It’s something unpredictable, and in the end it’s right. I hope you have the time of your life.

                  —Green Day

Today is my nephew’s birthday. He is twenty-six.

I remember the date so well because I couldn’t be there for his birth. I was in England then and missed many things.

My grandparents died that same year–both of my mother’s parents. I wasn’t present then either. It was very hard to be an ocean away and I stayed in bed for days.

Which is why, in part, I don’t miss anything now: birthdays, anniversaries, graduations—those watershed moments which sweep us and our loved ones away in their significance.

My nephew, Ben, is awesome. He is one of the most Christ-like persons I know: kind, loving, gentle, he doesn’t judge or criticize and he cares for the least. He works for a non-profit foundation which cares for homeless children.

Last week, he was in charge of a fundraiser event which was huge. I loved seeing him walk around the park checking on things, coordinating volunteers, trouble-shooting with his clipboard. I was so impressed by the magnitude of his work and the difference he is making in the world.

Ben’s life, like all of ours, has not been free of pain. When he was fifteen, his brother died, his only sibling. The death was especially troubling because it can only be labeled as a ‘freak accident.’ Who you gonna get mad at when there is simply no explanation and it seems absurd? And what a difficult theological question to be wrestling with when you are so young and your heart is breaking.

Maybe that’s why, in part, Ben is so compassionate. He took whatever pain was there and turned it around to care for others in theirs. His life is a testimony to grace and the power of love to transform.

My life as a parish minister was filled with births and deaths and all that lies between as I sought to care for others, to be present for them and for their watershed moments. And so, I attended retirement parties and golden anniversaries, weddings, and graduations, and yes, was present for births and deaths.

Usually they were spread apart, but there was one day which stands out in my mind because of its intensity. In the morning, I witnessed a birth and in the afternoon, death came creeping.

I was amazed at their similarities as I stood in the labor room of a good friend who honored me by her invitation to be there with her husband and mother and another best friend. I saw the blood and heard the groaning as new life struggled to emerge, and finally slipped into the world.

And then, I got in my car and traveled to another hospital room where the cries and groaning were more subdued but just as potent. I watched an old life slip away from this earth, only to enter a new one.

Our time here is made up of such moments and all that is between. We live in the dash—the years and experiences which shower us by their ordinary beauty and sorrow, the little births and deaths which surround us each day. And such potency and distillation require immense faith.

Green Day says it well: It’s something unpredictable, and in the end it’s right. I hope you have the time of your life.

This morning, that is what I want to say to you, to my nephew Ben, to all of us. Our lives here are but a dash, a brief interval of beauty and meaning where we give to the world and the world gives back. I pray we will be present for it all and not miss a single moment.

Happy birthday Ben. I am so proud of you and the man you have become. You know better and deeper than many that life is unpredictable but in the end is right. I hope you have the time of your life.

Today the roofer comes. Tears old shingles off the Little House David and I are renovating to replace them with brand new. They will be charcoal gray and match the shutters and front door perfectly. I am excited.

Except it is raining.

Isn’t that the way life goes? We make our plans only to have them altered by the weather, fickle and changing.

I had made tentative plans to return to France this fall, was saving my tips towards a ticket and had talked to a friend about a ‘buddy pass.’ And then, a close person to our family surprised us with the news that she is getting married in November. She showed us her ring, all sparkly and new and significant.

The event is significant as this woman is 49 years old and has never been married. We have prayed for her a long, long time.

And so, my plans have changed and I hope to make it to France to visit a friend after Christmas. I am not sure when I will return.

One of the contemporary Christian songs I like speaks of rain as grace, inviting it to fall down from heaven. I think of the Israelites and the Egyptians who both experienced a rain from heaven. But their downpours were of opposing natures—and I do mean ‘nature.’ The Egyptians– and the Pharaoh we recall–were pummeled with locusts while the Hebrew children got manna and quail. Each had a different wilderness, the one at home and the one which comes when we roam.

And each experienced a type of grace.

It is hard to view locusts, grasshoppers as gracious. They come with enormous teeth, I think, and can chew up crops in seconds. They wiz through a field to work their own harvest and the path they leave is devastation. One of my favorite books ever is John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath about the ‘Okies’ who are exiled from their land like the Israelites and who travel all the way to California where they will become migrant workers and suffer immense poverty and misery. Why do I like such a story you may ask? I think because at some level, we all know exile and what it is like to be migrant—traveling around to pick others’ crops. At times, we all live in tents and owe our soul to the ‘company store.’ We become the main character in folk songs and history as others herald our cause.

I have done such heralding in my ministry. Sadly, I have counseled and been an advocate over the years for women–parishioners–who have been abused. Boyfriends and husbands have left scars and torn ligaments, have broken ribs and dreams and hearts. Their bruising has been brutal. I have assisted several women in their escape, along with shelters and angels of death who have passed them over to wreak their own rage.

