Questions and the Table

Today’s communion intro…

Before I started hanging out with the sisters at the monastery, I thought monastic life was, well, boring. You go to prayer three times a day, mass once a day, and share all your meals with the other sisters. With all that structure, I assumed that everybody’s spirituality was, well, kind of boring, too. Or at least the same. Or at least steady.

But it’s not. In fact, there’s a lot more doubt and questioning in religious communities than you might think. After three years of dipping my toes into the monastic routine, I’ve come to realize that the sisters don’t go to prayer all the time because they’ve got it all figured out. No, they go to prayer all the time because they’re trying to figure it out. The structure of community prayer, worship, and meals doesn’t give them faith…it simply creates a space where they can wrestle with it.

That’s what this table can be for us. We don’t come to this table because we understand everything about the eucharist. We don’t come to this table because we’ve already found answers to our faith questions. No, we come to this table because it gives us a structure, it creates a safe place for us to receive God’s grace…even during those seasons when we’re lurking in the shadows of faith.

Come today.
Receive the bread, Jesus’ body, gift of grace.
Receive the cup, Jesus’ blood, gift of grace.

Let us pray. God, we thank you that faith is much less toggle switch and much more rheostat. We thank you, too, that we are welcome at this table no matter where our personal spiritual dimmer switch is set. Amen.

[Sharing the elements.]

Amazing Grac(i)e

I confess that it took me a while to get used to Gracie. She’s one of the cats we welcomed into our home last November. You see, Gracie is a black cat. A solid black cat.

I don’t consider myself a superstitious person…but all that “If a black cat walks in front of you, it’s bad luck” nonsense ran through my head every time I saw Gracie. If a black cat walks in front of you… But what if she slithers around your ankles and wraps herself around your legs while you walk? For the first couple of months, I was sure I was done for. Bringing a black cat into our home? What was I thinking?

I had an insight about Gracie this week–she’s living up to her name. I named her after the monastery I’ve been visiting the past 3 years, Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana. OLG is the place where I have definitely experienced grace through the Women Touched by Grace program for women clergy ( I wanted to pay tribute to OLG and WTBG by naming one of the two cats we got “Gracie.” (We thought of naming the other cat “Georgie” [as in Burns], but opted instead for Dayo, a Yoruban word that means “joy arrives.”

Once able to get past the fact that Gracie is a black cat who walks in front of me every chance she gets (and recognizing that no more bad luck than usual has visited my life since Gracie had entered it), I began to observe Grac(i)e for who she is. Here’s some of what I’ve observed…

–Grac(i)e is always present. The moment I begin to stir in the mornings, Grac(i)e is right there, poking around, gently pawing, nuzzling. If I respond to her, she seems overjoyed. If I don’t respond, she hops off the bed…then returns the next time I stir. Grac(i)e also accompanies me to the bathroom. That seems to be one of her greatest concerns–making sure I’m never un-attended in the powder room. Whether awake or asleep, studying or watching TV, Gracie is present, sometimes in my lap, usually just nearby sleeping.

–Grac(i)e loves to play. LOVES to play! Several times a day, she approaches me with a sponge ball in her mouth; sometimes she’s on the floor, sometimes on the chair, sometimes in my lap. Her invitations are always subtle, yet still insistent. “It’s time to play, Kim.” I’d say I accept her invitation about 97% of the time. We don’t usually play long, but the game is always a gift.

–Grac(i)e loves and accepts me, no matter what I do. If we have a falling out–like when she sneaks under the covers and starts nipping my legs–no matter. We take a short break, then she’s right back with me, nuzzling, purring, loving (or whatever the cat equivalent of loving is).

Now, when I see Gracie, I imagine that I’m encountering God’s grace. God’s grace, too, is ever-present, accepts me for who and what I am, and often invites me to play.

Amazing Grac(i)e, indeed!

