Ashes and Hearts

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Ashes and hearts.
Hearts and ashes.
The convergence of this day of
Sacred and secular.

As if we needed a reminder that
To dust we will return.
We with our bodies showing signs of age …
We with our society exploding?
Imploding?
Teetering on the edge of
We-don’t-know-what?

What is this day,
Then,
Of hearts and ashes?

Ashes of hearts?
Hearts of ash?

From dust you came,
And you will go back to dust.
And, along the way,
There is Love.
Before, behind, beside, within,
There is Love.

Great Lover of the Universe, may there be love … before, behind, beside, within us. Mark us with your love. Amen.

Are You Thirsty? Come to the Water

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
-Psalm 42:1-2, NRSV

You Are Invited: Join Me in The Academy for Spiritual Formation

I will be serving as worship leader for the upcoming Two-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation at Camp Sumatanga, Alabama. Our first session is August, 2018. In a Two-Year Academy, the community comes together for a week each quarter for study, prayer, worship, silence, laughter … all drinking from the flowing streams of God’s love and grace.

I hope you will consider whether you are being called to join with me on this journey. We have the most amazing leadership team: Pat Luna, Blake Kendrick, Don Saliers, Kathy Norberg, and me. We are very excited about the faculty we have recruited. They include Roberta Bondi, Loyd Allen, Roger Owens, Amy Oden, Grace Imathiu, Barbara Brown Taylor, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Luther Smith. (See the entire list of faculty.)

If you would like to have a conversation with me as a part of your discernment, please reach out to me. I’d love to visit with you about The Academy. Contact me.

My Academy Story

I had worked at The Upper Room for fifteen years before I attended The Academy for Spiritual Formation. I “knew” about The Academy because I worked at The Upper Room. I watched my colleagues, one by one, attend the Two-Year Academy at Camp Sumatanga, Alabama.

When I saw The Academy brochure, it didn’t speak to me. Reading the prospectus just brought back memories of Divinity school: Trying to stay awake as I trudged through text books. The pressure of reading and exams and sitting through lectures.

It was my friend, Jerry Haas, who finally lured me into The Academy for Spiritual Formation. He invited me to attend the Five-Day Academy in Arizona. It was at Picture Rocks Retreat Center — I had never been to Arizona, so the location hooked me. (There will be a Five-Day Academy at this location in 2019.) Additionally, I was excited to meet Flora Slosson Wuellner, one of the faculty presenters. And my friend and colleague, Elise Eslinger, was to be the worship leader.

I attended that five-day experience and fell in love with The Academy for Spiritual Formation. It was nothing like Divinity school. It was nothing like anything I had ever experienced. A few months later, I joined the Two-Year Academy in California in its second week. And the experience nurtured, shaped, and changed me. (Note that there is a Two-Year Academy in California beginning in July, in case Alabama is too far away.)

I discovered a thirst I didn’t even know I had — a thirst for community, for silence, for a daily rhythm of prayer. I discovered a thirst for the Holy One. I count myself fortunate that I was enticed into The Academy experience.

I hope you will listen to the longings of your spirit, your thirsts, your hungers. I hope you will consider whether you are being called to join me on this journey. (Learn more.) Contact me if you’d like to visit about this opportunity.

All Shall Be Well

When you wake up in a fog,
The clouds hiding the sun,
Hiding the hope and the confidence
You used to have.

When the place you are standing
Feels like it tilts at random moments
And you risk sliding into the abyss.

When you are floating
In a pool of wet darkness,
Your foot tethered to a boulder
That pulls you under.

May the bright sun of the universe
Cut through the clouds
And cover you in warmth and light.

May the healer of the heavens and the earth
Wrap you in safety and confidence,
Stand firm beneath your feet,
Hold you up when you feel you are sinking.

May the creator of hope
Tap you on the shoulder
And whisper,
“I’m right here.
And all shall be well.