The tragedy of domestic violence is mammoth and far-reaching. According to the Georgia Commision on Family Violence, in 2009 alone there were 72,185 crisis calls to certified domestic violence agencies;  7,756 victims and children were provided refuge in shelters; and in 42% of the cases children were present. Georgia ranked 15th in the nation for men killing women in 2009 and has been in the top 20 states all ten years of the study. (www.gcfv.org/factsheet.pdf ).  Violence is not limited to the victim but returns to haunt and oppress the oppressor. In any kind of abuse, all are victims. Often the crime is a double whammy, the husband commits murder and then kills himself. And, as we are learning, husbands suffer abuse too. And children witness their parent getting beat. As a member of the clergy, I have led prayers and participated in candle-lighting sevices on the square to call the names and remember those killed in domestic violence in Towns and Union Counties..  I think there is nothing ‘domestic’ about it: it is savage.

It is difficult to speak of such things, especially on a holiday weekend when we memorialize soldiers who have died in the line of duty and as we cook our barbecue. But there is never a good time to speak of sadness and tragedy. And the time is always ripe for change and liberation.

The Hebrew children were enslaved, doing hard, unreasonable labor. We know this from the texts in Exodus and we know how Moses also has to flee to safety because of his own attempt to serve justice. He commits murder but God will restore him many years later to the role of liberator. He will speak through Aaron and prophecy the powerful mantra, “Let my people go.” He will carry a big stick.

I love it that he says “my people,” for Moses always had a choice about which part of his heritage he would claim. He had two mothers and a very cagey sister and was surely conflicted about whether he wanted to remain as a Little Prince in the luxury of royalty and splendor or shed his environment and become one with his ‘nature.’ Clearly, we have in this scenario, the strength and the pull of nature winning out over nurture. DNA and genes are very strong.

Scripture enlightens us about nature and nurture and the changes which challenge us to move forward, to escape hardship and oppression, to cross our own Red Seas. And all the while, rain is falling from heaven, filling our journeys with grace.

Today, I am not certain if a hard rain’s gonna fall and if so, when it might come. Perhaps there will be enough dry hours for the roofer to come and place a metaphor in shingles over our heads. But I know the roof will eventually come and cover us with grace.

God’s Grace is given freely to all of us, sometimes in the form of grasshoppers which serve to liberate everyone and sometimes as manna and quail to feed our very souls with energy and protein. Sometimes our plans have to be delayed as we celebrate beautiful dreams for others which have been a long time coming, as we share in victory songs–sing like Miriam and shake our tambourines.

May God’s grace rain on you today.

Touch

May 28, 2010

Yesterday I got a massage. It was a belated Mother’s Day gift I gave myself.

The masseuse is named Amy. She practices her art in a studio on the square in Marietta. I highly recommend her (www.massageonthesquare.com).

As I undressed and lay on the table face down, ocean sounds and rain filled the room, a soft candle burned. The air smelled like lavender. I thought to myself, Amy doesn’t have to do a thing and I will pay her—just to lie here in relaxed solitude.

When I emerged after two hours (can you imagine?! I paid for one but she gave me two, said she got lost. she wasn’t the only one), my hair tasseled, my face flushed, I said, Who needs sex? Amy smiled.

Humans were made for touch. Good touch. Loving touch. It is fundamental to our survival from birth. As necessary a part of our nourishment as milk. Studies have found that babies raised in Eastern European orphanages who were not touched and picked up and held simply did not thrive and barely survived. They were developmentally stunted. And touch is now incorporated into the nurse’s care for premature infants. There are even ‘how-to’ books on baby massage.

Marriage therapists tell us that ‘good touch’ within the marriage bed creates an intimacy no words can. Likewise, a fast from this hands-on love creates emotional distance.

We simply need one another in this most primal gift of life.

Jesus seemed to ‘get’ this concept and practiced it throughout his ministry.  He reached into the mud to shape poultices, then placed them gently on the blind man’s eyes. He knelt on the floor and washed the disciples’ feet. He said, Let the little children come unto me and surely they climbed into his lap as he leaned down to pick them up

In the Gospel of Matthew, there are numerous accounts of Jesus’ touch which had the power to heal and raise from the dead. A leader of the synagogue approached Jesus out of what must have been desperation and knelt before him saying, My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live (Mt. 9.18). Sure enough, he was right, for in verse 25 of the same chapter, the text says that Jesus went in, took her by the hand, and the girl got up. Only a few verses later, two blind men are following him, crying loudly, Have mercy on us, Son of David! Jesus did. He touched their eyes and said, According to your faith let it be done to you. And their eyes were opened.

Interestingly and not a surprise, people wanted to touch Jesus, get near to him, press a finger to his hem. The woman suffering from hemorrhages, bleeding to death for twelve years—and if that wasn’t enough to weaken her, had the added social and religious stigma of being ‘unclean’– came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak. Just the fringe, and “instantly the woman was made well” the Gospel records. In chapter 14, the sick throughout the region were brought to him and begged that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak, and “all who touched it were healed.”

