“Wise Women Also Came”

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Art: “Wise Women Also Came” by Jan Richardson

Women’s Christmas! What Is That?

There is a custom, rooted in ireland, of celebrating Epiphany as Women’s Christmas. On January 6, Epiphany brings the Christmas season to a close. Called Nollaig na mBan in irish, Women’s Christmas originated as a day when the women, who often carried the domestic responsibilities all year, took Epiphany as an occasion to celebrate together at the end of the holidays, leaving hearth and home to the men for a few hours. 

Whether your domestic commitments are many or few, Women’s Christmas offers a timely opportunity to pause and step back from whatever has kept you busy and hurried in the past weeks or months. As the Christmas season ends, this is an occasion both to celebrate with friends and also to spend time in reflection before diving into the responsibilities of the new year.

Epiphany might be for you an invitation to rest, to reflect, to contemplate where you are on your journey. Epiphany reminds us of the wise persons who traveled to welcome the Christ Child and who returned home by another way. Perhaps we might consider turning our attention toward questions about our own journey. Epiphany brings us The Wise Men, The Three Kings. But did others also make the journey, following a brilliant star? Were there other travelers whose names we don’t know?

Jan Richardson tells about an experience she had years ago when she was beginning to find her artist soul. She sat down to create a collage to use for Epiphany. She began to imagine who else might have made the journey to welcome Jesus. In her soul, a trio of women began to take shape, carrying their treasures to offer the Child. She named the piece Wise Women Also Came.

I love the idea that three wise women made that journey and saw the Christ Child. There are so many accounts in the Scriptures about women having no rights, no protection, no ability to speak. Many of their names are not even recorded. Even in this day — 2020 — we have been socialized to keep silence in meetings or gatherings. We may even believe that our opinions are not important enough to speak out loud. We shrink back into what is determined to be “our place.” Maybe not all the time, but we have to admit we’ve done it sometimes. It’s all about how much we value ourselves and how much we believe others value us.

But shrinking back behind the scenes and quashing our voice has significant consequences — that our vision will not be given, our inspiration will fail to inspire, our dreams will be lost, our influence will not flourish, our wisdom will not be spoken. And our world will suffer for it, losing our passion for a world that needs passion.

Imagine with me that three wise women made the incredible journey to see the Child. Imagine the gifts they might have brought. Imagine what social constraints they might have broken to go on this journey of a lifetime, and the courage that motivated them. Imagine whether or not you could take such a journey, forbidden by your society, yet moving ahead on the path. Imagine your bravery and your resolve, your your sense of adventure, your hopes and your dreams.

So let’s accept two challenges in the days to come:

To celebrate Women’s Christmas with our friends and also to spend time in personal reflection before diving into the responsibilities of the new year.

To find our voices and our wisdom. To claim our courage, our strength and our passion. And even if others scoff at us, to follow our dreams.

The world needs us!

On Beauty and Terror

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Photo by Steven Nawojczyk.

Life is all about beauty and terror, each descending on us at will and rearranging everything. I think of the wise words of Frederick Buechner:

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

The constant picture in my mind is a rough, rocky path with unknown crooks and turns,  and the destination unseen. That image of life’s journey is enough to cause anyone fear, and though the path has its own beauty, it also holds the terror of unexpected twists on a rocky way.

For quite a long time, I have been facing a time of beauty and terror in the guise of my upcoming kidney transplant. How beautiful it is to know that a kidney donor is willingly offering a kidney to a stranger. At the same time, I nurse a small feeling of terror at times about the outcome of the surgery. Will I have pain? Will I recover quickly? Will the kidney work? Will I tolerate my lifelong immunosuppressant medications? Will the transplant really happen?

“Don’t be afraid” is indeed the strongest and best word of encouragement. It is quite wonderful when we reach a point in life — if ever we do — where fear is no longer our constant companion. The way to get there, I think, has everything to do with two things: enjoying a close relationship with God (something that is not always easy to accomplish); and being a part of a genuine, caring community. Being close to God and being encouraged by your community keeps fear at bay so that the beautiful part of living can emerge.

Richard Rohr would say that our “work” is to know God’s desire for us to live into the fullness of our humanity and our identity. In other words, recognize that our humanity is certainly open to fear, but be vigilant about claiming our identity as God’s own children. Because it is that identity, that holy relationship with God, that brings us the beautiful part of life.

Richard Rohr shares the words of one of his favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror,” the poet writes. This is surely the poetry of life: to admonish us to let it all happen, all the beauty, all the terror. Because God uses all of it, together, to create in me the person I am meant to be.

So the end of the story is this: I will get a transplant and I will let it all happen — all of it — so that the beauty and the terror can renew my life and embolden my spirit.

