd forgotten (all my high school handbooks), and items I knew were there but were unsure I wanted to see again (love -- and a couple hate -- letters from old flames).

Some people claim to feel lighter after purging. I experience pits in my stomach. What if I need that later?! I think. Or worse: What if I forget everything that once mattered?

But so what if I do? What mattered then doesn't always matter now. (See: handbooks. Also: old love letters.) What struck me most in looking at 2.5 decades' of memories was how many of the people writing me when I was 1, 10, 18, 20 are still in my life, still sending me notes, still loving me.

Also incredible: how what I wrote -- and what was written about me -- reflects my enduring fundamentals. Take the letters written by my third-grade classmates from Springfield Elementary, where I attended for six months before moving again. They said that I was nice to them on the playground, that I never got in trouble, that I told funny stories. (One said she liked how I "made the hamster talk," a clear indication that if nothing else, our senses of humor are established early.) I am who I am, for better or worse, and keeping boxes packed with greeting cards, textbooks, and old worksheets in my basement is not going to change that one way or another.

This is a process, of course. I know intellectually that I have plenty of items yet to cull, and one day I will summon the emotional courage to detach from and discard even more. What will make it easier is the dawning wisdom that only my ego, not my true self, wants these items. Where my ego requires validation of a good life well lived, my true self is focusing on living that good life well right now so that when I pass from this earth, context-less papers will not be my legacy, but rather, the love I experienced and expressed.

A full life, I've realized, requires editing. Not rewriting or recasting my story, but paring it down to its most powerful essentials. The more I edit and excise the past, the freer I am to write the present and enjoy the narrative as it unfolds.

I'm always going to keep my journals, though.

Prayer #318: Rightsized

If you shrunk my life to a room, what would I keep?

If you shrunk my life to a closet, what would I keep?

If you shrunk my life to a trunk, what would I keep?

If you shrunk my life to a shoebox, what would I keep?

I would keep gratitude for the container. Appreciation for what's discarded. Rejoicing for the items retained. And love -- love enough to fill a house, a state, a world -- love for the universe in which You've placed me, one object in a huge container, adored not for my size or my meaning, but for the sheer fact of my creation.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

I ask the waves

A post shared by Julia Rocchi (@jmrocchi) on

Island waves come from far and arrive with a vengeance, infuriated by the land mass crouching in their mighty path. Unlike staid Atlantic rolls, they boom and hiss, wild with spume. I watch them crash, crash, crash, and I tremble at the fact that while they beat ceaselessly in the regenerating present, I spend my days preoccupied by past and future.

Here at the foot of the waves, geologic time overwhelms me. These forces neither know nor heed my human timestamp. In their world change comes with microscopic precision on an epic scale, while in my world change feels epic but with ultimately microscopic significance. Our scales collide in this moment on the sand. I cannot comprehend the crashing, and the ocean cannot comprehend my caring.

I ask the waves: Am I insignificant? Or is your wondrous, fearful machination intended for witness? Is my standing here with sandy feet and salty curls the reason for my being -- to see, to absorb, to gape with awe? And if that is the case, how does my individual wonder heighten these elements that continue with or without me?

I tell the waves: While I've been resting on this minuscule island, two friends have lost loved ones -- one a father, the other a son. What do these men's short lives, ripe with joy, rife with pain, mean against the unstoppable tides? Where is our significance in the face of tumultuous eons?

The waves rumble, but not in response. They have all the time in the world, yet no time for me. I am a blink, a speck in their teeming currents. I will always remember their breathtaking rush toward my bare feet, and they will never know I was here. They don't know my scope; they only put it in perspective.

I repeat to myself: I am here. I am here. I am here. I am. I am. I am. And so it is, if only for a breath.