When Peter stepped out of the boat to meet Jesus on the water, he became frightened and began to sink. Lord, save me! he cried out. Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him saying, You of little faith, why did you doubt? (Mt. 14.30, 31)

I guess touch’s greatest gift might be this: faith. When we feel another’s presence, their soul incarnate in warm gentle fingers, we are strengthened, transformed, cured of loneliness and isolation. It is not just our bodies which are pulled from the water; the hemorrhages of our hearts are healed as well.

Studies also show that humans need something like seven hugs a day to flourish. I don’t know about you, but I am running at a deficit. So…if you live in Marietta or somewhere close, come to the square. Find Amy upstairs in her studio and tell her that Patty sent you. And then, walk next door to the Australian Bakery  and I will give you a hug.

Gimme Shelter

May 27, 2010

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

                                 –Matthew 23.37

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge.

                      –Psalm 91. 1-2

In 2005, I took a course at Emory on mystical theology. Taught by Dr. Philip Reynolds, it was a great survey of the major players in the mystical stream of Christian theology. Naturally, we read primary texts.

Dr. Reynolds refused to call these mystical theologians “mystics.” I am happy about that, for when there is a pizza shop named ‘mystic’ and the term is thrown around to label any experience of the supernatural and ‘unsolved mysteries’ then it needs to be tossed. At least until it can be reformed.

I would like to make a modest movement towards reform this morning for, I believe, while we may not be mystics, any of us has the capacity to be a mystical theologian.

In 1993, I was still a young mother pastoring a church. I struggled like many working mothers—well, all!—for balance. I sought balance between the roles of ‘mothering’ a congregation and ‘mothering’ my own flesh and blood.

One of my clergywomen friends named us as ‘bitches’—female dogs with a parishioner on each tit. We were often sucked dry by competing needs and endless pulling. Our time, our priorities, even our bodies were not our own. It is amazing any of us survived.

At roughly this same time, I began seeing hawks. Not high in the sky riding the thermals, but up close and personal. I would be driving into a subdivision to visit a shut-in and out of nowhere, a hawk would appear right over my car. I could see the detailed bands on the tail feathers as we traveled up the road in tandem. 

I would be on the busy Bobby Jones Parkway in Augusta, traveling the well-worn path to the sitter, my child in tow, and out a hawk would fly from the median, almost attack my car hood, the wide wings way too close for comfort through the windshield. I would be startled and forced to pay attention.

I remember sharing these increasingly frequent experiences with my college roommate who is very ‘left-brained’ and at that time had little or no sense of God’s Presence in her life. She flatly commented, “Well, there must be a lot of mice and varmints where you travel.” Perhaps she was right, but were the furry prey attached to my car or under the tree in my backyard, a mere few feet from the porch where I sat? And if she was right, why hadn’t I witnessed this before?  Was there a sudden population explosion of varmints in Augusta? Maybe the hawks had been there—so close– all along and I had been blind.

I can only view these early experiences with hawks in my life as ‘mystical’ and they continue still. I believe God has blessed me and continues to grace me with a tangible sign of God’s Presence when I have needed it most, the affirmation that I am on the right road and God is with me.

Theology is simply a matter of making sense of what we believe about God, an attempt to systematize religious truth into a ‘self consistent and organized whole.’ It is a noble quest and is probably the true ‘oldest profession’ having begun with questions in the Garden. I believe we are all theologians at some level. I also believe it is impossible to systematize everything about our faith and God.

Maybe this is where mystical theology kicks in and is developed. Some experiences and ‘knowing’ transcend reason, space, time and words. There is an ‘unknowing’ which is fundamental to the human condition–every one of us– and envelops us in a cloud. That is the reason I claim we are all mystical theologians as we strive to make sense of the unexplained and unexplainable.

It is precisely in this struggle that we need a hawk. We need some palpable reminder that God is with us when the mystery is too great. We need our own showings and visions as comfort, as revelation of God’s gift.

The text in Matthew of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem and plaintive plea to gather and offer shelter is so beautiful. It tells us of God’s infinite compassion and pity for God’s children, even as we stone prophets and kill those who are sent to us in love. It is one of the most poignant passages in the scriptures to me.

I don’t know about you, but I need shelter. I need a mother hen who will pull me close to her warm and downy feathers and cover me with her wing. I need the shelter of her body to quiet my peeps and still my scattered scurrying. I need to not be the mother. And I need hawks who fly with me on the road and sit outside my door.

Several years ago while I was still pastoring Sharp Memorial UMC in Young Harris, I had a parishioner whose son was dying. The mother was close to ninety and her son was my age. He had cancer and although we all had hope of a turn-around, we knew it wouldn’t be here. This mother needed a Mother as she struggled with the greatest loss any human can experience on earth.

