#Uvalde, Texas, Bewilderment, Discernment, Emotions, Feelings, God's presence, Indecision, peace, Understanding

Elusive Understanding

Photography by Andrew Charney on Unsplash

You may have noticed there have been no words coming from this blog in quite a while. No new posts. No graphics. No music. The reason is that inside me, there is nothing, and that has been my situation for several weeks. Part of the reason is that I was very sick for a while, hospitalized actually. In addition, I simply felt empty, without a creative spark that is usually so common for me.

Physically, I have felt unwell for a long time. Emotionally, I have felt the continued sting of isolation because getting Covid could be deadly for my immunocompromised body. Spiritually, I would have to say that the gun violence that has taken the lives of children and teachers in Uvalde has wounded my spirit and left me with so many unanswerable questions about faith and hope.

When all of those things rustle through my mind, it cannot help but reduce me into a silent kind of melancholia that affects my body, mind and spirit. It seems that this time, I can’t move past it. My husband asked me today if I am depressed. I answered, ”yes,” but honestly, I feel more sad than depressed. I don’t understand it this time. I can’t put my finger on the cause no matter how hard I have tried to figure it out.

The myth is that figuring out the root of depression or sadness will help one overcome it. Once you understand your depression and where it comes from, you can get beyond it. Also not necessarily true! Understanding is not a bad thing, but it is also not a cure-all.

These days, I simply cannot understand things—all things me! I recognize my sense of feeling empty, and I still have the ability to use reason and discernment to try to understand my feelings. But the truth is I don’t understand what’s going on in me. The internal web of my physical hurts, my emotional disturbance and my spiritual emptiness defy explanation and understanding. It’s complicated, outside of my ability to understand. So I have craved any flicker of light and life I could find.

I found it today, in a quote shared by a dear friend. This is the quote.

I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity; I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees.
~ Anne Lamott

I can rest in that. I can find peace beyond my understanding. I can lean into the treasure of not being compelled to understand complicated things, even complicated things about myself. By the way, complicated things about myself may well be the most difficult things to understand, sometimes baffling and elusive. So Instead of the constant struggle to understand, I plan to turn my life over, again, to the One who created me to be complicated in the first place.

Thanks be to God for the ”peace that passes all understanding.” Amen.

#Uvalde, Texas, Bewilderment, Birdsong, Consolation, Leo Tolstoy, Melancholia, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley

Melancholia and Consolation

Overlayed photos by Jeremy Bishop and Christian Holzinger on Unsplash.

I don’t like feeling melancholy. The feeling is just too tentative and unspecific. Trying to get free of melancholia is not an easy feat. You can curse it and yank it around trying to break it. You can throw big rocks at it or try to drown it in a bathtub. But it is so uncatchable. You can’t get your hands around it, and if you do, you can’t hold on to it. It just slips away from you before you know it. You cannot control melancholia. Perhaps you cannot even get consolation from it.

Other states of mind are more responsive to being removed or conquered or broken or even thrown out. Sadness, anger, rage—those you can eventually grab and choke out. Melancholia is enduring and constant, and it can hold you hostage for undetermined amounts of time, making a nest in you and dwelling there without your permission. Relentless, hardy, pervasive, persistent!

Understand this: I am not writing about melancholia as a clinical depressive episode and I’m certainly not trying to scientifically classify melancholia in a range of psychiatric disorders. I simply mean to unravel the threads of the state of being of feeling trapped inside melancholia.

I know there are circumstances that brought me here this week, not the least of which is that I have experienced a full week of a severe stomach virus. And then, there is the constant news reporting of horrible cases of gun violence. In fact, ABC News published this troubling statement about gun violence on May 31, 2022: “374 deaths and 782 injuries over the past week.”

I cannot help but weep about the terrible loss of nineteen children, two teachers, one teacher’s husband, and the perpetrator of the murders in #Uvalde, Texas.

