The Journey to Holy Joy

The Journey to Holy Joy

Kneeling at the communion rail at the late night Christmas Eve service I locked eyes with the baby Jesus reaching out while in the arms of his mother, Mary, and was immediately brought to tears. I knew then that I was about to go on a journey with my friend and teacher. Since then there have been many moments of tears, laughter and questions shared quietly between us. The season of Lent created space for these moments both in time and soul. This was much needed space in a hectic life, both internal and external.

Many years I give up some minor thing (screen time, some food or other, caffeine) and go through the motions of Lent. This year I chose to give up something I struggle with daily: my frustration at even the most minor thing. It was not a perfect experience. I failed and restarted frequently. Yet, it was the opening I needed to continue the journey of growth started at the communion rail. It opened me to listen for the whispers in the stillness, to continually let go of my frustrations, my self, and freely listen.

I am, in part, an auditory learner and the Lord knows this. I often retreat into the quiet solitude of my inner island where all other senses diminish and I can truly, earnestly and comfortably listen. To many an outside observer it looks like I’m asleep…admittedly I often slip away to this place while sleeping…and my soul continues listening and learning while the body rests. Many time I am fully aware of my surroundings, but focusing only on auditory stimulus: music, singing, the nuances of a lecture/sermon/or other talk, the still small voice speaking directly to my soul. These are the times I crawl up into my Father’s lap and rest.

Like Advent, Lent can be a time of anticipation; a time where we are seeking the next best thing. We spend our time walking with Jesus through his life and, as Fr. John discussed, asking “what’s next?” We rush headlong through the story without stopping to listen because we think we know and we want to rush on to the next stop. Taking this time to let go of my frustrations allowed me to slow down and not rush for the “what next.” This allowed me to journey through this Holy Week from the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the humble service of the last supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet on Maundy Thursday to the betrayal, trial, torture and death of Good Friday to the emptiness (no, stillness) of Holy Saturday to the triumph over death that is the Easter resurrection with joy. The “madman in a world of sad ghosts” type of joy. The wake up smiling and laughing at the joyous joke’s on you moments at 3:30 am everyday from Maundy Thursday to Easter Monday. Alleluia, the Lord is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed!

Patterns

Patterns

Ever since I was a very little girl I’ve been drawn to patterns. From the colorful quilt and afghan squares that my mother and grandmother would lay out and sew together into fabulous and beautiful patterns to the wonderful shapes and colors that would come together into the intricate puzzles I’ve done for as long as I can remember. From the way numbers come together to form everything from the mundane telephone or Social Security number to the curiosity producing Fibonacci sequence or the irrational Pi. How we grow from babbling to speaking to reading to writing in what is a relatively short span of human time (or maybe within the infinite alwaysness of God’s time). How the seasons shift from winter to spring to summer to fall and back to winter again. How the human life is punctuated, like the story that it is, by dates and times and colors and shapes.

Today I am thinking about the patterns our lives take, how the span of a human life can be covered in one single winter season–Yes, I know the scientific/astronomical timing isn’t perfect (again, the infinite alwaysness of God’s time).

A short three months ago, the beginning of December we started the liturgical year with the joyous anticipation of the Advent of the Christ child, our hopes and dreams made flesh. We then moved into the bright lights and sounds of youthful Christmastide. All this as nature grew tired and slipped into the restful sleep that “knits up the raveled sleeve of care.” As nature sleeps Our Hope has been hard at work readying for Spring, which always comes. He has been tilling the soil of our hearts, sowing the seeds of faith, hope and love, showering us with the living waters, preparing us for the darkness of death, rebirth and resurrection. The death, rebirth and resurrection that is the start of spring; the fact that however cold and dead the winter of our lives may be Hope springs eternal! This readying, this tilling and sowing and showering, this piercing through of the darkness by the light is what I am seeking from the coming Lenten season.

On the Feast of Stephen

On the Feast of Stephen

We all know the opening stanza of the carol:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

The Good King sets out with his Page to find this poor man and give him alms to help him through the harsh winter. In this deed Wenceslas is following in the footsteps of today’s saint, Stephen.

Not all was going well during the early years of the church. Roman persecution was the norm, the Jewish leadership was angry and unsure (this Messiah business got in the way of their business). The Greek widows and orphans were complaining about not getting their share of the alms. The Apostles just didn’t have time to deal with all of this! Enter Stephen and the six other men the Apostles decide to entrust with the daily management of the almsgiving and care for the poor, the first deacons of the church, with Stephen first among them.