About that time, a huge hawk took up residence in her backyard. It sat on her locust fence for days without leaving. All the family would stand on the back porch curious and wonder at its presence as we came and went to the hospital. I took a photograph which I later framed and gave to her. I shared with her my own experiences of hawks who showed up mysteriously, just when I needed them. When Charlie died, the hawk disappeared.

The Psalmist tells us that God will cover us with his pinions and under his wings we’ll find refuge. We will live in God’s shelter like fuzzy yellow chicks next to a mother hen. We will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Soon I will meet a roofer and give him a check to buy new shingles for the house we are renovating. He will put on a new roof to keep the rain from staining the ceiling and ruining the hardwood floors. The roof will provide us with shelter.

And though we can’t escape all the storms of our lives and the rain, we know there is One who offers us a wing we can run to, a gracious shelter and presence in the daily struggles and decisions and choices in our life. The deaths which seek to overwhelm us in their drenching loss and which then become our resurrection.

Gimme shelter God and please be a hawk to all who read this blog.

Blowin’ in the Wind

May 26, 2010

The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

                          —Bob Dylan

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

                         —John 16.13

..wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.

                          –Ezekiel 1.12

 As promised, I met with an old friend yesterday for coffee. We sat outside under an old water oak tree in a courtyard and spun stories into the air as I smoked and she mostly listened. It was great.

My friend grew up in Marietta but left her heart in San Francisco where she now lives with her husband. I am so thankful for the time we had together before she returns home.

She is a virtual fountain of resources for she has lived a long time, like me, and lived well—mindfully, passionately, and with great love and faith, although she is anything but traditionally ‘religious.’ She has been a vegetarian for most of her adult life and her body reflects that lean long look. Plus, she is a dancer and her movements are eloquent. So are her words. She shared with me several great resources: a new book called The Kind Diet which weds the connection between a healthy diet with a care for the planet; an adult fiction book by Madeleine L’Engle called A Severed Wasp she thought I would enjoy. It is about a woman, now in her seventies, who returns to NYC from Europe to retire and encounters an old friend from her Greenwich Village days which leads to new demands on her life and the unexpected; she shared several musicians names I wasn’t familiar with—Nick Drake and Sandy Denny—who were both part of that ‘27 club’, those young musicians who all died at age 27. She told me about a natural foods restaurant near Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery I can’t wait to try–Ria’s Bluebird Café–and introduced me to the Japanese concept of ‘wabasabi’ which comes from a tea ceremony and has something to do with the beauty of the simple and old decaying things. I tried not to take this personally and will definitely have to learn more about wasabi beauty to counter our extreme American culture which idolizes the complete opposite.

She told me Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were lovers which I never knew and that they communicated through music, responding to each other’s albums through the next one they put out. I want to read more about this as well.

Isn’t life interesting and isn’t it great to have interesting friends?!

But…the most important thing my friend said to me is deeply scriptural and spiritual and has to do with Spirit. She quietly spoke her wisewoman warning to me: We try and blow the wind in the direction we want it to go but must let it blow where it will.

These words echo the truth of scripture and of creation, where the Spirit moves upon the waters, leads the creatures in Ezekiel’s traveling wheel, and is the prime mover in the early Church and main character in the Book of Acts. The answer is blowin’ in the wind..and the question…and God’s very breath.

We best get out of the way and quit trying to control. We don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going and so, out of this sense of powerlessness, we often try to blow it our own way, to direct it—as if we really could. To turn the heavens and the earth by the power of our lungs, our own pneumatic tool. How very absurd that we could ever imagine we would.

I love the fact that both the Greek and Hebrew word for spirit ( pneuma and rhua) is also used for wind and breath. I remember once as I was visiting a parishioner in the hospital suffering from pneumonia, the respiratory therapist stated we were in the same line of work–helping people to breathe, be filled with air and spirit, inhale wind in clear lungs.

So much of life, it seems to me, is getting out of the way. Moving over and out of the driver’s seat so the ride can just be fun without all the angst and worry of the drive. I heard a joke I used in a sermon many years ago about two old women driving up a steep mountain. The car was getting a little close to the right side of the road. The woman in the passenger seat said to her friend driving, “Opal, you’re getting a little close to the edge” to which Opal replied, “Oh, am I driving?”

That joke still cracks me up and is such a comical but apt metaphor for our travels with God, for though we sit in the driver’s seat, we are really not the one driving. Thanks be to God.

How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man? Dylan penned. I think the question can be asked about women as well and the answer is universal, for it is blowin’ in the Wind. And all we have to do is sit in the passenger seat and enjoy the ride.

Profiles of Grace

May 25, 2010

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone…but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

                 —Ezekiel 37.7-10

One of my favorite things to do when I was young was to draw horses. I was wild about horses, had shelves of plastic models and books on horses, and took riding lessons. I studied the profile of the horse, starting with the ears and head. Knew how to travel with my pencil down the slope of the neck, through the withers, to the hooves. The mane and tail were easy and a reward for getting the other proportions right. I had my profiles of horses taped to the wall over my desk.

