Christ in us, Committment, Cross, Following Christ, Palm Sunday, Rev. Kathy Manis Findley, Sunday of the Palm and Passion, The Church-Christ’s Bidy, The Incarnation of Christ, The Old Rugged Cross

Palm Branches & Kaleidoscope Crosses

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The Kaleidoscope Cross

I collect crosses. All over my house, you will find crosses on the wall. Big crosses, medium sized crosses, tiny crosses and even jewelry crosses! Some are beautiful like my San Damiano cross with an icon of Christ printed on it. Some are ornate. Some are made of wood and others are cast in stone. Some are made of iron and some are simple, lovely crosses made from a palm frond. So today I found the image of the cross you see above. I call it the kaleidoscope cross. The cross is a bit over the top with the palms surrounding its tie dyed, kaleidoscope-ness. Still, it is surrounded by all those palm fronds, so it seems suitable for the day we call Palm Sunday.

People named it Palm Sunday because of all the waving, swaying palm branches in Jerusalem on the day Jesus went there trying to ride in on a donkey. And they named it that because of all the shouts of “Hosanna.” Maybe they even had some kaleidoscope crosses around on Hosanna day, or at least a kaleidoscope of cloaks on the ground. For Jesus and his followers, though, it was just a day to go to Jerusalem, but to go there in an unforgettable way. To be sure, it was a day of palm fronds waving furiously, shouts of Hosanna, cheering and a kaleidoscope of colorful cloaks on the pathway. If only that had been the only reality of that day! But it wasn’t and it isn’t.

In fact, I take exception to Palm Sunday. I take exception to our palm-waving celebration and our kaleidoscope cross, unless we also include the passion story of Christ. For those of us who observe Holy Week, there is no problem. We will relive the story of Christ’s passion all the way to the cross. But if you celebrate only Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday; you will miss the most important part — the passion of Christ. So let’s look at the story.

There is no doubt it was a strange parade. They sang and shouted “Hosanna” at the top of their lungs. Peter might have reached out and grabbed a little kid in the crowd. Then maybe Andrew reached up to break off a branch from a palm tree to give it to the kid. Maybe he placed it in the kid’s hand and watched the child join with the crowd, cheering and waving like mad at their king on a donkey.

There’s something about a people so beaten down with sorrow and fear of Rome. They had little left to lose. Maybe this is what made them join the band of Jesus followers, welcome them and wave branches. Maybe having little left to lose moved them to join the cheering and the singing, the dancing and the shouting. Some stripped off their colorful cloaks and laid them on the path. Jesus was there in the middle of it all, of course, calm and steady, solid and resolute.

I imagine that, if the disciples could tell us the story of that day, it would sound something like this:

Things got a little out of hand. 

But that never seemed to bother Jesus. He got tired sometimes. He needed rest and alone time sometimes, but he didn’t try to control us. He let us be however we were. That day we were happy, and he didn’t bother to explain or tell us anything to make us unhappy.

As for the Pharisees, well, it was one of the things they hated the most about him, the way he refused to control us. He didn’t seem to need to control anyone and, therefore, refused to let anyone control him. He didn’t tell us much either, and that bothered us too, if we’re honest. We couldn’t figure out how he might overthrow the Romans without taking for himself some measure of the power and control they exerted over us. But it bothered us less when we were with him, because when we were with him, we felt like we could believe anything and we really thought things would change when we got to Jerusalem — change in a big way.

To the Pharisees, it was blasphemy — all of it. The way we sang and danced in the street, the image of Jesus on the donkey like some kind of street guy playing king. It was all offensive to the Pharisees. But mostly it smacked of disorder and freedom, two things they feared and fought tooth and nail. 

“Rabbi, tell them to stop, make them stop!” they shouted. 

Jesus turned from watching the dancing children, the singing men and women. We watched him meet the Pharisees’ eyes. Peter’s hand involuntarily clutched the hilt of his sword. Jesus held the donkey still while all around him the crowd rose and swelled. There was amusement in his eyes and he smiled a sad smile. 

“If I tell them to stop,” he said, “the stones you walk on will rise up singing and dancing. You cannot stop joy, my friends, cannot stop praise that flows like a river. Heaven and earth are being un-damned. We will sing and dance while we can.”

If we ever needed permission, we had it. We cheered and sang all the louder, “Hosanna! Hosanna! All glory, laud and honor to Thee, Redeemer, King!”

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It felt like a fresh new day! Like everything we waited for was so close we could almost taste it. It was glorious.