 

 

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On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant on November 15th. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

“Go Fund Me” page is set up for contribution to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link:

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

 

 

 

Swampy, Murky Places

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October Hunter’s moon rising over Arkansas’ Mallard Lake. Photography by Debbie Marie Smith.

Life can be swampy and murky at times, with not enough light to see the way forward. Not to mention the danger of being mired in the mud unable to move! You have probably been there. I know I have, and when the journey has taken me through those murky waters, I have despaired. So many circumstances can take us through rough places, but the circumstance that immediately comes to mind for me is indecision.

Indecision is that uncomfortably in-between place where you have no idea how to find the way forward, yet you cannot stay in the place you are. Waiting is born of indecision and waiting can be excruciating. Right about now, I wish I could report that one must simply pray and God will instantly change indecision into forward motion, out of any murky swamp. 

I cannot say, however, that a single prayer can make that happen. At least for me, there have been no instant-miraculous-life-changing answers to my prayers. Not even once in my faith journey of many years! What I can tell you with deep assurance is that, although no single prayer has changed my life, continual prayer has changed my life. It is not the prayer of occasional consolation that changes the course of one’s life journey. It is the life of prayer that seeks God in prayer, abiding in God’s presence, for as long as it takes. Richard Rohr says this wise thing about prayer:

The only people who pray well are those who keep praying! In fact, continued re-connecting is what I mean by prayer, not occasional consolations that we may experience.

No doubt, life’s journey will take us through murky, swampy places without enough light to find our way through them. The murkiness of indecision is real, and with it we may experience confusion, fear, despair, desperation. We may even lose hope and question our faith. But we cannot stay there. People of faith are people of resilience and courage. We have within us all the resilience and courage we need. So we must believe in ourselves enough to take a step forward and out, through the mud and the sludge, trusting in faith that God’s light will light up the dark places and give us the strength to move through to the other side.

That’s what I have to believe about painful, oppressive places of indecision. That’s what I have to believe about getting through swampy, murky places. That’s what I have to believe about God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

— John 1:1-5

Through These Dark Hours

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Unafraid, unbound, unleashed from this earth, rising with every step, a dance to lift the human soul.

What do I do through these dark hours? How do I endure them, the lostness, the fear, the spiritual suffering? How do I make my journey and avoid the dark hours that overwhelm me along the way?

Dark hours are a part of our living, a part of our journey. They cover us — even those who are most religious and devout — like an ominous black cloud. Dark hours bring us fear, dread, a lack of hope. Dark hours steal the joy of our faith.

The term “dark night (of the soul)” describes a spiritual crisis in the journey with God, like that described by St. John of the Cross in his poem, “The Dark Night.”

In her letters, St. Teresa of Calcutta described how she endured a dark night of the soul from 1948 almost until her death in 1997, with only brief interludes of relief.

St Thérèse of the Child Jesus wrote of her own experience of the dark night, as she found herself doubting the existence of eternity. She struggled and suffered through a prolonged period of spiritual darkness, declaring to her fellow nuns: “If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into..!”

Examples of the experiences of those we look to as spiritual patrons of the faith do not really enlighten our own faith journeys. We walk our own spiritual paths, always hoping for the best, always striving to experience the holy along the way. And we hope beyond hope that we will not have to endure the suffering of dark hours.

The truth is that dark hours are required on the journey. We cannot walk around our dark hours, moving them aside like the sticks and brush we can so easily move off of our path. Our only option is to keep walking, to stay the course and to embrace the journey just as it is.

As I look back to take stock of my own journey, I see the the dark hours as powerful reminders of struggle and spiritual crisis. As I examine the past, I can say without hesitation that the dark hours were times I do not want to experience again. I can feel the intense pain of them, even now, the formidable affect of them on my spirit. The thought of them brings on a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that makes me want to quickly move on to the next life metaphor I might use in this post.

And yet . . . And yet, how clear it is from this vantage point that I endured my dark hours and emerged stronger, better, with faith intact and with a living hope to take with me on the rest of the journey. From the cloud of dark hours, I learned that I could believe again, hope again, move farther into my journey with joy — even unrestrained joy — because of God’s grace that gave me strength.

There is probably no writer that inspires me more than Bishop Steven Charleston. He has taught us how to live in his many writings over the years. In this piece, he shows us the way through our dark hours in these beautiful words:

Let us dance through these dark hours, while others crouch down, seeking shelter from a worried world, hiding in the shadows, afraid to hope for tomorrow, let us give them a sign they can see, a message made of music and motion, two dancers spinning light out of darkness, a waltz in an air raid shelter, unafraid, unbound, unleashed from this earth, rising with every step, a dance to lift the human soul. Let us dance so others can dance, dancers from every direction, standing up to join us, music filling the sky, a revolution of unrestrained joy, an invitation to believe again, to hope again, to be free again, dancing through these dark hours, as if dancing was all that we were born to do.

