Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Second Wednesday in Easter: Colored with Grace

The Women touched by Grace have finished their story-telling, and Teri, the Presbyterian pastor who is my co-teacher, and I are doing final planning before we begin teaching our first session in the morning of  The Pastor as Spiritual Mentor.  

I had some time this afternoon to have a massage, a thank you from the grant that funds this program, and a walk around the grounds which of course meant a labyrinth walk. 

I don't know that I've been here at the Monastery when there were more flowers. They are everywhere!

The chapel where we worship is filled with flowers.

Lilacs had been placed on the table where I sat during our morning session.

And then there are the grounds of the monastery. 

Covered in grace.   Literally.

Abounding in grace.  Color-full of grace. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Second Week of Easter: Touched by Grace, again

This is the eleventh year that I've come to Our Lady of Grace, sometimes as a participant of Women Touched by Grace, sometimes as an oblate, sometimes as a teacher of a Women Touched by Grace group.

Women Touched by Grace is an Eli Lilly Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Grant for women clergy.  I was blessed to be part of the first WTBG group which gathered seven times between 2003 and 2006.  As a result of my relationship with the (Benedictine) sisters of Our Lady of Grace Monastery (with whom we shared worship, prayer, and play), I became an oblate of the monastery which has brought me back to monastery at least once every year. The bonus has been that I have been asked to return to facilitate Women Touched by Grace sessions for the second, and now the third group.

I was scheduled to leave Houston early yesterday morning, but when I got to the airport they were looking for volunteers to fly out on the afternoon flight (the flight to Indy the night before had been cancelled, and there were a slew of people yearning to get home).  It was one of those rare times when I could actually take a later flight--so for waiting, I got a $500 travel voucher, a first class ticket on the 1 PM flight, and a morning in the first class lounge.  

My seat mate on the flight was a young mom who was holding her one year old daughter, just three months older than my grandson Jonas. It made for a bit of adventure, but how nice to be able to be a flight grandma for a couple of hours.

So now I'm at the monastery.   Lilacs are blooming.  I have a lovely small room in the guest quarters.  I've walked the labyrinth, prayed the morning office with the sisters, and already had holy rest.

At Morning Praise this morning, the acolyte read from St. Julian of Norwich:

I saw no kind of vengeance in God,
not for a short time
nor for long--

for as I see it,
if God were vengeful 
even for a brief moment
we would never have life, place or being.

In God is endless friendship,
space, life and being.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Second Sunday of the Resurrection: A Gospel for those who wait

At St. Mary's on Holy Saturday, Sharon takes down the Stations of the Cross which surround our iNave and replaces them with Stations of the Resurrection.  These fourteen pieces of art, created by our own Celeste Booker, represent encounters with the resurrected Jesus. The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter (John 20.  19--31) are represented by Stations Five and Six. 

Station five is a response to the night of Jesus’ resurrection, last Sunday evening.  The disciples are gathered in the place where they were last in community with Jesus before he was crucified.

I wonder when they returned to this familiar place, a place full of memories of meals and love and washed feet and conversation: were the dishes still on the table?  Were there crumbs left on the floor?

We dont know who all was there--disciples could have included women and children, too.  We know who wasnt thereJudas, because he had committed suicide after betraying Jesus.
And Thomas.

We arent told why Thomas wasnt in the room with the other disciples. Was he home tending his family? Had he missed the email blasts and the texts letting him how the disciples were getting together?
Was he too sad?  Too afraid?  Too angry?  Only God knows, but because he wasnt there, he missed being with Jesus.

And it wasnt a casual encounter he missed; Jesus gave those gathered disciples words of peace. Jesus gave them his Spirit. What a night to miss church! 

Why-ever Thomas wasnt there, when he heard who and what he had missed, he had to wait a whole week. Think about that.

Where were you last Sunday night?
Think of all that has happened this past week, and imagine, hearing that Jesus was alive, and knowing youd missed him. That you might have missed your only opportunity to see him again.  Ever.
7 days.  168 hours.  10,080 minutes.  604,600 seconds.

Thomas is the disciple who says what others think but are too shy to say. When Jesus and the disciples hear that Lazarus has died, it is Thomas who says, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

Thomas is the one who asks the questions others are too afraid to ask.
When Jesus says that the disciples know where he is going, and that he is going to prepare a place for them, it is Thomas who asks, Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?

I like Thomas.  A lot.  I think God does, too.  I think that God likes when we ask questions.  Hard questions.  Seemingly foolish questions. I think that God likes when were looking for God and trying to understand who God is. I think that God likes when we seek a relationship with God.