I cannot help but be emotionally moved by the gift a Texas man gave the grieving families. Trey Ganem refused to be paid for the 19 hand-painted caskets. (Picture: SoulShine Industries)


Have these circumstances resulted in my feeling melancholy? I’m not sure. Melancholia might not primarily be situational. Rather, it might be embedded in a person’a psyche and brought to the heart by a gloomy, cold morning in winter, or a long-lived rainstorm, or a gloomy, foggy night without a smidgen of light. Perhaps melancholia can come upon a person by a sad movie, by hearing a hauntingly beautiful requiem, by the melodic strains of birdsong, or the somber sounds of a viola.

Melancholia is rather unexplainable for me. When it takes over my psyche from time to time, I feel multiple emotions. Not just a depression-like sadness, but also a lump-in-the-throat nostalgic feeling. I think that’s what’s going on with me right now. Truthfully, I have found the best description of melancholia in the words of Leo Tolstoy.

There is something so enchanting in the smile of melancholy. It is a ray of light in the darkness, a shade between sadness and despair, showing the possibility of consolation.

— Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

It does feel to me like ”a shade between sadness and despair.” Whatever melancholy is, however it comes to me, whatever it feels like and whenever it visits me, I like Tolstoy’s phrase about melancholy ”showing the possibility of consolation.” In my mind, that is the Godsend part of it: that when I feel the emotion “between sadness and despair,” covered in a misty veil of melancholy, God’s holy way is that consolation is always possible. Always!

The Apostle Paul has the last word in the beautiful blessing he wrote to the church in Corinth:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.

— 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NRSV

Thanks be to God.

Abundance, All Things New, Beginning again, Belonging, Bewilderment, Change, Comfort, Contemplation, Daybreak, Dreams, Fear, Freedom, God's love, Grace, healing, Heartbreak, I am enough!, Joy, New Life, Re-claiming self, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Sorrow, Tears, Weeping

Wide and Wondrous

How true it is that when we know nights of sorrow, when weeping is all we can muster, that daybreak does eventually come as it always has. And with the rising of the sun, perhaps our tears are replaced with at least some measure of inner joy.

The universe is wide and wondrous, full of love, full of grace, and sparked by freedom. Those three—love, grace and freedom—are the things we most need, all of us.

I offer you this meditation, praying that you are surrounded in love, that you know the grace that accepts every part of yourself, and that you feel the the freedom to run with the wind in wide and wondrous places, toward your dreams.

As you continue the quiet time you claim for yourself today, I hope you will be be inspired and comforted by this beautiful choral piece by the brilliant composer Elaine Hagenberg, ”All Things New.”

Poem by Frances Havergal
and text adapted from
Revelation 21:5-6

Light after darkness, gain after loss
Strength after weakness, crown after cross;
Sweet after bitter, hope after fears
Home after wandering, praise after tears

Alpha and Omega
Beginning and the end
He is making all things new
Springs of living water
Shall wash away each tear
He is making all things new


Sight after mystery, sun after rain
Joy after sorrow, peace after pain;
Near after distant, gleam after gloom
Love aftеr wandering, life after tomb

A way in the wilderness, Alone, Bewilderment, Comfort, Dry seasons of life, Exclusion, Exhaustion, Hope

A Door of Hope

How often we find ourselves wandering in what feels like wilderness. We wander, and then wander some more, in barren places — in parched, dusty and dry deserts of the soul. We wander in aimless travel that moves us from one nowhere to another. The truth is that we have been nowhere and we’re going nowhere.

It’s a long, hard way, this wilderness wandering. I have found myself there at times. You probably know the desert, too. Like the people of Israel, we don’t much like wilderness wanderings. Remember their laments and complaints?

The Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them.
They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.
They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt
that you brought us to the desert to die?
What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’?
It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Exodus 14:10-12 (NIV)

Other Biblical passages speak more favorably about walking in a desert wilderness and about finding there comfort and hope. One of my favorite passages is rather obscure, so I want to share it with you.