Prayer #317: Undulate

Undo me, rushing God. Invest me with a wave's own form: simple to sketch in abstract, impossible to capture in infinite variations across time and space. As I fall with You, so I will rise -- soaked in mystery.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Time for a brain cleanse

Na Pali, Kauai. paul bica/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Time for a brain cleanse. A wipe, a reboot. Time to put away Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and text. Time to discard the list of lists that has been building since the start of the year. Time to reject the rejection letters piling up against my confidence. Time to ignore the emails flagged for never-realized follow-ups; time to relish writing the out-of-office message instead. Time to delight in the anticipation (and fulfillment) of the seven new books checked out from the library. Time to sit with my new prayer journal ... in silence. Time to make overdue phone calls, not because they are to-do list items, but because my life is a little too quiet without certain voices swirling. Time to remember life is not a chore to be completed. Time to nap. Time to escape the self-doubt and variable confidence, the constant desire to never make a mistake. Time to snorkel to bend my perspective. Time to enjoy time with my spouse, just the two of us, no plans or obligations or calendar appointments. Time to soak in the thrill of discovery instead of the security of planning. Time to watch crappy movies on a plane. Time to reacquaint myself with the sea. Time to feel the black gel pen flow across college-ruled lines while my slow-as-death laptop sits 4,690 miles away. Time to prioritize a sunrise. Time to banish guilt over my deep desire to sit still. Time to turn my back on "regular" life so I can regain the spark that makes it anything but. Time to find a coconut. Time to learn how to cut it.

Prayer #316: Clean Slate

I once asked You make me a blackboard wiped clean, with sponge marks still drying, but my choice of image was shortsighted. Why stop at chalky rewrites? Wipe the board, yes, but then draw a handle and turn it to reveal the swirl of watercolors beyond, looping and dipping in a color-soaked landscape that would make Georgia O'Keefe drool. I will draw strange birds that swoop like dragons, huge fish that dart and gleam like Perseids, friendly trees that trundle behind me so I never want for shade. With each new invention I draw, You will be both chalk and hand, the spark behind the inspiration, the artist within the spirit. May I re-discover Your marvelous palette, its rioting symphony of hue, and with it paint a world not yet envisioned.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

When do I get to quit the world?

Leave the rest behind. fdecomite/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
I'm tired this month. Soul-achingly tired. Worn to a nub by the insanity of this world, and my country in particular. Exhausted by hate, ignorance, destruction of lives. Overwhelmed by our society's deep, persistent darkness.

"Lord, when do I get to quit the world?" I first asked it, incredulous, when we appeared on the brink of a Twitter-fueled nuclear standoff. I asked it again, anguished, when I watched the events in Charlottesville unfold. As the tenor of discourse dips toward hysterical extremes and the shades of gray sort themselves into clearer black and white, I keep asking my question with each day's news cycle, each fresh slap across the many faces of God.

I keep asking because deep down I'm hoping for a different answer than the one I already know. But I do not get to quit the world. I do not get to curl up in a fetal position with a bag of Goldfish and my Netflix account on endless cycle. The still, small voice -- so quiet but so firm -- has demanded I engage, to the point of handing me a to-do list. It reads as follows:

  1. Educate myself.
  2. Learn with others.
  3. Confront tragedy.
  4. Name injustice.
  5. Examine the dark corners.
  6. Stretch my belief.
  7. Gulp my faith.
  8. Speak truth out loud.
  9. Live "I love you."
  10. Begin. Today.

So I begin. Again.

Prayer #315: Determine the Sequel

I have kept this library book too long. How can I tell? The dog ears are close to amputation, the pages have unglued. I have read and reread the text expecting a different ending, yet it does not change. The plot always moves me toward the same conclusion. There is no other way it can unfold, not when the characters are so relatable and their decisions so poor.

My only option now is to admit the immutability of the printed word, return the book, pay my fines, and instead get to work on writing the sequel. Part Two does not exist. Yet. It will, though, and it will have the ending I want. The ending You intended. The ending that all who love inhabit.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

The lesson of the table

When Nature Boy first presented his farmhouse table vision to me, I was at best skeptical. Why build a table from scratch, I thought, when so many exist to be reused? And why undertake such a huge project, I frowned, when its execution might put our young marriage at risk?

You see, I like to be in control. (Did you know that about me? Perhaps you did.) I enjoy when projects follow my brand of efficiency and have clear benchmarks along the way. I also enjoy not having to go to Home Depot. As presented, the farmhouse table project would not fulfill any of my personal goal-setting tenets.