Peace for your journey…

More Ash Wednesday Reflections

Yesterday at my clergywomen support group, I told my colleagues about how hard the whole ashes thing had been this year. One friend said that she, too, had had a hard time with it. Then she got an idea. “I said the ashes to ashes thing to the first person, but every person after that I said, ‘You are loved,’ while I imposed the ashes.” Kind of cool, huh?

In her Ash Wednesday sermon, another friend focused on the love and grace of the season of Lent…she talked about how the whole ashes and dust thing reminds us that we aren’t in control, that we are only human, and that we are loved by God for being human.

Those responses got me thinking…Lent is the one season of the church year that invites us below the surface of our lives, into the depths of who we are. Why invite people into the depths then focus on how bad we are? You’re born, life sucks, then you die. No…in this season of coming clean with all of who we are, we need more than ever to know of God’s love for us.

I think that’s what I’ll try to focus on this Lent–both as a worshiper and as a worship leader–the love of Lent. From dust I have come, to dust I shall return, and I’ll be loved every minute until I do.

Peace for your lenten journey…

Ash Wednesday Reflections

So, I told Allen at supper that I hate–just hate–Ash Wednesday services. “That’s because they’re all about sin,” he said. But I don’t think that’s it. I am a woman of errors, well-acquainted with sin.

As a participant, I love Ash Wednesday services. This is the one time of year we have explicit permission to go into the depths of who we are. Since I live there most of the time any way, Lent feels kind of comfortable for me.

No, I think it’s LEADING Ash Wednesday services that’s uncomfortable. It’s really hard to impose the ashes, to remind everyone present–in such an intimate way–that they were born and they will die. I mean, we all know we’re going to die…but to be the one to say so in so many words? It’s not the most favorite part of my job.

The thing that’s humbling, though, is that all those people LET me impose ashes on them. They let me touch them in that intimate way and remind them that they were born, are living, and will die. I guess that part’s nice, to have the trust of the people…but Ash Wednesday…it just makes everything about life and death and our humanness so real. Sigh.

Here’s one thing I really enjoyed today…setting up the sanctuary with Allen. We hunted up the right paraments and banners, assembled the lenten candles, practiced creating the ashes (we didn’t use last year’s palms this time), draped the cross with a purple cloth…the Lenten journey can be rough and solitary…it was nice to prepare for it with my husband, my colleague, my friend. My Allen.

Peace for your lenten journey…

The Holy Spirit…and All that Jazz

Allen and I were awakened from a sound sleep around 1:00 this morning by the jazz riffs of a solo flutist playing in the living room. Our living room. I knew I’d left my flute out…and I know we’ve got some really crafty cats…but could they really be playing jazz? In the middle of the night?

Once I’d gained full consciousness, I realized that I’d left a jazz flute CD in my player and had left the player turned on. When one of the afroementioned crafty cats walked across the player, she turned it on. Mystery solved.

As annoying as it is to be wakened from a deep sleep hours before the alarm goes off, it was kind of nice hearing jazz mysteriously playing in my house in the dead of night. Hearing it reminded me of Dave Brubeck’s piece called “The Voice of the Holy Spirit.” The piece is, I guess you’d call it an oratorio. It tells the story of Pentecost from Acts 2.

The thing that’s so cool about the piece is that every time the Holy Spirit appears in the text, the instrumentalists break out into improvisational jazz. One time it’s the piano, another the saxophone, another time the flute. Brubeck’s thinking is that jazz is the musical form that best illustrates the moving of the Spirit…there is some basic form there, but what happens within that form is totally up-for-grabs and dependent on being fully present in the moment. As Jesus tells Nicodemus: “The wind/spirit blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (John 3:8)

Come, Holy sha-da-ba-doo-dah Spirit, Come!

