Seasons, Journeys, Treasure

I dig the seasons changing. There is something to that elemental shift that stirs my soul. These warm days of walking home for lunch and feeling the sun on my face; longboarding to work; thinking about sunrise or sunset paddleboarding on the horizon; putting tomatoes in and mulching gardens; seeing the return of green grass. I’m looking forward.

This is maybe the first time I have fully paid attention to the changing seasons of the church: from Advent to Christmas, from Epiphany now into Lent, looking to the Passion and Easter. Another new thing for me is leading a small group as we journey through Lent.

At the Ash Wednesday service last evening at Christ Church Easton, Father Bill Ortt gave out some information on what Lent is all about. Among other things, I like getting into the word itself:

The word Lent is derived from the old English word “lente” meaning “Springtime” or “lencten” referring to the lengthening of the daylight hours. In the agricultural sense, it is a time when fields are prepared to receive the seeds for the crops to be planted. On a spiritual basis, we might look at it the same way. There is much work to do to break the ground compacted by the weight of the winter period of “death” and there are weeds and obstacles to remove. And yet there is good to be found in the preparations, because it is preparation for new life. In other words, this is more than a good thing.

Lent is a preparation. Lent is also a journey. Lent is a journey over a period of time, 40 days, and it is also a journey over the terrain of the soul.

This morning, thinking about journeys, I went back to a book I pick up a lot for those kind of travels, Jim Harrison’s “The Shape of the Journey:”

It is not so much that I got
there from here, which is everyone’s
story: but the shape
of the voyage: how it pushed
onward in every direction
until it stopped

It’s not the destination, it’s the shape of the voyage that defines it. And can define us. In Walter Brueggemann’s “A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent,” he offers this prayer for today:

Self-giving God, call us to walk the road of
newness–a new self, a new society, a new world,
one neighbor at a time. May we have traveling
mercies this Lenten season. Amen.

We are each on our own journey. Some are fortunate enough to help others in their travels, some people help us along. Where our paths intersect, and where we can travel together, those are great times. This kind of trip can be lonely and rough and we need help.

The Ash Wednesday reading from the Gospel of Matthew had some really key traveling advice. Something we may want to take to heart. Matthew quotes Jesus, who talks about not storing up treasures on earth–material things, money, fame, success–but storing up “treasures in heaven,” those things that light the soul, that put us in touch with something bigger, that connect us to God:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This Lent, this spring, as we set out on our journeys; may we find and store up the right kind of treasures and know our hearts; help our fellow travelers on their way; and all know traveling mercies, as Anne Lamott and Brueggemann call them, remembering it is the shape of the journey at least as much as the destination.

Making Us New

Each day is full of the expected and the unexpected. There are things I see coming and plenty I don’t. There are things I recognize and those I know are new. And that goes for myself as well; there are parts of me I recognize and parts I have to do a double take to catch (some I like, some I need to work on).

We can say the same thing for each of our paths through life: there is familiar ground and new ground every day. The thing about it is to keep going.

By your endurance you will gain your souls. – Luke 21:19. That was the Gospel from this morning’s worship service at Christ Church Easton. Over the last couple months, I have been reading the Books of Luke and John, and I underlined that passage a week or so ago. As a distance runner it speaks to me of lessons learned through perseverance. As someone whose life doesn’t generally seem to move in straight or discernible lines, it’s also about endurance in the face of the unknown. We might call that faith. Faith helps us endure.

Jesus talks about the destruction of the temple, the impermanence of the earthly life, the trials and tribulations and hardships that lie ahead, and the need to stay on the path, have faith, “by endurance you will gain your souls.” There are a very few things we can control, life happens all around us, what are we to do, what are we called to do as followers of Christ in the face of it all?

What we are called upon to be in this world is a force for good, for hope, for reconciliation, and righteousness… we can be better vessels of grace in this (community). – Fr. Bill

Life happens in ways we can’t understand. What we are called upon is to be a force for good, for hope, for faith. To focus on those things we can do something about, how we treat others, how we serve, what we can do for ourselves, our families, our communities.

Our walk may require different shoes than we expected (I had to grab the photo above, which shows what happens when a priest has to go from two morning worship services to volunteering at the Waterfowl Festival). It may take us down different roads, put us in different places, and run us into different people than we expected or than we would have chosen on our own. Though we’d like to, we can’t control what or who we encounter, but we can control who we are, how we act, and how we see things and people.

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Sometimes I think we adapt to the path we are on. We are made new by how we respond. Sometimes, I think we adapt to the path we see coming. We are made new to prepare for what’s ahead. In both cases, it is our response to God, what He’s put in front of us, and how we respond to His calling that makes us new.

