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How’s your Lent? Mine has been…arid, thank you. Perhaps it’s because the entire last year has had a Lenten quality to it, but I’m finding this season especially rough. I don’t feel like I’m connecting with my goals. I’m impatient. I am tired of wandering through the desert of my soul. And I’m sure I’m not alone. In more ways than one.

I made myself a desert place
and waited for Lent to come,
to roll like a storm,
rinse grit from my sand-caked soul,
beat into me a scrubbed resolve.
Instead, came dervishes of whirling dust,
heat to crack the skin, no shepherd
to steer me as pellets pocked my eyes.
I made myself a desert place
and longed for Lent to find me,
devour me like manna, drink me to the lees,
like the swollen tongue of a parched wanderer.
Instead, I have ceased seeking saints
to reckon with my resemblance
to things that slither in the shadows,
tongues primed to flick my skin, name me kin.
I made myself a desert place
and begged for Lent to change me
only to find I will not reach the other side
until the Lent of life finds me fallen
on the final dune outside the city
I sought so far, so long.

A star atop a tree
can only be
a drowsy placebo
for something missing.
A sky-held star
is an echo, light hitting
earth like a memory.
Fix your ambition instead
on finding the true star.
You will know it by the way
it surges, hot stone,
crying for the love of something
it cannot name.
Follow the star
to the heart of you,
blind and ragged.
Find,
pure and bright,
a child
that is you.
That is He.
Know, at last,
Christmas,
breaking you,
laying you in straw,
lulling you to sleep with
the breath of sheep.

December 8 celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which (as anyone who reads me regularly knows) has nothing to do with baby Jesus and everything to do with baby Mary. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary being conceived without Original Sin. She comes into the world, unlike the rest of us, sin-free. And she stays that way.

What would you do with a brand new, spotlessly clean soul? If the past is any indication, I’d probably just soil it again. Even after being absolved of my sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation — despite my sincere vows to not fall into the same traps again — I inevitably sin.

Is it the human condition to fail and fall, over and over again? Can we ever rise beyond our nature? Surely some of us do. But how?

What must it take,
once washed white,
to stave off soil and stain?
Love, mercy, justice,
wielded wisely.
Love launders.
Mercy bleaches clean.
Justice proofs the fabric
against what muck may come.
Lather liberally. Saturate spots.
Rinse and repeat as needed.

God is big. People are small. Not because we were made that way, but because it’s what we want. Think of the way God defines Godself to Moses — “I am who am.” God doesn’t even need a name. God simply is. And when Jesus addresses God in prayer, he chooses the word “Abwoon,” which is genderless. Jesus doesn’t use he or she, though he certainly could have. God always chooses the largest definition possible.

Now think about how we define ourselves (i.e., to death). We sort ourselves (by gender, sexual preference, age, name, hair color, skin color, ethnicity, religious affiliation, ability and lack thereof) into ever-smaller subsets of human being. It’s as if we aren’t special unless we are defined to within an inch of our lives. Why is that? Why can’t we be bigger?

Rest in your humanness, let it fit you
like a skin, the skin you know and breathe in.
Imagine for an instant that you are not alone.
Picture the possibilities of seeing yourself
in the eyes of everyone you meet.
What might it mean?
To see our home in ratty humanity,
common as an old quilt and just as comfy
is to see unbelievable opportunity.
If we knew for just one moment
how large we are together,
what could we not do?
We are called to greater seas.
Leave your puddle. Swim. Be one.

I’m sure I don’t need to point out to you just how different 2020 has been.  There is little left untouched from schools to jobs to celebrations and how we worship.

One of the things that my church has done is a system of three-fold worship.  The sanctuary is again open.  Admittedly, it looks a little odd with numerous pews “unavailable” and people sitting far from each other.  But not everyone feels safe venturing out for worship.  Our congregation includes several chronically ill seniors.  One wants to be present but can’t risk going inside.  But he can attend our “drive-in” service with worshippers in the parking lot, spaced apart, listening on their car radios.

Why do this when you can just watch it on Facebook live?

My husband and I usher for drive in service.  We volunteered to do this so that these people would feel seen and valued as part of the congregation.  I have to admit that I’m dreading going back into the sanctuary.

