“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

  –John 13.8a

I really get Peter.

I’ve always gotten Peter. Maybe because I, too, can be impetuous, passionate, stupid.

I thought of him this morning, while I was icing my feet.

Yesterday, I went on a brisk hike with my very fit brother and sister-in-law. Today, my heels hurt. It’s the plantar fascia problem that many runners get. That makes me feel better.

So, as I sat on the deck for prayers, I took turns resting my heels on a bag of frozen cranberries. It worked.

I had this brief image of how it would have been–or would be–if Jesus was right there, kneeling at my feet, washing or icing them.

I would have said what Peter said: No, Jesus. I will not let you wash my feet.

I might say it for a different reason than Peter. Peter’s refusal had to do with servitude, with the humble and lowly role of slaves at that time. He could not–yet–make the leap from Lord to Servant.

My refusal would have more to do with intimacy.

Jesus would be about two feet from me. I would see his hair, feel his hands, watch his wrists and arms. It would be so close, if Jesus knelt before me.

Feet are tender, at least ours are. And vulnerable and personal. They carry us down all sorts of roads. They are tucked in at night under covers. They get bruised from stones and life. They say something about us.

Maybe that is why Jesus wanted to touch his disciples’ feet..and still does.

I Want to Kiss You

June 26, 2011

Today is Sunday. Sabbath. And I am off work, so nice..

I began the day, like I do everyday, on the back porch. Really, more of a deck.

I heard these words prayed in my spirit: I praise you. I love you. I want to kiss you.

I laughed at the last line. Did I really say that?! I want to kiss you– to God?

I did.

Well, dern, I don’t know the right way to pray. I’m pretty sure “kissing” is not in the Lord’s Prayer.

Still, that’s how I feel sometimes. Like I want to shower God with passionate kisses, like a Mary Chapin Carpenter song. I want to kiss God’s forehead. God’s mouth. Place a tender kiss on each eyelid.

I don’t care if God is male or female, black or white, or yellow or purple. Without form or name. I don’t care if God is Water, Spirit, Light, Rock. Or crippled or transcendent. Or bread or blood. I don’t care if God is gay or a still small voice or sheer silence. I want to kiss God.

There’s precedence. A woman, leaning low with long sensuous hair. Kissing and drying naked feet.

The Raindrop

June 25, 2011

I really love thinking about the water cycle.

Remember those pictures in grade school of lakes and oceans, clouds and underground springs? Arrows pointing up and down and around to signify evaporation, rain, streams flowing to the sea, in a continuous recycling?

I thought of those illustrations this morning as a raindrop fell on my cheek.

It could have been a tear, except it wasn’t salty. I wiped it away with my fingertips.

However, when it comes to water, there is no “away”. The molecules on my face, in a perfect atomic recipe of two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen, did not disappear and were not destroyed by my gentle brushing. They continue to exist.

I thought about where that raindrop had been. How many transformations it had gone through in the billions of years it has existed. Perhaps it was part of a glacier at one time, or in the Indian Ocean. Maybe it was used to water crops in Africa or cupped in the palm of a thirsty traveler beside a brook. Maybe it traveled underground for a while, emerging in a cool spring beside an Indian mound. Maybe it had fallen on another woman’s cheek. 

The earth’s water at any given period in history is the same water that existed when the world began. Nothing is lost in the hydrologic cycle.

Isn’t that amazing?

We can pollute oceans and streams with oil, chemicals, sewage, and runoff. We can raise the temperature of rivers to harmful levels by using it to cool industrial parts. We can contaminate groundwater and cause it to be radioactive. We can lower water tables by pumping. We can drain wetlands and kill off the billions of young in the salt marsh nurseries of the sea. We can waste clean water. But we cannot annihilate water’s existence. It exists beyond us, outside us, in spite of us.

I find comfort in this knowledge.

Mmm

June 24, 2011

Do you ever listen to yourself?

It might be a useful exercise and give insight into the state of your soul.

I’ver noticed recently that I say Mmm throughout the day.

Maybe it is because I live alone. I am not sure. But I have become aware that Mmm escapes my vocal chords as a type of mantra. I’ve decided, it is a form of praise.

It is just a little sound, but says so much. Something about the pleasures of life: a morning stretch; a steamy cup of coffee with half and half; a good meal of manicotti and wine; the smell of shampoo on clean hair or a gardenia’s perfume.

I hear the contented sound of it when I come home from work and take my shoes off; when I get out of sweaty clothes into a cotton gown; when hot water hits my back in the shower.

I hear it when I lie down with white sheets tucked around my form. When the rain comes. When the tree frogs sing. When the night is silent except for the whir of the attic fan.

I hear it when I see a Red-Tailed Hawk riding the thermals over my head, the sun reflected from one drop of dew on a blade of grass, a father curled up reading a book to his child in the store. I hear it after I read beautiful prose in an essay or listen to great music or look at a familiar photograph. I hear it when I meditate and when I pray and when I must suppress it as Christ is put on my tongue.

I know life has many sounds. Sounds like aaah and grrr and hmm. Sounds of sobs and sounds of sighs.