Endurance, enduring doesn’t just have to be work and suffering. Those things are there, but so are happiness, joy, celebration, inspiration, and love. All things by which God makes us new, renew us. Along our path, we are able to become new again, invent, and improve ourselves. We can look to God for inspiration and we can surround ourselves with people who inspire us.

I’ve had the great fortune over the past couple weeks, to be inspired by two friends, in their mid-40s, doing amazing things that they have taken upon themselves to do.

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Jeremy Joseph is an elementary school art teacher, father of two girls, his wife is also a teacher. He is an artist with a cool style. Recently he decided to take his painting in a new direction and opened a solo exhibit of 30 new works. More on that another time, but Jeremy has long been an inspiration for me and writing, the way he makes time for creativity, for his passion, when it would be easier just to work, to be a dad, live life. Instead he chooses to have creativity, art, and newness be a part of his life.

A.K. Leight is a marine biologist. He decided a number of years ago that he was going to get his PhD in environmental science (Biological Oceanography) knowing he and his wife work full-time, have two girls, and that it was going to be a long, slow process. This past week he successfully defended his thesis, bringing the culmination of so much time, effort, and study. It’s not something most people do 20-some years into a career. As I am entering a new life adventure where continuing education and/or graduate study are a part of a calling, I am inspired by what A.K. has done and how he has gone about it. I am blessed to have friends who inspire me by their example.

Every day there is something new for us. Every day we can bring new eyes and renewed heart to what we are doing and how we live our lives. Every day God makes us new.

Open Our Hearts, Open Our Lives

I’m learning to get out of the way. Sometimes that means to move over to let what’s coming through get where it’s going. Sometimes I realize it’s because I’m what’s standing in the way of me getting to where I need to be.

When I pray (someone cue MC Hammer), I get out of the way. When I am quiet, when I listen, I get out of the way. It’s a matter of clearing out my ego, clearing out uncertainty, and trusting God, allowing bigger things to work.

Lately I’ve been moving in a certain direction. I’ve listened, written things down, made a gameplan. I’ve been looking for ways to help put things in motion, ways to serve, and at the same time, still having those pangs of doubt. A friend/mentor came across a quote from Henri Nouwen and sent it along:

When all is said and done, what we must learn above all is to offer ourselves–imperfections and all–to God. If we keep waiting until we are ‘worthy’ of God, we will move farther rather than closer to Him. It is through our broken, vulnerable, mortal ways of being that the healing power of the eternal God becomes visible to us.

We are called each day to present to the Lord the whole of our lives–our joys as well as our sorrows, our successes as well as our failures, our hopes as well as fears. We are called to do so with our limited means, our stuttering words and halting expressions. In this way we will come to know in mind and heart the unceasing prayer of God’s Spirit in us. Our many prayers are in fact confessions of our inability to pray. But they are confessions that enable us to perceive the merciful presence of God. – Henri Nouwen, “A Cry for Mercy”

Sometimes I’m good with cliff diving. Sometimes I can use a shove off the ledge. Sometimes it can be just a nod. That’s where having others to encourage us along the way, fellow pilgrims on their own journeys, makes the walk easier, lighter, more certain. It can be a hard road alone.

2016-oct-tree

Pride is a funny thing. We think we need it to accomplish things. We naturally feel proud if we do something well and it turns out better than we hoped. But riding pride’s high horse can be a dangerous trip. It grows our egos and prevents us from getting out of our own way. Today’s Gospel in church was from Luke (18:9-14). It’s the parable of the proud Pharisee and the repentant tax collector. Jesus closes with:

…all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Jesus digs parables. He’d rather make us think than tell us straight. But that one is pretty clear. Be humble, you’ll find the reward in it.

Getting out of my own way means opening myself up to possibilities. Opening my heart to the flow of what’s coming through. Whatever we choose to call it, we’ve all had those moments, whether playing sports, or fishing, hiking, playing music, running, writing, where we have felt we were in the zone, in the flow, something bigger than ourselves took over. Getting out of our own way opens us up to what God is sending through. In the Trinity notion, it’s the Holy Spirit.

And when we open our hearts, we open our lives to let things happen. To let God work. To do things, move in directions, I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.

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Opening our hearts and lives to something bigger than us, is to serve. To offer ourselves to and for a bigger purpose. The contemporary choir this morning, with a soloist, belted an inspired version of Matthew West’s “Do Something.” The lyrics pretty well sum up the notion of God/Jesus at work in the world. Working through people. The singer is fed up with all the terrible things that happen in the world and asks God to do something:

He said, “I did, I created you.”