After horses, I moved on to rabbits and Halloween scenes of a flying witch on a broom and frightened cats with arched backs. I can still draw them if you want me to.

Finally, I progressed to people and the profiles of heads. I learned how to get the curve of the forehead just right and make the nose perfect. I had fun with eyelashes and ears and hair, while lips and chins were always a challenge. If you were to look through my old school notebooks, even in college, you would find my profiles throughout along with great and intricate doodling, especially when I was bored in a class. (Actually, you could look through my Franklin planners as a working professional and see the same sketches as I was forced to sit through endless meetings and had to do something to stay awake).

The catch about my ‘profiles’ is that they were two-dimensional–like folk art–only more amateurish, if that is possible. They were mere caricatures.

I think about ‘profiles’ now that I am on Facebook. The ones we post and the ones we keep to ourselves. I think about how we select a photograph or an image for the world or only our ‘friends’ to view. I think about what information we choose to share on our profile page—and what is left unsaid. I think about how much or how little we want to reveal and what is appropriate on this social ‘networking’ tool.

I think about you.

I believe we are all more multi-dimensional in a beauty no Facebook could ever capture, no matter how often we switch the photo, change our ‘status,’ or make clever and kind comments on someone else’s page.

Although I think it is prudent to be discriminating with how much information we share, not just on facebook, but in our relationships off-line, I also think many of us are frightened by the ‘other’ side of ourselves and sadly choose to remain childish profiles and mere caricatures of the authentic self.

I would like to invite all of us to tenderly bless the other side of our face and the information which remains hidden, to turn our head ever so slightly to show the wrinkles and shadows and contours. To realize how lovely those lines and scars are. To bless the secrets of our hearts and the truths unwritten.

Many of us are like the dark side of the moon which never faces the light and has an entire mysterious perspective on space, and yet…how rich is that view and how much we deprive others when we refuse to rotate our heads. It is as if we are an ancient wheel, frozen in a field.

I chose the Ezekiel text of the valley of dry bones rather unwittingly today. I never know when I start blogging what truth might escape. But how fitting it is to read the words and imagine the bones beginning to rattle and come together, be covered with flesh and sinew, and then breathed into so that they stand up and live.

I believe when we turn our heads and allow others to turn theirs, it is as if we have prophesied a new birth, a resurrection of what once was dead. We encourage others through our courage as we offer safe and sacred space. We blow warm breath into dry bones and witness animation. And MySpace becomes OurSpace in that infinite union we share.

This morning, my profile, if I was honest, could read something like this: I am scared I will gain all my weight back; my marriage still has struggles even after all these years; I miss my children when they were small; I take medication for anxiety and depression; I am often self-absorbed…and this is just the tip of my full profile iceberg, the larger portion which remains down below.

How would yours read and who can you share it with, in what context and setting?  I think coffee is always good, or the cell phone as you drive out of town, but only if you’re careful. Maybe you will first enlarge your profile in your journal or in your prayer closet. But I think it helps to find a trusted friend to whom you can offer your deepest, most authentic and beautiful self.

I suggest to myself this morning to get on the phone and meet an old friend for lunch to share my newest secrets, those aches and yearnings deep in my bones and the worries about their outcome. I know this offering will be filled with love and maybe a few tears, even before we get together. For my friend offers the face of God to me, her own profile of grace.

You, Follow Me

May 24, 2010

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them…When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”

                    –John 21.20-22

A marriage is made up of many celebrations. Times of immense joy and collective singing—when the bells chime for knots which are tied, when children are born, when vocations are strengthened.

And then there are the challenges: when income is not enough, when a parent dies, when a child is in a wreck. If a marriage is a long one, it will have survived countless disappointments and regular recommitments to hang in there through thick and then, to keep the vows of covenant.

A wise therapist taught me many years ago that marriage is the balance between the ‘I’ and the ‘We’. If we lose who we are as individuals, the ‘I’ part of the equation, then the marriage becomes a messy conglomeration, a type of a marital ‘melting pot’ where decisions cannot be independently made, where wills and differences–once celebrated and admired–merge into unhealthy confluence.

On the other hand, if there is no ‘We,’ the marriage is really a sham. It is merely roommates living together, collecting rent for the landlord, performing assigned chores to run the household. The joy is lost, the connection. There is no sacred union.

My husband and I have worked hard at our marriage. At times, we have wrestled with the polar opposites of the equation, seeking stasis and finding counterbalance to offset the systemic and cultural pressure either to merge or separate. That any marriage can survive over the long haul is a testimony of tenacity and an act of the will.