Tackling woodworking on such a grand scale, however, did not daunt my novice carpenter of a spouse; rather, it invigorated him. He was eager to explore and learn the process -- a trait I already love and admire about him. He was also ready to follow his own project management style to get there -- a trait that I respect as his adult right, even when it challenges me to be brutally honest about my frequent inability to cede ground.

And follow his own style he did, right up until two nights before our annual summer party, the deadline for the table to be finished. As dusk fell and humidity persisted, he and I stood in the driveway observing the half-nailed wooden pallet boards that comprised the tabletop, wondering how in the world we were going to eliminate the significant gap that had emerged in the middle.

True to form, I was panicking about the thing while also panicking about my panicking. Where did we go wrong?! How could we fix it at this late stage? Has it all been a waste of time? What if it's not done for the party? Why am I worried about a party? I should worry about my attitude! my Type A super-ego screeched.

Nature Boy seemed to have no such inner screech fest. He was thoughtful and patient as we rearranged the boards; in fact, he appeared to be enjoying this nerve-wracking affair. My super-ego busily seethed at the perceived imbalance of investment of feeling until my husband turned to me part way through a rearranged row and said, "This is fun! This is exactly what I pictured when I wanted to build the table -- that we'd work on it together."

Just like that, the truth of the situation dropped into place. Goal-setting, hands-on work, tangible output -- all good aims, no question. But the opportunity to spend time together, create something new, problem-solve in tandem? Nobler aims by far.

Here, my biggest takeaway from our first year of marriage crystallized in a hefty, wooden, substantial way: the joy is in the teamwork. I can fuss and schedule and manage all I want, but we are strongest when we work together. I'm saying this out loud to you because this lesson is not easy. I do not always heed it. I am often bad at it. But when we hit our stride ... man, are we unstoppable.

So with that in mind, I'd like to take this moment to say -- Happy 1st Anniversary, Nature Boy! Every time we sit and eat and laugh at the gorgeous table you built, may we remember it is held together by love.*

* And lots of nails.

Prayer #314: Rustically Made

Rough, plain, simple are we -- unfinished yet hardy in our make. Where once I stood alone, proud and upright, You have now bonded me to another, and our unique design emerges stronger, sturdier, for its conjunction.

Master Carpenter, who chiseled each of us by vibrant vision, help us eschew all formal plans and embrace our wild forms. For by Your grace alone, our spirits refine our raw material, proving that we do not need perfection to be loved.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

When a Gryffindor becomes a Hufflepuff

"Hufflepuff? Hell no."

That was my first reaction during #HarryPotter20 when I took two Hogwarts House quizzes in quick succession to find that both returned ... the badger. Buzzfeed quizzes are easy to dismiss, but scientific personality quizzes? Much less so. Even when they're tied to a fictional wizarding school.

Since the minute I began the Harry Potter series in my teens, I have identified with Gryffindor. Students there were brave, they took action, they won the Hogwarts House cup practically every year -- they were the leaders and strivers I'd always pictured myself to be, the noble ruling class of a high school environment where bullying paled in comparison to the threats of the Dark Lord.

Hufflepuffs, on the other hand, struck me as bland background helpers, acquiescent hangers-on who trailed the more charismatic Gryffindors and helped fill plot holes where necessary. I never considered them the heroes, not even of their own stories.

You can imagine then how the quiz results sent me into a minor tailspin. First I was dismayed. Then I was dismayed I was dismayed. After all, what's not to like about the values of "hard work, patience, loyalty, and fair play?" I believe in these qualities; I seek out others who espouse them. So when would identifying with these traits be a bad thing?

When you want to be something else. That's when.

The dirty truth is, I always want to be the hero. I want to display courage and exhibit bravery. I want to be the first responder in a battle, the one who inspires confidence and unity by stepping forward when everyone else is quaking. I want to be carried forth on shoulders and have songs written and sung about me. You know. A hero.

But what I want and who I am are two different things. I am not as courageous as I imagine myself to be. I often hang back and let others go first. I take cautious risks. Glory does not come easily or instantly (if it comes at all) and besides, true leadership is not about glory to begin with. Plus, when I do summon the nerve to step forward, I sometimes trample on others' toes.

