Images, Injustice, Racism, Slavery, The moan

Moans of Mourning

“Images” A Collage of Remembrance


Images can affect us profoundly, leaving indelible marks on us, on the inside of us. When I saw on video the images and sounds of George Floyd’s murder, I knew that I would never forget what I saw on that day of terror, May 25, 2020. When even the date is indelibly marked in my mind, I know that what happened disturbed me to the core. 

This is true of most, if not all, of us. When images flash before our eyes — shocking images — they register immediately in us. We usually hold those events in our mind’s eye and in our spirits for a long time, perhaps forever if the shock hits us hard enough. But when some time has separated us from the initial shock, we begin the welcomed process of forgetting. Passing time melts the shocking vision away, and it gradually becomes unnoticed, leaving the seat of our emotions with fewer harsh and weighty memories.

I read their names today, these eight names and hundreds more. The names represented persons whose stories touched my soul when they were killed. Yet, I had forgotten so many of them, could not remember exactly how they died or what led to their murders. No wonder the demonstrators and marchers for justice bear signs that read, “#Say their names!”

So that we will not forget!
So that we will not forget our unspeakable history and thus risk repeating it!


The history of murder on the streets of American cities, large and small, is long and distressing. The moans of mourning can be heard still if we listen carefully, yes the moaning of today’s atrocities, but also moans echoing across the tragic history of slavery. Through history, through time, they moan and mourn.

It is worth remembering, as Black liberation theologian James Cone (1938–2018) points out, that the lynchings of African Americans and the crucifixion of Jesus share much in common: “Both the cross and the lynching tree were symbols of terror, instruments of torture and execution, reserved primarily for slaves, criminals, and insurrectionists — the lowest of the low in society.”

Yet, somehow in the midst of the horrific, there is God — perhaps seen in the unshakable voices of demonstrators, perhaps seen in people of all colors marching together, perhaps seen in the messages of the brilliant art created on old buildings, bridges and underpasses, perhaps seen in the hope-filled eyes of a child creating a protest sign. God is present in these images.

In an article entitled, “Human Cargo,” Fr. Richard Rohr points to the writing of Barbara Holmes, who suggests that “crisis contemplation” actually arose out of necessity during slavery, beginning in the Middle Passage when people were transported across the ocean as human cargo. In difficult times, contemplation becomes the soul’s strategy of survival.

The poignant words of Barbara Holmes:

The only sound that would carry Africans over the bitter waters was the moan. Moans flowed through each wracked body and drew each soul toward the center of contemplation. On the slave ships, the moan became the language of stolen strangers, the sound of unspeakable fears . . . The moan is the birthing sound The first movement toward a creative response to, the entry into the heart of contemplation through the crucible of crisis.

Barbara Holmes

Holmes explains how the stolen slaves often formed a community. “Yet, more often than not, these Africans were strangers to each other by virtue of language, culture, and tribe,” she says. “Their journey was a rite of passage of sorts that stripped captives of their personal control over the situation and forced them to turn to the spirit realm for relief and guidance.”

The reality is that contemplative moments can be found at the very center of these kinds of crises — in the holds of slave ships, on the auction blocks and in the brush arbors where slaves worshipped in secret.

In the words of Howard Thurman, “when all hope for release in this world seems unrealistic and groundless, the heart turns to a way of escape beyond the present order.” For captured Africans, there was no hope except in common cause and through the development of spiritual fortitude.

The stark and inconvenient truth is that we are hearing the echoing moan of black and brown communities today, crying out “How long, O Lord, must our people suffer?”

Poet Felicia Murrell has written words of poetry that combine a deep awareness of God’s presence while clearly naming the collective trauma of police brutality and lynchings. We must set our wills to remember. Of her poem, “Silence,” Richard Rohr says, “There is something about poetry that gives us permission to sit with the paradoxes of our pain, perhaps especially when addressing traumatic suffering.” 

He is right, so I invite you to read Felicia Murrell’s challenging poem, reading her words slowly and contemplatively, “allowing your heart to break open to God’s love amidst the suffering of the world.”

Silence

If you’re silent,

you can hear the forest breathe,
the holy hush of the tree’s limb.

“Silence,” said Thomas Merton, “is God’s first language”:
the way it soaks into your skin,
surrounds you,
blanketing you like the forest’s breath.

Silence:
The cadence of the land at rest,
the body asleep,

the heart awake.

Silence:
The deep rhythmic breathing of a mind slowed down,
an ocean still,
wet dew clinging to grass blade.

Silence:
The sacred song trapped in a bird’s breast before its first 
             chirp,
the still of night across a desert landscape
wrapped in a bone-aching chill

before the sun rises to scorch its parched earth.

Silence:
The lusty gaze of onlookers staring at the negro on the
          lynching tree,
neck snapped,
life ended,

feet dangling,
back and forth,
back and forth.

Silenced:
Hands up, don’t shoot!
Body thrumming with a heady sense of power.
Hands in pocket,
resting pose, knees embedded into a man’s neck.

Silence, please.

I. Can’t. Breathe.

Silenced.


I challenge you to remember the names,
to listen for the moans of mourning echoing across centuries,
to hear the moans of present suffering and count the tears of those who mourn,
to hear the voice of God who longs for justice. As it is written in the Book of Isaiah . . .

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him . . . you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.

Isaiah 13: 18-19 ESV


I invite you to listen to “The Moan” sung by Marion Williams.

