We are beginning to transition here at this old house. This is the last week of the season after Epiphany as Lent begins with Ash Wednesday next week. Tomorrow, many churches will celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. (Some do it on August 6th.) In my “Imaging the Word” devotion this morning, there was a wonderful quote by Walter Wink from his book “Interpretation”:

Transfiguration is living by vision: standing foursquare in the midst of a broken, tortured, oppressed, starving, dehumanizing reality, yet seeing the invisible, calling to it to come, behaving as if it is on the way, sustained by elements of it that have come already, within and among us. In those moments when people are healed, transformed, freed from addictions, obsession, destructiveness, self worship or when groups or communities or even, rarely, whole nations glimpse the light of the transcendent in their midst, there the New Creation has come upon us. The world for one brief moment is transfigured. The beyond shines in our midst–on the way to the cross.

One of the things that has been made clear to me recently is that Jesus didn’t suddenly shine with a new light. Rather, the disciples eyes were opened to the light that was always there in Jesus all the time. An interesting thought and one that makes me wonder: what am I not seeing that is intrinsically part of something or someone? The whole idea of being present, paying attention is implied here.

This is behind the litany that was also part of my “Imaging the Word” devotion. A “Celebration of Life,” taken from “Jesus-Christ–The Life of the Word: A Worship Book for the Sixth Assembly of the World Council of Churches,” we respond antiphonally to a way of looking beyond surface realities:

In the midst of hunger and war we celebrate the promise of plenty and peace.

In the midst of oppression and tyranny we celebrate the promise of service and freedom.

In the midst of doubt and despair we celebrate the promise of faith and hope.

In the midst of fear and betrayal we celebrate the promise of joy and loyalty.

In the midst of hatred and death we celebrate the promise of love and life.

In the midst of sin and decay we celebrate the promise of salvation and renewal.

In the midst of death on every side we celebrate the promise of the living Christ.

May we all find ways to live “transfigured” lives.

It is an unsettled day here at this old house. A front is coming in carrying the potential for a lot of snow over the next few days; a Chinook is blowing ahead of that front. High winds can be invigorating to some but unnerving to others. I remember hearing once that during high winds, there are more suicides. Most of us are so out-of-touch in functional ways with weather so the idea that something like wind can trigger deep responses in people may seem odd. With central heating and air-conditioning, wind-and rain-proof outdoor clothing, boots and umbrellas, we rarely let Nature dictate our plans for a day. Often, we don’t understand the consequences of severe weather unless the power is cut off or we are stranded in an airport.

I believe that modern spiritual formation practice can be regular time spent in Nature. The Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 3rd and 4th centuries often didn’t have written Scriptures in their desert hermitages. However, they believed that Creation told them enough about God for them to live in sure and joyful obedience. In highly urban settings, it can be tricky to find nature in its untouched manifestations. Yet, it seems that those who live in those environments need to find those places that will restore their weary souls the most.

Where are the still waters and green pastures of the 23rd Psalm for you? Is it a park or botanical garden? Is it an herb garden in a window or a table full of houseplants in a sunny window? Is it a backyard sanctuary that you have lovingly tended for years or a quarter-acre garden? Is it your pet? Is it a yearly vacation by the sea or in the mountains? Where do you find God in nature? Where do you find yourself in nature?

For me, I find the landscapes of the Southwest region of the United States to be healing. There is something about those areas and the ancient cultures that inhabited them in cliff dwellings that call to me. They are an “archetypal landscape” to me. They speak to the ancient parts of my soul and call me into a gentle re-calibration. For others, it is the rugged coasts of wild seas. Still others find rest and reorientation in mountain cabins or by lakes or rivers.

As we draw closer to Ash Wednesday (February 10th this year!), begin to plan a retreat time in nature as part of your Lenten discipline. Could it be a daily walk in the woods? Could it be a bike ride along a beach path? Could it be a short retreat up in the mountains? Whether it be a few hours or a few days, where do you need to go physically for the sake of your soul?

