Comfort, Faith, Hope, Preaching, Whispers of God

Whispers of God

Word cloud by Kathy Manis Findley

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.

Joel 2:28 NRSV

Because I am an ordained Baptist minister, I followed a path that made hearing the whispers of God necessary. I heard God whisper to me on many a dark day. So I am fairly certain about it when I do hear the whisper of God. Only that kind of holy whisper could cause one to face off about ordination with a patriarchal system. But truth be told, I did accept that face-off almost forty years ago. And I persisted through a long season of unkind challenges and lengthy treatises about all the reasons a woman could not be ordained.

In the end, I was ordained. I am deeply grateful to have experienced a rich and varied ministry through those years, including serving as pastor of two churches. I preached every Sunday, real sermons. You might say — borrowing the words of the prophet Joel — that I “prophesied.”

Oh, my!
God whispered. I followed. It’s just that simple.

The truth is that throughout my life, I have heard the whispers of God many times. God’s whispers were just for my hearing, sometimes to comfort me, sometimes to gently correct my steps, sometimes to encourage me, sometimes to lift my spirits, sometimes to show me a vision and sometimes to call me to a mission, like prophesying or preaching.

I have learned a very important life lesson: that when I am grieving, confused, sorrowful, hurt, betrayed, beaten down . . . God’s whispers give me hope. When I am disheartened, God’s whispers touch me with healing. When mourning has stolen my songs, God’s whispers move me to sing again.

I am reminded of the inspiring words of Rev. Dr. Prathia Laura Ann Hall (1940-2002), an undersung leader in both the civil rights movement, womanist thought, social justice and African American theology. These are her words:

Out there in the brush arbors, the wilderness, and the woods, the God of our ancestors, the God we had known on the other side of the waters met us and whispered words in our ears, and stirred a song in our souls . . . 

– Prathia Hall, Quoted by Courtney Pace in Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall

Right now, I am in “the wilderness and the woods.” In other words, I am in a shaky place. I need that quiet, familiar, sacred sound of God whispering in my ear. I wonder if maybe you, too, need to hear that sacred whisper that can make all the difference. Wherever you are, however you feel, in whatever place you are in your life, in whatever way you experience God, I pray that you will listen closely for the holy whispers you need to hear.

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.

Disconsolate, Grace, Hesed, Hope, Soul work, Waiting, Wounds of the Soul

It Was Worth the Wait!

Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27:14 ESV

Waiting is no easy thing. Most of us don’t really like it. We’re not good at it. We are impatient people. We want things to happen quickly. Isn’t it excruciating at times to wait when a traffic light stays red far too long, and no traffic can be seen anywhere! How often we have stood in a long, slow-moving line and frustratingly declared, “This is not worth the wait!”

The more important matter, though, is when the soul must wait, when our hearts must wait for pain to ease. When our hearts have to wait, when our souls have to wait in the silence of suffering, it’s almost impossible for us to bear. Yet the the words of the psalmist and the prophets echo through the ages:

For God alone my soul waits in silence;from God comes my salvation;
God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress.
I shall never be shaken.

Psalm 62:1-2 ESV

Those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31 NKJV


Messages of hope, yes. Yet when we are suffering, when we are in pain or disheartened or in trouble, nothing really sounds much like hope. Waiting for pain to ease is difficult, even excruciating. I like the way Sue Monk Kidd offers insight about waiting in her book, “When the Heart Waits.”

I had tended to view waiting as mere passivity. When I looked it up in my dictionary however, I found that the words passive and passion come from the same Latin root, pati, which means “to endure.” Waiting is thus both passive and passionate. It’s a vibrant, contemplative work. It means descending into self, into God, into the deeper labyrinths of prayer. It involves listening to disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places one lives falsely. It means struggling with the vision of who we really are in God and molding the courage to live that vision.

Sue Monk Kidd, “When the Heart Waits”

I cannot explain it better than that and I won’t try. My deepest self desperately grasps for these words, “listening to disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul.” I cannot respond with any meaningful comments, but I will offer another insight about waiting for a God who covers us with pure, merciful, amazing grace.