Marion Williams moans her heart out, and then goes into a heartfelt, down home rendition of “Father I Stretch My Hands To Thee.” From the album, “My Soul Looks Back”
anxiety, Calm, Contemplation, Feelings, grief, healing, Heartbreak, life, Loneliness, Loss, Lostness, Mindfulness, Pain, Pandemic of 2020, peace, Quiet, Rest, Restoration, Sacred Pauses, Sacred Space, Soul, Spirit, Spirit wind, Time

There Was a Time


There was a time when I believed that I was invincible, with all the time in the world. Lately, though, I have thought a lot about how quickly time passes and about how I tend to constantly say, “I don’t have time.” I have also been thinking about healing. The reason for my healing thoughts could well be because at least two parts of my body really need physical healing, and soon. I don’t have time to be incapacitated, or so I believe. I don’t have time for pain and I wonder if my two places of physical pain were of my own making. For instance, my wrist sprain — now an orangey ochre color from my knuckles to halfway up my elbow — that the doctor says will heal in 6 to 10 weeks is taking way too long to mend. 6 to 10 weeks is entirely unacceptable! Was my ungraceful fall in the kitchen due to my carelessness or my lack of mindfulness?

And then there’s the terribly painful throat invasion, allegedly identified as a cricopharyngeal spasm, that feels like choking with a large object stuck in my throat while something is tightening around my neck. Direct from Healthline.com: “Anxiety about the condition can aggravate your symptoms.”

Aha! Anxiety! Therein may be the source of many ailments. That, and a lack of rest, relaxation, quietness, peacefulness or mindfulness, all of which are highly touted methods of natural healing. Healing of the body, yes, but also the critically important healing of my heart, my mind, my soul and my spirit — emotional and spiritual healing. That healing is often harder than physical healing. 

So I turned my thoughts, while suffering incessant physical pain, on the subject of emotional and spiritual healing. My thoughts raised the question of what exactly is the difference between the soul and the spirit, and how in the world would I heal there.

Here’s my attempt at an answer. Most of us would agree that we consist of body, soul and spirit. In fact, the Bible affirms the existence of all three:

May your whole spirit, soul and body
be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus.

(I Thessalonians 5:23). 

Our physical bodies are fairly evident to us, but our souls and spirits are less distinguishable. In the preceding scripture passage, the Greek word for soul is psuche (ψυχή), or as we might call it, “psyche.” This word “soul” implies our mind, our will and desires as evidenced by our personal preferences, choices, and emotional responses to life’s situations. Our soul is reflected in our personality. Our soul is our life.

“Spirit” is a completely different word. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma (πνεύμα). It refers to the part of us that connects with God and receives the breath of life from the Holy Spirit (Άγιο πνεύμα). Our spirit is our breath, the breath that animates and enlivens us from deep within. I like the way Theologian David Galston explains it: 

The soul is life, and the Greek word is psyche. The spirit is breath, and the Greek word is pneuma. Natural confusion exists between the [meaning of the] spirit and the soul since both words, in their roots, mean breath. But for the Greeks, there were two kinds of breath: the kind necessary for life, the psyche, and the kind necessary for [our very breath], the pneuma. In modern English, we might distinguish the two as life and energy.

I often ask my clients, mentees and friends this question: How is your heart? They usually have an understanding of how their heart is and why. But ask these questions — How is your soul? How is your spirit? — and the answers don’t come as easily. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think that, for myself, it is that I am able to more easily know my heart. I am more in touch with it. On the many times throughout my life when I was brokenhearted, I knew how my heart reacted and why. When I am sorrowful, happy, excited, surprised or feel many other emotions, I can place my hand over my heart and feel is as if I have literally touched it, that my heart has told me what emotion is there.

As for my soul and my spirit, well, they are deeper in me. In the innermost places of me, my soul mourns and celebrates and holds all manner of emotions. In my innermost parts, my spirit lies quietly within me always waiting for the brush of Spirit wings, waiting in stillness for the breath that animates and enlivens and ennobles. There was a time when I would always find time for the healing my soul and spirit needed.

So in the dense forrest of all of the 700+ words I just wrote, what is the lesson? What is the message from God we need to hear? Believe it or not, it’s not complicated. Isn’t it just like God to send us an uncomplicated message that we immediately make complicated? God’s bottom line here is easy, simple, uncomplicated: “Guard your heart, your soul, your spirit . . . all that is within you.

From Joshua
Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love God, your God.

From Deuteronomy
Keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen
and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life.

From Proverbs
Above all, guard your heart with all diligence; for from it flow the wellsprings of life.

From 1 Thessalonians
And the God of peace sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


And that’s it. There was a time when I would write 700 more words to tell you specifically how to do that. But today, I am not going to tell you how to heal. The ways are individually unique and the paths are many. So I will leave you with just one path that you may choose to follow: the path that leads you deep within yourself to your sacred, quiet place and then implores you to listen for God’s whisper and wait for the breeze of the Spirit. Where? In a beautiful, peaceful place, under a starlit sky, in a quiet filled with sounds of music.

In these many months of pandemic, experiencing loss and lostness, loneliness and isolation, mourning and tears, may you find comfort in the words of poet, William Wadsworth, here turned into beautiful music by Elaine Hagenberg.


Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.


Complete text of anthem:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory of a dream.

The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.

“There Was a Time” by Elaine Hagenberg
Poem by William Wordsworth
https://www.elainehagenberg.com/there…

Gun violence, Prayer, School shooting

Prayer for Peace in our Schools

Sometimes prayer is literally all we have. I share with you this poignant and moving prayer from my friend, Maren. I call her the pray-er of prayers.