But perhaps, the one closest to praise is Mmm.

There’s something about the light here..

  –Sister Rosemary, Prioress, TautraMariaKloster

Sister Rosemary was right, I discovered, when she attempted to describe the light on the island of Tautra.

It is an elusive chase like the light itself.

Tautra sits in the middle of a fjord near Trondeheim, Norway. It is a tiny island but offers a largesse of light. Ever changing reflections on clouds and water; buildings and rock; the ruins of an 11th century monastery which disappeared for a reason no one living knows; the blond Norwegian wood of the contemporary cloister,  stagger the senses with exquisite quick flashes of scenes.

The light simply defies being captured, even in words.

I tried in a letter home from my time there as a volunteer. All I could say was there was a Lightness to it, an ephemeral quality. The words paled. So I took photographs.

I don’t really understand light. That was part of the challenge in trying to describe it. Instead of speaking of the light itself, all I could relay were the reflections, the colors bouncing brilliant and mysterious back to my retina. My eye like a camera taking a snapshot, recording something so beautiful and fleeting, it makes you ache.

Light is like that, I feel sure. It is fleeting and fast. It travels through our lives when for a moment, it is visible. The spectrum is within reach, and then recedes again.

Today is the Summer Solstice, a time to celebrate the Light.

I pray that we allow our pupils, our irises, our hearts to take it in.

Am I Living It Right?

June 20, 2011

So what, so I’ve got a smile on me
but it’s hiding the quiet superstitions in my head
Don’t believe me
Don’t believe me
When I say I’ve got it down..

Am I living it right?
Am I living it right?
Am I living it right?
Why, why Georgia, why?

  –John Mayer, Why Georgia

 John Mayer moved to Atlanta as a young man.

He left his home in Connecticut and the start of a career as a virtuoso guitarist playing Stevie Ray Vaughan and other blues artists in bars. He was very good.

At nineteen, he enrolled in the Berklee College of Music in Boston. But within a few months, discovered that he was more interested in playing music than studying it. A friend convinced him to come to Atlanta where he played at Eddie’s Attic and began his songwriting career in earnest. He had found a new home and the life that was true for him.

He spoke of the temptation–and the danger–had he remained in the bar scene, playing other people’s music: There’s this really distracting glory in wanting to be the best guitar player because all that really is, is copying somebody, seeing who can play ‘Sky Is Crying’ better than the next guy.

Mayer sneaks the word “distracting” into his comment. It takes a minute to realize its import.

That’s the way distraction is, it sneaks up on us but becomes dangerous by its very nature and purpose: to prevent us from giving full attention to something else.

Perhaps, that is why I like the song Why Georgia so much. It asks the question in the chorus, Am I living it right?

It’s a good question to ask from time to time.

Thankfully, Mayer asked it of himself and answered it with the choice he made: to play his own music, rather than someone else’s. This path was the right one for him. He had songs inside of him that needed to be scripted, recorded, listened to, sung. He continues to grace us with great compositions, recordings, and performances.

He has listened well to the soul of his voice.

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?..

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?..

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please
Begging please

Beyond the door
There’s peace, I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in heaven

  –Eric Clapton, Tears in Heaven

In 1984, my Grandmother Nana died. Five weeks later, her husband joined her.

They were in love until the end, holding hands like a young couple into their eighties. When I stayed with them, I could hear them talking late at night in their bedroom in the intimacy of the marriage bed. I imagine their sex life was rich. Nana was a tall beautiful woman, aware of her body, adorning it with exotic clothes and jewelry. Dendy was, well..bald and intense.

The marriage bed is an altar. I really believe that. It is holy and wondrous. It is mysticalunionincarnation, the title of my blog site.

Does it translate to heaven? I don’t know..we speak of the Great Banquet Table laden with food; we speak of dancing and and music and laughter in heaven. We believe we will be greeted by our loved ones and recognize them. Will we know a mystical marriage there, one we cannot know fully on this earth?

Eric Clapton lost his child and wrote Tears in Heaven. He penned the idea I believe we all struggle with in contemplating heaven. Will you know my name if I saw you in heaven? He wrote about how time can break your heart, but there would be no more tears in heaven.

But will there be beds?

Cleaning Up

June 13, 2011

Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

  –Luke 15.8

Call me weird, but I like cleaning up. I’m a domestic at heart and easily would have been content as a kept woman, staying home in my apron, mending clothes and baking bread. I think if you have a big nesting instinct, domesticity follows. I am happiest when my home is neat and tidy and there are fresh flowers on the table.

I like doing dishes, folding clothes, ironing. I like dusting furniture and washing windows. I like to sweep. Perhaps because they are so task oriented and the results are immediate.

Once, when I was in first grade, I was given the job of staying behind the class in the cafeteria to wipe down the tables. I loved it. I kept wiping and wiping to get them very clean–and also to see my sister when she came in with the third grade. My teacher, Mrs. Cash, sent someone to get me. It was my first time getting in trouble in school. She made me stand up beside my desk while she gently scolded me in front of the class. On my behalf, I will say I think it was all the way to sixth grade before I got in trouble again. Then, it was for talking.

