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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Seeds and Blessings Scattered

A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell …
- Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8
The sidewalks around my neighborhood are covered with small seeds from some kind of maple tree.  You know the ones I mean.  The ones that spin as they fall through October skies.  In this part of the world, they are all over the place.  Much harder to see are the seeds from the grasses and wildflowers.  They too are all over the place.  Some land in a good place and others don't.  They are scattered extravagantly.
I hope you are familiar with the parable of the sower, the beginning of which is quoted above and which appears in three gospels.  We often use the parable to illustrate how words of truth and good news may land in good places within us and also in places they will not live and grow.  We hope that we are fertile ground or may become fertile ground!
You may also reflect upon how the seeds in the parable are, like the seeds in our neighborhoods, scattered wildly.  It is as if the sower, the maple trees and grasses, and the one from whom all blessings flow have an inexhaustible supply.  It's okay that some seeds fall on the path and get trampled.  It's okay that some seeds fall on the street and get pulverized.  It is okay that God's blessings fall on ears that cannot hear them.  There are plenty more where those came from.
The extravagance with which God dispenses grace and blessing tells us what God is like. God's grace is an expression of the nature of God.  There is no divine calculation about the percentage of blessings that will be thankfully received.  God is not choosing to love us because it is worth the effort.  God just can't help it.
That is a characteristic of the kind of divine love that we are cultivating in our shared journey of faith.  We are trying to grow and transform ourselves into people who love extravagantly.  We practice by loving those we fall in love with, those who are part of our families, those who we count as neighbors.  We continue to practice by loving those who are not immediately lovable, those who we don't know, and those who we see as our enemy.  I use the word "practice" because I know that you struggle toward this elusive goal just like I do.  It is so much wiser to control our love and kindness.  It is a savvy calculation to avoid wasting our time forgiving those who are not repentant, to "let go" of relationships that are not reciprocal, and to dismiss "them" – all those who any fool can see are not "us."  When we are being farmers at Stearns Farm, we are careful to plant each bulb of garlic in good soil.  We don't waste the garlic by scattering it in the woods.
Beloved, when it comes to giving of ourselves, we are not farmers.  Leave that analogy behind.  We aspire not to farm but to do something for which we must seek another kind of analogy or another story.  We tell the story of Jesus.  The way we tell the story, we tell of a man who at some point stopped making the calculations about how much to give, about how much his love and even his life was worth.  He emptied himself of all such understandable expectations and said to his God what you practice saying to your God, "thy will be done."  
When you say what Jesus said, you move toward the true, extravagantly generous, persistently kind, foolishly loving you that you are meant to be!
Pray with me now?  O Holy One, thy will be done.  Amen!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My Heart Sings Out With Joyful Praise

"My Heart Sings Out With Joyful Praise" is #106 in the New Century Hymnal and follows the tune "Marias Lovsang," a Swedish folk melody.

Here is a new verse for the beginning of worship:

Now ring the bells and bring the flame for we have come to sing,
To sing and pray and learn and praise the source of every thing,
And call to all the wandering, the pilgrims seeking home,
To share with them the gentle words, “My friends, you’re not alone!”

Friday, September 30, 2011


Elijah called to her and said, 'Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.' But the widow said, 'As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug. I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.' Elijah said to her, 'Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.'            1 Kings 17:10-14