God, hen, gatherer of chicks,
Savior, weeper over all places
that have no peace,
Spirit, whom to receive
is to feel the breath of wind
in a breeze across a playground,

we pray this morning
for Rigby, Idaho,
where a sixth grader started shooting
in the school hallway …
for two students and an adult injured,
and for all the fear,

and we pray this morning
for Columbia, South Carolina,
where a school bus hijacker threatened
driver and eighteen children
with a rifle,
and for all the fear.

Holy One, we pray for everyone
who has power
to take the guns away –
would that they know,
maybe their hearts tipped over
by this day

the things that make for peace.

amen.

Posted on May 7, 2021 by Maren

#MeToo, Activism, Beloved Community, Bondage, Challenge, Change, Community activism, Courage, Discrimination, Freedom, Hate, Holy Spirit, Hope, Injustice, Lament, peace, Racism, Social justice, Spirit wind, Transformation, Transforming Injustice, White supremacy

Removing Yokes of Bondage

“We Sound a Call to Freedom” Hymn text by Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton; http://jannaldredgeclanton.com/changing-church-resource-“we-sound-a-call-to-freedom”-video-2/


Stand fast therefore in the freedom by which Christ has made us free,
and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
Galatians 5:1 (NKJV)

What is it about freedom that scares us? What is it about freedom that causes us to refuse to offer it to everyone? Are we afraid that giving freedom to another person or group of persons will diminish our own freedom? What does freedom really mean to persons who are oppressed and to those who live inside the throes of injustice?

I have written very little lately about justice and accountability, the two words most used to describe Derek Chauvin’s conviction. I can’t help but mark this very moment on the “long arc that bends toward justice.” I feel compelled to call our attention to this week! Actually it’s last week now, but you get the idea. Let’s call it “the week of the verdict.”

The week of the verdict has come full circle from George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020 to the conviction of Derick Chauvin almost one year later on April 29, 2021. It was a week we will not forget. It brought up emotions in me and perhaps in most people. Most of what I felt mirrored the emotions I imagine George Floyd’s family feeling — happy, calm, relieved, conflicted, hopeful, determined, vindicated. I also felt sad and helpless because the conviction did not end murders of black and brown brothers and sisters. And I felt joyful and hopeful because perhaps this flashpoint in the long history of racial injustice will help us turn the corner and finally see in our communities the justice we long for.

How can that happen? How can we turn the corner and move away from oppressive systems and oppressive people? How do we do that when just minutes after the verdict and less than ten miles away, 16 year old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police in Ohio? It happened in the shadow of “the week of the verdict.”

Perhaps for us this is the week of the verdict — the week when the verdict will be read on our failure to end the systemic racism in our communities! Isn’t it past time for us to stand up and stand strong and stand determined and woke? My friends, it is time! This moment in the history of injustice may well be the turning point we need to end racism!

I have said this many times: We cannot just reform injustice, we must transform it. The transformation that results in genuine, lasting justice must begin in the soul and in the heart where intentions are formed. I must lament injustice, confess my own complicity in it, repent of the white supremacy within me, own other forms of oppression and commit to the hard work of transforming injustice in my community and in my world. Only then will transformation happen in the systems that oppress people.

Only transformed people can love neighbors as Jesus loved us. My friend and sister blogger never fails to remind me to answer the ultimate question, “How then shall I live?”* She offers this scripture to us today.

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

1 John 3:16-17 

She then reminded us that conditions in India are dire and the people languish.

In India, today the virus surges
almost beyond control,

hospitals are choked,
people die in line waiting for a doctor.

How can those of us
rejoicing in vaccination,
cautious travel, new gatherings,
not ask how we can help?

Maren

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

And that is the soul-critical question we must answer. How then shall we live when all around us people suffer every kind of calamity — every kind of violence, disaster, racism, discrimination, dehumanization? Every kind of heartache. How do we, in our suffering world, become the heart, hands and feet of Jesus?

Getting back to the lament of my own heart, that one thing that inspires my passion — transforming the injustice of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia and all forms of evil exclusion and oppression. Transforming injustice! Setting our faces toward the hope of Beloved Community! This one thing I know, the steps of Jesus would have led him to the “healing” of injustice in any form. On every day he walked on this earth, Jesus would be loving every person who was in need and he would be lamenting every injustice that caused harm.

How can we not lament? How can we not expend ourselves in the hard work of transforming injustice? How can we not care for, and pray for, and love our brothers and sisters who are in need? How can we refuse to work for the freedom of black and brown people, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and asylum seekers, and to any person who is enslaved? How can we deny God’s desire for justice and peace?

How can we refuse freedom to black and brown people, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and asylum seekers, and to any person who is enslaved? How can we deny them God’s peace?

— Rev. Kathy Manis Findley

I do not have the answer for how we might do this. But I do have some convictions about it, especially about racism and white supremacy. One of my convictions is that dismantling racism begins in me, in my soul. And eradicating white supremacy begins when I look seriously at my own white supremacy. For you see, as long as white supremacy looks to me like a white-draped person burning a cross, I will never acknowledge that white supremacy is in me. As long as white supremacy looks to me like a man I might see on TV news with a truck, a confederate flag, a rifle and a mission, I can easily distance myself. I am not that white person; I am a different white person that would never tolerate racism.

Am I? Am I that different white person? Or are there ways I contribute to an unjust society? Are there ways I fail to seek Beloved Community? Are there thoughts and feelings within me that diminish other persons, persons not like me? Am I complacent about injustice? Am I complicit? Am I reticent? Am I avoiding, looking the other way?

As long as white supremacy looks to me like a white-draped person burning a cross in someone’s yard, I will never see that white supremacy is in me. As long as white supremacy looks to me like a man I might see on TV news with a pick-up truck, a confederate flag, a rifle and a mission, I can easily distance myself. I am not that kind of white person! Or am I?

