Begin

I find praying easy when it is green and warm. I can walk outside early in the morning and the conversation begins. God listening to me and me sensing God in the smell of dew, the new plants or weeds sprouting, the faded falling blooms, and the boundless prolific earth embracing all that is.

If prayer is difficult for you, there is not something wrong with you. You are part of humankind. And still I encourage you to pray.

Prayer is not the apex of perfect faith. You might not even be sure God is “out there” during your prayer. You might doubt it accomplishes anything to pray. Prayer is such that there is no formula and the techniques are wide in variety.

I earnestly began to pray as an adult during college. At that time I met a woman who would become my mentor. And every time I was with her sharing what was going on in life she would end our conversation with, “Have you prayed? What do you sense God saying to you?” Her invitations to simply bring what is going on to God has been a constant encouragement.

The saints and spiritual teachers explain that the reason prayer is challenging is that prayer is a crossing of an interior threshold. It makes us feel vulnerable and humble and open. Naturally we recoil from those feelings. I certainly do regularly. And to the point that sometimes I find myself pretending to pray but never really passing through the doorway. That is why the wisdom on prayer can be summed up simply in one word, pray.  As Nike coined, Just Do It.

Inwardly reach out into the unknown. Step into the mysterious expanse of being. And speak. Use words. Name names. List what is going on. And invite God into life as it is. Allow each word of prayer bring you toward that inner threshold where you begin to listen.

This poem from Mary Oliver is a perfect invitation.

Prayer
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak. 

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Black Cross

Georgia OKeeffe’s Black Cross hangs in the Chicago Museum of Art. The way she exaggerates and simplifies the objects she painted somehow brings spiritual clarity.

Black Cross stands off center and is magnificently strong. An orange red and yellow horizon glows just above the horizontal wood arms of the cross that stretch beyond the canvas. Below gray mountains roll as far as the eye can see. The exaggerated strong beams of the cross become a shadowed lens as one views the landscape ahead.

The cross is the central image of Christianity because it unites heaven and earth. The pain and suffering in life are not evidence that we are cursed or forgotten. Instead Jesus taught that the suffering of this life even death itself is dramatic stage for love to be known, shared, and experienced.

“love endures all things”

Last week I stood next to my father’s hospital bed. He was so weak. His body required life support to breath and for his heart to pump. There was no fixing him. I rubbed his feet, I read to him, I told him jokes, I held his hand and caressed his head. But I did not pray he would live. I did not leave his side until his last shallow exhale.

Death is not the worst thing. It can be untimely, painful, ugly, violent, and feel cruel. But it is not the worst part of the human experience.

Jesus taught us this truth. To see through death to the horizon ahead.

So often we fight the wrong battles. We fear the wrong enemy.

Jesus taught the disciples to take up their cross, to lose their life to find it. Jesus viewed death as an entrance, a doorway, as a beginning.

Spiritual maturity is discovered through the process of dying. Sin takes many forms. The definitions of a sin is anything that separates from God…or if it helps…anything that separates us from love. We all sin. We all have addictions, fears, possessiveness, violence, hatred, insecurities, and vanity that keep us from giving and receiving love.

Spirituality is the practice of letting die what does not serve love.

Helping my dad die was one of the most difficult and beautiful experiences in my life. The invitation for me was to gently let go of all the thoughts that hammered at my mind, “this is awful, I don’t want him to die, I don’t want to see this”. And stay. In letting go, I also found the way to love. In letting go, I made room to sense true love.

In dying we are born to eternal life.

Observe Good Friday in some way today. Whether it be alone or in a strange church or in the familiar Sanctuary. Find a way to sit in front of a cross. Sit with Jesus. And long to die to what separates you from love. Long for a world to die to sin and become just, peaceful, and loving.

Ahhhh Sabbatical

This morning I slept in to 8:45. A Monday morning! I woke without having heard my kids get ready for school nor my husband pattering about the house. I was lost in dreams.

I do not recall much except they were dreams about my family. In my hazy memory of it I do recall that all of my family was there…where ever there was. It was not as we are today but across time all of us were together. It was a gathering of my family in my unconscious memory of them at their prime. Some  long passed and some who I have not spoken to in years; my aunt Mary was young with her tall handsome sons around her, my grandparents less gray and and wrinkled, all my siblings and parents even my step mother and step sister. Everyone was there together and looking bright eyed, alive and happy.

When I awoke I was so disoriented like I had been someplace far away.

Dreaming is a mysterious part of the human experience. So different from the tasks and to- do lists that make up everyday living. Dreaming requires a relaxed atmosphere with an open mind and heart.

Sabbath is more of time that we mark and guard than it is a day of the week. Time to dream. Time to rest. Time to “waste” and see what comes up.

Since my last blog I have had two more encounters on this sabbatical.