To be sure, I have felt the pressing urge to “crouch down” many times, “to seek shelter from a worried world, hiding in the shadows, afraid to hope for tomorrow.” But in the end, through dark hours I learned to dance.

Dance then, wherever you may be. I am the Lord of the Dance, said he . . .

It’s a good way to live.

It’s a good way to give witness to the world of our living faith and unrestrained joy!

Amen.

Who will move this mountain?

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Who will move this mountain? I’m referring to the high, steep mountain that includes hundreds of processes that might eventually (possibly, probably) lead to a kidney transplant for me. So which is it, I keep asking myself? Is a kidney transplant possible? Is it probable? Is it a done deal?

I know with pretty much certainty that having a kidney transplant is never a done deal. The possibility of a kidney transplant for anyone is always tenuous. The possibility of having a donor is even more tenuous. I keep repeating the description offered by Piedmont transplant nephrologist, Dr. Christina Klein: “99% of people who call with interest in donating are screened out by phone and 50% of the people who do the full-day evaluation are screened out.” With deep gratitude, I can say that the person who has offered to be my living donor has passed through both of these screenings and has been accepted as a donor. It is no small thing for a living donor and a recipient to both be determined healthy enough for a transplant.

Piedmont Transplant Institute personnel spent the day yesterday testing me to determine if I’m still healthy enough for a transplant. They do a re-evaluation every two years for persons on the transplant list. It was probably the last re-evaluation I will have before a transplant surgery date is determined.

I said all of that to say that, as always, I think of God as the one who moves these kinds of obstacle mountains. I am standing at the base of a pretty big one this time, looking up at the peak and whispering to myself, “Impossible!”

But that’s not the end of the story, is it? For me, the story aways ends with sacred words that remind me who has the control, who it is that can move this mountain. Sacred words about moving life’s mountains can be found in all three Synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Luke and Mark. The Gospel writers make multiple references that go to the question of who moves mountains, as told by Jesus in parable. Interestingly, Jesus never says, “God will move your mountain.” Instead the words of Jesus in the parables go something like this:

If you had faith even as small as a tiny mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would go far away. Nothing would be impossible to you.

— Mark 17:20 (TLB)

What? Can this be true? That God does not move the mountain after all. That it has everything to do with faith, even my very small mustard-seed-like faith. Is it true that I am my own mountain mover? That nothing is impossible?

In reading this Scripture text that is so familiar, it seems that perhaps I am the one who can say to this mountain, “Move!” Without stretching this Gospel text beyond its original intent, I can affirm that its message is about faith, and that message is timeless. It can begin as a thought that Jesus expresses in parable and end up as a reality of faith that empowers my life and quickens my journey.

So stand with me at the bottom of this mountain. Look up at the mountain with me and pray that my mustard-seed faith will get me to the peak. I may very well receive the gift of a kidney transplant. It seems very possible at this point in my five-year journey. But whatever happens, my faith will be with me — sustaining me, guiding me, empowering me still for every future mountain that raises up before me.

For this faith that was born in me decades ago, thanks be to God.

 

 

 

Can’t Stay on the Mountaintop

909AB186-15E1-4DA7-9027-5FC7B28578BDChrist-followers will always know ascent and descent, knowing and not-knowing. I can recall so many spiritual retreats that ended too soon, leaving me with a reluctance to go back into ordinary time. I wanted to stay in the place where God’s Spirit was moving within me. But every single time, I had to go home, leaving the mountaintop of my transformative spiritual experience.

In the Scriptures, two companion pieces tell of a “God experience.” Moses on Mount Sinai and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. When Moses is on Mount Sinai, God is somehow manifest in thick darkness. “You saw no shape on that day at Horeb.” (Deuteronomy 4:15) Moses “sees” and “hears” to some degree, yet YHWH does not allow Moses to see God’s “glory” or “face.” The most that Moses can see is, humorously, YHWH’s backside. God placed Moses in a cleft in the rock and covered him until He had passed by. Moses would not see his face.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

— Exodus 33:14-23 NIV

In the parallel story of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36; Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-9), there is first dazzling light. Yet a cloud soon overshadows the whole scene. Richard Rohr explains that “the epiphany is both light and darkness, knowability and unknowability, disclosure and non-disclosure.”

After the astounding experience on the mountain, Jesus deliberately walks with the disciples back down the mountain, onto the plain and desert of everyday life. Richard Rohr says that Jesus wanted to move the disciples “out of this enlightening, but also dangerously ego-inflating experience.”

We know that, always, we must return to the ordinary. We must come down from our mountaintops and walk on the rough road where life happens. We must experience the path’s twists and turns that take us through green pastures as well as through valleys of death’s shadow. That is the life we must live. Our Christian faith does not allow for permanent ascents. Mountaintop experiences for us are times of strength-gathering that make the rough roads bearable.

