The “Soul’s Insistent Yearning”

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I have come to know Ash Wednesday as the time to draw nearer to my “soul’s insistent yearning.” That can be a frightening prospect, so I always approach Ash Wednesday with a bit of reticence, meeting the day with the self-awareness that I am trying to keep my distance from my “soul’s insistent yearning.” Being closer to one’s soul can well be a disconcerting proposition, but a necessary one. Ash Wednesday presents me with entry into the season of Lent.

I cherish Lent’s forty days, actually, always expecting change to happen in my soul and spirit. And yet, the prospect of repentance, renewal, transformation — and ultimately a personal resurrection — always disquiets me.

83D4AF68-A9AD-40EC-9D26-F0787CFE6D7BHow will I spend Ash Wednesday?

How will I approach the day
that will open the gate of Lent before me?

I have always thought of Lent as a spiritual journey we take alone, a solitary season of introspection and self-reflection during which we contemplate our own spiritual well-being and our relationship with God. For me, Lent has often been alone work.

So I make my Lenten journey into my alone places. I will know that God will abide with me, comforting me in my self-reflection, in my penitence and in my repentance. I will be mindful this Lent of my need to reach into my soul in search of places needing healing, constant and long-time wounds of the soul and spirit. I will search for the traces of my sinfulness, finding in my heart the will to seek sincere penitence, the sad and humble realization of and regret for my misdeeds. I will move beyond penitence to repentance as I resolve to change and to experience transformation.

How will I spend Ash Wednesday?

In whatever way I am able, I will receive ashes on my forehead imposed in a sign of the cross. I will recall the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I will utter as my prayer, the words of Scripture, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

As for the actual ashes, I have often wiped them off while in public. I never knew why, just that I was uncomfortable when others saw the cross of ash on my forehead. Perhaps I needed to keep my spiritual practice to myself, or hide the reality of my search for repentance. Years ago, I came across these words, spoken by Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, RSM:

We can feel a little funny with ashes on our foreheads, but for Catholics, that’s how we mark the start of Lent. Ashes don’t say we’re holy. They say we are sinners. They don’t say we are perfect, only that we’re willing to try. They don’t say we’re models of religiosity, but they do say we belong. In today’s world of loners and isolates, that says a lot.

~ Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, RSM

7FA58B58-0019-4809-B3B9-F956F3B06D7BThe essential truth, and gift, of Ash Wednesday is its call to come to terms with ourselves before God. Ash Wednesday says what so much of modern culture denies, namely that we are forever deceiving and justifying ourselves about our sinfulness. So on this day, when we contemplate our sins, when we pay attention to the ash on our foreheads, when we enter into Lent’s forty days, we must make prayer our utmost spiritual intention. So I pray we might embrace our Christian community that we might journey together for these forty days, praying for one another, seeking together the serenity, the reflection and the transformation of Lent, as all the while, we lean into our “soul’s insistent yearning.”

In that spirit of prayer, I hope you will take with you into Lent with this beautiful prayer from Rabbi Naomi Levy:

The rabbi in me would like to offer a prayer for you.
I pray you will learn to see you life as a meaningful story.
I pray you will learn to listen to your soul’s insistent yearning.
I pray you will learn to believe you can transform your life.
I pray you will learn to live and shine inside your imperfect life
and find meaning and joy right where you are.
Most of all I pray you will uncover a great miracle: your extra-ordinary life.

~ From Hope Will Find You by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Most importantly, pray yourself into Lent in the few days we have before Ash Wednesday. Seek God’s heart and seek the depths of your own heart and your “soul’s insistent yearning.” May you know God’s presence as you begin your Lenten journey.

I NEED YOU to join the fight for change!

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We are well into Black History Month, also called African American History Month.  We celebrate it every year in February. All manner of celebrations and commemorations happen during this month, from school plays, choral concerts, historical dramas to formal tributes and ceremonies in cities, colleges and churches. In the midst of this month, I have been contemplating the idea of white fragility drawing on the books, White Fragility by Robin DeAngelo and Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism by Alan Boesak and Curtiss Paul De Young. I highly recommend both books to you if you want to advocate for racial justice.