It’s harder now, to talk about everything else that happened. When we reached the inner edge of Jerusalem, Jesus burst into tears and the words he spoke terrified and confused us. Confusion and fear followed us everywhere that week. It hunted us, hounded us. 

For a long time, when we remembered, we felt regret, embarrassment, deep sadness. We now see how little we really understood. But Jesus loved it. In some ways, it seems as if he carried our praise with him through the darkness he would endure. He must have focused on the memory of our singing when the crowds cried out for his death. 

When we look back on it all — all of it — it is so clear that Jesus’ first desire wasn’t to change us. It was to be with us. And his being with us, changed us, slowly into something closer to who he was, what he was. 

We like to remember it like this: Jesus carried us with him — our joy, our love — to the cross. And we carry him with us — his joy, his love — through every week ahead, singing and dancing or weeping in sorrow. We carry him, he carries us.

If only you and I had been there — then maybe we would understand the week that began on Palm Sunday as being more than a “Hosanna moment.” Perhaps we could get beyond palm branches and kaleidoscope crosses, because the cross of Christ wasn’t colorful at all. His cross was a rough, rugged, splintery, stark symbol of crucifixion and of death.

If only we had been there . . . we might have dropped our palm branches to the ground, running after him as fast as our legs could carry us. We might have followed him all the way up the hill, to the cross, the rugged one.

We might have followed him that day.  We could have followed him that day and followed him all the way to the inevitable conclusion of his life. We might have refused to escape his suffering that day and in the days ahead. And we can refuse to escape his suffering in this day. We can follow him in this day, learning about and committing to all the ways we might follow him.

It’s easier now really, because Christ lives. Christ lives in us. “The Church is His body,” writes Joseph B. Clower, Jr., one of the theologians I studied in seminary, who beautifully explained the true meaning of Christ Incarnate. This is the last paragraph in his book, The Church in the Thought of Jesus.

The Church is His Body. He clothes Himself in her humanity. She is His continuing incarnation. It is not fiction, therefore, to say that the Church can share in the suffering of Christ. If the Church will give His Spirit free course in her life, she cannot escape suffering. If the indwelling Christ is not confined, then the Church’s eyes flow with His tears, her heart is moved with His compassion, her hands are coarsened with His labor, her feet are wearied with His walking among [all people] men.

I must ask myself: Is my heart moved with Christ’s compassion? Are my hands coarsened with his labor? Do my feet get weary walking among the people who suffer all around me?

I guess what all of this means is that palm branches snd kaleidoscope crosses cannot even begin to symbolize Christ’s walk past the palms and on to the old rugged cross. Isn’t it a walk we must walk with him? Isn’t it a path of suffering we must take into our souls as Christ’s incarnation on the earth?

The choice is between a kaleidoscope cross and an old rugged one. It’s a choice we have to make every day.

The Old Rugged Cross
Performed by Sandi Patty


Change, Dreams, Fear, Following Christ, God's Faithfulness, Grace, Gratitude, Hate, healing, Hope, Inspiration, Kindness, Nonviolence, peace, Tikkun Olam, Wholeness

Our Smallest Dreams Can Change the Big World

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Art by Catrin Welz-Stein, from The Cosmic Dancer Facebook community

A friend sent me a lovely blessing today and I want to share it with you. These days, many neighbors and friends — people all over the world actually — have a new dream, a new calling to change the world. It’s an important dream right about now. Pandemic and protests — and all the causes lying underneath them — desperately need to change, and it will take huge dreams to change them. Trouble is, most people like me and you have only small dreams, a few small dreams that sometimes seem so insignificant. Certainly, they are dreams too small to change the big world.

But maybe not!

The message my friend sent me (actually she posted it on Facebook) reminded me that huge change can most certainly come from small acts. The message was today’s grace for me. So I share the message with you. It comes from The Cosmic Dancer* and is written by Scott Stabile.

She felt like doing her part to change the world, so she started by giving thanks for all of the blessings in her life, rather than bemoaning all that was missing from it.

Then she complimented her reflection in the mirror, instead of criticizing it as she usually did.

Next she walked into her neighborhood and offered her smile to everyone she passed, whether or not they offered theirs to her.

Each day she did these things, and soon they became a habit. Each day she lived with more gratitude, more acceptance, more kindness. And sure enough, the world around her began to change.

Because she had decided so, she was single-handedly doing her part to change it.
— Scott Stabile

Hope is tucked into these words, hidden there and bringing to mind that God highly values gratitude, acceptance, kindness and our smallest, powerful dreams. My dreams and yours can change a world filled with violence, hate, grief, fear and so many more hurts and harms.

