Eating with Jesus

A reflection for Proper 17, Year C:

Luke 14:1, 7-14

 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

It seems like we spend a lot of time in the Gospels eating with Jesus.  Eating at wedding banquets, eating at friends’ homes, eating with multitudes of people, breaking bread with close friends.  Of course, there is a lot that happens in the narrative of Jesus’ birth, ministry, life, death, and resurrection that we encounter in the Bible, and we tell those stories across the liturgical year.  The more I reflect on how often food appears in those stories along with Jesus, the more I realize that these stories of feasting, eating, and dining with Jesus are at the core of my faith.  There is awe in the divine mystery of Jesus Christ, God-made-human.  But, there is also something incredibly beautiful about Jesus, the divine-yet-human being who understands the nature of what we need…food for sustenance of body, and relationship for sustenance of soul.  If Jesus is someone that I can eat with, Jesus is someone that I can relate to.  If Jesus conveys stories through the sharing of food and fellowship at the table, then I am someone who wants to listen and be fed.  So, when Jesus invites me to eat with him, I am drawn to say an enthusiastic “yes.”  That, in a few sentences, is the pattern that has drawn me deeper and deeper into the relationship with Jesus that is the basis of my Christian life.

I’ve realized while reflecting on this Gospel that we read today that eating with Jesus is probably the perfect metaphor for our lives of faith.

Jesus, as a devout and faithful teacher, offers up stories and parables which invite his hearers to live deeply into the two great commandments that were central to his Jewish faith and life:  you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  These core values…the Shema…frame his life and ministry.  When I think about those words, I realize that my own upbringing instilled something that at its core is a branch of this sacred value.  It was spoken and lived out by my Grandmother:  when you love people, you feed them.  She was the matriarch of a farming family, and fed everyone from farm hands to her own flesh and blood with food cooked with love.  Sometimes that food was abundant, and sometimes she made due with whatever was available.  But, always, you were fed because you were loved.  Favorite meals on birthdays, family gatherings with spreads of comfort food, Thanksgiving banquets that would stretch across multiple rooms of my Gramma’s farmhouse, containing contributions from multiple family members cooked and baked with love and care.  We feed our families, we make sure our children have food…even special food…and sometimes we even go without food ourselves in order to make that happen.  When people we love are sick, we feed them.  When people are hurting and grieving, we feed them.  When we are happy and celebratory, we throw parties and invite people to share our joys with us.  The food and faces may change with culture, geography, what we love to eat and what is available to us.  But, rather universally, when we love people we feed them.  When we are fed, we come to know that we are loved.

And so, it becomes a deeply loving gift when we are invited to eat with Jesus.

First, Jesus teaches his fellow dinner companions what it really means to be a guest.  Jesus himself is being watched, and he is watching people clamor and climb to be seated nearest the person of power.  In the cultural setting of a meal such as this, this would literally mean watching people trying to be the center of attention.  The guests of honor reclined in the center of the room, with those who wanted to be seen and heard crowding into that central space.  Jesus is drawing our attention not just to where we find our place at the table, but to how we feel occupying those spaces.  If we are only looking to be at the center of attention so that we can share in another’s power, we don’t even pay attention to who is with us, or who we crawl over in the process. We stop seeing those on the margins.  We stop making relationships .   When the guest in Jesus’ parable is demoted from that self-appointed place of power and feels disgrace, that feeling comes from being set apart, from feeling apart from community.  Jesus offers up a different perspective:  joining first with those who are on the outside builds community among those with whom we are gathered at the table.  Jesus points out that even when we are invited closer, it isn’t just about us if we are living in community.  We are honored in the presence of all who are with us because they rise with us.  Jesus as guest reminds us that it isn’t the position where we start out or where we strive to be, but instead it is seeing ourselves as a part of the table…the community…that makes all the difference.  When one of those humble guests is honored, all of the guests are exalted.  I think of Jesus, the guest, reminding us that he didn’t choose to enter this world amid wealth and power.  His incarnate beginnings were humble, and it is in his exultation through death and resurrection that all of us….ALL of US…are brought closer to God.