A dear and very wise friend of mine would exhort us to know the history of black people, but more importantly, to enter into serious conversations about equality and unity. She would tell white people to accept the reality that we will never completely understand her history and that we should be sure our conversations include deep listening. She would remind us that the history of injustice to black people has not ended yet and that we must all continue our work for justice and equality. I want to share with you some of the history behind this month.

As a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, like W. E. B. Du Bois before him, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American’s contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925.

The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.

The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all colors on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.

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Then the celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That year, fifty years after the first celebration, the association held the first African American History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story

There is so much more I could include, but I will finish with some random thoughts my friend would like for us to know.

— The G.I. Bill of 1944 was denied to a million black veterans of WWII (history.com). These things matter. PUBLIC POLICY throughout American history has deliberately and purposefully limited economic opportunities and advancement of black people.

— It never occurred to me that some white people thought black history month DID NOT involve them.

— During this Black History Month, I ask: Do the white people within our networks remotely get how glorious AND exhausting it is being black in America? Can we talk about why it’s exhausting? Can you handle sitting in an uncomfortable space for awhile? Can you handle it? Can you take it in without deflection, pointing fingers, becoming defensive or proclaiming yourself the victim? Can we REALLY talk?

And finally her heartfelt words about a confrontation that happened in her city, in a neighborhood she knows well, to two people who are her friends.

My soul weeps. My body trembles. Anger and fear take turns occupying the same space. Why? Two people that I hold in high regard experienced the policing of their bodies in a PUBLIC space by white people who feel they get to decide where black people can and cannot be!

As I learned of what occurred I was immediately grateful their positions (elected official and one running for office AND a friend who STEPPED UP) along with their “training “ allowed them to walk away from this experience. Yes this was potentially a life and death event.

43274C05-47A6-49F7-979E-B91258D1809CSo many what if’s ran through my mind. If you are black you will understand what I mean. If you are white, I CHALLENGE you to discuss this LOCAL event with your WHITE friends! I NEED you to discuss it in YOUR churches. I NEED you to discuss with YOUR family.

I NEED YOU to join the fight for change! YOU play a KEY role in ensuring change happens.

I thank my friend for challenging me and encouraging me, not only during Black History Month, but throughout time — every day, every month and for years ahead. To black people, Black History Month begins on January 1st and ends December 31st, and the message of the month for black people has been lifelong. As for those of us who are white, let us not be shackled by “white fragility.” Instead let us move boldly — and with courage — into our communities and confront racism wherever we find it. It is true that racism and white supremacy have been a part of our history always, but we can end this tragic injustice with resolve, unity, faith, courage and the blessing of God who created all people in One image. May God make it so.

Pulling Back the Veil

IMG_5796How good and pleasant it is when people live together in harmony!

– From Psalm 133

How long, O Lord, will we experience hate speech and evil actions? How long will we see the kind of divisive and violent display we saw in Charlottesville? How long will we refuse to lift the veil to reveal the truth about our nation, about ourselves? How long, O Lord, will we remain silent, complicit? How long will it take us to stand courageously as people of God and proclaim in whatever ways we are able that racism, xenophobia, homophobia and every form of injustice will not prevail in our nation?

The God who made us and nurtured us expects us to act with courage in the face of evil, to speak, to write our leaders, to be present in the quest for justice, to wage peace, to pray for the strength to change our world, and most importantly, to be brave enough to pull back the veil, to truly see the depth of the division in our nation and the racism in our own hearts. This is God’s calling and challenge to us. But most of the time, most of us meet God’s challenges with hesitation and questions.

I am only one person with many limitations. How can I make any difference at all?

I don’t know enough to speak out. How can I influence anything?

I am not strong enough. How can I persist in the midst of such violence?

The lives of our sisters who live on in the Scripture encourage us by their courageous example and summon us to be change-agents that work for the day when God will reign on earth as in heaven.

