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.

 

 

 

 

 

Pope Francis and Lady Poverty

Pope Francis displayed such clear commitment to the human family during his visit to our country. On his face a love for the moment at hand, in his actions a choice to minister to both powerful and powerless and in his words hope for unity to overcome challenges in economics, policy and politics.

I believe that the Pope’s clarity of leadership is because he has long lived a vow of poverty.

Franciscan spirituality embraces poverty as a spiritual discipline. Their vow does not deny the awful ravages of physical poverty instead they identify with people in poverty and seek to be with them. Most important Franciscans seek through their vow of poverty to increasingly be free to identify spiritual poverty in themselves and the human made socio economic environment in which we are born.

I am so deeply challenged by our Lord who identified intimately with those in poverty. I recognize my denial, dismissal, and fear of people physically and mentally impoverished. I also see the counterpart in a denial of my own spiritual poverty.

Physical poverty mirrors spiritual poverty; Franciscans befriend those in poverty because it is opens them to befriend their own spiritual poverty.

Below is a poem I wrote expressing my spiritual heart who knows it needs to make friends with that which is frail, lost, forgetful, lonely, blind, awkward, out of control, sick, hungry, resistant and rebellious within me. Our human poverty is what we have in common. The truth is the only thing we truly have is this moment and the greatest consolation is the love we share in it.

I took a walk in the blessed sunshine. Lady poverty was waiting for me.

As I approached I said, “I do not know you.”

She replied, “you have forgotten, we are well acquainted.”

I insisted, ” I do not know you woman.”

She paused my stride, took my hands, and gazed lovingly upon me.

My spirit wept in the experience of being known and having forgotten myself.

It all came back the many times I refused her friendship, wanting the feeling of control I despised her, desiring to appear professional and confident I ignored her. Opting for a skill set, accomplishments and to be well thought of, I pretended to not know her.

Now in her presence I find a true friend.

I can see the illusion of success and failure; esteem and disregard are no different.

Lady poverty and I shall take a stroll and enjoy being in the blessed sun.

Crowd of 5000 Hungry Challenges

Like the crowd that was gathered that day long ago to be near Jesus; so our challenges do not come to us in single file line patiently waiting their turn. Instead our challenges feel like a crowd; urgently present and hungry.

All at once parents face children and their everchanging needs, manipulations, and questions. Business owners are challenged by suppliers, buyers, and employees. Educators are challenged with planning, parents, and discipline. Our health, our loved ones and the house all Christ_feeding_the_multitudecrowd us with their needs. It is never one thing at a time rather many responsibilities and challenges come at us at once and it feels like a crowd.  And of course at times we will feel overwhelmed by our crowd of 5000 hungry challenges.

The disciples could not fathom how Jesus planned to feed a crowd from five barley loaves and two fish. “What are they among so many people?”

The crowd presses us. The crowd will not wait. The crowd does not leave.

Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.”

Sit down; settle in, relax, recline, rest.

When we sit down to pray we are in essence telling the crowd of challenges to settle down and rest for awhile.

Whether it is feeding a multitude or facing a whining child/sick parent/interviewing for a new job/replacing the dish washer, Christian wisdom teaches us to recline with what is so urgent and rest with it in prayer.

As people of faith we trust that what is going on is where God is. We believe that everything is grace. God dwells not just in what is going right or what is easy. God dwells with people.  And with people there are challenges, there are problems, there are attitudes, and personalities. God dwells in it all.

Make the crowd sit down.

Sitting means we are open hearted to the grace in what is, simply as it is.

By sitting we cease grasping, controlling, pushing and pulling at our challenges and we rest in a larger grace that is present, always and forever. In that graced sitting God’s favorite work is allowed to have its way with us. Peace, hope and love become busy in us and prayerfully through us as we meet the challenges renewed and refreshed in God’s grace.

I’m an idiot, thank you God

Recently, I lost my car key. I was alone enjoying the sun at the Illinois Beach State Park forty minutes from my home. My husband was out of town. My youngest daughter was at day camp. I had five glorious hours to myself. The beach was beautiful, endless green water stretched out before me, and the sound of the water hitting the shore had relaxed me. I was refreshed body and soul until I discovered I lost my key.

Alone, child needing to be picked up from camp; I immediately knew this was an occasion I would typically allow myself to become anxiety riddled and beat myself up mentally. So I intentionally began a form of meditation. To every thought I replied thank you God. I was not counting my blessings. For every single thought (anxious, helpful, or crazy) I simply unemotionally thought thank you God.

The inner dialogue went something like this:

You locked your keys in the car. Thank you God. How could you do that? Thank you God. They are not in the ignition. Thank you God. They must be on the beach. Thank you God. It’s hot. Thank you God. Mabel needs me to pick her up. Thank you God. What are you going to do now? Thank you God. You are an idiot. Thank you God.