The Lord said, “Therefore, I will now persuade Israel,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
From there I will give her her vineyards,
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
Hosea 2:14-23 (NRSV)

Finding ourselves wandering in a parched and barren desert can cause us to feel, not only exhaustion, but also exclusion. How bewildering it is when we are excluded, left alone to wander and feeling that no one is near, no one hears our laments, no one cares. My hope for you this day is that, whenever you have to wander in the wilderness, you will find on your way a friend beside you and at the end of your path, a door of hope.

I leave you with these words, a benediction spoken by a dear friend.

A way in the wilderness, Art, Bewilderment, Rivers in the desert

Rivers in the Desert

“A Way in the Wilderness,” A watercolor by Kathy Manis Findley; https://kalliopeswatercolors.com/

What is it about this statement from God and recorded by the Prophet Isaiah?

I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

This statement, or this promise, recorded in Isaiah 43 touches me to the core. It reaches into my soul that is so often parched by the events of life. As for the watercolor painting above, A Way in the Wilderness, you may have seen it before. I published it in this blog already. But this time, I would like for you to engage with me in a few moments of art appreciation. Consider the following questions.

What do you see in the painting?

What strikes you about it?

If you could choose one word or phrase or sentence in it that most relates to your life, what would you choose?

What do you see in the images and colors?

What do you see as the overarching theme of it?

What does it say to you? Or ask of you?

Okay! So maybe the painting says nothing to you! You’re not into art appreciation and it has no deeper meaning than paint to paper! I totally get that, but still, I want to tell you what it meant for me as I was creating it.

So much more than paint on paper, painting it was an emotional and spiritual release from my own wilderness. It was my way of learning to find rivers in my desert. Understand, it did not mean I could leave the desert and put the wilderness in my rear view. Instead, it allowed me to express my reality: that I live in the wilderness, but streams of river water quench my soul’s thirst in the desert.

That’s real and honest. A gut-punch of reality for me. Wilderness and desert terrain are common life habitations, for me and probably for you as well. I don’t live near the breezes of an ocean or on a ridge in breathtaking, snow-capped mountains.

I just live on a regular street in a regular town, and sometimes that can feel like wilderness.


What does that have to do with anything? Just this: During the times I feel as if I’m living in a desert wilderness, I need to remember the river. Or putting it another way, what I feel emotionally may be MY reality, but it is not THE reality.

It is not the ultimate reality of a life that is so filled with deserts and streams, storms and sunshine, smooth ways and rocky pathways, despair and hope, doubt and faith, sorrow and joy, death and life . . .

May your life be filled to overflowing with all of those things.

anxiety, Bewilderment, Depression, Depth of Mercy, Depth of Soul, Emotions, Feelings, God’s Mercy, Hope, Life pathways, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Soul, Trails, Unknowing

The Trails I Take

I have taken many trails throughout my life and I imagine that you have as well. It’s one of the things all of us have in common. The trails we take can sometimes lead us to places unknown. Not just places on a map, but places in the soul. Our more difficult trails can push us to our limits, mostly the limits of the soul at its depth. Sometimes, today maybe, my soul is in the depths of unknowing.

What does that sentence even mean? My soul is in the depths of unknowing? If I don’t know what that means, how can I possibly talk about it with you? I can try!

I’ll try.
I’ll search for words
that explain
how I feel, how my soul feels
and what it means —
the depth of unknowing.

These days I sense an unease in my soul, in its depths. I have named it depression. I have tried in vain to make an appointment with my therapist. Isn’t that what people do when they are depressed? Anyway, I did that, but cannot see her until the end of July. So I determined that I had to become my own therapist. In doing that, I decided to search myself more deeply. I determined that perhaps what I feel isn’t depression after all. Instead, what I feel may be the depth of unknowing.

For me that means chasing away the unknowing, getting rid of it because I want to know when I will feel stronger physically, or when I will see my grandchildren, or how I will handle my emotional fragility, or where I will live for the rest of my life. Just to name a few things I need to know.