In the second part of today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his host…and us…a lesson about intention.  Do we do what we do so that we’ll get something in return?  Or do we do what we do, because we genuinely care about feeding and loving our community?  Jesus the host doesn’t create an exclusive guest list of those who give the church the most money or who have the highest social standing.  Jesus invites us to his table…those of us who will come as we are…wearing all the flaws and challenges and marks of our humanity.  We are the guests.  Jesus the host knows that this beloved community of authentic, flawed, real people is where the real joy lies.  Jesus, our host, rejoices when we are restored.  Jesus, our host, delights to feed us without expecting that we can ever reciprocate.  Jesus, our host, embodies that same sacred value as my Grandmother: when you love people, you feed them.  There is a delight in offering all of what we have to feed those we love.  There is deep gratitude in being lovingly fed.  In the abundance of the banquet Jesus hosts for us, all are fed.  All are nourished.  All are welcome.

Yes, I think eating with Jesus is probably the best metaphor for our active lives of faith.

Everyone here today is being invited to eat with Jesus, and Jesus is here to eat with us as a guest. Jesus is here in community, with us as we pray together and eat together. Jesus is here, with those you will sit with at lunch, and those you break bread with, and Jesus who eats with you here continues to show his love through your words and actions toward those you will encounter as you leave. Jesus is in the hands and hearts of those who are back in the kitchen finishing up their cooking preparations right now; it is Jesus who holds the hands that serve and supports the hands that receive. Jesus is present in the scrubbing of the pots, the washing of the dishes, the vacuuming of the floor, and the wiping the tables. Jesus is here with us knowing the humility of this human life…knowing about poverty, about oppression, about being beaten, about feeling abandoned and betrayed. Jesus is here as our host, offering us his stories of hope, of resurrection, of the humble being exalted, of a kingdom that is both of this world and beyond it. If you come back on Sunday for Holy Eucharist, which you are all welcome to do, Jesus is host for that sacred feast, too.  Jesus is host, and Jesus is guest in all these ways that he holds out for us to feed on today…because we are the community of Jesus. Feed on that in your hearts as we break bread together today. Jesus, the host, invites you. Jesus, the guest, dines with you. In Christ’s own humility, and in his rising up, we also are exalted.

[Homily prepared for Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church:  A Service for Healing, Friday August 26, 2016]

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healing, before we ask

Meditation for Proper 16, Year C

 

Luke 13:10-17

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Eighteen years is a long time.  It’s longer than my daughter has been alive.  It’s longer than I’ve been married, longer than I’ve lived in Richmond, longer than I have been an Episcopalian.

When I first read this passage from Luke’s Gospel, I began to think about what was happening in my own life, 18 years ago, just so that I could understand a bit more about this woman who Jesus sees.  To save anyone else from having to do the math, let me just mention that eighteen years ago was 1998.  I had to pause and think about that…1998 was a long time ago, and a whole different time in my life.

In 1998, I was living in Buffalo and feeling pretty trapped.  I found myself living alone, having just ended a relationship that wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t sure how long I could stay where I was currently living, and I definitely wasn’t sure where I would go if I left. I was working several part-time jobs trying to make ends meet.  I knew I wanted to do some things with my life that just didn’t seem possible or realistic at that time: go back to school, find something that gave me joy, make healthy new friendships and relationships.

At some point that year, it occurred to me that I always enjoyed art when I was younger.  Art seemed to be an affordable and much needed hobby…paper, pencils, maybe some paints.  This, I thought, was within my grasp…I just needed some structure or perhaps a class to get me started.  I browsed through the newspaper and found an art class that seemed affordable…only $15, as I recall.  I called for a slot in the class, and heard an answering machine message that said the class was cancelled.  Dejected, I felt like giving up but left a return name and number in case there was another class.  Several days later, my phone rang.  It was the teacher of that art class, who apologized for having to cancel the class.  She invited me to her studio for a free lesson since she felt badly to have cancelled.  So, I went a few days later thinking at least I had nothing to lose.