That, I'm sorry to say, is one of the only passages in the Bible that approaches being a recipe!  I think it would not pass whatever test a recipe has to pass in order to get into the church cookbook.
Do you follow recipes when you cook?  Sure you do.  Whether you are someone with shelf after shelf of back issues of Gourmet magazine or you are someone who reads the instructions on the microwave box every night before you heat up the frozen entrĂ©e, we follow recipes to make sure we get it right.  Some of us follow recipes to the letter.  If it says one cup of diced carrots, then ¾ cup is just not correct.  Having all the ingredients available in just the right proportion and preparation before starting to put a recipe together is a wonderful feeling.  There is something deeply satisfying about following the instructions exactly and having a stew or a batch of cookies come out just right.
In the interests, as they say, of full disclosure, I will admit that I have a more flexible relationship with recipes than some people.  I like to think that I can vary an ingredient here or there when I'm missing something.  Won't some chopped basil do just as well as some chopped parsley?  Is sour cream a substitute for heavy cream?  I also like to think that I might stumble upon something unexpected and wonderful. 
Like what?  Take the recipe for oatmeal cookies on the inside of the lid of a container of Old Fashioned Quaker Oats.  It calls for one teaspoon of ground cinnamon.   I made a batch with ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon and added one teaspoon of a blend of spices called Chinese Five Spice.  Our neighbors are still pestering me for the recipe.  Very satisfying.
The truth I've experienced in recipe-following is that I almost never have everything I'm supposed to have and I almost always can't do some step exactly like it says.  For me, all recipes are "really more like guidelines," (to quote the pirates.)  And, yes, here's the Jesus part of today's essay.  Jesus was a follower of the law.  He loved the law of his family and of the people who came to follow or to listen to him.  He "opened the scriptures."  Jesus would not want any of us to overthrow the patterns of order and health that have enabled people to live together with justice and mutuality.  It is also clear that Jesus sometimes treated the law more like guidelines.  He trusted a particularly loving kind of common sense that led him to violate the letter of the law in order to fulfill the wonder of the law.  I believe Jesus calls us to do the same.  I believe that each of you, each of us, is called – is commanded to make something nourishing and delicious and personal with the recipes of our tradition. 
And let's remember that the recipe Elijah requested from "the widow of Zarephath" in the passage quoted above, wasn't much of a recipe for a cook.  The Bible is not that kind of a cookbook.  Elijah offered a recipe of hope for someone who didn't have any.  "Do not be afraid.  Make a little something to share.  We'll eat and then see what is best to do next."  That's the kind of recipe I hope we can each cook up this day and every day.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


If you sing of God and hear the words that come from your own mouth

If you let love for God sprout within yourself,

All your sorrows shall change,

And in the places where the spirit lives in you, God will bestow abiding peace.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Jacob's Dream

In the story of Jacob's Ladder, Jacob has this dream. We've all had dreams, right? Have some of yours been as wacky as Jacob's? Sure they have. Can you remember any of your dreams? I mean, right now, do you remember any particular dreams? I can remember a couple, I guess. The ones I can remember are not necessarily the ones that woke me up or were the most beautiful. I remember, and I submit that you remember, the ones that held meaning for you. Jacob remembered this one.

In the story, he sees a truth so powerful and beautiful in his dream that he remembers it and makes it part of the foundation of his destiny, his story, his legacy, and thus part of the foundation of his tribe.

Jacob sees that the angels are attending to work here among us. He understands that the angels coming and going means that God is paying attention to us. That is the context: God's ongoing involvement with creation and history. When the voice of the Lord tells Jacob that he is rooted in the ongoing provision of God for a people and that he himself will create a family that will bless all the nations, Jacob accepts the promise God makes to him.

Understand that this revelation to Jacob is revealed to Jacob in particular and rendered in images and messages that are uniquely powerful to Jacob. While his experience is illuminating, it is his, not yours.

That makes sense, doesn't it? Each of us is unique and that which touches us deeply and convinces us and changes us will match our uniqueness.

So what is yours? Where have you felt the presence of God, the goodness of creation, the connectedness of all people - all things, or the thrill of the source of life coursing through your veins, your imagination, your self? ...and I have a follow-up. Now that you claim that experience, how does it affect your life this day?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Free to ... ?

What is freedom?  Perhaps you remember being in worship at Grace church when you were part of a moment when people spoke about freedom and what it means or what it has meant to them. 

Certainly we hear the word a lot.  Particularly at this time of year, the stretch of days that run from Memorial Day through Flag Day and into the Fourth of July weekend, people make reference to sacrifices that have been made to preserve our freedom, sacrifices and efforts that have been made to bring freedom, to liberate people.  These pronouncements, conversations, reminiscences, and retellings are a significant and valuable part of binding ourselves together as a nation.  They are also a valuable part of binding ourselves to our brothers and sisters around the world.  In yearning for freedom and struggling for freedom we walk in each other's paths and carry each other's burdens.  Like the freedom song with the chorus, "None of us are free (if) one of us is chained, none of us are free."