I distinctly remember a time when our world was temporarily shattered and stasis seemed impossible. David and I were both up for ordination in the United Methodist Church. His call was specifically to help the poor and outcast. Mine was to pastor a church. The North Georgia Conference was not so inclusive back then and sometimes reacted to anything different as a threat. Women were beginning to be admitted slowly into the clergy circle and clergy couples were the newest challenge. But greater than these perceived threats was any detour from the traditional vocation of ‘local church pastor’. Thus, my husband’s unique call to work with the poor was suspect.

As a result, his ordination was denied into the Conference—they use the term ‘deferred’ to soften the blow–while mine was accepted. I will never forget that horrific moment when our presenters exited the board room to hand us the news. It was a Sophie’s choice they wielded to our marriage. We could neither fully celebrate my situation nor mourn his.

That June, I knelt at the altar as the Bishop and higher-ups made their way around the circle with the laying on of hands and the meting out of a certain grace and burden. We would rise no longer as individual lay persons, but with a stole around our neck and a special yoke. We would wear these with tremulous shoulders, our necks already feeling the pull.

My mind was anything but peaceful. I fretted and grieved and felt guilty as I was the one at the ordination table when it should have been both my husband and me. And then God spoke, “You, follow me”.

There have only been a few times in my life when I have heard God speak with such clarity and strength. In that moment, God freed me up to do all any of us can ever do, to follow Him in abandonment and love. To let go of worry and a focus on someone else and do what we are called and empowered and gifted to do.

I have heard somewhere that a river without banks is a swamp, which is just another way of stating the importance of boundaries. Apparently Jesus had a very clear grasp of this concept for his own life and sought to impart it to his followers. When Peter came to him following the resurrection and Jesus shared with him the suffering which would be involved in Peter’s ministry, Peter then asked Jesus, “Well, what about him?” nodding over at the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and the writer of the Gospel this story is in, John.

Jesus’ response is startling and places the individual journey within its own course. He basically tells Peter to mind his own business for Peter has enough to deal with on his own as he will later preach to thousands, solve conflicts within the burgeoning Church, and will hang upside down on a cross. John’s journey is his own. Jesus says, “Don’t worry about John, Peter. You, follow me.”

Ultimately, that is all any of us can do in the journey and vocation we are called to in this life. We must walk our own solitary path even if we are accompanied by partners who want to help us carry the burden. There can be no ‘crossing-over’ in this sacred following. We each must answer for ourselves and discover the particular path of our sojourn with God. In the most intimate relationship we can know on this planet, there is really only one ‘We’.

I was freed up that day to live my own calling and to trust David to live his. I have been struggling ever since for that healthy detachment and for making ways to honor and celebrate the integrity and beauty of our individual journeys, even as we share them.

I submit to you this morning that Jesus’ words to Peter and to me on the night of my ordination are just as transformative and liberating as ever: “You, follow me” is what he plainly says.

Note: David was ordained the next year and received a standing ovation from the Board for his persistence. He would go on to serve thousands of homeless men and women, disadvantaged children, and the poor in the uniquely wondrous calling which was his.

You know all about it, that poise in time and space which defies reason. That exquisite pause. It lingers like a lover on the surface before molecules come apart and you fall.

I am talking about dirty ponds and the science which keeps water bugs—striders—on top. I first learned about this phenomenon at the Outdoor Activity Center, an environmental education center in southwest Atlanta. Jim explained to me how the strider could remain on the surface of the water without going under, seeming to walk through air, on top of the water, like the Spirit, like Jesus himself.

I realized I have known of this phenomenon all my life. In spoonfuls of yummy hot chocolate or distasteful medicine, two sides of the life coin. The phenomenon is known as ‘surface tension.’ It is the holding together of molecules which causes liquid to remain above the rim of the spoon and the pond water to provide a skating ring for the strider to glide upon. It can hold for extended periods of time–up to a point, and then gravity takes over in the case of the spoon or a boy with a stick stirs the surface and the spell, like magic is broken. Under goes the strider and oops, slides the sticky medicine, down your pale forearm.

This morning I am mad. Mad at God and mad at surface tension. Mad at the molecules which will not let go. I seethe at delayed gratification. Write poetry like Langston Hughes and the Psalmist who cries out in utter frustration. How long, God, must I suffer?  How long must I sit in the back of the bus?

Don’t tell me you haven’t felt it, haven’t hollered so the neighbors can hear and thrown dishes.

I believe God can take it.

————————————————

It is the Sabbath and I am feeling anything but holy. It is the one year water mark of my life as a Catholic. It is Pentecost. And Pentecost is all about new winds which stir the water like sticks and break the surface tension.

I am ready for change once again, begging on my knees. I am an impatient child antsy for an ice cream cone, that rush of cold to the brain, that sensual licking.

Call me a sinner. Kiss me as a saint. I really don’t fucking care.