And yet, the depth of the soul’s unknowing may well be exactly where my soul begins to fully know. The trails I take while inside my soul’s depths contain lessons and treasures and wisdom. The trails bend and wind leading to an unknown path that opens its way for me. I follow it willingly, blindly, yet for some reason, expectantly. The trails are most surely my depression, their unknown, perilous way distressing me as I walk. Jagged rocks on the trails, vines creeping their way onto my path, thorns, bristles and barbs — boulders sometimes — all to remind me of the hard path I walk and the heavy load I carry.

The trails I walk may be no more ominous than yours. We all walk them and we all carry burdens on the way. You and I walk no easy trails. There is “no easy walk to freedom,” the song reminds us. Truth! The trails I walk, and your trails, are many and winding, hard and confusing. The obstacles overwhelm. I suppose this describes my depression as well as any words could, and it is precisely that unease in my soul’s depths that has come to me in these days.

The difficult thing about soul-deep depression is its dogged persistence. That kind of depression has staying power and it sits in the soul, creating that terrible sense of the soul’s unknowing. It has the power to convince me that I will never know the things I want to know. Mostly, I want to know destination. Where am I headed? What jagged rocks and prickly thorns will injure me along the way? And will I survive my injuries?

There lies the depth of depression. It lies in the desire, the need, to know. We need to know the unknown — where will the trails take us and what formidable obstacles will stop us. Now understand this, if I had answers, I would have given them to you several hundred words ago. I have no answers of my own, but I do have a nugget of wisdom written by author Angie Weiland-Crosby.

Some trails defy definition,
longing only for the soul.

Angie Weiland-Crosby

There may be something in her words. If the trails defy our attempts to define them or to know them, perhaps we can find comfort knowing that the trails long only for our soul. The trails only want us to bare our souls along the way and to open them up to the new. The trails are meant for our good, for our spiritual maturing. And as for another comfort, the God we know has seen and known the trails before us. However you see and know God, you can rest in the knowledge that God has some hand in the work of the soul. God knows about the trails we take.

Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid. Don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.”

Joshua 1:9 (The Message Bible)

When all is said and done, I believe the trails I take are necessary ones. In a way, perhaps the trails I take are sacred ones, meant for opening up my soul to its depths where transformation can occur. No, God does not lay out my every trail or remove its thorns and rocks. The trails I take are strewn with rocks meant for me, thorns that pierce just enough to get my soul’s attention. I believe that. And I believe that there is for me a way to trust God wholly. My personal translation of Proverbs 3:5-6 gives me a tiny inkling of hope even when depression ravages my soul.

Trust in whoever you believe God to be in your life.
Trust God with all your heart,

and don’t rely only on what you understand.
In all the twists and turns in your life,

perceive this God as one who offers a depth of mercy,
A God who sees and knows the trails you walk.
And be assured, know deeply in your soul

that God will direct your paths.

I want to share with you a video of a beautiful, meditative song entitled, “Depth of Mercy,” performed by students of Fountainview Academy, a Christian high school based in southern British Columbia, Canada. I also share this because of where it is filmed — a beautiful wooded area with various trails. Whatever trail the students took to arrive at their destination seemed a treacherous pathway to me, and even more treacherous, the place where they stood to play and sing.

They were on top of a magnificent ridge, but way too close to the edge for my comfort. At the end, as they sang, “Depth of mercy, can there be mercy still reserved for me?” The image pans across them to the jagged edge and then reveals a very deep and ominous gorge. Panning even farther across, you will see a most beautiful portrayal of nature, one that stirs the senses and reminds us of the depth of mercy our God reserves for us. I hope the video is meaningful to you.

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.

Advent, Angels, Bethlehem’s Star, Bewilderment, Courage, Elizabeth, Mary

Those Who Dream — Advent 2020

THOSE WHO DREAM

That’s the problem, isn’t it, that the Angel Gabriel departed from her!

It happens to us, too.

Our angel departs
Leaves us

Goes away
Just when the deepest shadow of fear hovers over us.

Goes away
Just when grief has shattered our hearts.

Goes away
Just when our deep, deep life losses have left us disconsolate.