Thomas does all this.

When Thomas says, unless I see and touch Jesus, Im not going to believe,  remember what believing means is Johns Gospel: Believing means having a relationship with God.

Thomas wants a relationship with Jesus, not some easy statement of faith. Thomas doesnt want a second hand experience of Jesus. Thomas is saying I want to be with Jesus.

Thats what God wants for each of us.
For us to seek and have a relationship with Jesus.  For us to be found by Jesus.

Thomas has to wait 10 days after Jesus’ death, but Thomas does get what he yearns for--a real life encounter with Jesus. Its represented by station number six of our Stations of the Resurrection.

Our Gospel today reminds those of us who ask hard questions that we are in good company.  Those of us who are waiting are in good company, too.

Thomas waits, and he gets to touch Jesus. Thomas waits, and he receives Jesus’ word of peace. Thomas waits, and he will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, Christs own Spirit, even if missed receiving it the evening of the resurrection, he will receive it six weeks later on the Feast of Pentecost.

One of the things that gives me pause when I stand and ponder our Stations of the Resurrection and look at the gold cross front and center of each Station is what I see reflected in the cross. Myself. Literally. We are all invited in our waiting and longing and fear and questions and uncertainty and hopefulness to find our heart's desire, Jesus.  It is always a yes. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Easter Friday: Keeping Sabbath

Sabbath means to cease to work.  Do you know how hard that is?  Friday is typically my Sabbath, although every now and then something gets in the way.   I truly try to keep Sabbath as a spiritual discipline, and today, Easter Friday, was marked on my calendar in green as Sabbath.

Of course, getting my mind to stop working is a whole other issue.  Although the last three days I've started early and worked late, my head is full today of things left undone.

I decided to start the day with a walk.  I planned a short walk around the neighborhood, only a few blocks or so, but as I was nearing Laneview, I noticed that the gate to the green space at the end of Balcrest was left open.

Here's the conundrum:  although there is a sign that clearly says "no trespassing" there are other signs pointing out walking trails.  Which is it?  The road at the end of Balcrest leads to the water storage unit for the neighborhood, and after my dad died a few years ago, the only walking I could do was down this tree-lined road listening to Irish blessings and prayers on my iPod.

I decided to trespass and walk a little farther, and  I was immediately washed with the wonderful smell of spring flowers.  I decided to walk a little more, and when I rounded the curb, there was a sign indicating the beginning of a walking trails through the green space.

So I was off on an adventure.  I didn't know where I'd end up; I had the sun to let me know which way was north, and I knew that eventually on the other side of the trees was Cypress Creek, so how lost could I get?

Not at all.  My little walk up and down the streets of my neighborhood took me on a nearly hour hike through woods and trees and along a beautiful waterway.  The smell of flowers, birds flitting across my path, lush green.  A very good way to cease to work.

When I was on my Sabbatical two years ago, one of my plans was to walk the paths on this green space along Cypress Creek.  I never got around to it.  But on this Sabbath, I found a
path and I walked it.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Monday: a poem

At the tomb II

His offering made us see what could be done
With flesh and blood.  First we had eaten from
His gestures--wine and bread--and what we'd been
Was gone.  We knew that we belonged to him.

Then, waiting with our grief beside the tomb,
We were made humble, our faces wet.
We wanted his return, we wanted him,
The way he made our truth immediate.

But he was gone, and what would happen now?
We felt the loss that he'd inherited,
The loss we'd given him, that pierced him through.
There, we were bound by all that wasn't said.

And, finally, realizing what was known,
We closed our eyes, and saw him rise through stone.

Kim Bridgeford, quoted in  Christian Century,  April 2, 2014

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

What better day to be thankful than the Feast of the Resurrection. 

Thankful first for my family. I miss them so very much today, it being a major work day for me, and they all live far away.  In fact, can I say that I am a little sad today remembering many happy Easters together? Bunny cakes and eggs decorated and photos of going to church on Easter morning?  

Meanwhile I am very thankful for my St. Mary's family. Seeing them is always such a joy. With one service left for this feast day, nearly five hundred folks have shown up! 

I never take their showing up for worship for granted.  Gone are the days when attending worship on Easter was what everyone did.  I know one family that is off doing a volleyball tournament today. Each person who makes it to church is a treasure. 

And then, I am so very, very thankful for all those who serve in so many ways. I would estimate that at least half of the St. Mary's families have served in some fashion this past week.