Rev. Kathy Manis Findley

Racial injustice may currently be the most visible form of oppression, but we must remember that many groups of people are oppressed. Many people long for freedom from oppression. Only when we “see” and “hear” all of their voices, will we be on the way to transforming injustice. I don’t know everything about oppression, and I don’t know exactly how to make a difference. I don’t really know how to join hands with my community and set about to transform injustice. I do know that I must begin with my own lament, for only lament can open my eyes to every manner of suffering and oppression.

So meet me on the mountain where we find the strength from God to persevere, and then descend with me to all the places where oppression enslaves people. Come with me to the people, and together, let us remove from them the yoke of bondage and offer them new freedom. And may Spirit Wind surround us with courage. Thanks be to God.


*”How then Shall We Live?” was the inspiring theme of the Alliance of Baptists Annual Gathering.

VIDEO CREDITS
Words  © Jann Aldredge-Clanton, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006).

Visual Artists:
David Clanton: “The Magic Begins” and dancing children photos: http://www.davidclanton.com/http://david-clanton.artistwebsites.com/

Shannon Kincaid: woman carrying torch paintings:http://www.shannonkincaid.com/

Mirta Toledo: Christ-Sophia painting:  https://www.facebook.com/mirtatoledoarthttp://www.jannaldredgeclanton.com/books.php#book3

Chad Clanton: purple irises photo

Instrumentalists:
Keyboard: Ron DiIulio
Percussion: Warren Dewey
Guitar: Danny Hubbard
Bass & Percussion: Jerry Hancock

Music Producer/Arranger:
Ron DiIulio: http://www.silverdollarsounds.com/personality-profiles/ron-diiulioSource

A woman of sacred worth, Changing my name, Emerging new, God’s beloved daughter, In Memory of Her, Re-claiming self

In Memory of Her

The Good Place — glistening, vibrant, dangerous — from which we emerge . . .

Dedicated to my dear friends, T and J, and celebrating their new names


Two of my close friends, members of my Sunday School class, changed their names. And no, they didn’t get married. They just changed their names. The outer process, the legal process of changing their names was cumbersome, but not overly difficult. The inner process was harder, more introspective. It was a process of the heart, with the change-journey mapped out in the soul.

Why do I feel the need to do this? What should my name be, what name would most fully reflect who I am? Will I face repercussions? Will people “get it?” Why would I spend my energy to do this?

The answer to all the questions ended up being simple and straightforward and honest . . . I want to re-claim myself as I claim my new name.

We discussed this very thing when our class met on Sunday. In some ways, we honored our newly-named friends and acknowledged the soulwork and stamina it took for them to take the path to newness. We acknowledged the inner path to be dimly lit at times, filled with branches that could have blocked the way, and dangerous, as our paths and journeys often are. You know the dangerous places — our self-doubt, our rejections and betrayals, our times of being marginalized, misunderstood and dismissed. And Yet, when we memorialized and solemnized this journey to new names, we discovered the glistening light and vibrant color of it, the place from which our friends with new names emerged.

I want to re-claim myself as I claim my new name. I want to embrace who I really am as I embrace my new name.

Emerging . . .
From a Good and Dangerous Place of Glistening Light and Vibrant Color


Over the past few years, our Sunday School class studied Biblical women who faced challenges, changes or trauma. There were many. We traveled their journeys with them and imagined their emotions. One of the things we noticed about many of them is that they were unnamed, dismissed, invisible. Their stories led us to our own stories of being dismissed, ignored, invisible unremembered and unnamed. Our grief rose up from our souls as we traveled with them, and we were taken aback by all the ways we have been “unnamed” and “unremembered” in our lives.

I read a post this morning by Dianna Butler Bass. As always, her words struck a chord. Interestingly, she cited one of my all-time favorite books, “In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins,” written by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, which uncovered the story of an unnamed Biblical woman. This is what Dianna wrote:

1BE99A1F-D11C-41E1-B223-9AD66F056763The opening image from Fiorenza’s “In Memory of Her” made me gasp.

“In the passion account of Mark’s Gospel three disciples figure prominently,” she wrote. Those three were Judas, Peter, and “the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus.” Fiorenza claims, “While the stories of Judas and Peter are engraved in the memory of Christians, the story of the woman is virtually forgotten. Although Jesus pronounces in Mark: ‘And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.’”

Yet, as Fiorenza notes, the woman has been largely passed over; “even her name is lost to us.” The women had disappeared to history — the very woman whom Jesus promised would live in memory. I realized that I didn’t want to disappear — that I wanted to be seen as fully human, to be remembered as one who loved Jesus, and as a faithful follower. I had lived too long in a theological community that erased women, excluded us from the story, and trivialized our experiences of Jesus. I wanted the disappearing act to end.” (p. 209).


Isn’t that what we all want and need? To not be unnamed or erased. To be named and remembered for the person ps we really are, not the persons, others define, describe and name. My comfort, as always, is that God knows my name. God never forgets who I am and, in fact, helps me to continually become the woman of worth I am meant to be. God has always guided me through that “good, glistening and dangerous place,” where I often go when I’m searching for my self. I emerge from that good and hard place every time, better and stronger.

The mystery and miracle is that God calls me “Beloved Daughter,” always, and that makes all the difference. So, if you need to, change your name! Change yourself, not into the person others want you to be, but into the person that is fully YOU. Dare to enter that good and hard place, that “good and glistening place” with the courage to meet your soul there and the assurance that you will emerge — new, renewed, known, named and cherished. God does that!

I am confident, friends, that my name and yours is locked in God’s heart, forever. God even knows our name when we change it! And the fullness of God’s grace is evident in the words of Mark’s Gospel:

And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.