I have a follow up question, if I may?  What are you free for?  What are you free to do?

From a political posturing, and somewhat of a historical, point of view, the answer is usually "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  That's pretty good and maybe that is your answer.  My question is a little more specific and I invite you to consider it from some specific points of view. 

First of all, consider your perspective, your personal understanding about the meaning and purpose of life.  What that is vitally important to you are you free to do?  The "pursuit of happiness" is a fine thing.  How is that manifest in your particular life?  How do you pursue happiness?  What in your life has ever made you deeply satisfied and filled with light?  And are you free to seek that thing?
Second, from your everyday life of being a citizen, what freedom is really important to you?  Perhaps it is vital to you to vote in elections.  Really?  The voter turnout in the United States is uninspiring, to me at least.  Is your freedom to practice a religion of your choice or no religion at all vital to you?  Perhaps it is. On the other hand, it is frequently spoken at Grace Church that some of us are afraid of being "those people," the ones who bend one's ear about the truth of one or another aspects of religion.  If that is true for you, then I  wonder what it is that you are free to do with your religion.  If we never speak to anyone outside of our religious community about our faith and what it does in our life, if we never speak of God outside of church, if we never speak to God except during the Lord's Prayer on Sunday morning, then I question how free we really are.
Finally, from all your experience in Sunday School, in your home practices of faithful living, in your reading, doubting, thinking, discussing, listening, and worshipping, from what kind of bonds have you been freed?  What are  you free to do now? 
I'd like to suggest that we are freed for more abundant life in an wide range of ways.  Consider this perspective from Jon Sobrino in The Christian Century (April 3 1991), thanks to Church of the Savior at

The exercise of mercy is the measure of freedom--that state of being which is universally hailed as a human ideal in the Western world. When he healed on a Sabbath, Jesus was violating the rules and norms of his time because he was merciful, not because he [thought that the authorities were too strict.] Jesus understood freedom from the point of view of mercy, not the other way around. For him, freedom meant that nothing could stand in the way of the exercise of mercy.

Here is the concept of freedom from our deepest Christian tradition.  Freedom can mean for you and me something expansive and bold.  Freedom of this sort means that nothing stands in the way of our exercise of mercy.  Faith frees us from anything that would keep us from loving each other like we are family. 

We claim Jesus as our model, our guide, and our inspiration.  We thereby claim that we are free to love our enemies.  
We choose the way of the cross and we are thereby free to give up our long-smoldering resentments and start to forgive those who have offended or harmed us.  
We are citizens of God's kingdom.  That means we are free to exercise our responsibility, direct from God, for how we take care of this world.  
We are free to set fear aside and then speak clearly and act in opposition to injustice. 

What is your freedom good for?  You are freed from selfishness and released for compassion!

In a season where talk of freedom most often refers to political freedom, let us applaud.  Then let's deepen and claim as well your freedom to be whole; both loving and loved!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Green Chili

Check out Chef Anthony at Green Chili, a good place to plan a worship service or chat or just have a meal!
Anthony serves hot dogs and hamburgers and fries, but the Chicken Tikka Dosa is much more fun.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Prayer for My Life

Dear God, 
we call from our short lives to you who are the beginning and the end.  
O hear me now in my fear of what will come at the end, at the end of my life.  For I know that my life will end and so too the lives of all whom I have loved.  
I don’t ask that you do anything about this fate.  I know how the story ends.  
I only ask to live this wonderful life more vividly, more deeply, more compassionately, more for others than for myself, that my life may therefore have meaning, and be a gift to all whose lives I touch.  …and be delightful and surprising to you, my heart, my home, my God.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Rest of the Story: Sewing Garments for Adam and Eve

... the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them
…the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.