I met 7 girlfriends at the Elms Hotel and Spa in Excelsior Springs outside of Kansas City.

And Chad and I returned to the Grand Canyon for a 25th anniversary visit with Kail and Becky who joined us all those years ago. Notice the first picture is of Chad and I at 20 years young! (yes he had long hair)

Enjoy the pictures!

Italy with my Mom!

I have trouble putting into words the power and meaning of this trip. Italy is a sensual place to visit. Romantic views, delicious drink and food, generous people, ancient architecture, magnificent art, and simple loving devotion to God steal my words and fill my being with awe. On top of all that I was with my mom.  Our shared experience of touring, praying with Francis and Clare, and enjoying the food, people and culture of Italy will be a highlight of our relationship for the rest of our lives.

Each day was its own gift perfectly given. But the highlight for both of us was our time in Assisi. This was the most spiritual place either of us have been. The air is sweeter. The Presence of God nearer. Every road, doorway, chapel, and moment feels like an invitation to contemplate the sweetness of God everywhere. Each day we began and ended with meditation. On our pilgrimages we visited where Francis was born, the church he built, the first monastic residence, the caves he went to be by himself, Clare’s monastery, both their tombs, and the small chapel where Francis prayed and died. At each holy place we sat together in silence guided by our retreat leader. It was a rich spiritual experience.

Italy is also simply delicious in every way. We were fed delicious food by generous people. Meals are served slowly inviting conversation and community. One of our favorites was on a street side in Siena with a view of that fortress city stretched out in front of us, warm sun, and fresh food. Buffula mozerella, ripe red tomatoes, olive tempenade, perfect crunchy bread, pancetta, cantelope…and the freshest olive oil.

My mom made a friend at every turn. She said at one point, “I make sense in Italy, I know why I am the way I am!” As a full blooded Sicilian mom is equally full of the Spirit of many Italians who want to please others, share what they have to give, and live passionately or fully.  I cannot enumerate here all the friends she made!

Italy can seem too good to be true with its beauty and cuisine but it is human as well, particularly in Florence we witnessed the ego drive of the Medici family, the powerful presence of the Roman Empire, dry religiosity, and tourist traps but they did not take away from the pure experience of Italy at its best.

There is so much more to say. So many experiences to unpack. I will be pondering and reflecting in gratitude for a long long time.

I leave you with the blessing of St. Francis:

The Lord Bless you and keep you. The Lord show his face to you and have mercy on you. The Lord turn his countenance to you and give you peace…the Our Lord Bless you. Amen.

 

 

Lost the Key

As you can tell by the date of my last blog entry, I have not been inspired to sit down and share about the last three weeks. They have been full of family!

First Mabel and I set out for Colorado to visit my sisters. This trip included a long hike with a boulder field to cross to reach a beautiful mountain lake in the Rocky’s. Dinner and pedicures with my two beautiful sisters. Our long dinner included watermelon mojtos, small plates of farm to table cuisine and meaningful conversation about our lives.  Then we trekked south with sister Sue and company where we  visited the Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs. It was there on the side of the mountain at the zoo that we gazed up at the solar eclipse. It was also there that I lost the key, but more on that later.

Returning home it was time to start thinking about back to school. Bethany is beginning 9th grade and Mabel 4th grade. We organized bedrooms, bought shoes, clothes, and school supplies. But school still did not start. This was the longest summer on record. We stole Bethany away from the New Trier Rowing team to finally get away all four of us. Over Labor Day Weekend we headed up to Northern Michigan at Torch Lake. We lost ourselves playing games, driving around on a motor boat, and lounging with our books (and phones) in hand.

Today, three weeks into sabbatical, I feel a shift in my body and chemistry. Both girls are at school. I am alone at home in my sacred study. As I reflect one experience stands out as the symbol of the affect of a sabbatical on my so far, “the lost key”.

While in the Cheyenne Mountain we discovered a beautiful water fall named the Helen Hunt Falls. Mrs. Hunt was a notable person in the area for her writing and advocacy of American Indian plight during the turn of the century. To honor her they named this wilderness area that she frequented. It was along this trail that I lost the key.

The key to the cabin was single and smooth hidden in my pants pocket. I could feel the jagged edges twirling it between my fingers as I kept my hand warm. I was stepping up up up along the wall of rock. Then my toe snagged, I tripped, and fell forward. Instantly I pulled my hands out of my pockets to catch my self on the cold hard stone. At the same moment I heard the key go “ting, ting. ting” as it flew out of my pocket and from my fingers.

The key had gone over the waterfall. The only key to the cabin.

The story has a happy ending. A wonderfully helpful cabin owner. A good long ridicule from the children who decided in the end that a ground squirrel had run off with the key and would be taking up residence soon. And a memorable laugh with my sister who will never let me forget it.