Lent is about remembering God’s order for life and happiness. It is about repenting for the ways in which we have tried to substitute other things for God in our lives. Lent is about re-connecting with our neighbors, seeking to care for them all well. It is about fasting from being enamored with humanity’s achievements and relishing God’s good creation. We can plan ahead for a time of re-calibrating the parts of our lives where we have become unbalanced.

Where will you go? What will you do?

 

 

While the East Coast is dealing with a major blizzard, we are having spring-like weather here at this old house: upper 50s and sunny. The melting ice and snow puts a damp smell in the air that is lovely. Of course, it won’t last. Cold and snow will come back–it is January in Colorado, after all–but it sure is nice while it lasts!

I have felt a bit schizophrenic this past week in that, while still finding the occasional needle from the Christmas tree, I am heavy into planning for Lent. Ash Wednesday begins February 10th this year and Easter is March 27th. Our Easter parade will surely involve heavy coats and snow boots! It has been interesting to connect the Christmas carols, the echoes of which have hardly died away, with the themes of Lent. I am especially aware this week of the stanza two of “What Child is This”:

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

A Lenten stanza in the middle of a Christmas carol, indeed! I wonder if many of us make that connection in the warm-fuzzy candlelight of Christmas Eve. Yet, the Babe of Bethlehem is the Christ on the Cross and when we forget that, we defang the power of the Gospel. Maybe it is a good thing that Easter comes so close to Christmas now and again; it can save Christmas from mere sentimentality and Easter from no functional connection to God-With-Us, the Incarnation of Christmas.

During this Time after Epiphany, the readings in Church remind us of what it means that God-in-Christ is “local and particular.” That is, we learn how Jesus lived a human life in a particular geographic and specific cultural setting. Through the power of his Resurrection, we are invited to do the same. For example, how would Jesus respond if he were living my life, a white, middle-aged woman in a very educated, upper middle class community with all the blessings and temptations that entails? How would Jesus live if he were a Syrian refugee or a young woman trying to go to school in Nigeria? How would Jesus respond to Islam and Muslim immigrants? How would Jesus care for the environment in a particular locale? What would Jesus do if he were living today as a homeless person,  someone underemployed, or the wealthy 1%?

We are invited to answer that question, to take the givens of our lives, our “nurture and nature,” our good and bad choices, our finances, interests and gifts, our educational opportunities, our leisure time–everything that makes us “us” and live it as Christ would have done as a human being on earth. We are invited to be fully who God created us to be and redeem all we can around us through that unique life we have been given.

I am again reminded of the poem by Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Spanish Carmelite nun:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

  That is the message of Christmas moving into Lent. May we embody that message in all we do in our particular and locally grounded life today.

An unusual Saturday here at this old house: I have both a funeral and a wedding to play for. In bigger churches, this happens more often but in my smaller congregation, we don’t have many of either so to have one of each less than 6 hours apart is unusual. I find myself more reflective in both kinds of services. At a funeral, I am obviously aware of my own mortality. When will I die and under what circumstances? Will I have had time to get my affairs in order or will it be sudden and unexpected? Who will come? What will they say? I have a basic funeral service outlined with music and readings I would like included but what will really be done by my survivors? What will be meaningful to them as they mourn?

Weddings cause me to reflect on who I am as a person now. Am I a good wife? A good mother, friend, neighbor, employee? As I watch two people make promises for a future no one can predict, I am very aware of all the couples who didn’t survive the curve-balls of life and for whom the wedding vows were not anchor and compass. I think on the rocky paths and steep rapids my 40 year marriage has weathered.

As with life itself, so it is with relationships: none of us has tomorrow. Today is what counts because who I am in this day will add to or detract from who I want to be in the future.