Our only knowledge of Stephen comes from the 6th and 7th chapters of the Acts of the Apostles where he is ordained a deacon, ministers to the Greek Jews, angers those in power, is tried and convicted in the Sanhedrin for blasphemy (by way of false witnesses) and subsequently stoned to death for his trouble. In Acts 6:5 and 6:8 he is described as “full of faith…the Holy Spirit…grace and fortitude.” I can only imagine that one must be full of all these things in order to endure what he knew was nothing more than a kangaroo court, not unlike that which Jesus endured not long before, and yet stand firm in that faith, Spirit, grace and fortitude to the point of forgiving those who were killing him. With his last breath he prayed: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Even Paul, who was there, later had to confess that “when the blood of Stephen thy witness was shed, I stood by and consented, and kept the garments of them that killed him”

It may seem odd in this joyous time of Christmastide, still basking in the warm glow of the birth of the Christ child, of hope, that we should step back into the cold of winter and remember the first of His martyrs, but as I was reminded this morning by a Facebook post by Fr. Tim Schenck, it is good to be reminded that the cold is still there. It means the work is never finished; that there is a price to be paid for warmth and hope and faith and fortitude.

Let us pray:

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Inspiration

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Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our
hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may
perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen. (Pg. 355, Book of Common Prayer)

 
I have read and listened to this prayer at least once almost every Sunday for the last four years. I can almost recite it by heart. Tonight I actually heard it, felt it and “inspired” it.

 

I’m a word person. I eat, sleep and breathe words and language. Words can hurt, can break down people and relationships; words can literally kill. Words can also be a gift, can open doors, can broaden horizons, can inspire. Inspiration: that’s the word that struck me tonight. Generally when we think of inspiration we think of that divine influence, that stroke of genius, that lightbulb moment when everything comes together. We forget that inspiration also means to breathe in, to inhale.

 
“Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit”-this is more than a stroke of genius, this is the breath of life. We pray, I pray to breathe in, to inspire new life in and through Him as He breathes life into us/me. Lightbulb moment…and my breath caught!

 

Living is a Puzzle

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Living is a puzzle,
A struggle to fit in.
Each piece’s task is different,
But important to the whole.

Life is but a search
To find the perfect fit.
Each piece is never perfect,
But the picture is the goal.

The Master of the puzzle
Knows the pieces well
And keeps the picture in His mind
As He guides them and their will.

How sweet it is when completion comes
And the final picture’s done.
The Master and his pieces
Having come together as one.

Living is a puzzle
And understanding is the key.
Interlocking arms and thoughts
Giving perfect harmony.

Grace

Oh, those days in the Garden!
Beauty incarnate!
Before the taste of knowledge,
The tarnishing of innocence.

Clouds of guilt and shame gather
Darkening the world
With the stain of evil.

What to do?
How to cope?
Will darkness win?

A child born
A light in the darkness
The taste of a new knowledge.

Bright, shining Hope
Open handed Faith
Deep flowing Love!

Taste and See!
Freedom freely given
The Gift of Grace!

 

The Heart of the Matter

 

DOCTOR: I mean, look, you’re human. And humans are so mortal.
BILL: Cheers.
DOCTOR: I mean, you pop like balloons. (Bill is slowly toppling backwards on the spaceship) I mean, one heart? It’s your most important organ, and you’ve no back up. It’s like a budget cut.
(Doctor Who, World Enough and Time, June 2017)

For those who don’t know the show it follows the adventures of The Doctor, a seemingly immortal renegade Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who lands in 1960s London in the TARDIS (his spacecraft, currently and perpetually stuck in the guise of a blue police call box). Over the last 54 years and twelve regenerations he has traveled throughout space and time with a plethora of mostly human, thoroughly mortal companions and shown just how big his two hearts are. In the context of the show and this particular episode, the above exchange is both comical and poignant. It is a moment from the Doctor’s memory as he’s watching Bill topple over dying after being shot through the chest, a moment in which Bill has just asked him to never let her die-something that not even he can guarantee.

I’ve been thinking about this exchange a lot over the last week.

The heart-the one organ in the human body that you cannot live without! As the Doctor states, we’ve no backup. When our heart stops beating our body stops functioning. On Wednesday, August 2, my father had surgery to implant an ICD (an internal defibrillator/pacemaker combo) in order to help his one heart (which is as big as all outdoors) maintain and hopefully improve its function. I had a great deal of time to think about the importance of the heart while he was in surgery and in the days since.

Our family has had its share of heart related issues over the years. My mother was born with a heart murmur that was not discovered until adulthood. It led to my parent’s first child being stillborn and my being premature by weight (due to the medication my mom was taking while pregnant with me). It also led to my mother giving me and my life to God months before I was born. Her mother died of a massive heart attack a few years before I was born. My father had a heart attack in 1991, which, it seems, started us on the path to this recent surgery. He also suffered a cardiac arrest, thankfully while sitting in the ER, in 2015. His father died of cardiovascular collapse. And we seem to have a familial propensity to high blood pressure.

Our hearts often fail us when we need them most. We are so very mortal! Proverbs 4:23 tells us “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” We must protect our hearts, for without them we are dry and dead both literally and figuratively. Heart health is vital to our physical and spiritual existence. So we must partake of all available opportunities set before us in the ways of medical and spiritual guidance to protect and maintain that health.

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I thank God for the good works and steady hands of my father’s cardiologist and for His steadfast love and support at all times.