On Mrs. Cash’s behalf, I will say she was an amazing teacher and I love her to this day. I have vivid and fond memories of her patient instruction and what can only be interpreted as love, not only the love of teaching, but also the love of us–her students.

Through her, I learned the miracle of reading, that ‘aha’ moment, like Helen Keller’s experience with Anne Sullivan when the water and the letters in her palm were connected. Through Dick, Jane, and Sally–and Spot–I learned that the letters R-U-N on the page meant legs moving fast. I learned that J-U-M-P meant that your body would leave the ground. I learned how to L-O-O-K and how to S-E-E. And the words made sense. What a gift Mrs. Cash gave me, gave hundreds of children over the years.

I can still see her sitting in a straight wooden chair, demonstrating arithmetic on an abacus. Her dark hair cropped to one length, her arms ample as they reached to pull the colorful beads across the wire. It was so logical.

But things don’t always add up like beads on a wire. Not everything can be cleaned up like a lunchroom table, no matter how long we wipe the surface with a wet cloth. And Dick and Sally sometimes fall down.

Life is messy and illogical. We are often on our own without a gentle teacher like Mrs. Cash to guide our reading, to bring us back to the classroom, if we have stayed away too long.

But–and this is a big conjunctive– in the background, like a lone verse, a woman is sweeping..

Ursa

June 12, 2011

It has been many years ago now, that my husband arrived at the parsonage one afternoon, looking very sheepish, with an armful of black fluff.

The fluff was a puppy he had found in a house he was renovating for a needy family. The puppy had been abandoned. Next to her was the wrapper of a Big Mac. At least, the deserters didn’t want her to starve to death.

We named her Ursa for the Big Dipper–Ursa Major— Ursa meaning bear. She looked like a bear cub. Her ears were rounded, her fur was jet black and thick. She was beautiful. We fell in love.

Ursa was with us for nine years. We did the best that we could to be a good family to her–making sure she had shots and regular checkups, petting and washing her luxurious coat, walking her on a leash..and letting her loose to run.

That was probably where we went wrong. For Ursa never quit running. She desired freedom more than any living thing I have ever known. She could not be caged.

We lived on the college campus then and the students loved to feed her hotdogs and ice cream. They took her hostage to their dorm rooms where she stayed for a night before we found her.

Ursa caused us much grief. She was trouble. I don’t blame her really, it was in her genes. She was a mix of Border Collie and Chow, which meant she liked to herd with the intense, intimidating stare of the dog breed used in the British Isles to keep the sheep together and she had no sense of loyalty.

She was the campus whore, even making the yearbook with a photo and caption, and she perceived the maintenance workers to be lost sheep.

The president of the college said Ursa was the smartest dog he had ever met. Her nickname was Houdini. It didn’t matter what efforts and creative solutions we came up with to try and keep her contained, she always outsmarted us.

Once, I tried yet another contraption, one of those harnesses that fits over the head and forearms. I slipped it around her, clipped the leash to the deck and went inside to get a drink. When I returned, the harness was hanging loose, swinging back and forth. She was long gone.

Eventually, Ursa ran away and never came back. We searched for her for days. Put up signs. Scanned roadsides and slowed down when we saw any black dog. Once, I was sure I passed her and turned around, got out of the car, and said “Ursa?” Another time, I thought I spotted her in a campground and walked tent to tent to ask if anyone had seen her. The campground manager, it turned out, had a dog which might have been Ursa’s cousin, they looked so similar.

I miss Ursa. Her brown eyes, even if they sometimes looked a little eerie. Her beautiful coat my son buried his face in. Her companionship as she rode next to me in the truck, her head stuck out the window, her tilted nose sniffing the wind, eager for what was on the other side of the door.

Ursa could not escape her genes. And she ferociously wanted to be free.

She is not so different from us.

Good

June 10, 2011

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

  –Genesis 1. 31a

One of the benefits of studying theology is the capability of taking the longview.

It is so easy to get mired in various periods of history–and the accompanying theological systems that develop alongside them. We like to think that there is some ‘absolute’ truth within our theological construct, something which could never be disputed or proven wrong.

And perhaps, there are some absolutes, but too often we are like the child wandering in an enchanted forest, we can only see the tree right in front of us.

For so many Christians, it is the Tree in the Garden–a tree that is dangerous and tempting, holding out apples like a Walt Disney witch. The limbs are like claws which reach out and grab us. We take. We eat. We fall.

I guess Adam and Eve did that. Took. Ate. Fell. I guess I am Orthodox enough to believe this story and understand some of the ramifications.

But I also understand a different truth: that even the Tree was good. That God made us in God’s image. That God knew our limitations, our imperfection when God created us, and still said, “It is very good.”

I have recently worked with two young women in my new job who have no inkling of the gift of imperfection. They keep trying so hard to get it right. They can never relax and feel at ease.

I want to reach out to their tense shoulders with the warmth of my hands and calm them down. I want to transmit peace. I want them to know how much God loves them without their doing a thing.