— Jesus

Jesus spoke those grace-filled words, and his words are true of us, each of us. Imagine this for a moment. Whatever you do in Christ’s name, whatever kindness, compassion, assistance you offer to another person, whatever act of love you do or act of grace you give, what you have done will be told and remembered. Imagine overhearing the words Jesus spoke that day: “What she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Thanks be to God who always holds our names close and never, ever forgets them.

I searched for uplifting music to leave with you today, but could not decide between these two very different presentations. Enjoy and be inspired!

Birdsong, Calm, Creation, Fear, Grace, Knowing, Life’s meaning, Listening, Paul Simon, peace, Prayer, Quiet, Reflection, Sacred Pauses, Sacred Space, Self Awareness, Self care, Self-understanding, Serenity, Silence, Simon and Garfunkel, Soul, Soul work, Spirituality, Stillness, The Sound of Silence, Whispers of the Soul, Wholeness

One Day I Listened

I wonder if you would be willing to stop what you’re doing right now and spend a quiet moment with me, just listening? Your time might well be a needed time for you and for your soul.

There is always so much to listen to — traffic, sirens, video game sounds, annoying household noise like the washing machine/dryer, food processor, mixer, fans, buzzers and alarms and the awful sound of the disposal trying to crush that inadvertent chicken bone. These, of course, are not our favorite sounds, but they are the myriad sounds and noises we hear in a typical day.

There are sweeter sounds, too, like the sound of a gentle, falling rain or the sound of rain when it hits hard on the roof; the sound of a gusty breeze as it rustles the leaves on a tree; the sound of a flowing stream, a rolling river and constant, ever-rushing ocean sounds; the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings; the sound of cicadas on a Southern summer night; the sound of a child’s laughter; the sweet, peaceful sound of a purring kitten; and birdsong, always birdsong.

Of course, listening as pure joy is listening to music — quiet music, lyrical melodies, rhythms that slow the pulse, the sound of a bow moving across a cello’s strings, the mesmerizing sound of a harp, the velvet sound of voices in harmony or the enthralling sound of a symphony orchestra.

Sounds fill the space that surrounds us, all the time. What is rarer for us is to hear the sound of silence. Some of us fear the silence or dread silent moments. Others of us avoid it at all costs because the silence tends to bring up whatever we are afraid to hear. So the noise that enfolds us fills the place that might otherwise hear the sighs of the soul — its cries and laments, its laughter, its sound of contentedness. It seems to me that this is the place we long to be, in the soul’s sound chamber where whatever we hear — if we’re listening carefully — is the song of the soul that tells us who we are and why we are.

There is a poem that many of you will remember (if you’re old enough) as a Simon and Garfunkel song from the 1960s. The poem was written by Paul Simon and it presents a frightening picture of the modern world doomed by the lack of spirituality and the people’s aversion to the true meaning of life. It is not so different in these days that spirituality and life meaning can be elusive, no matter how hard we may search for it and yearn for it.

The poem, entitled The Sound of Silence, is written by the voice of a visionary asking people to be serious about the true meaning of life. The poem’s message is that people are moving further and further away from true happiness because they have ignored life’s true meaning. They debate and quarrel about worthless things. They listen to or watch meaningless things. The poet writes that the people “speak and hear without listening. Like we often do?

Throughout its five stanzas, the poem presents the conflict between spiritual and material values. The poetic persona is a person of vision who warns against the lack of spiritual seriousness. The poem begins with an address by the poet persona to the darkness, saying that he has come to talk with the darkness. When he awakens, he says that the vision still remains as the sound of silence.

Some of us fear the silence or dread silent moments. Others avoid it at all costs because the silence tends to bring up whatever they are afraid to hear. So the noise that enfolds us fills the place that might otherwise hear the sighs of the soul — its cries and laments, its laughter, its sounds of contentedness. It seems to me that this is the place we long to be, in the soul’s sound chamber where whatever we hear — if we’re listening carefully — is the song of the soul that tells us who we are and why we are.

The words of the poet . . .

And in the naked light, I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said,
“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sound of silence

All of that trivia about the poem certainly moved us a little farther away from my point, which is that most, if not all, of us have a deep emotional and spiritual need to listen to our souls, really listen. Even if we don’t know it, we long to hear what the depth of our being wants to say to us. We want to find our true selves, a quest only our souls can accomplish. If we are honest, we would say that we want to do the soulwork that leads us out of the darkness of our own making and into a place of light.

When we do carve out a sacred pause, when we wait in the darkness of that silent space, and when we open ourselves to deep listening, we will likely hear God’s whisper. We will probably move slowly out of darkness and realize the promise that as “God’s own people” we will “proclaim the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”   (1 Peter 2:9)

This is the place we long to be, in the soul’s sound chamber where whatever we hear — if we’re listening carefully — is the song of the soul that tells us who we are and why we are.

— Rev. Kathy Manis Findley

Hearing God’s voice moves us to a deeper experience of life, but hearing our soul’s sighs may take us deeper still, because we open ourselves to self-knowing. It’s not a surface knowing. It is a deep knowing of who it is that lives in our skin. Without hearing the sighs our souls are making, we might never enter into fullness of self. I suggest that only the fullness of who we are can stand before the God who knows us even better than we know ourselves. 

In my own experience, I think that perhaps I cannot be in deep communion with God if I try to face God as my superficial self. Perhaps God seeks relationship with my soul, my deepest place of being. To find and define my soul for myself, to know myself fully, I must find the sound of silence and sit with it patiently and expectantly. Maybe that is the essence of spirituality.