When I left at 12.30, joining with clergy throughout the world for my afternoon Easter nap, folks were still serving at St. Mary's.  That altar guild was busy setting up for the 5.30 Eucharist; the folks who had made the delicious (best ever??!!) Easter breakfast had just finished cleaning up; the Sunday morning fellowship queen was putting chocolates and treats away (after giving me a goody bag to go); the tellers were still counting money; the Eucharistic visitors were out taking bread and wine to those who are ill (they delivered to five persons from the St. Luke's Hospital to an assisted living to private homes); and I'm not sure when the Vestry person of the day will make it home, before coming back at 5.30.

What I love best, I think, is that all this serving comes from a place of serving the One who serves us and loves us always and forever.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday

It is Holy Saturday, and Jesus is in the tomb.  It is the one day in the Church calendar when Holy Eucharist cannot be celebrated.  It is the one day when Jesus cannot be present at the table.

Like those who loved Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Joses, and other nameless women, a handful of us will gather at Forest Park Cemetery to bury the mother of a parishioner.

Someone was surprised that we would do a burial during Holy Week--it's Holy Week!  Already, two other folk had died, and we are waiting to do their burials Easter week, the week of the resurrection.  

But when this beloved parishioner asked if we could bury her mother on Holy Saturday, at the request of her father, having buried his son and her brother two weeks ago, it somehow seemed meet and right so to do.

It will be a simple graveside service.  But even though Jesus is in the tomb, in the midst of kairos, Jesus is resurrected, too, and even at the grave we will make our alleluias.

We will hear a portion of the Gospel we will read for the Feast of the Resurrection in the morning.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

....... Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 
They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ 
She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 
Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ 
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 
Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ 
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 

.......Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.    (John 20. 1, 11--16, 18)

We will weep, but we will also watch for Jesus, too.

I am taking a gift with me as a reminder that grief and sorrow also bring resurrection.  It's a bell that I purchased in a fair trade store years ago, waiting for the right recipient.  It's called a desert bell, and was made as a source of income by a nameless person far away.

The bell is hammered brass, and after it is beaten into shape, the bell is buried in a kiln beneath the desert where it sits and tempers and bakes and changes.  Before it can make a lovely sound, it goes through tribulation and fire and even a kind of death.  It is the burial in the desert that gives each bell it's own unique patina and tone.

It is our custom to ring bells at the first alleluias tonight at the Great Vigil of Easter, and to ring them whenever we proclaim alleluia throughout the Great Fifty Days of Easter.  Our parishioner may not be able to ring her desert bell tonight, or even for fifty days.  It will be a while before she has alleluias in her heart again.

But the bell is there.  Ready.  On that day when she can, like Mary of Magdalene, even at the grave, make her alleluias.  Meanwhile, we wait in prayer with her.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Holy Friday, Good Friday: a poem

of all the Woulds

My Son could

have ridden and shed blood upon

mahogany, ebony,
maple, elm, oak,
fir, poplar, banyan, teak,
palm, bamboo, juniper, sequoia,

hawthorn, dogwood, magnolia, crab,
evergreen, balsa, birch, ficus,
peach, cherry, pear, persimmon, or


the most common one
He'd allow
Himself to be spread-eagled on

would be yew.

Carl Winderl,  printed in  The Christian Century,  January 22, 2014

 the photograph at the top of the page is the top of the St. Mary Altar 
(the one under the crucifixion window) 
after the linen was removed during the stripping of the altar 

Maundy Thursday: The great walk of love begins

Were you at worship on Ash Wednesday?  

Were you at worship on Palm Sunday?  

You are hard core disciples.

On Sunday we talked about this ancient road south of the old city in Jerusalem. For me it’s been a place of contemplation this Holy Week. 

It is a road that would have been used by Jesus, very most likely when he left the upper room, right after the his last meal with his disciples.  

It is the road he likely walked with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsamene. Where many of us will pray with him during prayer vigils that last through this Maundy Thursday night into the noon hour of Good Friday.

It is the road he walked after his arrest, to his trial, and then to his death.  Which we will walk with him during Good Friday services.

Palm Sunday I was reminded about the importance of showing up for the walk. The unexpected transformation, forgiveness, and healing that is offered for those of us who walk this road with Jesus.

Here you are.  Showing up.

Since Palm Sunday, one parishioner's mom has died. 

Another parishioner has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Twenty or so folks came to the Eucharist at St. Mary's Holy Wednesday and received anointing with oil and laying on of hands for healing for yourself or on behalf of others.