This much I knew for sure: I needed a third quiz. So at long last I took the "official" Pottermore Sorting Hat quiz -- a vague interactive widget that's tough to game -- and it returned ... Gryffindor.

Vindication! was my first thought. Close on its heels, though, was Huh. After a mere thirty minutes of considering myself a Hufflepuff, here I was already mourning its loss. Was it really so awful to learn I have goodness in me -- and in almost the same breath also learn I could stand to practice more of that set's humility? Besides, the world desperately needs kindness right now, to the point where practicing warmth and inclusivity is becoming its own courageous, defiant act. So maybe that's the nexus where I am being Sorted -- to become a Gryffinpuff or Huffledor, someone who does not let one trait define her but rather embraces all she might offer.

As I review the Hogwarts Houses with the eyes of a thirty-something, I now recognize the nuance I blew past in my exuberant, know-it-all immaturity. Each House's positive qualities have an equal and opposite end of the spectrum where members land when they push their dominant characteristics too far. In this respect, the Houses (and the magical Sorting Hat that puts them there) becomes a cautionary tale: to know your strengths, acknowledge your weaknesses, and never assume you have only one way.

The beauty of the Sorting Hat is that it takes both capabilities and intent into account. We are who we are, and we also have power to become who we want to be. What can be more full of promise, more packed with magic, than that?

Prayer #313: Of What Sort Are You?

I am the sort of Muggle who ignores you, God of sorting. I strain and pull to keep your brim from circling my brow, and even when you're firmly placed, I wiggle out of all you're guiding me to do and be.

But now my name has (yet again) been called, and I come up (yet again) before my peers -- friends and enemies alike -- to answer your consistent call. Stick me to the stool this time, God of purest magic. Bid me listen; bid me learn.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

The consequences of my faith

Finding the path. Photo by Eric Minbiole/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0
"I have always said that a pious Christian can be essentially atheist in ultimate commitment. The decisive factor is whether I live the consequences of my faith. Is God my authority? Which God?"

-- "Martin Niemoeller: A Confessional Courage," Cloud of Witnesses, Joyce Hollyday and Jim Wallis

Jesus took 30 years to prepare for three years of public ministry. I'm beginning to see why.

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, I transcribed from my heart a desperate plea for compassion. What I did not share at the time was that much of my thinking was being shaped by a course I had recently begun at my church -- JustFaith, an intensive (and intense) small-group program that dives into Christian social justice teaching with prayer, study, dialogue, and immersion to connect participants spiritually, intellectually, and physically with the poorest among us.

Or, to put it more bluntly, it rips your heart out every week and leaves it bleeding on the table. Because that's what waking to the world does to you: it shatters your protective privilege, snatches your blinders, and shakes you so hard that your vision scrambles and refocuses the millisecond of existence we call our lives.on what truly matters.

Clearly, the experience moved me. But not quite as I predicted.

The bigger the issues we tackled, the thornier the realities we dissected, the more I moved toward a truth I often resist -- that professing a sincere belief in the redemptive, all-encompassing, unconditional love of God requires three things of me:

  1. Cultivate and nurture a relationship with God.
  2. Live out our relationship through my actions.
  3. Cede my illusory control over those actions' processes and outcomes.

In the face of the world's suffering, I am finally acknowledging how powerless I am because I can do nothing without God. The good news is, God is already with me -- always has been, in fact -- and practically tumbling in circles to love all over me. So maybe it's more that I am powerless but love is powerful, so let's tap into the stronger force.

"It is not enough to sow the seeds of wisdom; we are called to action if we are to reap a bountiful harvest." -- Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, I Shall Not Hate

Remember, though, when I said I was starting to understand Jesus' three-decade preparation for his blink of public ministry? Building one's relationship with God is a life's work. It takes time, space, effort. Saying you'll live your faith and actually living it are leagues apart. I'm only now loosening my grip on my self-imposed mandate to save the world. I'm only now releasing myself from dictating outcomes. I'm only now recognizing that all of us already have the answer and the tools at hand. I merely need to do one thing -- show up -- and it. is scaring. the SHIT out of me.

Here's the deal: I, a lifelong practicing Catholic, am being called to a personal conversion to see God and the world as one. Now that I've heard the call, I can't unhear it ... despite my retinue of cotton balls, pillows, and ear muffs.