In recent years, there has been a great emphasis in popular culture of the Christian idea of “living in the now” or “being present.” This is a good thing. In wealthy Western countries, there is so much emphasis on acquiring more so that someday I can do X or Y. The cliched example here is someone who struggles their whole life to make enough money to retire and do whatever they want but dies very shortly after that retirement. Slowing down and “smelling the roses” (or coffee) is a good message, no matter where we hear it. Everyone needs to know functionally that life is only lived in this exact moment and not in the past nor in some never-to-arrive future date.

We need to “play it where it falls,” as my husband is fond of saying, referring to a game such as golf. Life may land us “in the rough” but by stopping and focusing on present facts and feelings, we can begin to figure out how to navigate our way  out of the sand trap we currently find ourselves in. I know that I have done way too much “shooting from the hip” in my life in challenging situations that ultimately caused more damage than if I had grounded myself in the present and given a more reflective  but still honest response.

A thoughtful, reflective response does not denying feelings. Rather, this stepping back, taking a breath and assessing what is really going on now, and from what era of your life the powerful emotions are coming from, feelings are actually honored and used to healthy ends. This works well in marriages and families as well as causing far fewer regrets at our deaths.

Funerals and weddings are good spiritual formational practices. Attendance at them can help us assess where we are now, how we got here, and what we might want to do in terms of course corrections in our own lives, while we still have a chance to do something life-giving with that “ball in the sand trap.”

 

It is definitely January here at this old house: cold, snowy, long. I don’t know why but January always feels endless to me: 31 days in the month and by day 25, I am ready to move on to something else. Maybe it is because it is full-on winter here in the Northern Hemisphere but we have no Christmas lights. The dark of January feels darker than the dark of December without all those twinkling lights around. As in the beginning of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” it is always winter and never Christmas.

January is also the time when the Front Range area of Colorado gets Chinooks, warm winds that blow 70, 80 or more miles per hour. Shingles rip off, trees snap and the snow melts as if it was being vacuumed up. Our county has roof construction codes because those Chinooks have been known to strip houses of their roofs. I don’t walk up on the Mesa during those high winds. Perfectly healthy trees get “punched” by a big gust and snap off, flying sometimes several feet away from their base. I have never experienced an earthquake but I have lain in bed, listening to the wind come down the valley like a freight train and hit the house so hard the bed on the second floor where I am trying to sleep shakes.

The suicide rate goes up when the Chinooks are blowing, too. Never doubt that we are impacted by Nature in all kinds of ways!

I think that is why it is so cool that Christian sacraments are very “earthy.” Water is blessed for Baptism, wine and bread are consecrated for the Eucharist. Ordinary things of the earth are taken by God to bless God’s people, elevating ordinary elements of our lives into use for the holy and sanctifying all of Creation, as well as us. We are impacted by God through natural elements. Perhaps the Chinooks can also be a reminder of the potential force of God’s Holy Spirit were She to be unleashed fully in the world. (In Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, the word for the Holy Spirit is a feminine noun.)

Tomorrow, the Church celebrates the Baptism of Jesus (see Luke 3:21-22). At Christmas, we celebrated Jesus wading into sinful humanity through his birth in Bethlehem. Tomorrow, we celebrate Jesus wading into the waters of the Jordan, fully identifying with our humanity as an adult and beginning the restoration of history: Jesus navigated the wilderness in 40 days, he overcame the temptations of Satan that Adam and Eve succumbed to, and he made death a gateway, not an irreversible ending. That restoration of the earth will reach its final consummation when Jesus returns in glory (see Revelation 21 and 22).

Meanwhile, we are called to live as well as we can in “January.” Our New Year’s resolutions of last week invite us to ground ourselves more fully in God through Creation (good food, exercise) and through the Body of Christ (spiritual and creative practices that nurture us and nurture others). Through practice and being present to each moment, we learn to stand strong in the winds of the Holy Spirit that aerates our souls. We can live hopeful in the dead of winter knowing that Spring is surely coming.

 

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