So there are a few lessons in these words and these are the obvious lessons:

  • Limit the harsh sounds in your life.
  • Surround yourself with tender, gentle sounds.
  • Make sacred space and holy time to listen deeply for the sounds that speak to your soul.
  • Listen for God’s whispers. They are important to hear.
  • Always consider what is, for you, the true meaning of life.
  • Listen to your soul — its sighs, its cries, its songs. 

And who knows? If you linger for a while in your sacred listening space, you might just find the very essence of grace by hearing what your soul whispers to you. It will be the most beautiful sound of all.

— Rev.Kathy Manis Findley


One day I listened — really listened. And I heard the whisper of God and the song of my soul. Thanks be to God.



I invite you to hear the poem, “The Sound of Silence,” through music. It can rightly be said that no group or person could ever sing this as well as Simon and Garfunkel, but I thought you might enjoy it covered by a very popular contemporary a cappella group, Pentatonix. 


The Sound of Silence by Paul Simon

All Shall Be Well, anxiety, Bewilderment, Brokenness, Comfort, Despair, discouragement, Emotions, Feelings, God's Faithfulness, Grace, healing, Heartbreak, Holy Spirit, Hope, life, Loss, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Sacred Pauses, sadness, Sorrow, Stories, Weeping

How Is Your Heart?

Yesterday I noticed a dogwood tree in full bloom, the first blooming dogwood I have seen this year. The sight of it did my heart good, because it reminded me that some simple and beautiful things remain. They return every year. They mark a season. They grow, and their blooms become ever more vibrant, or so it seems.

The dogwood has its own story, a lovely legend that explains the tree’s qualities. The legend holds that the tree was once very large, like a Great Oak tree, and because its wood was strong and sturdy, it provided building material for a variety of purposes. According to the story, it was the dogwood tree that provided the wood used to build the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

Because of its role in the crucifixion, it is said that God both cursed and blessed the tree. It was cursed to forever be small, so that it would never grow large enough again for its wood to be used as a cross for a crucifixion. Its branches would be narrow and crooked — not good for building at all. At the same time, the tree was blessed so that it would produce beautiful flowers each spring, just in time for Easter. The legend says that God it is gave it a few traits so that whoever looks upon it will never forget. 

81189983-8ADE-4D60-9088-C52DA3983583The petals of the dogwood actually form the shape of a cross. The blooms have four petals. The tips of each of the petals are indented, as if they bear a nail dent. The hint of color at the indentation bring to mind the drops of blood spilled during the crucifixion.
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Diana Butler Bass tells the story like this:

There’s an old southern legend that dogwoods grew in Jerusalem — and that one gave its wood for Jesus’s cross. Because of this, the dogwood was cursed (its short stature a ‘punishment’ for being the wood of death) but it also became a blessing. Blessing? For on each twisted branch burst forth petals of lightness and light.

So let’s leave the dogwood’s story and look at our stories — your story and my story. People often use the term “storied past.” Well, a storied past is something all of us have.

In talking with a friend a few days ago, I asked, “How is your heart?” She began to tell me her story, which was a long and winding one that included many mini-stories — happy ones snd sad ones — from her life’s journey. Toward the end of her story, she said, “I feel as if I am cursed by God.” That was her bottom line answer to my question, “How is your heart?” Hers was an honest, heartbroken response that instantly revealed that her heart was not all that good, but that was a critical part of her story.

If you and I are honest, we will admit that our hearts were broken and hurting at several places in our stories. Recalling our brokenhearted times is something we always do when we tell our stories, and it’s an important part of the telling. My story and yours is never complete if we leave out the heartbroken moments, for at those points, what feels like God’s curse almost always transforms into God’s grace.

If not for our heartbroken moments, the hurting places in our hearts might never “burst forth with lightness and light.” Our heartbroken moments change us and grow us. They set us on better paths and they embrace our pain with grace. Our heartbroken moments give us pause, and in that pause, we find that once again, our hearts are good. Our broken hearts are once again peaceful hearts — healed, restored, transformed, filled with God’s grace.

How is your heart? That is a question we would do well to ask ourselves often, because languishing with our heartbreak for long spans of time can cause our stories to be stories mostly of pain. Instead, stop right here in this post for just a few moments and ask yourself, “How is my heart?”

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Your answer may well be your path to a contemplative, sacred pause that can become a moment of healing, a time for God’s grace to embrace whatever is broken in your heart and to transform it into love, light and hope. So don’t be afraid to look into your heart when pain is there. In looking, you may find reasons, many and and complex, that are causing deep pain and brokenness. You may also find the healing touch of the Spirit of God waiting there for you and offering healing grace — a Godburst of new hope.

May your story be filled always with times when your was light with joy and times when your heart was broken with loss, mourning, discouragement, disappointment. Both create your extraordinary story — the joyful parts and the sorrowful parts. So tell your story again and again to encourage yourself and to give the hope of God’s healing grace to all who hear it.

I remember a beloved hymn that is a prayer for the Spirit of God to “descend upon my heart.” May this be your prayer today.

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

“I Can See Clearly Now”, Beginning again, Bright Monday, Bright Week, Celebration, Change, Christ’s Resurrection, Community, coronavirus, Daybreak, Easter Monday, Isolation, journey, Joy, Lent, Life Journeys, Resurrection, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, sunrise, Sunshine, Together

Bright Monday

Bright Monday Out of Darkness ~ Digital image by Kathy Manis Findley

Bright Monday is here! You might be wondering if “Bright Monday” is even a thing. It is, in fact. Just keep reading.