Some of you have received absolution through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Others have participated in a variety of ways to enable excellent worship to happen all week—and in the days ahead.

Others have taken communion to our neighbors down the street.

Others have taken flowers in pots decorated by our younger Christians to those who could use a smile.

How else have you showed up this week, and placed yourself on Jesus’ path of reconciliation, healing, and transformation?

We’re not done yet. 

As you continue to show up this Triduum, may you know the abundance of God's love for you.

As Brother James Koester, SSJE, writes, 

Tonight, tomorrow and Saturday are one long feast for the senses as we taste, touch, smell, hear and see God’s love made manifest in bread and wine; in water and towel; in fire and oil; in word and action; in sign, symbol and sacrament. What is the meaning of all that we do these Three Days? Love is the meaning.  


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Wednesday: Betrayal and suffering, healing and Eucharist

From the Collect for Holy Wednesday

......Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord......

From the Eucharistic Gospel for Holy Wednesday

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, 'Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.' The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. John 13. 21--22. 

On this Holy Wednesday, we are invited to ponder where we have betrayed Jesus. Betrayal is such a strong word, and I doubt that any of us have betrayed to the degree of Judas, and yet, in ways small, and perhaps not so small, we have been unfaithful to Jesus, we have broken our promises to Jesus.  

This is what we reflected on during our our Holy Eucharist this morning.  Twenty St. Mary's folks showed up for worship and the sacrament of healing.  One of our Eucharistic Visitors took a communion kit full of bread and wine to the eldercare facility down the street and shared God's abundant love with our neighbors. 

Tomorrow we begin the Triduum, three days of worship which culminates with the Great Vigil of Easter at sunset on Saturday evening.  An important part of the three day worship is the Watch with Christ Prayer Vigil which commences at the culmination of the Maundy Thursday Eucharist and lasts through the night until the Good Friday noonday service begins.  Will you show up for an hour to pray?

Diane, Sonya, and Max get the Good Friday cross 
from the attic.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Tuesday: We pray and we give

The parishioner that I traveled into town to pray with before her surgery yesterday is in a great deal of pain.  The surgeon was unable to repair all of the damage to her spine. We wait, and we pray. Of course we hope. 
Another parishioner whose only brother died suddenly less than two weeks ago called to say her mother had died last night. We'll do the burial Holy Saturday. We carry the burden of her pain, and we pray. 
A dear friend, pastor of two churches, emailed with a request for prayer. Her father died yesterday morning. She'll spend Holy Week going home to make burial arrangements, then return to serve Easter in her two churches and then go home yet again for his funeral.  Our hearts hurt for her, and we pray. 

Every day of Holy Week (as we do everyday of every week) we gather morning and evening to pray. This morning, one other woman and I knelt in St. Mary's prayer garden, in a corner of the nave, and read the lessons for Holy Tuesday and prayed for so many. As we prayed for these three, we lit candles one by one by one. 

Tomorrow, Holy Wednesday, we'll celebrate Holy Eucharist with the Sacrament of Healing in place of Morning Prayer. On a good week, ten folks come to this Eucharist. We'll pray, and we will be fed by Christ. 

Sometimes, like this week especially, it feels like there is so much suffering and sadness.  Then I read words from Brother Curtis Almquist:  Our life is not about hoarding or about conserving for its own sake but its opposite: about giving. Our life is about willingly giving up our life and our life’s energies as we see in Christ’s own self-emptying. 

The worship leader who faithfully prayed Morning Prayer Holy Monday when she was a congregation of one. Abundant giving. 

The woman who came up to St. Mary's this afternoon and set up as carefully and prayerfully for the Eucharist a handful will attend tomorrow as the group of faithful women will on Holy Saturday for the hundreds who will join us for Easter Sunday. Abundant giving. 

Meanwhile, emails travel silently across computers and tablets and smart phones with words of care and prayer. Abundant giving. 

Every little moment this Holy Week that is not hoarded or conserved but given.  It is a good Holy Week rhythm.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Monday: Walking the Forgiveness Road

So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.  Mark 11. 24--25

As I write this, I'm at St. Luke's Hospital waiting while a parishioner has extensive back surgery. It seems that we have a lot of folks in the parish with back issues--people for whom we've prayed a lot and who continue to have chronic pain.  Our hearts hurt with the agony that is theirs day in and day out. We'd like to vote for more yeses to our healing prayers. 