As I continued my course of combing the beach, hiking a half mile to the park office, ordering a cab, and waiting an hour for the driver to show up; I kept up the meditation. I never felt panicked though there were lots of decisions to make in a short time.  I did not get angry though the cab driver gauged me and took me a long way home. I actually felt calm peace. When I got to my daughter at camp I was able to receive her frustration with me with gentleness and before I knew it we were home having a nice evening.

This prayer method practices the reality that everything is grace. As I recited thank you God over and again the gracious gift of life as it is in the moment was real to me.

Meditation connects me with God who is loving presence active in every moment.  As an American suburbanite I am able to purchase things that make me feel secure. But that is the real illusion. And the truth is God’s eternal sustaining presence in every moment a source of peace, hope and joy.

Happy or sad, challenging or easy all hope is only discovered when we receive the gift of the moment just as it is. Thank you God. When we allow the moment to be simply what it is without clinging, grasping or trying to change it we are able to laugh during stressful situations, creatively problem solve, be gentle, kind, patient and loving in all times. Thank you God.

I am often an idiot. Thank you God. I need to rely on the gifted presence of God that is fully with me and this world in every blessed moment. Thank you God.

E=mc2 & Resurrection Spirit

In physics, energy is a property of objects which can be transferred to other objects or converted into different forms, but cannot be created or destroyed.

Our energy is a daily gift. Some days we have more than others. And each day has its necessities and pleasures to give our energy toward.

How Jesus spent his energy while he was on earth is such a learning for us, a deep well of wisdom to incorporate in our lives. The resurrection appearances revealed the most concentrated vital energy of God in Jesus.

Jesus used this precious time to lead the disciples into an experience of a new Spirit of peace and love that would never leave them and that all people have access to.

He did this by appearing to them at the empty tomb, in the upper room behind a locked door, on the road home, and at the beach. He offered their grieving hearts peace, he nourished them when he broke bread with them, they experienced his full living presence by touching him and as he breathed a new Spirit upon them.

Likewise, whenever we reach out to God in worship or quietly in our homes we are reaching for the same Spirit Jesus breathed on the disciples. We yearn for that vital beautiful energy of Jesus to transform us. St. John of the Cross said it this way… through Christ, “our intellect is transformed into faith, our wills transformed into love and our memories transformed into hope.”

Jesus asked Simon Peter three times, “Do you love me?” after each question Peter said “yes.” and Jesus said, “then feed my sheep.”

What Jesus meant is for each of us and for our congregations to live out.

Eastertide invites us to as the question, how is Jesus leading you to spend your precious vital energy?

The Holy Week Hall of Mirrors

Holy Week is such a gift because, in a fast paced world, it takes a long, loving gaze upon the story of Jesus of Nazareth’s betrayal, trial, and crucifixion.

For what purpose do we take this yearly spiritual pilgrimage? How can we enter this long, loving look in a way that adds meaning to our lives and does not overwhelm us once again with compassion fatigue at all that goes wrong in our world?

I found an answer in the wisdom of our liturgical calendar. Last week was the feast of the Annunciation. Mary gave her beautiful assent to God’s overshadowing her life and Jesus was conceived. Perhaps we should take a cue from Mary and allow our gaze upon the old story to become an inner gaze of reflection like a pregnant woman whose “eyes” are turned toward herself, paying attention to every shift and change and feeling in her body.

The spiritual life is about honing an inner reflective gaze upon our hearts so that our outer gaze is transformed for love.

One writer said the story of Jesus’ Passion is like “walking through a hall of mirrors.” The story then is a spiritual guide. As such it can lead to new life within. What does it show us?

It shows us all the faces of the false self: the anguish of Judas, indecision of Pilot, cowardice of Peter, self importance of the High Priests, sanctimony of the Pharisees, the mob, the policies and procedures of the Roman empire that all conspire to put Jesus up on the cross.

The hall of mirrors reveals your own acknowledged or unacknowledged shadow self.

Jesus was of course the center of the story. Quietly, in the middle of all the posturing and fleeing, in the midst of fear and hatred Jesus was present. He was not fighting, arguing, or defending himself. Jesus was a harmonizing presence who did not accuse, did not judge, but was simply and strongly present. It seems as if God’s gaze was through him upon the unfolding events, lovingly present as God always is.

Love was poured out on all those people lost to their false selves – not condemning not even actively trying to change the events or the people – but simply, lovingly present.

If we do not slow down, if we are not open and vulnerably present to this old story we cannot learn how God is lovingly present to us. The incredible truth is that God is loving our false shadow selves to death. By his love a new path is opened for us to live healed and saved by God’s merciful present love that will not condemn or change this world through force but only through quiet embracing love. That was how hell was overturned, not by force, but by the power of steady, uncompromising love death is undone.