I suppose when you and I look back on all that we experienced throughout Lent — what thoughts we had, what emotions we felt, what we wrote or said, what we saw and heard, what was painful and what was dark — we might see our experience through many facets. We have had to look at our multilayered experiences alone for the most part, because many of us are still in full or partial Covid isolation. You know that isolation, the one that has made Lent 2021 even more somber, quiet and reflective than Lents past have been. Doesn’t Covid seem to do that — magnify the parts of our lives that are disheartening and make them worse? Being alone has been one of the hardships of this Lenten journey, at least for me. I was forced to look at my Lenten experiences alone, for the most part, and I discovered that making some journeys alone can be emotionally and spiritually detrimental to the soul.

Someday we would do well to look our experience of this past Lent together, with our faith community. Someday we shoukd gather up all of our memories of Lent 2021, look through them together and realize that some of them held pain and some of them held joy — all at once — pain and joy intermingled. Still, we have journeyed through the darker days of this Lent — each of us walking alone and separated at times, but walking together, side by side at other times. Together or alone, we have arrived today to Easter Monday, Bright Monday. We are here, “out of the darkness and into the light!” We are here in the light, together!

Practically speaking, what does happen on Easter Monday? You may be asking the same thing, and you may even say, “We’ve walked some hard roads through Lent, we have endured the darkness of Holy Week, we have celebrated Easter. But, come Monday, its all over!” You might be right. After looking at a few websites and a few religious websites, I learned that nothing happens today! Nothing happens on Easter Monday! But how can that be true? After the drama of Good Friday, the depression of Black Saturday and the pure joy of Resurrection Sunday, surely something remarkable must happen today.

Did you know that all over the world Christians celebrate this day. If we look at other religious traditions, this day is called “Bright Monday” and is it the first day of “Bright Week.” For Christians, Bright Monday is the first day of our renewed, restored and resurrected lives. It is also the first day of Jesus’s 40 days on earth before he ascended to heaven — the time in Christian history when Jesus appeared to believers, healed the sick, raised the dead, spread the word of God and set the believers on the path of becoming God’s Body and building God’s Church. How wonderful is that!

Looking back to the story of Jesus we have just told and remembered, I wonder what the disciples and other followers who loved Jesus would tell us about what happened on Easter Monday. Just imagine you are Mary or Peter or any of the other disciples. How would you feel? What would you be saying to others? Would you shake off the events of the last few days and just go back to work thinking,“Wow, that was some weekend!”

You would probably be stunned, confused, overjoyed, disoriented and asking yourself, “Did that really happen? Is this a dream? Is Jesus really alive?”

It was real on that first Bright Monday! All of it was real! It is still real on this Bright Monday! It is unbelievable Good News! Because of the empty tomb, because of Christ’s act of love in his darkest hour, Bright Monday can only be called a bright, sunlit and wonderfully sunshiny new day! We can see clearly now! Everything has changed!

Let us offer praise to the God of all things bright! Let us see ourselves standing in the light and warmth of the sun! Let us sing in the sunshine! Let us continue our Resurrection celebration into this Bright Week, because what was dark has now become bright!

Every good and perfect gift is from above. It comes down to us from the God of lights,
with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

James 1:17 (paraphrased)

You, my children, are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
God’s own people, and you will proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called you
out of darkness and into God’s marvelous light.

I Peter 2:9 (paraphrased)

Thanks be to God that you and I were called by God to come out of the darkness and to stand in God’s marvelous light!

Happy Bright Monday to you!

Song: “I Can See Clearly Now”
Artist: Johnny Nash

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Look all around, there’s nothin but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin but blue skies

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone . . .

2021, Christ’s Resurrection, Easter, Loneliness, Praise, Resurrection, Resurrection People, sadness, Singing

A Quiet Alleluia

A Quiet Alleluia

I find the “Alleluia “ in me to be a quiet one today. So unlike other Easters in my memory. So different. So quiet. There are no loud and boisterous proclamations of  “He Is Risen!” I am singing no anthems that declare the Resurrection with great ardor and joy. There is no larger than life cross draped in white, no Easter lilies, no Easter Chrismon tree that often adorns my house on Easter.

On the secular side, there is not a bunny in sight at my house and no basket of brightly colored Easter Eggs. There is no Easter bread that is our tradition. No ham, no lamb, no standing rib roast with all the trimmings.

There is an Easter wreath on my door, adorned with a white cross and Easter lilies, a very understated design. The wreath is subdued, not colorful. Easter hymns are playing, though, courtesy of Pandora, but I chose a selection of quiet, reflective, traditional hymns. Somehow “Were You There?”, The Old, Rugged Cross” and “Fairest Lord Jesus” seem right this year.

My “Alleluia” today is quiet, almost a whisper. It arises from somewhere in me that cannot seem to  create a louder word of praise, cannot count on my diaphragm to produce a brighter “Alleluia” in joyous song. This kind of Easter feels sad to me, although somehow it seems okay, fitting even, on this Easter. Family is far away. Family that is near might as well be a million miles away, because Covid and my weak immune system still holds me captive in my house.

So like the soft “Alleluia” in the image, I am soft and quiet on this Day of Christ’s Resurrection. I have lost friends in the past year, friends who died too soon. I have witnessed loneliness, sorrow, grieving and morning. I have mourned myself. I have feared the rejection of my kidney. I have worried about my health. I have missed my church and my friends. I have longed desperately to see my son and my grandchildren. When all is said and done and when reality is all one has to hold on to, the Gospel Good News remains! We are Resurrection People! Because Jesus lives, I really can face tomorrow, and the next tomorrow, and all the tomorrows that come after that.