That’s how I think about how God works in the world: through us:

But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something”

It’s not a song I would have listened to on the radio or downloaded. But if I could have the version that was performed in church–choir, band, soloist, live, inspired, moving an entire congregation–I would play it on a loop. It’s the kind of message that always hits me hardest. God works through people. God works through you. If you see a problem, it’s on you to fix it. To do something.

I’m learning to get out of the way. I’m learning to let bigger things work. To let God work. I’m learning to open my heart, to open my life. To serve. To do something, those things that I can do differently than anybody else could. Even me, flawed, imperfect, with my “limited means, (my) stuttering words, (my) halting expressions.”

I’m learning to get out of the way.

“Increase Our Faith:” Thoughts After a Sermon

I try to listen. Every chance I get. I am a visual learner, so being quiet, taking in sounds, words, wind, birds, a conversation, is something I work at. It’s a funny thing, but I find it’s amazing how much I hear when I listen.

“Increase our faith,” Luke has the apostles saying in his part of the Gospel (Luke 17:5). It’s during the trying times that we ask for something like that. When we know we’re working through something. It’s never when things are going well and life is good. Those aren’t the times made for faith.

When I sit in church, I try to make my posture silent and open, so I can take everything in. It’s those moments where hymns, songs, scripture, sermons, feel directed to my ears.

Am I being the person I am supposed to be? Am I doing the things I am supposed to be doing?

Those are the crossroads questions. Livelihood, being a good father, relationships, life, spiritual path, faith… those questions come up, sometimes we have an answer we are happy with, sometimes not, sometimes we don’t know. Those are times for faith. Leaning away from worry and leaning into faith.

Even when we can’t do it, God moving through us can make great things happen.

When we face doubt, struggle, our limitations, if we get out of the way, if we make room, God can work through us.

Being mindful not of who we are, but “Whose” we are…

What a difference a letter or two can make. When I am thinking through questions about living my life, remembering that life is a gift and should be treated accordingly, with gratitude.

I rode my bike down Boone Creek Rd., and looked up the creek. There was a deep silence, a stillness, the same as I felt in church earlier.

…silence to open a path… experiencing the stillness of God’s comforting grace.

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There are times when I dig the hermit on the mountain idea. Cultivate that silence and rest in it. But I know at the bottom of that savored solitude, something is missing for me.

This great capacity we have as human beings to love, makes us better.

Ah yes, there it is. Maybe we’ve got this grain of mustard seed in us (sticking with Luke) that can grow into something beyond what we even thought it could.

In stillness, it can come to us. God can come to us. When we are still. And listening. But don’t expect a road map. Don’t expect answers. If it were easy, if it were clear, it wouldn’t require faith, this walk.

Not all things in life are unscarred, pure, and perfect.

Amen. It’s our scars, our particular brokenness and how we are put back together, that defines us.

Increase our faith.

[italics are words taken/quoted from a sermon on Oct. 2, 2016, Christ Church, Easton, Md.]

Living Stones

Sometimes I would like to be rock, stone, standing impermeable against the elements, against the world.

But neither rock nor stone win in the end; they get taken down; eaten away, cracked, eroded over time.

Wind and water abide. Their persistence and patience are too much for stone.

People have always sought meaning, wisdom, and strength in rocks, it seems. From building tools and weapons, to palming and rubbing a stone smooth in our hands.

I am drawn to stones.

assateague stones

Carl Jung knew something about why:

Many people cannot refrain from picking up stones of a slightly unusual color or shape and keeping them… without knowing why they do. It is as if the stone held a mystery in it that fascinates them. Men have collected stones since the beginning of time and have apparently assumed that certain ones were containers of the spirit of the life force with all its mystery. – Carl Jung, “Man and His Symbols”

rock-cairns-in-tibet

The church I grew up going to is built of stone. It has the feel of something ancient, something permanent. I have to go back to Jung:

The stone symbolized something that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one’s own soul. It symbolizes what is perhaps the simplest and deepest experience of something eternal that man can have in those moments when he feels immortal and unalterable. – Carl Jung, “Man and His Symbols”

Ah, but the hubris of man. Our audacity. We want something permanent. We want something to build on; to be that which is built on. The cool, vastness of a mountain. Let me be that. To stand like stone.

We use stones as offerings. We build. Standing stones were built, formations, as offerings to God. A temple.

But God prefers people.

You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house  
– 1 Peter 2:5

People build with stone. God builds his greatest work, love, with people.

Living stones. Being built into something. Maybe I can build with words. If not my own, then Gary Snyder’s as an incantation:

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.

Snyder’s words are riprap. Pick mine up like a stone to rub in your hand and carry with you. Pocket them and pull them out when you need them.

What will they say to you?