Her studio was a tiny, open space above a car mechanic shop, which is where she worked as a part-time receptionist.  I learned that afternoon above the auto garage that my art teacher, Betty, had taken up art late in life while she was the caregiver for her husband who had Alzheimer’s disease.  She was wonderfully gifted, and a patient teacher who helped me see the beauty in the world around me, a beauty I had been unable to see myself.  It just so happens that my job at that time was as a bereavement counselor, and my prior work was as the social worker for an Alzheimer’s unit of a skilled nursing facility.  Betty and I clearly had gifts to share with each other.  For several years we met, and sketched, and talked, and cried, and healed together every Sunday afternoon.

Eighteen years is a very long time.  But even across those years, Betty and I are still friends.  She’s written a book about her caregiving to help other caregivers.  I’ve integrated art as a regular part of my life, in fact just returning from time as the Chaplain to our diocesan art camp.  Healing sometimes comes to us before we ask.  And often, it comes to us through the hands and hearts that see us as already as healed and whole, before we even see that in ourselves.

In the Gospel of Luke we meet, through Jesus’ eyes, another woman who is hurting.  This woman has been bent over for eighteen years.  We’re told she was unable to stand up straight.  So, her view probably never reached the horizon line, let alone ascend upward to the heavens.

Eighteen years is a very, very long time to only see the ground beneath your feet.

This story of healing in the ministry of Jesus is different than others.  Here, we don’t have someone coming to Jesus and asking for healing, or even reaching out in faith to touch the hem of his garment.  In this story, we have Jesus teaching…preaching…gathered in the holy space of the temple.  He is the One who sees this woman perhaps, because of her limited vision, before she can even see him.  And the first thing Jesus does is call to her to come near, to tell her she is free of her ailment.  The second thing Jesus does is touch her.  He lays his hands on her, making a human and divine connection in which healing resides.  What we know from the story Luke tells us is that at that point this woman stands up, and gives thanks to God. At that moment, health and healing are hers again.  The colors of the sky, the trees, the far off horizon, the eyes of those near her…the eyes of Jesus, who has lavished healing upon her…these are hers to see again.  It isn’t just her body that is healed but also her spirit; when hope returns and healing fills her, her response is to stand up and give thanks to God.

What Jesus knows, and what this woman knows…and what those in the story who criticize him for healing on the Sabbath do not seem to know…is that healing is not about work.  Healing is about freedom.  Healing invites us to see ourselves in our divine potential, rather than our human limits.  Healing is extended to us in the form of hope, relationship, divine touch through human hands.  Healing invites us to share in God’s vision of ourselves in that moment where we realize there is so much more to see as our eyes are opened and our vision is expanded beyond our present circumstance and to a view of the holy within us, and around us.

Today, we are invited to hope and healing.  We don’t have to be in a place to name what is ailing us.  We don’t even have to have the courage and confidence to ask for healing.  We are invited to be open to the possibility of living in the hope of who we are, how God sees us, and through the eyes of people who see that divine image reflected in us.  Healing and hope come in the form of those we may least expect: art teachers, social workers, hands that reach out to offer love and support.  I believe that hope and healing are present in this world, in our lives, in this place and this time that we are together.

No matter how many years we have been afflicted, in Christ there is hope and healing, even before we ask.

[prepared for Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, A Public Service of Healing:  August 19, 2016]

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saints

I’ve been thinking about “saints” a great deal this week, and saints have been finding me.  Although I only get to the West Coast a few times a year, my great joy is worshipping surrounded by the dancing saints of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.  I was talking about St. Gregory’s recently with some of the volunteers at my field education parish with whom I was cooking and serving lunch for those in need of a home-cooked, sustaining meal.  Whenever we feed those who hunger, we ourselves are fed.  That kind of deep, soul nourishment happens at St. Gregory’s, and at my home parish food pantry, and at my field ed parish’s feeding ministry and so many other settings where we feed with love and abundance.  I never, ever leave ministries like this without having been nourished deeply.