                                                                                                - Genesis 3:21,23

     The first trip humans take in the Bible is a fateful one.  It is set in the context of the second of the several creation stories one finds in the Bible.  The trip out of Eden separates Adam and Eve from the presence of God and this, of course, is the main story here.
     Adam and Eve ate fruit from the tree at the center of Eden which God had specifically told Adam to leave alone.  God is pretty upset by this whole violation.  Yet in the midst of the cosmic anger, God provides clothing, direction, and a living.
    What must God have done to make garments of skins for Adam and Eve.  First, God has to get skins, right?  So here is a God who hunts, kills, removes skin from the animals, cures it so it can be worked and worn, figures out what clothes are, figures out how to fasten the skins together, and maybe does some fitting just at the end.  Pretty caring and sophisticated stuff!  Have you ever made a garment?  I have, and I know a bit about preparing animal skin for further use.  These are not things that happen immediately.  
     So the sudden, wrath-filled God is not who I see in this story.  I see, rather, a God who recognizes the new state of affairs (now that Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit that gives knowledge of good and evil,) heaves a heavy sigh, and does what is necessary to deal with the situation.  God does not kill them, does not simply throw them out, and (if you keep reading) does not stay forever angry.
     On a sunny weekend in May, you might find yourself tilling the ground somewhere.  In Massachusetts, it's really the first weekend you can reliably put up your window boxes and plant your tomatoes.  When you get yourself into the dirt, the ground, just give a little prayer of thanks that we get to do this "tilling" as a connection to the ancient moment when God sent Adam and Eve out into the yard to get it done.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Meaning After

Birthdays are on my mind. My family has a lot of spring-born folk so
this is a time when there are phone calls and cards flying around.
It is easy to believe that it makes a difference in which season one
is born. Think of astrology's insights about people born "under" one
sign or another. Or that poem about how "Monday's child is fair of
face, Tuesday's child is full of grace, etc."

Perhaps you are someone who has found value in these observations? I
know that there was a time in my life when reading the daily
horoscope for Gemini (my "birth sign") in the Globe would interest me.

Do you check yours? Have you found them to be insightful, helpful,
or true?

Actually, those kernels of advice interested me most in the rear view mirror, as it were.  I would look at yesterday’s paper, at the day I had lived, and ask myself where during the day this particular kernel have been true.

For me, you see, the meaning comes after the event. It is after an
event that I look for how and what the event will mean in my life.
It is how I have come to terms with the folk wisdom that says,
"everything happens for a reason." I assert that this is true – but
only in retrospect. In other words, I don't think there is a
predictive, planned engine or god who figures out that a flat tire
tomorrow morning is just what Brad needs or the fate of the world
needs to have happen. For me, the meaning comes after the event.

For example, we – we humans – have recently been visited by
earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We were thrown about like
playthings and our boats and buildings flipped and flattened like
they were toys too. We lost family members and friends and places
where we lived and worked and played. We, some of us, were killed.
The event did not happen to us so that some meaningful thing will
happen in the world. That's not the way the earthquake works and it
is not the way our God works. Yet, from these events, we will learn,
we will be changed, and we will create meaning. Stay tuned, there
will be meaning after the event.

Like your precious life, my brothers and sisters. Your precious life
is full of meaning – in story and wisdom and potential and
accomplishment! All this meaning came after your birth day, right?
So I give thanks that we are in each others' lives, connected across
time and space. I give thanks that in the midst of even the saddest
of events, birthdays still occur. May we all find meaning and joy in
these recurring celebrations of life. …and cake.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Call to Worship - First Sunday in Lent 2011

One: For God's sake!
All: For my sake!

One: For the sake of others alive today,
All: And those yet to be born,

One: For all God's creation,
All: I pledge to learn

One: I pledge to learn about the impact my life choices have on the
lives of future generations.
All: I pledge to learn about the impact my life choices have on the
lives of future generations.

One: Let us pledge to learn what we can do to ensure a sustainable
and healthy future.
All: Let us avoid the temptation of answering our own needs in ways
that diminish the lives of others.

One: Lead us not into temptation.

(Adapted from "Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast" materials for Ash
Wednesday, New England Regional Environmental Ministries, United
Church of Christ,

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Faith and Imagination

Imagine a far off place, over the rainbow.  What's your over-the-rainbow world?  Is it a simpler time?  Is it a place without want or suffering?  Is it a world of magic and epic adventure?  Is it heaven?  Being in that place would be the best!