GRACE. The Hebrew word is Hesed.

Hesed is a Hebrew word that means grace in all its fulness. Hesed is defined as compassion, mercy, love, faithfulness  and most often, grace. But none of these words fully capture this Hebrew word that means grace. Hesed is not just an emotion or a feeling. It describes the way God lavishly pours grace upon us in our most needful moments.

And so we learn to wait for God’s outpouring of grace. Sometimes we wait impatiently. Sometimes we wait in anger. Sometimes we wait with a holy sense of peace. Sometimes we wait with hope, joyfully expectant. And sometimes we wait in silence, without words, disconsolate and cast down.

A number of years ago, I found myself nursing a disconsolate, cast down soul and spirit. I had been through a trying time in my life that I can only remember as one of deep sorrow. I remember one day when I sat down at the piano after reading Psalm 42. One particular verse of the Psalm reverberated in my mind. Over and over again, I heard the words, but I did not hear them read. I heard them sung, with a simple, but hopeful strength. I heard myself singing, a soul-song from somewhere inside me. I began to play what I heard, first the melody and rhythm, then the chords that arose from somewhere I could not pinpoint. It sounded beautiful, and it sounded like it was emerging from a sacred promise from God — unequivocally for me. This was my soul song:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Psalm 42:11 NRSV


I think I was waiting that day, though I was not sure what I was waiting for. I just know that I found hope again that day, if just for a few moments of holy music. And in my disquieted spirit, I sensed pure grace once again — grace, hesed — God’s infinite, matchless, amazing grace.

It was worth the wait!

Thanks be to God.


#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

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.

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!

Amanda Gorman, God's presence, Hope, Spirit wind, Spiritual and emotional darkness

Just Hope

I just read a powerful quote by poet extraordinaire, Amanda Gorman, in an interview published in Time Magazine. In the article, Michelle Obama interviews Amanda Gorman.

Optimism shouldn’t be seen as opposed to pessimism, but in conversation with it. Your optimism will never be as powerful as it is in that exact moment when you want to give it up. The way we can all be hopeful is to not negate the feelings of fear or doubt, but to ask: What led to this darkness? And what can lead us out of the shadows?

More than anything else, her words are about hope, just hope. We throw the word “hope” around quite often, hoping for this thing and then that thing. But that’s just hope, not necessarily real hope. Real hope is a hope that looks beyond the present moment, hope that is the glow from your soul, hope that is an abiding thing that is hidden in your soul.

The last thing I want to do today is give you all the definitions of hope I can find on the internet. In fact, if you wanted to, you could find hundreds of good quotes about hope on the internet, maybe even thousands. Like these:

Quotes and definitions may be popular, even relevant at times, but what I have desperately needed in my darkest moments was not a new definition of hope or even a lovely quote written on a picture of clouds. What I needed in my personal dark nights of terror was the kind of hope that had the gentle power to heal the deepest recesses of soul and to lift my spirit to the brilliant light that is never fully gone.

Just hope? Oh, no! Not just hope, but the abiding, living hope we know as the constant presence of God and the wings of Spirit breath. For this hope, thanks be to God.

As a gift to you on this day, I offer a video of Amanda Gorman presenting her hope-filled poem, “The Hill We Climb.” I know I previously sent a video of her presenting her poem at the Inauguration, but this video is worth watching. Find it HERE.

coronavirus, Hope, Julian of Norwich, Lament, Love, Martin Luther King, Jr., peace, Sacred Space

ALL SHALL BE WELL . . . A VIDEO BLOG ON SPIRITUALITY – EPISODE NUMBER 1

All Shall Be Well” is a video blog on spirituality.

Welcome to “ALL SHALL BE WELL,” my video blog designed to help us examine our spiritual center, to create sacred pauses, to join together in contemplation and silence.

anxiety, Calm, Comfort, Emotions, Fear, Feelings, God's Faithfulness, God’s promises, Grace, grief, Hate, healing, Hope, Pain, Pandemic of 2020, peace, Prayer, Preaching, Present moment, Resilience, Sacred Space, Spirit, Violence

What Do You Say to a Broken World?