Our angel goes away.
Just at the moment of our most profound impoverishment,
Just at the moment when we know, beyond doubt,
That we will never dream again.

As for the dreams we long held hidden in our hearts . . .

Well, those dreams disappeared!

Vanished!

The dreams we held so closely are not in us anymore
Can not be dreamed anymore.

Suddenly, our angel left
And we were no longer those who dream.

Yet, we moved headlong into Mary’s story and Elizabeth’s;
Life growing in their wombs;
Holy Life growing in their wombs.
Both of them holding the dreams God gave them
Both dreaming into an unknown and unknowable journey

As women often do.


And on that journey, as we follow these two dreaming women, we see it!
The Star in the East!
The Bethlehem Star sparkling in night sky!

Our angel left us
But courage and hope still courses inside us.

We lift our gaze still and we see Bethlehem’s star

And the dark indigo sky sparkles
Brilliance incarnate!
Manifested before us in human form!

The Word Made Flesh who would never leave us like our angel did.

We follow that holy star
Determined.
Undaunted.
Unrestrained.

Because we know what we hold deeply in our souls;

We know exactly who we are —

Those who dream!

We are those who dream!

Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Advent 2020

 

In your sacred pauses during this Advent season, may you find peace, knowing all is calm. Listen to this music in your contemplative time.

 

Advent, Bewilderment, Bravery, coronavirus, Courage, Defiance, Dreams, God’s promises, Joy, Magnificat, Mary’s Song

MARY’S SONG OF JOY FOR A WORLD THAT’S NOT SO JOYFUL

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The angel visit left Mary confused. And so — in a haze — she runs away, seeking refuge in the hill country with a family that would keep her safe and help her make sense of her world turned upside down . . . As soon as she fell into Elizabeth’s arms, Elizabeth knows and feels it to be true . . . “Yes, I feel it too. We are pregnant with promise . . . a dream that will birth joy.”


My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

He has exalted me and, humbly, His servant I will be.
All generations, henceforth, shall call be blessed.
For He has done great things for me and holy is His name.

I will probably always remember those words penned by a lyricist whose name I cannot remember. (Apologies to John W. Peterson, Anna Laura Page, Ragan Courtney or whoever helped create this arrangement. I remember the tune and every word, but I can’t remember you.)

I have sung, in my short lifetime, dozens of versions of Mary’s song that we know from the Gospel of Luke. We often call it Mary’s Magnificat. I sang the version quoted above many, many years ago as a part of my church’s Advent music. I looked through the music in our first Advent choir rehearsal and immediately turned the pages to this one that was called “Mary’s Song.” I knew I would sing it since the churches we served seldom had willing sopranos.

As November and December moved along, I rehearsed Mary’s Song over and over again, not to enunciate all the lyrics clearly or to sing all the notes correctly. I sang it again and again because the act of getting into Mary’s skin brought me to tears every time I sang it. Tears were okay, but being unable to sing because I was weeping was not okay with me. And yet, I didn’t want to rehearse the emotion out of it. I wanted to “be” Mary for just those moments and I wanted the hearers in the sanctuary to emotionally connect with her.

In the end, I prayed and left it in God’s hands, because in the end, that’s what people of faith  do. Today, as we do every year, we lit the Advent candle of joy — the pink candle, Mary’s candle — hoping that the sheer joy of her news to Elizabeth would ring true enough in us to bring us joy. How? “How can this be?” as Mary said to the angel.

I suppose that in these Advent days, in this particular year, many of us have asked “How?” How will we get through this bewildering time? How can joy fill us, enter into our souls and enliven our spirits, as we bury our loved ones? As we wait for word by phone about the person we love who is hospitalized? As we touch the hand of our grandmother through the window of her nursing home? As health care professionals become almost too weary to go on while people with the virus keep coming? As we know we will not see our family this Christmas — to keep them safe, to keep us safe?