I am realizing that the vastness of my understanding of the “Communion of Saints” has been forever altered by my experiences with feeding and being fed.  It is visceral at St. Gregory of Nyssa.  Their worship space is designed for liturgy and feeding…by that, I mean both ecclesial and literal translations of the word.  The same altar around which people gather for Holy Eucharist on Sunday, people gather and glean bountiful amounts of produce and groceries at food pantry on Fridays.  I’ve been fed (literally and sacramentally) in both spaces, with dancing saints all around me.  It is the saints on earth and the saints above joined together that help me feel my place among the ordinary extraordinary, fed by the depth of connection among us all.  This connection with the saints is not about our goodness, but our openness to the working of Divine Presence through us, exactly as we are.

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The presence of saints in our lives is visceral in other places and spaces, too.  I was enthralled earlier this week at an exhibit of Kehinde Wiley’s artwork at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art.  In the exhibition, he has reappropriated historical (predominantly European) art with portraits of African American men and women living into the richness of their own personhood.  I kept walking through the exhibit, seeing more and more depth and nuance of people’s true selves reflecting archetypical strengths time after time, painting after painting.  These works of art evoke a depth of expression beyond the subject and situation.  Not surprisingly, his collection of “saints and icons” was most inspiring for me.  Some stained glass works, some iconography, other paintings.  All incredible.  Just a quick peek at a few of these amazing images in Wiley’s New Republic:

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I hold all these images of saints as a part of my journey: traditional, contemporary, sacred art, modern interpretation.  I tire of hearing news stories that contain verbiage like, “he was no saint…”  What if, instead of judging worthiness, we actually opened to seeing the saints reflected in each other?  We hold this false idea of “being a saint” as self-determining a level of human perfection, rather than as a conduit for divine love and mercy to flow through and dance among us.  When we are emptied to the possibility of divine purpose flowing through our veins and connecting us with each other, we are like those dancing saints where art, music, the poetry of divine mercy and justice flow like water.

I am blessed to be in the presence of saints in this life, connecting me with the Source of all that is life giving.  I am resting, this night, in the small points of light each encounter brings to my path.

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Closing Up

Today, we close an amazing week of camp. Campers have changed and grown, and I have too.

Here is the Gospel text (from the Common for Artists and Writers) and my homily from closing worship for campers and their families.

Gospel: John 21:15-17,24-25

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Imagine Jesus and Simon Peter, having just eaten a breakfast fit for ShrineMont: French toast, bacon, fresh fruit…you know what I’m talking about! These two were close, tighter than tight having spent time hiking, journeying and boating together, working side by side, talking and laughing, and, the way friends do, sometimes even crying, and consoling each other. This Gospel is like listening to a heart-to-heart feeling check. This particular Gospel gives us a sneak peek into the close conversation of Jesus and Simon Peter, his dear friend and disciple. Yes, the same Simon Peter who tried to walk on water the way our worship team acted out earlier this week. When I listen in to Jesus and Simon Peter, it reminds me of some of the conversations I’ve heard this week. Jesus asks His friend and disciple a question that many of us wonder about our friends, too: “Do you love me, for real?” Simon Peter responds back: “Of course, Jesus…you KNOW that…I love you, and I’ve got your back!” But I don’t think Jesus is giving Simon Peter a friendship test. He asks this question three times, not because he doesn’t believe Simon Peter. This friendship is deep and real. Instead, Jesus is letting his friend know something incredibly important: the most important thing that Simon Peter can do to show his love for Jesus is to share that love with others. Or, in the words of Jesus: “feed my sheep.”

This week, we’ve been forming friendships, connecting with God through our senses, feeding our bodies and our souls, and pausing with intention to consider the lilies. The art that has emerged from this week is spectacular, and I cannot imagine anything more beautiful than taking in the creative expressions that I have watched emerge from each of you, or learning from the depths of love and care shown among counselors and campers as we have grown deeper in relationship with each other, and in relationship with God. Art camp has been a masterpiece, and everyone here has been changed by that artistry. Pause, look around, take it in: consider the lilies in the faces, the expressions, the art that surrounds you.