  Yearning for that world puts us in touch with our deepest need and our hope.  That yearning can act as an internal compass, directing us toward all that is energized and purposeful, all that is free and loved.

Then consider how good it is to taste a real hot dog (or an August tomato or fresh-baked bread.)  Your fascination with yearned-for worlds dims a little as you come to realize that we make paradise out of our own tangible lives...if we take that chance.  It is taking a chance because life doesn’t always turn out to be a paradise.  But life teaches us that there is power and beauty in the real.  As we learn to see the power and the beauty in that which we can touch, we are invited to reflect in wonder about that power and beauty.  An unexpected thing happens.  We learn that we are creators of those moments of beauty.  What I mean is that the beauty and power of earthly things can surprise us.  And if we learn the art of being surprised, learn what it is about these surprising, wonderful things that is lovable and beautiful, then we come to realize that we are agents of that beauty.  

“If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  This riddle is easy to answer after some study.  After all, sound is a physical property of our reality.  But how about this?  If a rose blooms in a field and no one ever comes to see it, is it beautiful?  Let me make this suggestion.  When you look at the rose and discover that it is beautiful, something unique and transcendent is created.  Meaning is created.  We are co-creators of beauty, of power, and of meaning.  Furthermore, the more we love this world, the more our capacity for loving this world deepens. 

And then something odder still happens.  We come to realize that there is something about this ability of ours to see that which is lovable and true in the midst of this world that has opened us to that which is lovable and true in the unseen world.  Yes.  You become capable of seeing Jesus as your companion.  You become capable of hearing what God is speaking.  You open to that which is unprovable, invisible, and easily shown to be a crock.  You become able to make meaning out of the presence of God.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Love Story

Let me tell you a love story.

I fell in love with a girl.  We had known each other for awhile.  Somehow it happened.  One day, the one who had been important, hopeful, fun, pretty, interesting, smart… all the reasons we gravitate toward someone … all of that was suddenly deepened.  I had fallen!

Then, because our lives are not fixed in place like bedrock but flowing like rivers and wind, she went away.  Not forever, but for a long time.  This meant that every day I didn't hear her voice.  I had things to talk to her about and she was not there to listen. 

An ache that had begun in anticipation of the separation deepened.  Do you know this ache?  It comes to us in different ways.

For me in those days, it grew into a bite, like something was torn out of me. 

One creation story says that God took a rib out of Adam to create Eve.  Do you think that's a literal creation act?  Maybe.  But it is powerfully true.  All of us are likely to know the feeling. There is something of ourselves missing, some emptiness.  The lover believes his lover is the one missing, and that's what I felt. 

It was serious, momentous, powerful, painful.

She was gone.  Nevertheless, in her absence, she was present all the time.  Her absence was real and the place where she should have been was, in its way, as emotionally and spiritually tangible as her presence would have been.

In her absence, she was present all the time.

This was in the days you may remember, some of you more vividly than others, when phone calls across oceans were expensive.  There was no email.  We wrote letters.  I longed to pour myself into these letters but I knew they would be unreadable!  My life had nothing much new happening in it since I was the one who stayed behind.  What would I write about?  I am grateful that this was at a time of my life when my work demanded a lot from me physically.  That helped – during work hours, anyway.  Anyway, I wrote what seemed to me to be a whole lot. I wrote what seemed to me to be - regularly!  She wrote what seemed to me to be - occasionally.

Then came a brief reunion.  I traveled to where she was.  It was wonderful!  It was difficult.

You know that in relationship, the commitment and passion varies?  One person has more than the other?  This is natural – we're not the same as one another!  Relationships that last move toward equal intensity over time, I think.  Still, we each experience the variations and sometimes they are acute.  "I need her more than she needs me," we say.  "She loves him more than he loves her," we observe.  "He works harder at the relationship than he does," we think and we think the friendship might not get off the ground.  A woman works to keep the connection alive while her lover seems to take it or leave it.