I once preached a sermon entitled, “What Do You Say to a Broken World?” In this week, after our nation’s Capitol was breached and defiled, I have wondered if ministers who will stand before congregations in two days are asking themselves a similar question: “What will I say on this day to a broken world?”

A friend of mine is preaching this week. I am praying that she will have an extra measure of wisdom, because standing before a congregation while the nation is in chaos is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. My first feeling as I thought about preaching for this Sunday was relief that I was no longer a pastor with such a heavy responsibility, that I did not have to summon the wisdom to speak to a people with heavy hearts who need to hear of healing grace and hope. But my most intense feeling was envy, not hostile envy, but heart envy about my deep desire to speak Gospel Good News to people who need to hear good news. Still I envied my friend and wished that, this Sunday, I could stand before a congregation with wisdom, open my spirit and invite God to speak through me. It is a heavy responsibility and a sacred calling.

Dr. Greg Carey, Professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, wrote an essay this week entitled “Preaching When It’s Broken.” In the essay he says this:

God bless you, preachers who will address congregations this Sunday . . . Here in the United States, things are broken, most people know they’re broken, and we all need healing and truth.

For many of us, the invasion of the Capitol and the response to it by people we know, love and admire, brings this brokenness to the foreground. Since that terrible, violent day, I have heard dozens of interviews that expressed anger, frustration, contempt, indignation and all manner of raw emotion. I have also heard wise leaders express their resoluteness to lead this nation into healing, unity and hope.

Indeed, the questions about this Sunday’s preaching call us to attention: How do our pastors, our priests, our rabbis, our imams, our bhikkhus and bhikkhunis stand before their congregations offering comfort when our nation is so broken, so angry, so mournful in the face of violent acts? What will they proclaim? What will they preach? What will they pray? What will they sing?

Minneapolis Pastor and Poet, Rev. Meta Herrick Carlson, has given us a grace-gift with this poem entitled, “A Blessing for Grieving Terrorism.”

A Blessing for Grieving Terrorism

There is sickness
with symptoms as old as humankind,
a rush of power born by inciting fear in others,
a wave of victoryin causing enemies pain.

There is a push to solve the mystery,
to isolate the suspect and
explain the evil simply
to a safe distance from the anomaly.

There is a temptation
to skip the part that feels
near the suffering
that shares the sadness,
that names our shared humanity.

There is a courage
in rejecting the numbing need for data
in favor of finding the helpers,
loving the neighbor,
resisting terror through random acts of connection.

There is a sickness
with symptoms as old as humankind,
but so is the remedy.

From Rev. Meta Herrick Carlson’s book “Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Everyday Life.” Used with permission.

So much truth in her words, so much wisdom “for the living of these days.” In her words, I feel all over again the desire of my heart, the impossible dream of standing in a pulpit this Sunday, speaking to a congregation that needs strength in the midst of adversity. I will not stand behind a pulpit this week, but I will pray for those who will stand in that sacred space. I will pray for them, the proclaimers, and I will pray for their hearers across this nation. I will lean on this beautiful prayer written by Reverend Valerie Bridgeman:

May God Strengthen You for Adversity

A blessing for today: 

May God strengthen you for adversity
and companion you in joy.

May God give you the courage of your conviction
and the wisdom to know when to speak and act.

May you know peace.
May you be gifted with deep,true friendship and love. 

May every God-breathed thing
you put your hand to prosper and succeed.

May you have laughter to fortify you
against the disappointments.
May you be brave. 

© Valerie Bridgeman, December 18, 2013

When all is said and done, more important than what the “proclaimer in the pulpit” says is what the hearers hear. For in this time — when violence, riots, terrorism, pandemic and all manner of chaos is so much a part of life — those who listen need to hear a clear message of a God who dwells among us, a Christ who leads us, a Spirit who comforts us under the shadow of her wings. For hearts in these days are heavy, souls are wounded, spirits seek hope. And all the people want to believe that they do not walk alone through their present angst.