“You are not alone.
And all shall be well.

“You are mine.
And all shall be well.”

Brigid of Kildare

The Feast Day of Brigid of Kildare is February 1. When we were in Ireland in July, we walked in Brigid’s footsteps in Kildare at her cathedral and at her well. But Brigid was everywhere we went, and it was in the west in County Donegal where we learned to make Brigid’s crosses and heard the story of how the cross of reeds became her symbol.

Brigid was explaining Christianity to her father and took up the reeds from the floor of the cottage and wove them into a cross. On St. Brigid’s day, people still make Brigid’s crosses and remember Brigid.

Journey of Compassion

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
– Hebrews 13:2, NRSV

I waited to board my flight from Seattle to Nashville. I was looking forward to four hours of solitude, the kind I love in an airplane seat on a long flight.

As I neared my row, I saw a woman already seated in the middle seat. A beautiful scarf draped her head and body; her hands were busy with prayer beads. I realized that she had little English and was not familiar with the ways of airplane travel. My irritation quickly turned to compassion as I noticed her discomfort at being stuck on a plane in the middle seat between two strangers.

The young woman in the seat by the window helped plug in our friend’s cell phone to charge and explained that the phone would not work in the air. We showed her how to find and secure her seatbelt. When she needed to go to the restroom, I walked her to the back of the plane, opened the door for her, and held her scarf.

We learned through little bits of words and gestures that she was traveling to Tennessee from a Sudanese refugee camp in Kenya. She was going to be with her daughter who was in Tennessee … or maybe Kentucky.

About halfway through the flight, I pulled up the flight tracker application that showed where we were on our flight. We “talked” about how much longer we would be flying (two hours). How far we still had to travel (1000 miles or 1600 kilometers). I dragged the screen to show Africa and, between us, we found Sudan and Kenya on the map.

She told me, “In English you say, ‘Good morning.’ [In my language] ‘Salam Alaikum.'” I said to her, “Salam Alaikum.” And she smiled.

I saw her later at the baggage claim. She was in a wheelchair pushed by an airport employee who spoke her language. She told him that I had been helpful on the airplane. I said that I enjoyed traveling with her.

Later, I realized that I never learned her name. But I hold her in my memory, my heart, and my prayers. May God bless her journey to this new place so far from her home. May God bless her healing from whatever traumas she has endured. May God bless her life, her family, her journey. Salam Alaikum.

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
– Deuteronomy 10:19, NRSV

Feast of the Holy Innocents

A few days ago I held a baby in my arms. I felt my heart shaped and molded into a vessel of love and compassion. I imagined the birth of the Holy Child, the softening of hardened hearts, the world transformed by Christ’s coming.

And then … I remembered the world in which we live: the homeless, the poor, the sick, the vulnerable ones who barely have enough to survive. I remembered those with power, whose hearts never seem to soften.

And today we observe The Feast of the Holy Innocents. When King Herod ordered the murder of all the children in Bethlehem so that he could hold on to his power.

When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. This fulfilled the word spoken through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much grieving.
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she did not want to be comforted,
because they were no more.
Matthew 2:16–18

I don’t know what to do with this story, with this world, with the situation in which we find ourselves. I seek wisdom and hope in the midst of it all; and I turn wise ones in various traditions (see the readings below). Where do you turn? What do you pray for? What are you reading?

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of [their] own heart?
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago

Rather than original sin, there’s original soft spot. The messy stuff that we see in ourselves and that we perceive in the world as violence and cruelty and fear is not the result of some basic badness but of the fact that we have such a tender, vulnerable, warm heart of bodhichitta [a felt need to replace others’ suffering with bliss], which we instinctively protect so that nothing will touch it.
– Pema Chödrön
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.”
-Jesus, Matthew 5:38-41, CEB

I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight… I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

Holy Eve

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

– Luke 2:8-11, NRSV

Blessings and love to all on this Holy Eve.