Deborah, prophet and judge in Israel, calls us to emulate her wisdom, courage and compassionate zeal for justice. (Judges 4:4-14)

The four daughters of Phillip the Evangelist call us to prophesy as they did with boldness and courage. Eusebius refers to them as “great lights” or “mighty luminaries.” These strong women held a unique place in the early church, exercising their prophetic ministry freely and powerfully. Will we become “great lights” in the midst of hatred’s darkness? (Acts 21:9)

Esther calls us to the kind of bravery and courage that led her to risk her life to save the lives of her people. Like her, perhaps we have been called for such a time as this. (Esther 4:14)

The five daughters of Zelophead call us to be fearless. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah stood fearless and firm, and as result reformed the culture of their day. Because they spoke up without fear, they reversed precedent. Their call to us is to speak truth to power. (Numbers 27:1-7)

Certainly, our deepest desire is for “people to live together in harmony.” But until that day comes, we will speak and work and pray for peace and justice.

My friend, Ken Sehested shares a prophetic line from a poem penned by Adrienne Maree Brown: “Things are not getting worse. They are getting uncovered.”

In response, Ken writes:

The poet’s counsel in light of these things would be mine as well: “We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.” (http://www.prayerandpolitiks.org/blog/2017/08/12/we-are-charlottesville.2776686)

I end with a wise word from another poet, Maya Angelou.

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

With the example of our Biblical sisters, with God’s unambiguous call, let us move with courage, pulling back the veil, uncovering the truth, working for the day when people will live together in harmony.

Pete and Peter

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Impulsive, spunky, fiery, colorful Pete. RIP.

My youngest brother, Pete, was taken from us too early. Cancer ravaged his body, but could never damage his indomitable, spunky spirit. Pete was spirited, colorful and full of life, fiery in one moment, gentle in the next. He was funny. He was fiercely loyal. And he loved lavishly.

I could easily compare Pete to his namesake, the disciple Peter. You know the one, the disciple who kept putting his foot in his mouth, who tried to walk on a lake and began to sink because of a faith too small. He was the disciple who betrayed Jesus three times and in the end, in the very last verse of the 22nd Chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verse 62 ends the pain-filled story with these words: “And he went out and wept bitterly.”

You see, in spite of his mistakes, his denials, his impulsive behavior, Disciple Peter loved Jesus deeply. And my baby brother was a bit like this flawed disciple. Pete was often impulsive, volatile, frequently unreasonable, quick-tempered. Yet, he was full of love that opens its arms to protect with extravagant caring.

So for the 29th of June, St. Peter’s Day, I remember the impulsive disciple who, for all his mistakes, learned how to hold on to his better self, to recover from wrong turns in his life, and to make peace with his wavering self. Jesus called this seemingly undisciplined man “the rock.” I suspect Jesus chose that name because he saw that Peter knew how to live again, standing strong against his own demons and ultimately learning that any betrayal, every betrayal, can miraculously be restored by love.

My brother Pete’s life, also filled of rough roads and wrong turns, taught him the same lesson: that love restored him to himself, to his estranged family, to the sister that had been lost to him for years. Love did that. And love is what keeps Pete close, even in death.

Poet Malcolm Guite has written a beautiful piece entitled “A Sonnet for Petertide.”

Impulsive master of misunderstanding
You comfort me with all your big mistakes;

Jumping the ship before you make the landing,

Placing the bet before you know the stakes.

I love the way you step out without knowing,

The way you sometimes speak before you think,

The way your broken faith is always growing,

The way he holds you even when you sink.

Born to a world that always tried to shame you,

Your shaky ego vulnerable to shame,

I love the way that Jesus chose to name you,
Before you knew how to deserve that name.

And in the end your Saviour let you prove
That each denial is undone by love.

Thank you for your life, Disciple Peter. You give us hope that we can overcome our imperfect actions, make it through dusty roads covered with the boulders of our mistakes, and find love at the end.

And as for my baby brother, Pete, I will always remember your ornery ways, your explosive temper, your intense loyalty and your lavish love.

Happy Name Day, sweet little brother. I miss you.