Sunday, December 28, 2008

Learning to Adjust

I love the idea William Stafford put into my head with his poem "Learning to Adjust." The idea is this: what comes your way isn't an accident. Even if it doesn't have your name on it. There is a gift for you: something to smile about, something to open.

We spend our lives wishing they were different. We spend our energies wishing we were other than who we are. We neglect what we do have, wishing we had something else. But how marvelous when we can look steadily at what we are given without rejecting it. Sometimes, just being in the moment with ourselves and our circumstances can reveal to us the presence of God - and what can be a greater gift than that?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Inner Door

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me." --Revelation 3:20

I loved this scripture as a child, and loved to gaze at the picture on the classroom wall of my Sunday school.

What I didn't know: where the door was.

I always thought of Jesus floating up, up, in heaven or somewhere in the atmosphere, in another dimension, say, and when he knocked on the doors of people's hearts, he stood outside of them.

I've come to see it differently. Jesus is already inside.

All right, all right. I can hear the clamor of disagreement. But hold on. Think about it. Jesus doesn't enter into your life from the outside in. He comes from the inside out. That door, it's inside you. The place where your wisdom dwells. Your best hunches. Your most loving gestures. That deep knowing that you were born for something holy and beautiful.

We all have this inner chamber. In many people it has been neglected. But for those of us who may have opened the door a crack, we aren't "better" or "more worthy" than someone who hasn't found the door.

Man-made tradition has always removed God and Christ from the everyday hearts and lives of people. All people. Especially those who don't call themselves the right name. Tradition has gotten us in the habit of telling people all about their sin and ugliness, and how far they are from God. God is not far, however.

He is as close as one's own heart.

In fact, you and I both know some amazing people in whom we have seen Jesus - who would never think to call themselves Christians. (And thank goodness for that!)

Jesus comes from the inside out. He's inhabiting heaven already, and that place, the kingdom of heaven, is within you. He waits to be invited out - into your thoughts, into this day, and out into the world. Listen for his laugh, his breath, and his knock.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's Not What We Tell People

"We hear a lot about evangelism today and how the church must pay more attention to evangelism. But mostly evangelism is not what we tell people, unless what we tell is totally consistent with who we are. It is who we are that is going to make the difference. It is who we are that is going to show the love that brought us all into being, that cares for us all, now, and forever." --Madeleine L'Engle, Glimpses of Grace.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Our Glory

"Mild he lays his glory by..."--from the song, Hark the Herald Angels Sing

He had to know his glory in order to lay it by. He had to acknowledge the glory of his being in order to tenderly set it aside. Christ did so, becoming one of us humans, with all our chills and fevers and rages and heartbreaks, our germs and metatarsals and hair follicles and brain ganglia.

I'm thinking how often we reject our glory, refuse it, rather than follow Christ's example to lay it down. Yes, our glory comes from God alone. But there is this beautiful hint at the mystery that surrounds the core of our being. In the words of Wordsworth:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home

Isn't it marvellous to realize that we are in the image of Christ? This humanity thing is just temporary. Our story follows His story, and we, too, have come from God. Let us not forget. Let us remember that glory, know where it came from and Whose it truly is, and mildly, gently, lay it by.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Never Stop Getting Up

A monk visited Abba Sisoes and told him he had fallen from grace. “What should I do, Abba?” Sisoes replied, “Get up again.” After a while the monk returned to ask, “What can I do now? For I have fallen again.” “Get up again,” The old man said, “Never stop getting up.”

This is my current favorite story from the desert tradition. I like its sly humor. One can almost see the old monk winking at us as we grasp after any and every form of spiritual perfection. But there is generosity and kindness here, too. Yes, we fall; yet, this is all part of the human condition and it is precisely here, in the midst of our fallings, that there can emerge a profound sense of the abiding presence of God. The desert monks were convinced that temptations and struggles were important not because they needed to be avoided, but because they can teach us so much. They seem to be saying to us that wherever we are God is there also. Wherever we are, in deep sorrow or in an acknowledgement that once again we did not measure up - and usually by ‘not measuring up’ we mean to our own impossible demands. Even in loss, and, of course, in joy, God is already there waiting for us.

Last month, Sr. Laura Swan visited our Contemplative Outreach community. I was especially moved by her insistence that it is in this world where we encounter the sacred. She said, “Modern asceticism is being called to what already is.” This involves the sense that “we have enough, we are enough.” Right here, right now. Perhaps, the last illusion from which we need to be freed is the illusion that who we are is not quite right, and far too imperfect to be a vessel of God’s grace, love and abiding presence in this world. Sometimes we feel as if a miracle is required in order for us to be enough to carry within ourselves the presence of God. But the message of faith is that the miracle has already occurred. Here we are, called into holy being by the simplest gesture of God’s ever creating word.

We do fall, but we can get up again. We can “never stop getting up again.”