I lost the key. Without warning it slipped out, flew off the side of a cliff, and left me wondering.

Three weeks in and I am aware of how the nature of life and its ongoing reality steals the key to life. Without knowing it in the constant planning, moving forward, and daily necessities the key can vanish from our grasp.

Up to now my dreams have been full of ministry. The staff, parishioners, memories and planning are still large within my conscious and unconscious life. In my life, there is always someone to visit, something to write, a conversation to have, an idea to follow up on, an email to get out, or a worship service to plan and lead. Relentless.

Today I sense a shift. As I look toward Italy next week with my mom, I will be free to sense time shift within me. Unplug from the responsibilities and concerns in Northfield. And be fully present.

The spiritual teachers remind us that Presence is what shifts our sense of time and we can relax into the timeless nature of God.

Sabbath is about ceasing at its literal meaning. Ceasing so that something new can be experienced of the divine life we live.

Ciao Bella

On the journey

Lisa+

 

Day 1 Sabbatical 2017

So the moment has arrived. Sabbatical 2017 begins. Thank you Lilly Endowment for National Clergy Sabbatical Grants, I am funded for a three month sabbatical from active parish ministry. What a gift!

The grant I wrote will take me from Colorado to Assisi Italy to The Grand Canyon to New Mexico and finally my hometown Kansas City.

The word of the day is RELEASE

Sunday afternoon ended up being an excellent example of how God has a sense of humor in God’s work in me.

After church in my office, I am literally working on the final task, changing the messaging on the phone system. I wanted to include Father Alonzo the supply priest’s contact information and my out of office response. This task should take minutes.

I pick up the phone dial into the system and what do I hear? It is the after hours message for a doctor’s office. Yes, that is right, our church phone system somehow got crosswise with a doctor’s office. This took me several tries to even believe. Hungry, tired, overwrought my mind just could not understand what was going on. Finally I relented. There was nothing I could do on a Sunday to figure this out. I walked home feeling defeated by the list.

Waiting at the front door my husband Chad greeted me with a huge smile, “Well, your done?! Sabbatical begins!”

I tried to smile and share his jovial spirit, instead I frowned and recounted the whole odd story. Thankfully, I failed to drag him down with me and he replied, “Email your team, move on and let it go”. He went on, “It’s funny. Like God is asking you, ‘Lisa, can you really let go?”

So this morning, on day 1 I began aware that there is no finishing our work. I have seen this truth even as people die. They keep planning, advising, teaching, loveing until their final breath.

The best we can do is release our tight grip on the future. Let go of our need to feel we have accomplished it all. Trust that we are enough even if we are incomplete and unable to fix what goes wrong.

So I begin a long Sabbath time. Thankful for tasks beyond our ability. And learning to release my need to feel perfect.

On the journey.

 

God is like a Kiss

Physicist Carlo Rovelli says, “Reality as science observes it today is more like a kiss than a rock.” Maybe it is just the romantic Italian heart in Rovelli or maybe he is on to a truth that is ancient and new.

Jesus’ core teaching was to “Love God with your whole heart, and mind, and soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. In one sentence, Jesus summed up that all reality is interaction.

Carol Rovelli helped me to see this more clearly.

Physicists study how the world works and why it works the way it does. Where once they surmised that all reality is matter, later concluded that all reality is energy, now scientists speak of reality in terms of relational fields. “The smallest particles that make up all we see are best described in terms of their relationship rather than as objects.”

For example, we look at a rock and see a thing. Carlo Rovelli looks at a rock and sees a happening. Reality is interaction; an object is a complex happening.

This is an ancient new way to view God. God is in a fluid relationship with all that is. The doctrine of the Trinity explains this long held belief.

So often we think of God as a knowable object. However, it is that very thought that keeps us from the truth. God is relational. God is a verb. Always happening. Just as you are a complex set of biological, psychological, emotional, cultural interactions; you are “happening” in every moment. God too is a complex relational being; happening within every moment in every being.

Loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves is not to love objects that do not change, rather to be part of a dynamic interaction with being itself. God invites us to open up and welcome a dynamic presence that is happening. Loving then is not about objectifying someone rather it is about being interconnected with them.

God is happening, like a kiss, in every moment. Open to the presence of God in every moment in every being. Our interconnected life is unfolding always in the merciful, loving. always present God of our creation.

Awaken the Inner Ear

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;*
he restores my soul.*
He leads me in right paths*
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,*
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely* goodness and mercy* shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.*

Line by line this well- known Psalm gently awakens the inner ear and tunes me into the heart of God. If it were the only scripture I ever knew it would be enough to guide me to listen to the still small voice of well- being within.

However without the invitation, I would not listen on my own.

There is simply a lot of distracting noise. The assertive external world along with our busy interior muffles the voice that guides us to health and salvation.