How can we sing, this year, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” — Mary’s magnificat? Joy is a hard thing this year, for 2020 has brought us grief upon grief, fear upon fear and uncertainty upon uncertainty. Yet, we have held one another close, even over Zoom, because together we have found strength to go on. Over the senseless racially motivated violence we saw on our televisions this year, we saw also a people languishing in a pandemic that took so much.

We saw politicians fighting each other over what some of them see as truth and others see as deliberate, hurtful lies. We saw children who wondered about where school would be and parents agonizing over hard decisions. We saw congregations gathering in parking lots and sanctuaries still, silent, without voices. We saw devastating unemployment and small businesses closing their doors. We saw medically vulnerable or immunosuppressed people locked in their homes. We saw people struggling to pay their bills — very poor people wanting and the very rich, as always, continuing their lavish lifestyles. We saw the rich continuing to oppress the poor, if not in their direct actions, then in their greed that, at least indirectly, deprives those among them who are poor.

The young girl Mary spoke about that, too, in the words of her Magnificat from the Gospel of Luke.

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

Luke 1:51-53 (NRSV)

The young girl we have called the Virgin Mary, the holy one that accepted the strange and frightening mission from God to bear God’s Son — this Mary is also the subversive one who called out the rich, the powerful and the proud. In her Magnificat? Oh yes, Mary said that God would scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, bring down the powerful from their thrones and send the rich away empty.

Subversive! Courageous! Defiant! Bold! Audacious! Wise! She was all those things when she spoke the kind of subversive truth no young girl in those days would have dared to speak. The miracle of it is that God chose a young girl who possessed the tenderness to nurture a newborn, the wisdom to raise him to live into his mission and the courage to help him stand in a world that would both adore him and hate him — worship him at a manger and then crucify him on a hill. Dr. Marcia Riggs described Mary’s Magnificat like this: “The song sows joy that is the seed of a social revolution.” Indeed!

This was the Mary of our pink candle, the Mary who would be submissive enough to agree to a holy life of chaos and the Mary whose inner strength enabled her to look up and watch her son die.

To be sure, her Magnificat has been read and sung in millions of voices, with thousands of tunes, in cathedral-like sanctuaries and in mud huts. The words have been translated into various versions of the Bible and composers have woven paraphrases of her words into hundreds of melodies and rhythms. Still to this day, one phrase remains . . .

Holy! Holy! Holy is His name.

May Mary’s joy find us on this day and in our own worlds — wherever we are, however we feel, whatever sadness we hold. Amen.

For your quiet, meditative time — one version of Mary’s song:

Aging, anxiety, Bewilderment, Bravery, Challenge, Child protection, Children, Conflict, Confusion, Contemplation, Courage, Dangerous and noble things, Discernment, Dreams, Indecision, Internal conflict, Introspection, life, Pandemic of 2020, Questions, Sacred Worth, struggle, Transformation

When Plans Are Dreams

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Plans!
We find it almost impossible to make them in a life ruled by COVID19. Currently, school  plans are foremost in the minds of parents and students.

“Is it safe to send my child back to school? What safety and social distancing measures will schools have in place? Do I choose to keep them at home, opting for virtual learning? How do I manage online school?”

In light of such critical plans and decisions, consider this current news report:

A document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force but not publicized suggests more than a dozen states should revert to more stringent protective measures, limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer, closing bars and gyms and asking residents to wear masks at all times.

The document, dated July 14 and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, says 18 states are in the “red zone” for COVID-19 cases, meaning they had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week. [Georgia is in the “red zone.”]

Eleven states are in the “red zone” for test positivity, meaning more than 10 percent of diagnostic test results came back positive. [Georgia is in this “red zone” too.] https://publicintegrity.org/health/coronavirus-and-inequality/exclusive-white-house-document-shows-18-states-in-coronavirus-red-zone-covid-19/

Even with troubling reports like this one, Georgia’s governor, Gov. Brian Kemp, signed an order on Wednesday, July 15, 2020 banning localities from requiring masks. On this information, parents have to agonize about what’s best for their children. They simply cannot make firm plans as long as the virus is waxing and waning. Mostly waxing!