Main Entry: op·por·tu·ni·ty
Pronunciation: \ˌä-pər-ˈtü-nə-tē, -ˈtyü-\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural op·por·tu·ni·ties
Date: 14th century

1 : a favorable juncture of circumstances <the halt provided an opportunity for rest and refreshment>
2 : a good chance for advancement or progress

                                     —Merriam-Webster

This past week I have been in Jackson, Georgia staying with my husband in his hotel room and commuting to Marietta for work. My husband climbs on steep roofs to assess hail damage for insurance companies. He needed some attention.

The first night I was here, we innocently went to bed early. In a matter of minutes, I heard a rumbling which quickly became thunderous. Then I heard a piercing train whistle as the nightstand begin to shakeMy eyes grew wide while in a low, no-nonsense voice, I asked my husband: Did you neglect to tell me a little detail about the hotel’s location? He gave me a sheepish grin. The scene reminded me of one in a Woody Allen movie where Allen  plays a man recalling his childhood home. He has a flashback to the dinner table, the family seated about to eat, when the dishes begin to rattle and the room shakes. It turns out their home is practically under a roller coaster. The scene still makes me laugh.

There are other noises in this hotel in middle Georgia: a US highway is located out front where all night long one can hear the heavy semi-trucks unmistakable brakes and downshift of gears as they near the edge of town.

And then, there are the frogs.

It has been raining this week and as I sit on the steps outside, the frogs’ croak rivals both the trucks and the train in volume. It seems the chorus is especially loud after the rain has come and gone. Having looked this up on wikipedia, I now know why.  It is all about sex, isn’t it always?

In the case of frogs it is the male who croaks, naturally (in nature, the males have all the fun it seems with  their flamboyant displays of color and intriguing bass sounds).  He is trying to attract a female. Apparently, the females think this is sexy. The opportunity is especially ripe following a rain, for rains make puddles, and puddles mean sucessful mating for frogs and happy homes for little tadpoles. In Georgia, where the sun can evaporate puddles in a day, the male has a brief window of opportunity to insure the future of the entire species. No wonder he croaks so loud.

I don’t mind this symphonic dissonance. Although intense, each sound is familiar to my roots in Georgia. Each speaks to me of a certain kind of travel and movement and opportunity.

My husband and I have been unemployed during the past year. We have both searched the classifieds and job sites on-line looking for work and, thankfully, have both landed jobs we like. Often the ads use the word, opportunity. Isn’t that what we all want in life, whether it’s a job or a relationship or children? It seems that opportunity is often short-lived and referred to as a window. Or a door. If I hear one more time the cliche that when one door closes, another one opens, I will scream.

Instead, I like to think of the door as always open. A wide welcome to us to walk through the doorjamb, under the lintel, and enter a new world. I don’t believe the door is open exclusively for savvy travelers who may push their way to the front of the line with a furious focus to get where they are going fast, but is also a passage for the straggler–and that means me!

You should have seen me in Europe last fall, strolling through the Paris Metro or down the crowded sidewalks of Toulouse with my suitcase on rollers and computer bag and purse crisscrossed across my chest like a shield. I was the odd-woman-out as business persons and shoppers careened around my ambling gait. I took my time. I waited for the opportunity. That is one of the joys of traveling alone and serendipitously with only a vague plan in place and no strict timetable. I had the time of my life, even if I was jostled a few times.

Which brings me to the subject of opportunity, particularly the ones we have in God. I believe they are endless and the door is eternally open for us to enter and explore. We explore new parts of ourselves, facets of life we may have missed out on, people we meet, and God’s plan for our life. I believe to “go with God” through the doors of desire and dreams is a beautiful thing, dynamic and fulfilling. Even if we are slow and saunter along at our own selective speed, the one which suits us.

I used to give talks in churches, not just the ones I pastored but for women’s groups, retreats, clergy meetings on the Methodist circuit. I distinctly remember sharing ideas about knowing what is ‘God’s will’ on more than one occasion. People are really hungry for this knowledge and grab hold of any helpful tip on discernment. My ideas weren’t original but lifted from a book by Elizabeth O’Connor which I read many years ago while in my twenties. I believe she lifted them from someone else.

They go something like this:

There are five characteristics which are common for someone seeking God’s will in their life—

1. the thought of ‘it’ makes you excited and gives you a deep sense of joy

2. the idea or desire is persistent, often simmering for years

3. other people in your life who are solid follolwers of God and know you very well can see you doing ‘it’.

4. If you choose this path, it will make the world a better place

5. and finally, and in my opinion, the most important characteristicit is impossible to do without God’s help.

Throughout my life, these five characteristics have been in place as I made decisions about whether and when to walk through the door. They have guided me, even when I was unaware, like the primal croaking of the frog, seeking to secure my future. I still call on their collective wisdom for help.

I offer them to you and trust they will allow you to glimpse some of God’s glory for your life. I believe God wants us all to be attentive to the deep, relentless yearnings of our lives and to move through the challenges of change–the God given opportunities–even if we are fearful. Upon reflection, why wouldn’t we all be fearful of passing through a door onto a new path when it requires God’s help or it is impossible? But on the other hand, how can we go wrong, for doesn’t God always offer abundant and trustworthy aid?