Yet, when I read the lines of this Psalm something deep within awakens. The green pasture, the still waters and the path the Psalmist refers to are God in us. Waiting for our assent to follow where he leads below the mind’s busyness and the emotionality of our existence into the spacious spiritual heart.

The open field within silently awaits our arrival.

I create a lot of inner noise for myself. My monkey mind swinging from thought to thought, my busy ego assessing, comparing, and judging either insecure or striving does not stop. It is like a big city that never sleeps. The noise within muffles the voice of sanity.

I recently learned the root of the word noise is nausea. I interpret that etymology as a warning that I will get sick without the healing sound of silence.

As I see our culture, we are sick from our over busy lives run by our unconscious fears and overactive sense of self importance. We need a cure.

Surrender is the unspoken theme of this Psalm; written by someone who relented and finally listened. Pain is part of life they say but suffering is optional. The Psalmist no doubt suffered as we do; trying to fix a broken life, change others, fight fears, and pick herself up on her own. The Psalmist let down his defense and finally listened.

When we surrender to God and listen for truth hidden in our being our spiritual heart awakens. In those blessed still moments we find the enemies who are at us needling all day sit down at a dinner table, soothing fragrant oil pours over our being and we hear the melodious sound of Mercy.

Psalm 23 invites us to trust the sound of our own inner voice as the voice of God. If we listen below the noise, there is something trustworthy. The Caretaker of our souls speaks wisdom into our reality. And we can trust where we are led if we will only listen.

Wake Up

On Ash Wednesday Christians unite to take part in a liturgy that is filled with tension between life and death. In a world that works vigorously to defy and deny death; thousands of people will fill churches the world over to listen to the words “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” spoken over each and every one of them.

These words expand the horizon of our listening beyond daily matters into the whole being of our lives. Like the sound of a ram’s horn calling ancient people to prayer, the reminder of our death quiets the relentless noise of living.

Listening is more than hearing when we are listening for God. The deepest form of listening is not with our ears at all, it is with our heart. We are listening below the noise, under our busy thinking planning minds, and between the words we are hearing and saying.

The Bible says to listen with the ear of the heart.

Often during Lent we are supposed to give up something for forty days, but what if this Lent instead of giving up candy or caffeine you decided to stop and listen to the silent divine one within you and surrounding you. What if this year listening to God is your discipline?

Silence is God’s primary language. And quickly becoming an endangered part of our world. Where once humans had no electricity, no radio, television or internet; now we live among infinite distractions from simple being in silence.

What have we lost? What could the people of God gain if we created space to be in silence each day?

“Wake up before death wakes you up”, the old monk said to the young man.

The life giving ways of God are discovered in silence. Even in ten minutes alone in the quiet, we can find what we need and seldom want; spacious sense of hope, interior strength and resiliency, wisdom beyond information, and peace beyond understanding. The benefits of the practice silence are many; tight conflicts relax, cruel self- talk quiets, endless list making ceases, and the spacious presence of God becomes real.

Silence is a form of dying that awakens us to new life.

The Magic in Presence

My friends in Christ Simon and Sue Babbs just returned from their third trip to Madagascar. You may know it is an island off of Africa rarely visited, Simon and Sue not only flew across the globe but then drove many miles over rough terrain to get to a small city known as Toliara. In this almost completely unknown part of the world most of the people live hand to mouth. Simon and Sue have given themselves to support the Episcopal Church there and in particular the women of this impoverished country.

As they presented what they encountered on this recent trip- the truth of God in this world became so clear: Presence is the gift!

Recall a time you felt supported by someone. Yes it was what they did, yes it might have been what they said;  but truly the magic of support is presence. A willing presence to be with you in whatever is going on.

Jesus sent out the disciples with ” nothing for the journey.” He told them to minister to people near them with nothing to offer; nothing but their open, hopeful, loving presence. Jesus knew that to be human is to be hungry for communion. Christians are people willing to cross the distance (whether it is short or far) and be with others because God crosses the distance and is in communion with us.

No amount of effort Simon and Sue put in could  fix such a complex set of challenges facing such an enormous number of people in need. Yet their presence to each person in front of them set in motion a vibrancy of hope that goes on and on. In God’s economy hope grows exponentially, hope is like an investment that pays big, hope is spiritual fuel.

Everyone’s presence when offered in love is never a solitary gift but always the Spirit of God working through them. What God does with that gift we will never be fully know.

A few things to remember:

  1. Don’t hold back your presence. Be generous with your presence knowing it is God working through you in unseen ways.
  2. Your presence matters. Don’t dismiss it as not enough.
  3. When you offer your presence even briefly be open and trusting that love  sets in motion Hope’s work which is always a gift- especially when circumstances are challenging.

2nd Corinthians 14-17 essentially encourages the people of the Spirit that wherever we go we can share the “fragrance” of God that comes from knowing God.