But, don’t stop there. Jesus’ request to his friend Simon Peter is true for us, too. We have been fed in mind, body, and spirit here on this mountain. I will not go home the same as I was when I came here, and neither will you. You have made new friends, discovered your inner artistry in new forms and expressions, connected with God in new and deeper ways. These are also the ways in which we know Christ, who holds us and enfolds us and shows himself to us through our love for each other, when we take time to stop and look and listen…and even smell and taste…the many ways that God makes God’s self known to us. We are changed and transformed by that love. Like Simon Peter, our friend Jesus who knows that are hearts are filled with love, tells us exactly what we need to do next: Jesus asks us to show the depths of this transforming, inspiring love to all of God’s people…to the whole world around us. Share your stories of art camp. Pray for a friend. Ask someone you care about to do a feeling check with you. Make prayer flags. Give your art to the world. Let the music of Shrinemont….songs and nature…be what resonates in your ears and fills your days with song.

Today’s Gospel ends with a glimpse into that beautiful, transformed world: “there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” The real beauty is that we continue to live out Jesus’ love and teaching by being the eyes, and ears, and hands and feet of Christ in the world. We are the Body of Christ, transformed so that we can transform the world and continue to fill it with stories and actions of Jesus’ love. So go forth, spreading that love wherever you go. Share your art, connect with God, show love…be the lilies of the field that make this world beautiful as the love bestowed on us feeds the world, leaving brushstrokes of beauty wherever we go.

 

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Feeling Check

One of the joys of camp is the intentionality with which feelings are openly discussed.  Last night, I was humbled by being welcomed into the feeling check and cabin time of 10 and 11 years olds voicing their emerging questions about God and faith.  Today, our staff meeting closed with an intentional feeling check as well, as we round the curve into the last several days.  Tonight, my daughter was adopted by a cabin of young women her age to be a part of their feeling check at close of day.  What a gift: the opportunity to voice how we are really, truly feeling: highs, lows, and everything in-between.  This intentionality has made me consider what a different kind of world it would be if we paused for a feeling check, even periodically.  What a risky, beautiful, vulnerable act that would be.

So, I thought I would do a feeling check tonight, using the form one of our counselors introduced me to: Rose, Thorn, Bud.

My Rose in full bloom tonight is the beauty and joy on the faces of the campers who made prayer beads today during our afternoon elective.  I was bouncing between their prayer bead making and our evening worship planning, so it was like magic to see their sets of beads emerging, each with its own color and character.  What I loved most was their excitement to have something they had created with which they could touch, and hold, and see, and experience a connection to God.  My heart overflowed with their joy and bloomed into fullness from their hugs and expressions of gratitude.  My own reflection is that once again, my role is simply to create the space and offer up supplies.  Then, I can slip out of the way for God to do the rest.

The Thorn is definately my knee.  I have been walking a lot, and I love to walk.  But, my knee which I twisted during my time at seminary started acting up painfully after a downhill hike last night.  Today was my first day at camp where I wasn’t approaching 20,000 steps (and even today was still over 10,000!), because swelling and pain weren’t dissipating even with ibuprofen.  I’m hopeful this (relatively) restful day will allow me to resume full walking around camp tomorrow.  I’m frustrated because it makes me feel old to not be able to pop a squat on the floor, or to have to drive to meals or circle up to the Shrine instead of walking and taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and atmosphere of camp life.  Hopefully, this thorny spot will be short lived.

The Bud emerging for me is to see what will happen with tomorrow’s chaplain time.  I changed things up last minute to make a more self-cared focused day using the scents of healing, essentials oils and inspirational readings to accompany them.  Logic tells me they could be bored; intuition and spirit tells me, it’s what we need.  I’m also letting them write questions and tell me what activities they want to engage or re-engage during our final session…we’ll see how that bud emerges!

Wait, one more Rose.  My daughter returned from feeling check having made several new friends, excited about getting up for breakfast to sit with them, and dragged me outside in my pajamas to see the stars with her.