In a few moments, I will take a shower and slowly dress as I make my way to Mass at the monastery. There I will be reminded of the great mysteries of God which surround us each day. And of God’s Grace. The monks will chant their own symphonic chorus as I kneel and bend, and in that moment I will renew my humble dependence on God. I will sit in the dark and pray. And I will consider my opportunities and yours–the moments and years of wide open doors.

There is a name I love to hear  I love to sing its worth  It sounds like music in my ears, the sweetest name on earth.

                                                  —from an old Baptist hymn, O How I Love Jesus

I am a migrant Christian. Raised in the Baptist Church, I have traveled as a refugee to Methodist fields and now find crops to harvest  in the Catholic Church. It is a beautiful thing, as I carry the gifts of each tradition in my bones, and in my voice.

The thing I probably miss the most about the Baptist Church I grew up in–a moderate and loving congregation in Marietta–is the music. The choirs I sang in from age five until I left were always good. We had excellent Ministers of Music, good training as to breath, rhythm, and pitch, and were blessed to sing quality sacred music–like Handel’s Messiah, Robert Shaw’s The Many Moods of Christmas, and anthems I can still hum, even if I don’t know the composer.

But what I enjoyed most were the hymns. Yeah, there were the great classic ones, sung across all Protestant denominations and some Catholics, like The Church’s One Foundation; Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee; and O Sacred Head Now Wounded, but then there was a whole other stream from our rural, anabaptist past. Hymns that spoke of suffering and blood and a better day. These hymns have become part of my marrow. I sing them still.

One such chorus which rises up in me goes like this: There is a name I love to hear   I love to sing its worth  It sounds like music in my ear The sweetest name on earth.   O how I love Jesus   O how I love Jesus   O how I love Jesus  because he first loved me.  I am singing it now.

Jesus. The name, according to Philippians, which is above all names, has torn apart the world–and put it together. The name which is sworn by and warred over and brandished like a weapon…and cherished by those of us who love Him. It is the sweetest name on earth.

Even as I write these words, I am concerned for those of you who are not Christian, or have been hurt by the Church which is often Bible-bashing and can be so judgemental and unforgiving, as you read these words. I am cognizant of the fact that I have Jewish readers and agnostics and those of a faltering faith who have been put off, if not directly abused, by those of us who carry His name on our lips and in our hearts as a talisman. I don’t want to offend you.

And yet…there is a name I love to hear.

I remember reading an article in the AJC several years ago written after a visit from the Dalai Lama to Atlanta and to Emory. It might have been an op-ed piece, written by the Dean of the Theology School at Emory or some prominent professor (sorry I don’t remember exactly), but the gist of it goes something like this: The Dalai Lama spoke to this liberal and intellectual academic who is a Christian, soft words of puzzlement and grace, If you are a Christian, I don’t understand why you aren’t more excited about Jesus, about your Lord.

The professor found herself reflective and lovingly admonished by the truth of his words. Perhaps for this thinking compassionate woman of faith, it was hard for her–even embarrasing–to show her passion and reveal her true love of Jesus in a world where people use the name to justify all sorts of means and ends. Or simply to curse (what is a curse anyway or the seven curses in Dylan’s text?)

This morning, I want to reclaim the word in its beauty and love, in its naming of God’s presence on earth, in its revolution. Jesus said according to John’s Gospel,  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…If you know me, you will know my Father also…You, Father, are in me and I am in you…so that they may be one, as we are one …and I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. Jesus, what’s not to like about these words?!

Damn it, it is all about Love and if we don’t live it and think it and breathe it and say it by our actions and words, then it is all a lie and we might as well be cursed.

I am crying now. I am crying for all the little ones Jesus loves who have been wounded, even killed because of His name. I am crying because He loves me and He loves you and that is all that matters. I am crying because I love Him so much.

I used the word “revolution’ earlier in this post, when I considered saying ‘revelation.’ But I think revolution is more fitting for Jesus’ name. Like Jefferson Airplane’s song by that title, Look what’s happening out in the streets. Got a revolution. Got to revolution…Ain’t it amazing all the people I meet. Got a revolution. Got to revolution, and as much as Jesus came to reveal God’s love, I believe He also came to continue a revolution started so long ago when He spun the world. A revolution so peaceful and full of love and mercy we all must cry.

I am sorry this morning, sorry for the ways I have ever misused or misrepresented Jesus’ name. Even now as I share my thoughts, I know there is a great risk of getting it wrong. Of not being love incarnate.

Still, I sing. And as I travel up I-75 today on my way to work, others may look over and see my mouth form the Word.

There is another hymn from my Baptist past which expresses how I feel: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus  Sweetest name I know  Fills my every longing  Keeps me singing as I go.  He keeps me singing, He has, and He always will.