So the question becomes, how will heeding the call change me, my actions, my choices, my life? And can I follow this call to its inevitable conclusion -- the same one that put Jesus on a cross?

I don't know.

I don't need to know.

I want to know.

Most likely, I'll never know.

The only step I need to take right now is to show up at the edge of the dark forest. Then I'll pause and look around. See if I can spot the flickers of torches winding along the path ahead.

I'll follow one. Meet the torchbearer. Listen to her story. Share my trail mix. Walk with her.

And we'll see what happens next.

Prayer #312: At the Edge of the Forest

God of the unblazed trail, take me where I need to go. Your signals are clear: walk, pause, listen. Repeat as necessary.

I can feel your heavy breathing on my neck, your salivation over a salvation already achieved but not realized on earth. So I am giving in to giving in, acknowledging your unending wish for us to heed your friendly shoulder tap and follow your confident wave.

As we go, please surround me with new faces and different stories. Introduce me to fellow hikers on the path to conversion. Balance the night sky of my faith with the morning dew of works.

The world has unsettled me with its suffering, but I have not run here, to the edge of the woods, to escape. Rather, I come to be unsettled even more, to face the as-yet-invisible trail, to rejoice at finding your hand in the dark.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Is prayer as simple as presence?

Here? Vassilis Londos/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I once had a spiritual director who described how she regularly had "tea with God." She'd brew a fresh cup, retire to her armchair, and watch the sun set. No recitations, no rosaries, no lectio divina. Just tea, nature, and presence.

I've been digging the daily meditations from the Center for Action and Contemplation lately, and faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault wrote one week:

I believe the West’s key contribution to the understanding of nondual perception is that this highest-order (“third tier”) level of consciousness is not a mere extension of the mind. It implies and requires the shift to an entirely different operating system, which is anatomically located in the heart—or better yet, in the mind in entrainment or in tune with the heart. This may be what the ancient spiritual masters from the Christian East meant in the Philokalia by “putting the mind in the heart.”

No reason, no rationalizing, no formal discourse. Just oneness, consciousness, and presence.

And then I read this passage from "Compassion"(here's the previous time I cited this book) just the other day:

Discipleship does not mean to use God when we can no longer function ourselves. On the contrary, it means to recognize that we can do nothing at all, but that God can do everything through us. As disciples, we find not some but all of our strength, hope, courage, and confidence in God. Therefore, prayer must be our first concern.

No yammering, no posturing, no forging ahead. Just pausing, listening, and being present.

Sense the theme?

All these years I've berated myself for being "bad at prayer," when I think the truth is more that I simply lack a regular, concentrated presence. I am too goal-oriented, too driven by human words (who, me?!) in a space and practice that exists beyond benchmarks and language. To relinquish these parameters is to release my puny mind and forgive my even punier capabilities.

Again, as the Center for Action and Contemplation (this time Fr. Richard Rohr, emphasis his) puts it:

Our focus eventually moves from preoccupation with perfect actions of any type, to naked presence itself. The historical word for presence is simply “prayer.” Jesus often called it “vigilance,” “seeing,” or “being awake.” When you are fully present, you will know what you need to know in that moment.

Presence is prayer. Simple (though not easy) as that. I can go to God first. I can exist from my steady heart instead of my racing brain. I can move through my divine attention deficit disorder. I can brew a cup of tea. I too can pray.

Prayer #311: Tea with God



We are here.

We are enough.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Don't forget to hope

Down, never out. Kai Schreiber/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

I'd started addressing the subject of hopefulness in talks to small groups. I'd grown fond of quoting Vaclav Havel, the great Czech leader who had said that "hope" was the one things that people struggling in Eastern Europe needed during the era of Soviet domination.

Havel had said that people struggling for independence wanted money and recognition from other countries; they wanted more criticism of the Soviet empire from the West and more diplomatic pressure. But Havel had said that these were things they wanted; the only thing they needed was hope. Not that pie in the sky stuff, not a preference for optimism over pessimism, but rather an "orientation of the spirit." The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong.

-- Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

How easy, when current events bear sinister echoes of the past, to forget that history can and will repeat itself -- if you let it.

How easy, when you finally awaken to the systemic violence and injustice our world is built on, to forget that everyone has a choice. Always.

How easy, when the aging winter buffets your body and soul with blustery phlegm, to forget that you have soil, you have seeds, and you have the power to plant them.

In the face of the world's overwhelming trauma, indignity, aggression, injustice, inequality -- to say nothing of fate's mere caprice -- it's hard to "orient my spirit" and choose to bear witness. Harder still to believe I might be able to dent age-old problems. Hardest yet to contemplate moments of resonant joy and not find them insufficient for --or insulting to -- to the gravity of the situations at hand.

But where am I truly if I forget belly laughter with friends over a bowl of popcorn? The perfection of building a pillow fort to ward against a rainy day. The humility of people turning their pockets inside out to help a loved one in need. The sight of fifty women gathered in clusters to solve crises of homeland and heart. The utter relief and gratitude when harmful legislation fails. How easy to overlook these glimpses into a possible future and never absorb them, never grasp what they portend, never believe what they promise.

Because if I do not try to grasp and believe them, if I do not lift my trembling, measly, feather-plucked hope back to the wind-blown limb from which it was tossed, then I miss out on hope's attendant strength: the steady conviction that if I hold, raise up, and let go at just the right moment, then hope will fly.

Prayer #310: Hope is a Weed

Hope is a stubborn weed I pull with all my strength and never kill. Roots yanked, stems crushed, ground poisoned, it rises to defy its fate. Not only rises, but twists, snakes, worms its way around the two-layer fence I erected against all shadowy threats. Not only breaches the fence, but reaches the complacent beds I was certain I'd protected. Not only reaches them, but digs in deep. Real deep. Center-of-the-earth deep. So deep, in fact, that it takes root again, creeps back through the soil to the sun, and all the while laughs -- laughs! -- at my misplaced effort in a wild, unruly world.

Give me more weeds, God of hope. Overgrow my heart to choke out fear.


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

If not now, when? And if not me, then who?

turkishdisco/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

"Who knows—perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen?" -- Book of Esther 4:14

You know you have struck a nerve when the meeting you hoped would attract 15 people ends up drawing 50.

That was the delightful reality of the first-ever Sisterhood of Progressive Christians meeting, where the initial circle of chairs I and the founders had set up in the middle of the echoing church hall kept growing and growing and growing until it took up two-thirds of the room.

The women who'd arrived earliest patiently obliged our constant reshuffling, moving their purses and bags at least five times before we all settled, and became veritable professionals in chair hauling dynamics. The women who came in last found exactly the number of empty seats required, as if Elijah himself had instructed us on the mechanics of predictive chair filling. And every time we added a chair or a person, we caught one another's eyes with an incredulous look that communicated, "MORE PEOPLE ARE HERE OH EM GEE," followed by a collective pooping of the pants.

I have often encountered the nonprofit jargon "growing the circle" in my day job, but until this meeting I did not understand what it meant to witness a circle's literal growth -- to see new faces appear at your side, to feel your wildest hopes pushed at the seams, to experience your heart expanding in direct proportion to the number of squeaking, rickety chairs. Such was the gift of the first Sisterhood meeting: the discovery of a modern-day red tent in which everyone was welcome and all could fit.

But I should back up.

What is the Sisterhood of Progressive Christians, exactly? (Official mission statement here.) The Sisterhood is a response to the challenging times we live in. It is a call to women to organize -- as they always do, as they always must -- and become the change they wish to see. Above all, though, it is an opportunity to wrestle with the unanswerable questions, to dialogue with God about our individual and collective purpose, and to do it all within a loving, seeking, vulnerable-in-the-best-way community.