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Tikkun Olam Together provides cultural learning opportunities for mothers and  daughters’ grades 6-9 as they work to improve the world – Tikkun Olam.

There is a lovely Hebrew phrase, Tikkun Olam, that means “repair the world” or “heal the world.” The call of Tikkun Olam has always inspired me to more fully offer my life to be a part of the healing God desires for creation, for the earth’s protection and for kindness, equality and justice for all people.

Can we heal the big world with even the smallest acts of kindness and compassion? Doesn’t God whisper to us that we should begin healing the injustice, the violence, the hate, the fear, the mistrust and the deep divisions in the world? Doesn’t God inspire us to know the truth that our dreams are never too small? And doesn’t God promise to guide us and to lead us in following the compassionate footprints of Jesus until we see the world begin to change?

Resting in the grace of inspiration given to us by God, we truly can cast off the gloomy thoughts that our dreams are too small, too weak and too insignificant. And we can hide inside our hearts God’s promise that our dreams can become reality, that our tiny dreams really can change this big world. God will enlarge our smallest dreams if we offer them. We can count on it!

May each of us live “with more gratitude, more acceptance, more kindness” and may even our smallest dreams change — heal — the world.

 


* The Cosmic Dancer is a Facebook community that shares insights through art, poetry, dance and other “revolutionary rhythms.”

 

 

 

Beginning again, Bravery, Calling, Challenge, Compassion, Courage, Dangerous and noble things, Discernment, Following Christ, Holy Spirit, Insight, Inspiration, journey, Kidney Transplant, Life Journeys, mercy, Passing years, Pondering, Questions, Repairing broken things, Spirit, Spirit wind, Urgency, Weeping

As Though I Had Wings

 

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I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings. [1]

I am continually inspired by Mary Oliver’s poetry, today by her phrase, “as though I had wings.” In the past six months or so — since my kidney transplant — I have felt a little wing-less. Not so unusual, because a transplant — before, during and after — is a rather big deal, like a super colossal deal! If I ever thought the enormous physical challenge would be the surgery itself, I was wrong. I think I deluded myself on that. The aftershocks of the surgery proved to be enormous and enduring. Hence, my lack of wings.

Everywhere, one can see eloquently expressed promises of wings. You and I can “mount up with wings as eagles”[2] or “take the wings of the morning.” [3]  There is even a wing promise that God will “raise you up on eagle’s wings.” [4]

I know the promises and I love them, but I also love how poet Mary Oliver brings it all down to where I live — on shifting sands in an ever-shifting world. She expresses it like this: “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things . . . to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings.” [5]

All of a sudden, I have a critical assignment, something I must do myself and for myself. It seems to me that I must start by focusing on my mind, thinking again of things noble and dangerous. Then I must allow my mind (my will) to move through my heart and soul, to the very center of my being, because there is the place inside me where dangerous acts are weighed and noble acts can become resolve. In one of the common phrases of my faith — an admonition I heard in church over and over again — a pastor or teacher would say, “count the cost.”

Here’s where I am honest. So I must admit that doing noble things has seemed impossible for me in the past few years. Prior to my illness, my life was a constant journey of determining the danger of noble things and doing them anyway. I miss the life of being a pastoral presence to a dying patient. I miss keeping vigil in the ER family room with grieving parents mourning the death of a child. I miss offering a memorial service  for a dear congregant and friend. I miss comforting victims of sexual assault as police officers question them, sometimes brusquely and accusingly. I miss trauma counseling with persons who have endured horrific emotional and physical trauma. I miss forensic interviewing even the youngest child victim of abuse. I miss standing firm as a court advocate for child victims of sexual abuse. I even miss being thrown out of the courtroom by a persnickety judge who did not appreciate the intensity level of my advocacy.

I miss it all. It was dangerous. All of this work was dangerous and it was noble. I could do it because of wings — the wings God gave me when I determined I would do dangerous and noble things and do them with urgency.

What about now, this season of my life? What am I doing that’s dangerous and noble? Should I even expect to be able to face danger at my age, with my physical limitations? Last night, a friend listened to me list all the things I cannot do when very intently she interrupted me and asked, “Kathy, what can you do?” She continued, as she so often does, “Your life is not about the things you can’t do. It’s about the things you can do!”