The answer to world peace might just be the feeling check, friends…oh,what a wonderful world it would be.

  

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Everything clicks

Last night I fell asleep trying to compose a blog post.  Seriously.  It wasn’t even that late, but I was that exhausted.  Like a middle school novella, I had managed to spill my tray in the dining hall during dinner.  All day, my mind was racing, trying to remember names and getting everything “just right” but never quite achieving it.  Then, it poured rain and we had to totally regroup.  At one point, I thought I had entirely missed the worship service I was supposed to be organizing, and I realized I had misplaced my walkie-talkie and couldn’t find anyone to ask where they were, so I felt like a complete loser.  We did eventually find each other, but by that point I was so stressed I could barely think.  Exasperated, at one point I said in front of my daughter, “I’m afraid I might suck at this whole camp thing.”  She stopped me and said, “You don’t, Mom.  You aren’t even close.  You’re actually amazing.”  From a tween, I’m fairly sure that is the highest achievable praise.

Rather like my fall the other day, something happened when I hit that wall and slid out of my ego and into the loving arms of community.  I woke this morning and found that my daughter had done some prep work for chaplain time activities while I slept.  I arrived at breakfast and was approached by the counselor for one cabin of girls so filled with questions about God that they & their counselor invited me to their night-time cabin feeling check.  I teared up at the beauty and depth of their questions, and that was even before chaplain’s time.  All day,  all manner of amazing conversations began to emerge while the prayer flags we had made and hung the day before moved in the breeze while we ran our hands through meditation bowls full of dried lentils, used sea shells for centering prayer, and prayed together with Anglican prayer beads.  Suddenly, it all clicked.  It has been a wonderful and amazing day.

I stood beneath the prayer flags this evening, feeling the strength of all those prayers surrounding and ascending as this community builds mid-week and I find my groove within it.  Come Holy Spirit.  I am deeply, richly blessed.

   
   

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Labyrinth

During the past 24 hours I have circled the labyrinth numerous times, sometimes as an act of my own meditation and others, accompanying campers and counselors as they experience the turns in which there is no wrong path as we journey step by step to the center, in the embrace of divine presence.  My soul is always stirred as I move forward with each step.  I came across this poem tonight, which conveys so much of what I feel while walking this sacred circuit.

Divestiture by Marilyn Peretti

I walked a labyrinth yesterday,
half circles and whole circles
round and round on soft pea gravel,
paths lined by paving bricks.
My pulse slowed I’m sure
as I divested myself of all
that hangs about in my head,
pressing on my shoulders.
 
I know I will return, after this first
meditation in the shade of tall oaks,
clear blue leaking through the leaves,
to reach a holy center,
then reverse and leave the rings,
fresh thoughts replacing old,
continuing my journey
somewhat lighter.

Poetry credit: https://labyrinthsociety.org/writing-contest/3170-first-place-poetry-marilyn-peretti

Today: A day of many steps, all of which remind me that when our intention is focused on God, and our hearts are open to grace, our path will lead us exactly where we need to be.

   

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Resurrection Lilies

This session of art camp, we are “considering the lilies of the field.”  Today, I watched our field literally fill with arriving campers and their families, bringing brightness and curiosity to our mountain camp.  Since I am new to the camping experience here at ShrineMont, I don’t have the hang of the schedule yet.  It was a few hours before arrival that I realized I would be offering a homily, and the intervening time slipped quickly by filled with registrations, welcomes, and ice-breakers.  Suddenly, it was time for worship.

I like time to mull over and meditate, but camp requires the dexterity of being on the fly.  I was saying a little prayer that went a bit like, “help me…I don’t know what to preach!” when my daughter called to me and pointed out one lily in particular: a Resurrection Lily.  This particular flower sends up leaves, which wither away.  But, weeks later, a single stalk topped with multiple pink blooms appears following that time of dormancy.  It is surprise, resurrection.  It catches us off guard.