Jesus tells the disciples who witnessed his glorious transfiguration, “Don’t talk about it!” (Matthew 17:9). Because Jesus knew that talking too soon would only weaken the experience. Silence is important. Silence is necessary to preserve the sacred and the mysterious. Silence helps us remember how we felt on the “mountaintop.” And remembering helps us walk on, facing wherever life’s journey takes us with faith, confidence and perseverance. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Around the Bend

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Photo by Steven Nawojczyk

I wonder sometimes what I might find around the bend. “Around the bend” is an apt metaphor for the twists and turns of life’s pathway. No matter how long I have traveled my journey, no matter how much life wisdom I have gained, I never, ever know what what’s around the bend.

The pathway before me can frighten, even while I strain to see as far as I can into what lies ahead. The bend is sharp most times, and the angle hides my view. As I age, fear on the journey looms large, for I am completely aware of the dangers I might encounter around the first bend, and the next, and all the bends that are ahead of me. And yet, I am constantly graced with flashes of hope and faith whispering that what is ahead of me could be even better than what I have left behind.

The beautiful photo above by Steven Nawojczyk is a gift of calm waters bending in a gentle flow at the foot of a mountain, lightened by the golden rays of the sun. The image makes me believe that whatever is around the bend is lovely, peaceful, comforting, safe. And that is exactly what God would want me to believe, and woukd want us all to believe. I cannot help but think of the Psalmist’s affirmation that God “leads me beside still waters.”

In so many comfort-filled passages, the Psalmist offers sure and certain comfort. Hear the Psalmist’s words . . .

Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
Surely I have a delightful inheritance.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
   Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure . . .

You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

— Psalm 16:1, 5-6, 8-9, 11 (NIV)

And hear the words of the Prophet Isaiah . . .

Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. 
I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.  

— Isaiah 46:4 (NIV)

And so “around the bend” is not so frightening after all. In God — “who makes known the path of life” —  there is comfort, safety, protection, constancy, and even joy. Thanks be to God.

Change and Hope

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Change happens always, but not always for the better. It is simply a reality of living life. Change comes to us; we try our best to navigate it; and with any luck, we will end up stronger for it. In the best of all worlds, going through change will strengthen our hope and bolster our faith. To be sure, best laid plans change all the time, often leaving us shaken. But it is good to know that God knows all about changes and what they do to our equilibrium.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

– Jeremiah 29:11

Change does not always feel like hope to us. What we face tomorrow, and all the tomorrows to come, is always an unknown, an unknown that causes fear in us. And yet, so much of our contentment depends on our outlook, how we see change, how we move ourselves through it, how we end up on the other side. I like the outlook that journalist, Linda Ellerbee shares in this statement.

What I like most about change is that it can be a synonym for hope. If you are taking a risk what you’re really saying is, “Ibelieve in tomorrow and I will be a part of it.”

– Linda Ellerbee

So if there is any good advice here, it is to hang on to your life even in the face of change. Try to see change as hope. Navigate those life risks, all the while proclaiming, “I believe in tomorrow and I will be a part of it.” Living that way is the way of God, the way of faith, the way of hope.

Life’s Narrow and Wide Gates

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Life is full of narrow and wide gates, beckoning us to choose which gate to enter. On one hand, the idea of gates — narrow ones and wide ones — is a Biblical idea describing the kind of life a Christian person might choose. On the other hand, narrow and wide gates are simply a part of our life pilgrimage.

The Scripture reference is found in the Gospel of Matthew.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

– Matthew 7:13-14 New International Version (NIV)

The pilgrimage that we call life is, most certainly, a series of challenges we must face. How common it is for us to complain when the gate before us is narrow and the road ahead is rocky. Why do I struggle financially? Why must I endure failing health? Why am I in the middle of a failing relationship? Why did I lose someone I love so deeply?

Didn’t I choose the narrow gate, God? Did I not commit my life to the way that leads to life? Then why? Why the suffering?

God seldom answers us when we ask these questions. We listen constantly for God’s voice and a satisfactory explanation of life’s suffering.

We hear nothing.

Just relentless, ominous silence. It can try one’s faith.

Gratefully, I came across an encouraging quote. Before collapsing on my life’s dusty road, I found a place to lean in the words of Brother Luke Ditewig. Here’s what he said:

After making much fuss about our great accomplishment at having found a narrow and obscure gate and walked through, we’re often surprised at the ordinary challenges of life that follow, again and again. I’m embarrassed by how much I say: “Wow, this road is hard!” or “Why are we still in the wilderness?” But if you look around right now, you’ll notice divine love in the ordinary stuff of life.

– Brother Luke Ditewig
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

So let us persist, moving forward with even a tiny fistful of faith. And may we look around on the way, passing through the gates we encounter and always noticing the divine love that is ever present in the “ordinary stuff of life.”