She nailed it. Perhaps she even nailed me, albeit with some gentleness. So I have to sit awhile with that provoking question: “What can you do?” I have to sit with that question with God close by to guide me and Spirit near to remind me of Spirit-wind and Spirit-fire. I am not precluded from Spirit-wind because of age or Spirit-fire because of physical limitations. It is up to me to discern what I need in my life right now. Will I be satisfied with what I have done in the past and let myself off the hook? What dangerous and noble things will I take on?

I cannot help but think of so many nurses and doctors who are caring for persons with COVID19 — how they enter the ICU knowing that a deadly virus is there, believing that they could take the virus home to their families. Dangerous and noble! Somehow, Spirit-wind is raising them up for the task.

I wonder if you have thought about this for yourself, considering the cost of doing dangerous and noble things. Have you considered that the things you are already doing — feeding the poor, caring for the sick, taking a meal to an elderly person sheltered alone in her home — are all dangerous and noble things? That you show mercy to others as you go? That you weep for a broken world with so many broken people in it? That you share in Christ’s compassion?

“Dangerous and noble things! Afraid of nothing as if we had wings!” [6]

I’ve given all of this a lot of thought and I think we might get our wings after we have made the determination to give ourselves to noble things, no matter the danger. I think we get wings when we move to the urgency of Christ’s compassion, when our rhythms begin to emulate the rhythms of God. I think we get wings when we have determined in our hearts and souls to act — after we have counted the cost and have said “Yes!”

Again, the eloquence of the poet may most fully express my deepest longing and yours.

I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings . . .

What I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world. [7]

May God make it so for us.

 



1 Mary Oliver, Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays
2 Isaiah 40:31
3 Psalm 139:9
4 “On Eagles Wing’s” composed by Michael Joncas
5 Starlings in Winter, a poem by Mary Oliver
6 Mary Oliver, Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays
7 The Ponds, a poem by Mary Oliver

Bondage, Bravery, Call, Calling, Courage, Dancing, Following Christ, Holy Spirit, Inner joy, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Mystic, Singing, Spirit

A Very Unruly Woman of God

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Watercolor by Kathy Manis Findley

She described herself as an unruly woman of God — Mechthild of Magdeburg. “I want also to circle higher still,” she wrote in one of her mystical poems. She had her first vision of the Holy Spirit at the age of twelve. As a young woman, she left her home and “renounced worldly honour and worldly riches.” She was an ascetic, a writer and a mystic who viewed God’s will in unorthodox ways. Her criticism of church dignitaries for religious laxity and claims to theological insight aroused so much opposition that some called for the burning of her writings. Her words seemed to have kept her in deep trouble!

Her story reminded me of Sue Monk Kidd’s book, “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter,” a book that set me on a pilgrimage in 1996 that changed my life. This was a book that screamed out to me, “Find your own soul! Nourish it! Protect it! Bind it closer to God’s soul and, for the first time, live out God’s call to you!”

Sue Monk Kidd said this as she reflected on writing the book’s first edition:

“The Dance of the Dissident Daughter” sparked heated, sometimes scathing reactions, including public accusations of heresy, boycotts of my lectures, and a plethora of derisive letters in my mailbox. One of the more memorable began: Dear Whore of Babylon. It was the “Dear” part that made is so indelible.

This statement rings true when I contemplate the life of Mechthild of Magdeburg. Before we get back to her, though, let’s look for a moment at The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, the book that left me with these nuggets of wisdom I will always hold close.

How many times have I denied my innermost wisdom and silenced this voice? How many times can a woman betray her soul before it gives up and ceases calling to her at all?

We must wake up, journey, name, challenge, shed, reclaim, ground, and heal.

When someone tries to put you back into a box from which you’ve already escaped, you might recall a line from the Indian poet Mirabai. She said, “I have felt the swaying of the elephant’s shoulders and now you want me to climb on a jackass? Try to be serious!}

As women we have a right to ask the hard questions. The only way I have ever understood, broken free, emerged, healed, forgiven, flourished, and grown powerful is by asking the hardest questions and then living into the answers through opening up to my own terror and transmuting it into creativity. I have gotten nowhere by retreating into hand-me-down sureties or resisting the tensions that truth ignited.

The main thing is to stop struggling and nourish yourself. When you nourish yourself, your creative energy is renewed. You are able to pick up your lyre again and sing.

— Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter

Yes! Sing, and even dance your dissident dance! Your song may sound to all those around you like a revolutionary song, discordant to their ears. Your dancing may scandalize your observers. Still — Sing! Dance! — to the stirrings of Spirit within you!