The thing to try to keep in mind about this phenomenon of 'variable intensity' is that we never really know what's going on for the other person.  At our best times, communication in a relationship is strong and we have a good idea about where the other person is.  At other times, we assume that what we "know" is also what is the objective truth.  Mostly, we accept what we "know" and the assumptions underlying our certainty are based on the reality we experience. 

What that means is, that as I am rising and falling in my passion, that's all I can know for sure.  Here is a lesson for those of you in friendships, partnerships, marriages, and families.  Tread very gently when you find yourself having an opinion about what the other person feels, needs, or loves.  Tread gently, because your own view is only your own view.  You would do well to check your assumptions.

So, the reunion was sweet, but it was bittersweet.  It was brief, as I said.  When separation again happened, the bite sharpened again. I "knew" that I needed and loved her more than she missed me and loved me.  After all, she was the one having the new experiences: the freshness of new friendship, the exertion of adapting to a new place, the fulfillment of a long-held dream.  It seemed clear to me, there wasn't really any room for me at all.

This made me feel dependent, needy, weak, out of control, unsatisfied, …  Those feelings lead to bad places.  They lead you down the path of despair.  I walked that road, angry to be there, helpless to turn a different way.  Sometimes, I was angry with her.  In her absence, she was present all the time.

Every day wasn't like that, I think.  What would make one day better than another?  We have some phrases that help to explain it.  "Cooler heads prevailed."  "Things look different 'by the cold light of day.'" 

Keeping busy was helpful. 

Denial was helpful. 

There was another helpful thing too.  It was no compliment to her that I doubted her love for me.  It was unfair.  So, one antidote was to remind myself what she had said to me, pledged to me. 

I remembered our shared experiences and I reminded myself what we had for plans.  More than that, we had a certain way of living.  It was a certain combination of hopefulness, delight, and energy, on the one hand, with an acute attention to reality, a determination that the world should be a better place, a refusal to let situations be controlled by other people's soap opera needs, and a resolve to accept lessons learned from other lives.   So, my response to missing her was to refuse to turn away from the path we had begun to walk together.  I would continue to become who we were becoming and then I wouldn't have just been treading water, waiting for her to return. 

… and then in her absence, she was present all the time.

Consider this poem, "Song of the Lover."

Our spiritual hunger is like love. You may be the most reserved person you know.  You may be the least likely person to read poetry or to burst into song or dance.  But in your interior life, you know what it is to love; to love a lover, to love a friend, to love a labrador retriever, to love your mother, to love your country, your child, your cousin, … to love your neighbor.  So I suggest that the dynamics of my story find a fit somewhere in your life.

Our spirituality is about how we relate to the center of being, the source at the heart of being alive.  Our spirituality is how we are in love with God. 

When you feel God close to you, you feel any number of different things.  One time, you may be afraid.  Another time you may feel like you are walking on air.  The moment speaks to you in a way that you cannot ignore.  We say we have felt the presence of God when we see green sprouts in the spring soil, when we see branches etched in a November sky; when we see the look of delight on a child's face.  We can't ignore it.

These encounters may be bittersweet. 

Because other times we miss God's closeness.  When we listen for the voice and there is no voice.  When we speak toward the holiness of creation and can't discern that anyone hears, then we miss God. 
We may then feel dependent, needy, weak, out of control, unsatisfied, …  Those feelings lead to bad places.  They lead you down the path of despair.  I have walked that road, angry to be there, helpless to turn a different way.  Sometimes, I was angry with God.  Sometimes, beyond anger to apathy.  I didn't care.

Consider Psalm 42.

The singer feels the bitter bite of being abandoned by God. 

Beloved, we have all been abandoned. 

Then the singer makes a sudden, holy turn as if to say, nevertheless! 


Nevertheless, says the singer, I will behave in this world in the way that my encounter with God has shown me I can behave.  I fell for God and I can't look upon life the old way ever again.  I am born anew. 

Even in her absence, God is present all the time. 

You are invited into an encounter with the holy not so you can have an ecstatic experience.  You are not invited so that you can be fulfilled.  You are invited to encounter God in the midst of life so that in your dealings, your coming and going, you are a different person because even in his absence, God is present all the time.  You are walking in the kingdom of God.  God's responsibility for creating this world is shared with you.  You are transformed! 

