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How Is Your Heart?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bright Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James 1:17 (paraphrased)

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

I Peter 2:9 (paraphrased)

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

Happy Bright Monday to you!

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

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

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

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

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

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