Free Speech vs. Freeing Speech

This was a hard one…hearing the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of funeral protesters. The Phelps clan has been around for a long time marching with signs that declare with certainty what God thinks and who God hates. Everything in my being is repulsed by what I read on those signs…and I only see them on the news. They’ve never been directed at me; their words never have assured me that God hates me or that people are dying because of me. (But then, maybe they don’t know that I’m a woman pastor…who knows?) Evenso, reading the unbelievably violent things written on those signs… how much psychological damage are those signs doing? How much psychological damage has been done to people that they think it okay to inflict such violence on others?

Yes, yes, yes. Free speech is vital to a democracy, vital. I want the same freedom to preach my theology that others have. But wasn’t some line crossed in this case? “Thank God for dead soldiers” at a military funeral? I can’t imagine the psychological damage that has been done to the Snyder family.

I don’t know this…I haven’t been to law school; I’m not exactly on the Supreme Court justice trajectory…But the decision feels right. The Court’s job in this case was to affirm the right of citizens to free speech…

But as a person of faith–and as a pastor–in addition to my concern for free speech, I’m equally concerned about freeing speech. “No one condemns you,” Jesus said. “Go and sin no more.” “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

In the Gospels, over and over again, Jesus seems always and only to speak freeing words to people, words that accept them for who they are, words that assure them of God’s love for them, words that move them into a closer embrace with God. In fact, now that I think about it, the people with whom Jesus is less-than-gracious are the religious leaders, the ones who seem so certain of what God thinks and whom God hates.

As people of faith, we have such an opportunity to share God’s love–God’s LOVE–with people who are hurting. How can any Christian in his or her right mind knowingly hurt those who are hurting? How can any Christian be so sadistic? How can any adherent to the faith of “God is love” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” do such violence to thier neighbors?

As a citizen, I affirm the Phelps’ right to free speech. As a person of Christian faith, I wish to God they would exercise their freedom to say the right things.

Books for February: 9

I only read 9 books in February…but, hey. The month only had 28 days, right?

Here they are:

1) Myers, Tamar. Too Many Crooks Spoil the Broth. (PennDutch mysteries, #1)

2) Wallace, Daniel. The Watermelon King (Southern fiction, by the guy who wrote “Big Fish.” Loved this one.)

3) Buechner, Frederick. The Storm. (Buechner is absolutely a masterful writer…If I were to sum this one up, I would say: God is found in community.)

4) Edelman, Marian Wright. Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations for Our Children. (Read this in prep for the service about the sexual exploitation of children. Anyone who advocates for children–or wants to–should read this book of prayers.)

5) Roberts, Gillian. Helen Hath No Fury. (Amanda Pepper Mystery #10) (Don’t you just love her puns?)

6) Lewis, C. S. Prince Caspian. (Narnia #4) (Listened to it on audio–read by Lynn Redgrave.)

7) Myers, Tamar. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Crime. (PennDutch, #2…These Amish/Mennonite mysteries are pure fluff…guilty pleasures!)

8) McNeal, Reggie. The Present Future. (A book for work…about how church as we know it is changing…The most striking idea–how Christianity has become subsumed by “churchianity.” We aren’t so much inviting people to Christ as we are inviting them into club membership at a local church. McNeal writes from his perspective as a Southern Baptist, so not everything he says resonates with me or the context of the church I pastor, but the basic question of the relationship between church membership and faith–that’s important.)

9) Roberts, Gillian. Claire and Present Danger. (Amanda Pepper Mystey #11) (I say I read these mysteries for fun…but occasilly I run across really good sermon/ Sunday school stuff in mystery novel…like these two quotes: “I knew I should back out of that pantry and remove this scene from my mind. (An undocumented maid was hiding in the pantry obviously distressed.) This really was none of my business. Or was it—in the way it was everybody’s business. There are no parables of the Half-Assed Samaritan who asked politely, then backed off.” (47) “There are societies and religions that consider being excluded the ultimate punishment. The loss of community is basically a death penalty.” (211)

A new month, new books to read. Here goes!

Peace for your journey…