Plans are difficult for us for all sorts of reasons and circumstances. Every now and then over the years, my life would take un unexpected pause to contemplate this thought written by the late Mary Oliver:

 So tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Unpacking that brief question has been a periodic constant in my life, popping up for me mostly in my down and disheartened times. I hear the poet describing my life as “wild and precious” and it almost shocks me. Yet, my life really has been consistently wild and mostly precious. Anything that urges me to examine my life is a good thing. I can almost always pull up memories of the times when I was wild and free — insistent upon rising higher, realizing a near-impossible dream, charging with courage into new and uncharted places, planning for a future of fresh and sparkling heights, observing just how wild I could dare to be. Unpacking that question has been exhilarating at times, exhausting at other times.

Musing on a life that could be described as precious

Entertaining the thought that my life was precious happened in my deepest soul place. It happened in my moments of introspection, meditative times that urged me to examine all the ways I saw my life as precious, cherished, valued. Of course, I have experienced many precious life moments — my wedding day, my work in Africa, my ordination, awards and recognitions of my work and career and, most of all, the adoption of my one wild and precious son, JonathanExamining my precious life was most real when I almost lost my life, my full year of serious illness, five years of dialysis and a kidney transplant made possible by the selflessness of a lovely woman I know only through email.

Such thoughts bring me back to plans. What is it I plan to do with my one wild and precious life? Even a life precious and wild is a life that requires plans, and right now trying to make plans is an exercise fraught with anxiety. I cannot find any words that can minimize this depth of anxiety. There is not one thing you or I can do about plans that have been ravaged by the pandemic we are experiencing, and yet we must make critical plans in this season of uncertainty. 

School plans are most difficult in my state and perhaps in yours. As parents agonize over the safety of their children, Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, offered this unhelpful comment this morning in a press conference:

I am a believer that kids need to be in the classroom and we’re working with the schools to do that. We’re going to have cases that break out in schools, either with personnel or perhaps students, just like you do with a stomach bug or a flu or anything else. Our schools know how to handle those situations.

The parents and teachers in my life know that this coronavirus is not just a run-of-the-mill “stomach bug or flu.” This virus is deadly, and parents and teachers faced with difficult school decisions know that all too well. During these pandemic days, it is a constant reality that many of us are having to make potentially hazardous plans, but just for a moment, I wonder if we can redirect our thoughts to plans we make for our “one wild and precious life.”

Can we rise above the plans we must make today, even for a moment, and instead consider the bold and courageous plans we could make? Can we set our hearts to think about plans we can make when we are our brave, adventurous and fearless selves? Can we contemplate the plans we might make when we feel bold, resolute and undaunted?

I can remember the times when I was able to make such adventurous plans, times when my plans were dreams — high and lofty dreams of changing the world. I can also remember the time when I no longer dreamed any dreams at all. It was a time when I no longer saw my life as a wild and precious one. I still entertained plans, but my plans were definitely not dreams. I believed I could no longer change the world. I believed I could no longer live a life that made a difference. I believed that my soul was dry and my spirit barren. I believed that, in my life, dangerous and noble things were no longer possible

Why can’t you and I dream dreams instead of making plans? Why can’t my “one wild and precious life” rise higher, high enough to make dreams of my plans? Sometimes I will go to one of my many favorite passages of Scripture hoping to find God’s word to me. Being true to my theological education, I always look at the words in context before I do anything else. But after that hermeneutical exercise I learned in New Testament 101, I might twist the text a bit and maybe even paraphrase it, inviting the text to speak to me specifically, just me. For this day, one of the texts found in the book of Acts reaches into my soul, and, yes, I did paraphrase it.

“In your season of most need,” God says,
“I will restore your soul and make your spirit rise within you.
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your youthful hearts will see visions,
your aging hearts will dream dreams.”

— Acts 2:17 (my paraphrase)

Amen. 

May God lift our hearts and spirits, assure us that our lives are precious and help us transform our plans into dreams.

So tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?