2869C069-C448-475D-87A3-447D55A041B6That’s exactly what Mechthild of Magdeburg did and the religious world labeled her unruly. In her book, Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of Divinity), she described her visions of God. She could not read and write in Latin, but she is known for being the first mystic to write in German. Her confessor, Heinrich von Halle, finally persuaded her in 1250 to write down her visions and spiritual experiences. She did this in her own hand, in the conviction that it was God’s will.

By 1270, six of the seven books of the “Flowing Light” were brought to parchment, collected and given chapter titles by Heinrich. Mechthild saw her book as a message to both believers and clergy, for she feared the church was in danger of being hollowed out from within; she called the powerful church officials, who often enjoyed worldly luxury, “stinking billy-goats.”

Thus, Mechthild was known as a very unruly woman of God — a defiant, dissident and radical rebel! “Stinking billy-goats!” No wonder she became known for her “rebelliousness and unorthodox ways.” The community she was a part of, the Beguine order, was known for the same kind of unorthodox rebelliousness. 

The Beguine order was a Christian religious movement active in Northern Europe during the 13th-16th centuries. The Beguines were women who lived as nuns in semi-monastic communities. Through their intense devotion to God and their somewhat ascetic lifestyle, they came to be known for their acts of rebellion and their unorthodox ways.

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Watercolor art: 2019; by Kathy Manis Findley

Mechthild of Magdeburg definitely danced to her own music!

With her order, she was part of a great spiritual revival movement of the thirteenth century, a time when the Catholic Church was falling into disfavor. The Beguines sought to imitate the life Christ through voluntary poverty, care of the poor and sick, and religious devotion.

With advancing age, Mechthild was blind. She was alone, still the object of much criticism. With singing silenced and dancing impossible, she was left to sing songs in her heart and dance the dances of her imagination, always seeking Spirit promptings.

Some scholars have speculated that, due to increased persecution and failing health, Mechthild was forced to retire to the convent of Helfta around 1270. There, she met three other notable writers of the time, Gertrude of Hackeborne, Mechthild of Hackeborne, and Gertrude the Great. Helfta was a good place for a writer such as Mechthild. Under the leadership of Gertrude of Hackeborne, Helfta had become a hub of learning and writing for women and a center for book collecting, copying and illumination.

Still, Mechthild portrayed herself as a reluctant writer urged on by God and her director to continue her work. She calls her director “my dear schoolmaster,” who taught her, “simple and stupid as I am, to write this book.” About the urging of God she said, “I cannot nor do I wish to write “unless feeling the power of the Holy Spirit.” At one point, Mechthild wondered why God did not choose a priest rather than herself for this work, and she is told that God always seeks out the lowest and smallest so that “unlearned lips can teach the learned tongues of the Holy Spirit.”

In spite of the fact that Mechthild was unable to read and write in Latin, these are some powerful quotes by the graceful mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg, from her book Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of Divinity), where she describes her visions of God.

The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things.

If you love the justice of Jesus Christ more than you fear human judgment then you will seek to do compassion. Compassion means that if I see my friend and my enemy in equal need, I shall help them both equally. Justice demands that we seek and find the stranger, the broken, the prisoner and comfort them and offer them our help. Here lies the holy compassion of God that causes the devils much distress.

From suffering I have learned this: that whoever is sore wounded by love will never be made whole unless she embraces the very same love which wounded her.

A Light of utmost splendor glows on the eyes of my soul. Therein have I seen the inexpressible ordering of all things, and recognized God’s unspeakable glory — that incomprehensible wonder — the tender caress between God and the soul . . . the unmingled joy of union, the living love of eternity as it now is and evermore shall be.


I cannot dance, Lord,
unless you lead me.

If you want me to leap with abandon,
You must intone the song.

Then I shall leap into love,
From love into knowledge,
From knowledge into enjoyment,
And from enjoyment
beyond all human sensations.

There I want to remain,
yet want also to circle higher still.

— Mechthild of Magdeburg

Like her, I want to “circle higher still.” I want to escape from chains that shackle the highest expression of my spirit. I want to sing the songs God placed in my heart! I want to dance to the Spirit’s rhythm hidden in my spirit!

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Acrylic art by Kathy Manis Findley

Without fear! Without fear . . .

taking the journey set before me to follow Christ into places of poverty, fear, sickness, desperation. Breaking the rules if I must. Taking criticism if I must. Being persecuted if that is in the cards for me. I want to move forward into my calling with the Spirit of God upon me . . .


The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free.

 — Luke 4:18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

May God make it so for us. Amen.