The promise from the Gospel reading for this Holy Monday is about forgiveness. Jesus asked early in his ministry--which is more difficult to do:  to forgive or to heal?  As challenging as it often is to receive healing, forgiveness is absolutely impossible without God. Seeking forgiveness with a repentant heart is always a yes from God. 

As we show up on the Holy Road of Holy Week, what healing through forgiveness is God placing on your heart?  Do you need help knowing that God's forgiveness is a yes waiting to happen?  Your priest is ready to help with the gift of Reconciliation of a Penitent. Please call her and make an appointment.

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday: Showing up begins

For many years there was a woman who is very dear to me who suffered from depression.   When asked, she said that her depression felt like she had no purpose and no hope. Too many times, her sadness so overcame her that she took to her bed.

The woman has never been particularly fond of travel, so nearly thirty years ago when her church planned a trip to go to the Holy Land, she was not particularly interested.  But her husband wanted to go, and they loved their pastor who was leading the pilgrimage, and so, somehow, she found the courage to make the trip.

The story from her travels that touched me most was the one of her visit to a road just south of the old city in Jerusalem.   Worn stone steps climb a hill, and though historians cannot agree exactly where the High Priest’s house or the Upper Room were, almost all believe this road was used in Jesus’ time. In fact, most concur that this is the road that Jesus and his disciples would have walked from his last meal with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane.  It’s the same road that he would have walked after his arrest by the Roman soldiers back into Jerusalem to the High Priest’s house where his trial began.


This woman who is dear to me told me that this road wasn’t on their planned itinerary, but that somehow they ended up there. When she got to the ancient road, she was overcome by the presence of Christ, and was unable to put her feet upon on it.

It was holy ground.  It was one of those thin places where heaven and earth meet.

The woman walked up the hill on a path beside the steps, mindful as she walked that she was walking beside the place that Jesus himself walked.  Where his very footsteps had been. On the way to the cross.

In that thin place, something shifted in this dear woman, although she didn’t know right away.  When she got home, after years of suffering, really suffering from depression, a doctor finally listened to her.  He acknowledged the deep emotional pain that she had carried within her.  He prescribed some medication that began to help.

In her sixties, this woman began to be the woman that God had created her to be in a way that she never had before.  She was transformed.  Beside that road that Jesus walked the week we call holy, she had received what I consider a miracle of healing.

When I went to Jerusalem a year ago, this was a place that was on my must see list. It’s roped off now, and one cannot walk on it.  But it is still a thin place. And I could stand beside it and see Jesus walking up and down those steps.

I could see on this very road ..... When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26.30).  Jesus's disciples walking with him.

I could see, later that night, on that same road, Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest (Matthew 26. 57).  His disciples having deserted him, he walked this time without a friend.

I could see this woman, so dear to my heart, walking prayerfully up the hill, with her broken spirit being made new by Christ's healing grace.

This week, of all of the weeks of our Church year, is a place where heaven especially meets earth. We are all invited to walk on ancient and holy roads with Christ.  Roads of prayer and scripture and worship.  Roads of spiritual practices.

I wonder.  Would this woman have been healed in such a remarkable way if she had not made her pilgrimage?  God only knows.

I wonder.  What will happen to us when we walk this Holy Week with Christ, and with our parish community?  God only knows.

But I know that walking this road was important to Jesus.
Walking it so that we could be forgiven.
Walking it so that we could be healed.

When the dear woman traveled to the Holy Land, to this road, I believe she had no expectation of healing or transformation.  But she showed up.  And God did an extraordinary thing.

When we show up on this the Holy Road of Holy Week, what extraordinary gift of healing and forgiveness does God have planned for us?


Friday, April 4, 2014

Sunrise prayers

Today is the last day on Tybee Island, and 
was up before sunrise again for another walk on the beach. Today I carried my St. Mary's prayer list with me, and battling winds that would have blown away the pages of names of those I carry everywhere with me in my heart, I walked and prayed. Holding tight. 

The first email of the day had been from a parishioner whose brother had died last night. This leaves many extra challenges in her life, and I carried her in prayer.  

The friend with which I travel has a dear friend, a priest, who was placed on hospice last night. I carry him and those he loves in prayer with her. 

For my family, one by one. For the leaders of St. Mary's. For each member of the parish. For friends so dear. 

Each step on the beach, as light changes colors and fills, a prayer. 

As my prayer walk ended, a congregation of birds had gathered. Usually ready to fly at the first approaching footstep, these stayed in community, mostly looking in the same direction. A little church of shorebirds. 

Good morning, God, this is your day. I am your child. Please show me your way. AMEN.