  
Like the passage I was preaching from (Matthew 6:25-34), I had no reason to be anxious.  My nervousness over details faded as I realized that all is well, all is provided.  God is here, with us.  We are called in this very present moment to simply stop worrying, be still, and notice.  In that space of God’s nearness, we also experience resurrection.  Thank you to the lilies who preached to me with beauty, and offer up today’s small point of light.

  

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Springs and Falls

Whenever I hike during the summer in Virginia, I am painfully aware that I grew up in upstate New York.  I had nearly downed my water bottle half-way into today’s hike, and that barely made up for what my body was sweating off.  The hike today was a staff bonding experience to Seven Springs, a beautiful deep woods location that involved “some” downhill trekking and mild maneuvering over rocks and crossing a stream via a 2×4 bridge.  I was reassured I would be fine.  Admittedly, I was less than convinced.  

  
It really is an achievable hike, I admit.  But I am more accustomed to scaling piles of grant reviews and manuscript revisions than slick, rooted mountainside slopes leading to natural springs.  Suffice it to say: I was the first to do a sliding side-roll down a hillside.  Other than my ego, nothing was bruised.  And even that didn’t hurt….I found myself surrounded by helping hands and encouraging remarks that made my lack of grace seem like a minor hiccup.  I was reminded in that moment that it isn’t really the falling that we fear. What more often trips us up is the fear of being seen and losing face.  On the contrary, with supportive community and my jeans already dirty, I was a lot more willing to take risks in muddy places and navigate the messy moments of the remaining hike without a second thought.  The fall actually made it easier for me to be myself, and to enjoy the sights and sounds of the present moment. Which, in our travel, was to a beautiful, cold-water spring.

My chaplain lesson for the day lies in this juxtaposition: sometimes it requires a fall to see how much support surrounds us.  Falling takes us off our pedestal of “doing it right” in favor of experiencing the journey of the present moment.  True redemption is experiencing those moments for all the divine potential springing forth, roots and falls and springs.  Thanks be to God.

  

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(En)lighten

Three birch candle lamps flicker on the wooden dresser next to a vase of light-strewn branches.  A scarf from my closet back home is spread across the surface, a makeshift forest emerging from branches of gray reaching through the ivory linen.  This corner makes the space feel like home.  It will be home, at least for the next week.  Beannacht.  I am blessed.

A week on the mountain, here at Shrinemint, feels like an escape from the world.  For me, time away from routine is not only a reprieve but a necessity.  I have the honor to hold this space in my heart and soul for the next week, serving as chaplain to campers and staff.  My self-described, “assistant sharing half a genome” is with me, too, making this a mother-daughter adventure.  We have stepped apart from our world of routine.  I am stepping apart from the routines that keep me too busy…even too busy, it seems,  to write. But,  I have deeply missed recording the small points of light that guide my path.  And, I have been reminded of late that others miss these reflections, too.

It occurs to me that this is a time where we need enlightenment, perhaps more than any time I can remember.  News is too often tragic; politics are too often divisive.  It can feel as if we exist to be cruel.  But these are not the dark ages.  We live in the light, if we open our eyes to see it, because Divine Light enfolds us, always. 

Today, there was light in the bright green caterpillar crawling on a rock that someone stopped to point out to me.  There was light in the counselor who asked me if I was here for staff or just campers, and light in the conversation which emerged when I smiled a “yes, and” and felt myself shift to a new role emerging in my own life.  There was light in forgiveness, and in laughter.  The light shining here is simple.  No bright LED glaring.  Just soft, flickering enlightenment.  Perhaps that gentle glow is more necessary in our world than the piercing glare of a beacon.  Sometimes, it is the soft light which illuminates most clearly.

As for me, I write this in the soft glow of lights that help me make peace with my smallness, and embrace awe with the Immensity which flows through me when I am still enough to open.  Beannacht.  Again, I am blessed.

I don’t know where small points of light will emerge in my days here, but I know in my soul, beyond a doubt, that they will. I hope you will share the journey with me, in this space where soft light can enlighten our surroundings and beckon us toward the healing which we so deeply need.  (En)Lightened, indeed.

  

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