I pray that you know that you are not alone, that God’s grace-filled presence is with you and that “in God you live and move and have your being. As some of your poets have said, ‘We are God’s children.’” (Acts 17:28)

I pray that your heart will heal and be filled anew with hope. I pray that the wounds of your soul and spirit will heal and be filled anew with the peace of God. I pray that, when you listen in faith, you will hear the voice of God whispering in your ear, “You do not walk alone.”

I invite you to spend a few moments of meditation hearing the message of this music:

May you see God’s light on the path ahead
when the road you walk is dark.

May you always hear
even in your hour of sorrow
the gentle singing of the lark.

When times are hard

May you always remember when the shadows fall–
You do not walk alone.

Bethlehem’s Star, Christ’s Birth, Conflict, Confusion, Darkness, Epiphany, Hope, Light, Magi, Meditation, Night sky, Repair the world, Sacred Pauses, Singing, Spirit, Stars, Tears, Transcendence

A TRANSCENDENT MOMENT IN THE SHADOW OF CHAOS

Although churches all over the world celebrated Epiphany last Sunday, today is the actual day of Epiphany. So I invite you to pause for a few moments today and celebrate Epiphany with me. Epiphany, also known as Theophany in the east, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate that came to us in the form of the infant Christ.

In Western Christianity, Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Epiphany always includes the story of the star that appeared in the dark sky to guide the Magi to the infant Christ. Epiphany also reminds us to “see” and to open our hearts to the coming of God to us in the form of an infant.

So having decided to sit quietly and contemplate the light of Epiphany, I am suddenly disturbed by terrible sounds coming from the television in the next room. What sort of chaos can so forcefully disrupt my sacred pause on this day? Crowds are storming the United States Capitol, breaching the doors, pushing past the Capitol police, violent confrontations, breaking windows, persons shot, members of Congress made to shelter of place in the building, protesters engaged in an armed standoff in front of the House of Representatives’ chamber. In this very moment — on the day of Epiphany — this is what I am hearing. I feel sad, frightened, disappointed, ashamed  — tears come and I ask why the light of Epiphany seems so dim.

Why this darkness? Why this danger? Why, on the day of Epiphany?

Then I suddenly have my own personal Epiphany and it is this: God is present. In some way, by some miracle, in the mystical wind of Spirit, God is present. With me! With our nation! With the melee! With the confused crowds that have gathered!

“Celebrate through this!” the Spirit is saying to me. “Celebrate the Epiphany — keep listening for God’s voice, pray, praise, worship, sing — because the Magi followed the star in the darkness and found the Prince of Peace!”

As I celebrate Epiphany today, I am surprised by my personal epiphany — a sudden, striking realization that indeed, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)

God of light and of darkness,

My epiphany came today when I realized anew that your divine power is working in my life. When I still know that your divine power is working, even in anarchy, even in the intentions of the violent, chaotic crowds that now gather. I know, God, that your divine power brings light in the midst of darkness, as it always has. I know that your divine power brings sudden, transcendent moments, even in the shadow of chaos.

I have encountered you, God, in these troubling moments. I weep and I grieve. Yet you, God, have given me a transcendent moment of awe that will forever change how I experience this violent world that has always been violent. And so, God, I am lifting my eyes to the dark sky and I am seeing the gleaming Epiphany star in the darkness. I pray to you, God, and I worship you. My heart is filled with gratitude for your constant presence. I praise you and I sing, because singing in the darkness is the way I always get to the light. 

Grant us your peace, God. Send your Spirit of peace to hover over us in this moment of violence in our nation’s Capitol. Send your Spirit of peace for this day of darkness, for the strife of disunity, for the hate and chaos. Send us your Spirit of peace to remain with us forever. 

Help us, God, to keep our eyes on Epiphany’s star. Help us to never choose violence and hate. Help us to persist in faith. Help us to proclaim abiding hope as we lift our voices. As we sing! Amen.

And now, friends, I invite you to lift your voice with the Aeolians of Oakwood University, as they sing of the kind of hope we need, their interpretation of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” arranged by Roland M. Carter. 

Songwriters: R.M. Carter / J.R. Johnson / J.W. Johnson. Lyrics are below.

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea

Sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the day that hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet,
Come to the place on which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee,
Least our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee,
Shadowed beneath the hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God, True to our native land.