Sunday, November 30, 2008

God is Found in the Most Unlikely Places

...and I have a crazy poem all about it. Which was here for a few days, but must disappear now. So I'll just jot down a few of the places where God has turned up for me...

On a cold December day, when I sat in my car crying, and saw a lone blooming flower.

At my daughter's home birth, when the midwife wasn't reachable, and the baby would arrive in twenty minutes.

In the kind words of a Tri-met bus driver.

At the Goodwill, in a used book, where I discovered a new favorite poet.

When I skinned my knee on the curb, and was terrified, and my aunt assured me, "No, all the blood will not flow out of your body."

What about you? Where are some ordinary or unlikely or amazing places you've found God?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ways We Did Not Finish A Last Conversation

Morning Prayer
by Tom Kinzie

This pale light of spring sky,
these hung low heavens,
that child with face pressed against the glass door, his laughter,
the way a crow flies — so comfortable in his clumsy swagger,
those four older folk, husbands, wives, eating donuts,
worried about the world, laughing at the arrogance of power,
the terrible useless bloodshed, the donuts in the warm brown liquid,
so small among huge atrocities and ideas
the ease of friendship, they have heard this before,
morning prayers, old language,
simple grace of silence, Japanese flute on radio,
dog at my feet, quiet in his own expectations,
my longing, my restlessness,
the nagging of something there for days now.
Oh my God, what strange blessings you have given me today!
If only you would open me to everything.
Only you could.
If only you would help me resist nothing.
Only you can.
The loneliness that harasses,
memories still urgent, the
something left undone,
those faces, those voices,
ways we did not finish a last conversation.
What way should I breathe this rest of your day?
I would be your amen.

Monday, November 24, 2008

On A Dappled Monday

Pied Beauty

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

GLORY be to God for dappled things --

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced -- fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

What a wonderful poet was Hopkins, a conflicted, sometimes tortured human being. Sadly, he destroyed many of his own poems. I'm glad some survived. I love the way he loves God.

Observing his life shows what a thief guilt can be. Sad, how so many people are torn up over "sin" when that's exactly the point of Good News. Forget all this preoccupation with sin. Live! We are created, and recreated, to live.

Think I'll go find me some chestnuts.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Something to Say

It's been taking me a long time. Because...

It's easier to say a thing when you know people want to hear it. Or when you know they'll agree with you. Or when you know you won't be misunderstood. Or, when you have a whole mess 'a people to back you up. Lacking all these assurances, I have been reluctant, for many years, to write about my faith.

Several years ago I was a regular contributor to a number of large religious periodicals. It was nice. But when I moved from the path of faith that I was on, to a bumpier path - same faith, new ideas, ruts, questions - I suddenly became shy. I didn't know what to say to the old crowd. I couldn't agree any longer with that religious culture. Couldn't parrot the ideals of the institutions I'd attended. I didn't like the way things were done, but I didn't want to be a complainer.

Since then I've learned, speaking up for what you believe doesn't make you a complainer.

So I'm creating this space where I can invite a conversation about the spiritual journey - a conversation I can stand behind. I foster a faith that doesn't shut people out, make snap judgements, rely on labels, seek the tired and safe ways of looking at things. Hell, I might even say something worthwhile now and then.

Let's ask ourselves: where have we been "nice" when perhaps we had a message to share, a message the world needed?

Monday, November 17, 2008


Today two people of a certain religious persuasion came to my door. I saw in it an opportunity to be converted. Not to be converted to another religion, which is what they had hoped, but to be converted from "being right" and "having my say" to welcoming humanity to my doorstep. Their comments began like this:

"We'd like to tell you..."

"You might be interested in..."

"This article here says that..."

Many years ago, I used to engage folks like this in conversational warfare, pinpointing differences between our faiths and arguing my stance, in order to "save them from the error of their ways." No longer.

Maybe, today, it was the reminder from Laura Swan that helped me to respond the way I did. Laura Swan, prioress of Saint Placid Priory in Lacey, Washington, spoke Saturday at Contemplative Outreach. "You should sometimes read things you don't agree with," she said, "to practice hearing other points of view."

And so I decided to listen to these two women without trying to formulate a single comeback or argument. My thoughts went like this...

Look at the woman. Listen to where she is coming from. This faith means so much to her. Where has she been in her life? Look at her partner. See the tiredness in both of their eyes. See how desperately they want to do what's right.

When they left I said "Thank you," and they said, "Thank you," and I could hear the softness and relief in their voices at this strange thing that had happened, at this peace at how their words were heard, as they smiled and went on their way.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Gift, an Invitation

What if every barrier was seen as the beginning of a gift and every fear as an invitation to a deeper love, where would I be then? I can barely imagine, but I do know that a wholeness awaits me which I sometimes see even now through the cracks created by this brokenness that is also a longing.

--Tom Kinzie