When you long for the presence of God, feeling the absence, feeling the bite, you can know that God is with you because you feel the longing.  In those times, remember to claim the person you can be when the holy is present.  Remember to live as the person you were meant to be.  Then, even in the absence of God, God is present all the time. 

November 2009

Psalm 42:1-8

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night,
while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?"

These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
For I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;

I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

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Song of the Lover

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my heart pants for you.
I thirst for you, for your living, breathing self.
When can I go and meet with you?

My tears have been my food day and night,
while everyone I meet seems to be saying to me all day long, "Where
is she? Are you still together?"

These things I remember
as my emotions, my very soul seems to pour out of me and leave me
I remember
how I used to walk along the beach or the street with a smile for
everyone. It was easy to be happy.
I can remember
I used to sing on my way to meet you each day, even when I was tired
from work. And when I saw you, I'd be full of gratitude that would
spill over so that everyone around us would glow with warmth and joy.

Why am I so sad, so downcast? What's the matter with me!
Why so disturbed within me?
I say to myself, "Get hold of yourself!"
"Put your hope in her, for even though she is gone, yet you shall
claim - I claim a healthy love for her."

All of who I am is downcast within me; so here's what I will do.
I will actively remember
you in all the places we love, the shoreline, the sunset, the cloud-
islands, the music.
As I remember,
it comes back to me. We are strong together. Our humor is
irresistible to ourselves, of course, but to others as well. Our
dreaming has power and is matched by our determination and our skill.

You are beautiful, but if you were less beautiful, your clear light
would be undiminished in the world, in my life.

I know that it is true that you long for me too.

When I hear the music we love, it is like we are again sharing the

November 2009

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Listening to Angels

When Zechariah saw [the angel,] he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John...'
Zechariah said to the angel, 'How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.'
The angel replied, 'I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.'

That passage from the first chapter of Luke is part of the epic story of Jesus' birth, part of Christmas!  This Zechariah will be the father of John whom we call "The Baptist," who will prepare the way for Jesus.  In the story, Gabriel coolly explains that there are consequences when one dares to ask an angel for clarification.  (Perhaps Gabriel was not wearing his Nike "Just Do It!" t-shirt that day.)  We can sympathize with Zechariah, can't we?  We spend a lot of energy saying to each other, "How will I know that this is so?"

Actually, this is a savvy way to deal with contractors and children, infomercial spokespersons and lovers, teachers and preachers.  Many promise us that they will do such-and-such a thing.  Frequently, people claim the wisdom to say how events will unfold.  Consider how nuclear arms treaty conversations always include the phrase we attribute to President Reagan, "Trust, but verify!"

Does the Bible, then, suggest that we are not to be clever and careful about such matters?  No, of course not.  We are elsewhere advised to be clever as serpents and gentle as doves.  So don't forget to be clever in your life and go ahead and ask the question, "How will I know that this is so?"

Then again, this is no roofing contractor promising no more leaks.  This is the angel of the Lord.  I think that Gabriel had some basis for expecting that anything he had to say would be taken on trust – no "verify" required.  There are some people whose relationship with me is so deep and long that when they say something will happen I know that it will.  And yet, that's not the same as what Gabriel expected of Zechariah.

I propose that you think about this truth.  God is neither a contractor nor a trusted family member.  God is not even a person at all.  God is the space from which the future arises, the domain where hope lives, the home of the assurance that we are part of the creating universe, the essence of all life, the possibility of love and the source of all true love.  When you read where God speaks to characters in stories, you should understand that the voice arises from within – from a place so deep and connected within us that it seems like it comes from another person.  When we understand the words of the angel, we have already heard the truth, we already know that this is so.  When Zechariah speaks, he reveals his confusion about how he knows anything to be true or where meaningful truth begins.

It is winter as I write this and we recently had a mid-winter thaw.  That which was bound up and frozen has been released.  In time, Zechariah's inability to speak was relieved by the very birth of which Gabriel spoke.  Zechariah's first words were, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!"  I'm guessing that for the rest of his life, Zechariah took what any angel cared to share with him as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  May you and I be kind enough to do the same.