Today, I am where I am, in this quiet place. But just to remind me of the Resurrection Good News, my Pandora selection of quiet hymns is now playing “The Hallelujah Chorus” — right now as I write. I was not ready for it. I have sung it hundreds of times, but I cannot sing it now. I cannot lift up my voice and project it into a place of worship. But here is the Gospel Easter truth they are singing: “He shall reign forever, forever and ever, King of kings and Lord of lords. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hal  le  lu  jah!”

Today I can sing only a whisper of praise — a quiet “Alleluia” — only a weak breath. But the Resurrection Good News is that my whispered praise is heard throughout the vast expanse of heaven. Perhaps the heavenly host is singing “Alleluia” with me. I’m not too sure that is happening, but I do know this: God accepts my breathless whisper. It is heard clearly by God the Father, God the Mother, God the Son and by the Spirit that holds the breath of us all. Amen!

 

“A Quiet Alleluia” by B. J. Meyer

Although the song is performed on the piano,
it does have lyrics:

And I pray;
I knew then there were reasons
for everything I had to endure
‘Cause they opened the door
To my mind.

I used to think that I was weak,
Feelin’ the pressure of fighting the heartaches;
Was wounded but I could not speak.

When I exhale, it’s a quiet allelujah
When I exhale, it’s a quiet allelujah

Christ’s Passion, Enough, God’s sacrifice, Good Friday, Hope, I am enough!, Lent, Lenten reflection, Pádraig Ó Tuama

Enough

Mama, 2020
By Artist/Iconographer, Kelly Latimore
See more of Kelly’s icon artwork here: https://kellylatimoreicons.com/gallery/

For me, there is never enough mourning and grieving for Good Friday — never enough remembering, never enough weeping. There is never enough time to reflect on Jesus in the tomb after being betrayed, arrested, tortured, mocked, crowned with a braid of thorns that pierced his flesh and nailed to a rough-hewn cross. What could possibly be enough for me on this day that we spend remembering a tragic murder of an innocent Christ? How do I embrace the comforting presence of ENOUGH?

As a part of my contemplation today, I read an essay on observing the days of Lent written by Pádraig Ó Tuama. These words begin the essay entitled, A Is for Alleluia:

We make space to contemplate what it is that we will celebrate in 40 days’ time. We make space to recognise our faults. We pray a little more. We allow our emptier stomachs to remind us of the pithiness of our observations in comparison with real hunger. We give more money. We confess. We reconcile. We listen to emptiness for a while. We do not say Alleluia.

He’s right, of course, in writing that we do not utter a single Alleluia during Lent’s forty days. Still, I thought, not saying Alleluia is just not enough. What else must we do or not do? So many words came to mind, interestingly, the words I remembered were songs. 

What language shall I borrow to thank thee dearest friend? So I’ll cling to the old, rugged cross… Just to think of the cross moves me now; It should have been me, it should have been me, instead I am free, I am free… Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Yes, I was there when Jesus was crucified. I was there looking up at his anguished face, every year. Every year on Good Friday, I was there, looking for a glimmer of hope in the darkness. But it seemed not enough, not at all enough. I heard from a friend last night who told me something about her life. When she wrote all the words and all of her thoughts, it all boiled down to this: “I am not enough.” And I thought, in response, “I am not enough either! Never enough!”

What a common belief for all of us. In whatever circumstances, relationships, friendships and any other area of our lives, why do we believe that we are not enough? I won’t go into the reasons here, for they are legion But what I must say is that, if Christ endured the terrible days we remember on this Good Friday for any reason at all, it was so that each of us would know beyond any doubt: “I am enough!

Again, the words of Pádraig Ó Tuama teach me and comfort me, when he writes about the meaning he finds in the darkness of Good Friday.

We attend the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, reminding ourselves of the emptying of God by God. We remember the descent of our tortured and abandoned brother into Hell. We allow emptiness to create hope.

How poignant are his words, “emptying of God by God” and “the descent of our tortured and abandoned brother into Hell.” The act of God was a selfless, redeeming act. The willingness to die by our “tortured and abandoned brother” was a selfless, redeeming and loving act. For all that Christ endured was for you and for me, so that we might accept our sacred worth as daughters and sons, beloved children who always believe they are enough.

Christ’s sacrifice — made so that we would believe we are enough. The walk to Golgotha bearing the weight of the heavy cross, bearing the weight of the world — he carried the weight so that we would believe we are enough. His cries from the cross, “It is finished. My God, why have you forsaken me?”  — he spoke so that we would believe we are enough.

When I think of the cross, I am moved, moved in my deepest place. I am deeply grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made for me. I remember the words of a song we sang in the 70s from the youth musical, “Natural High” . . . 

Just to think of the cross moves me now;
the nails in his hands, his bleeding brow;
to think of the cross moves me now;
It should have been me, it should have been me!
Instead I am free! I am free! I am free!
— Kurt Kaiser and Ralph Carmichael —

Thanks be to God, that giving God’s Son was sending us a critical, loving and life-giving message: 
           
                   “You, my beloved children, are always enough!”

I want to leave you with the song, “When I Think of the Cross,” recalling the words as well as my memory allows.

Long, long ago in a faraway place;
Rough, rugged timbers were raised to the sky.
There stood a man suspended in space,
And though he was blameless, they left him to die.

Just to think of the cross moves me now;
The nails in his hands, his bleeding brow;
To think of the cross moves me now;
It should have been me. It should have been me;
Instead I am free, I am free. I am free!

He put an end to my guilt and despair;
Turned bitter hating to sweet peace and love.
Even the men who put him up there,
Were offered forgiveness and life from above.

Just to think of the cross moves me now;
It should have been me. It should have been me.
Instead I am free, I am free, I am free! I am free!