As we went around the fifty-woman-wide circle that first night, our calls, responses, and questions steadily thickened the space between us:

I'm a mother/grandmother/mother-to-be.
 I'm a church philanderer.
I'm a patriot.
I want to reconcile my faith with my politics.
 I want to find a middle way.
I want to engage with loved ones with differing views.
I want to affect the federal and state legislature.
I've never felt this embarrassed to be a Christian. 
I want to reclaim the label.
I can't be silent anymore.
There is danger in silence.
We've lost the art of conversation.
We're looking for a voice. 
God will use me as a bridge.
You can follow Jesus and work for social justice.
What kind of Mecca do I want to make for me?
The only thing that makes me feel better is acting.
Inaction is not an option.
Faith and facts are not mutually exclusive.
The tide is not necessarily against us.
We must end intolerance and bigotry.
We're all called to authenticity.
We must make it a movement, not just a moment.

And within it all hung one big hairy question: Are we willing to be Christ's hands and feet and build his Kingdom here on earth? I left that night on fire with my answer of YAAAASSSSSSS! The next day it was, Yes! The day after that -- yes. A week later ... I think?

To keep saying YES at full volume -- to become the hands that feed the hungry and the feet that walk with the outcast and the body that puts itself on the line for of God's children, no matter their creed or ideology or fake news posting habits -- I need this community in my life. It can become the Mordecai to my Esther -- the constant, gentle reminder that God has made us of the world and for the world. It can become the lesson of a lifetime in what being a Christian truly, frightfully, wonderfully entails.

If you have said YAAASSSS QUEEN to any of my reflective ramblings, I encourage you to check out the Sisterhood of Progressive Christians on Facebook and Twitter as well as our Sisterhood Chronicles blog on Medium for a regular diet of thought-provoking discussions and opportunities for action. We and the world await you!

Prayer #309: Hands, Feet, Body, Blood

If not now, when? And if not me, then who?

True confession: I already know the answers, God. But if I give them voice I will consign myself to living them, and I'm not sure I will ever be ready enough for that.

Please nudge me from this place of not enough. Show me I am enough. Remind me you are more that enough. Help me say the answers out loud and live them even louder.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Joy: the radical rebellion

Photo by Paucal/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

"Does God laugh?"

My friend's 4-year-old daughter recently posed this question to her, which -- as my friend puts it -- led to a "rather profound inquiry into what sort of things God would (and wouldn't) laugh at. One of the clear distinctions she made was that God laughs with people, not at people. Also, God likes it when we're being silly."

God laughs with people, not at people. And God likes it when we're being silly. No wonder my friend calls her daughter a little theologian. With a simple three-word question, the child hit on a deep truth about God that we as harried, stressed adults too often forget: that God created us with joy, from joy, for joy.

Not ready to accept wise words from a preschool theologian? Maybe you'll listen to C.S. Lewis instead: "Joy is the serious business of heaven." God did not create a world of pain and suffering and then say, "You know what? I'm going to stick some humans in here and watch them squirm." Rather, God created paradise -- an abundantly exuberant playground packed with infinite variety, texture, colors, and sensations, a world designed to delight. As such we have voices to sing, hands to clap, feet to dance, hearts to leap, and Thin Mints to devour. What's not to love??

What I have learned, however, is that joy is not necessarily a given in our lives. The more we slip into easy pessimism, the more joy becomes a choice. This distinction is captured crystal-clear in this translation of Romans 5:11 from the King James Version of the Bible: "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement."

We joy in God. Joy as vivifying verb. Joy as animating action. Joy as intentional summons of a gift we've already received yet have forgotten. As Henri J.M. Nouwen writes, "Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day."

The choice becomes easier once you remember joy's effects. Just the mental image of God laughing fills me with a lightness and peace that too often gets squashed under accumulated fear, anger, and general grouchiness. Imagine then how a life lived constantly with joy and in joy would affect others around it. To be joyful is to rebel against the cynicism and meanness of vision that too often, too easily, dominates our worldview, and in such moments our choice of joy becomes radical.

May all our radical actions be born of belly laughter, slow-spreading smiles, and astonished gasps. May we come to know the profound comfort of laughing with the God whom we delight.

Prayer #308: Silly for Joy

God of heel clicks and high fives, keep me so silly for joy that I can't see straight.

Because when I am downtrodden, joy props me up.

When I am flattened, joy re-inflates me.

When I am beaten, joy wipes my brow and hands me water.

When I am proud, joy grounds me in wonder bigger than myself.

When I am uncertain, joy reminds me I am worthy.

And when all I am is joyful, joy cheers loudest of all.