When I’m outside as we worship, my focus shifts.  I’m not seeing our beautiful sanctuary.  I’m seeing the natural world God created.  Some weeks I get to watch hummingbirds flitting around.  At first, I wasn’t sure what this was all about but after service I looked it up.  Like Lori said in her post, I’m into science and numbers and facts.  Hummingbirds eat mosquitoes!  Who knew?  Last week, our resident hawk perched one parking spot over, up in the crown of a tree.  It isn’t often you get to sit that close to a raptor.  It was amazing.

When the pastor reads Bible verses about sparrows and mustard seeds, I’m not looking across a limited space within brick walls.  I’m looking up at the clouds.  I’m looking across the garden, hoping to spot the hawk.  I’m seeing an aspect of the world that God made that I wouldn’t be engaging with if I was inside.

2020 has been something all right.  But if you widen your gaze, you just might catch a glimpse of something amazing.

–SueBE

Early in the book of Luke, Mary asserts her wholehearted embrace of God’s plan for her by saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” What does she mean by “handmaid”? Although the word has shades of meaning, several constants appear clear: 1) It is a personal job — a handmaid works for someone else intimately. 2) It is a lowly job — many Biblical handmaids are slaves. 3) It is a woman’s job and entails things women do, like giving birth. Handmaids are “given” to several of the Bible’s patriarchs in order to bear their children. In fact, translating Luke directly, Mary uses the Greek word “doule,” with its clear echoes of “doula” — a woman who helps another woman through childbirth.

The future must be birthed. And that is not an easy process. Neither is being a handmaid, a servant. It’s not how we like to think of ourselves. We prefer to be the captains of our fate, boldly carving out our own futures. But what if being handmaids is what we’re really called to do? Could you do it?

Destiny is a seed, darkly hidden,
housed and nourished, born to screams
and aching. It will not come quietly.
Providence will be born not by tyrants
and titans of industry, but by the quiet,
the girls with lowered heads, whose voices
softly say: I will. Even if it takes my being,
my body. Even if no one notices, if seeing
what I do looks to others like the simplest
of functions. Undistinguished. Ordinary.
To say yes to this is like landing in a foreign place
without a map or compass. Gather your wits.
Let your feet find the way. What happens next
will be clear to the world only after you have left it.

selective focus photography of green succulent plantMindfulness is knowing where you are, literally, figuratively, physically and emotionally. If your body is sitting in a chair in the kitchen, but you’re agonizing about an unpaid bill or the broken fence, you’re not fully present. You’re neither here nor there.

Could it be that, when you woke up today, you didn’t realize that this is Everything-Goes-Your-Way Day?

The thing is, if you’re focusing on yesterday’s problems or tomorrow’s uncertainty, you might miss it.

Your mission today, should you choose to accept it, is this: get up, get dressed, and be blessed. As long as you don’t start to think, Okay, what’s the catch? you’ll be the recipient of grace today.

One might think: This is impossible in the time of COVID-19. There are protests going on about police brutality towards people of color. Nothing is normal at all! 

But this is a war on many fronts, and you’ve been through battles before. What did you do when things went haywire? When you lost a loved one or a job? When your child ran away or got hurt? Life doesn’t stop at the catastrophe. It’s where a new path creates itself.

If you’re at home right now and you’ve just had dinner, bask in the blessings. Experience the present. If the neighbor’s kid isn’t practicing the drums tonight? That’s a blessing. If the mail didn’t contain any bills today, bask and breathe. Bad news and big disruptions get enough press. Let’s give our blessings some attention.

Or as Someone said a long time ago: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Tomorrow will be here soon enough, with whatever the day brings. Just for today, be here, now.

I seem to be writing about the senses a lot lately, especially sight. Maybe that’s because I’m trying to see things clearly. Or maybe it’s because so much of what I see is hurtful and in need of change. What about you? What are you seeing? Does your seeing bring you optimism? I hope so.

“Pluck it out.”
You make it sound so easy.
Yet it isn’t my eye that offends,
but what it sees:
a nonstop parade of casual cruelty,
even as the eyes of the world
look on, aghast.
We have a moment now.
The plates are shifting.
We can move mountains.
Or we can ignore the rumbling
beneath our feet and set our faces
like flint, even as we slide into the sea.
Look. See. Find the focus and fight, push.
We cannot slow down now, lest we lose
what we love, the shape of the land,
the idea of us, of all that we could be —
but only if none of us is left behind.

Have a problem? Ignore it! It is, after all, the American way. If we didn’t do so much testing, we wouldn’t have so many COVID-19 cases — this, according to our own government. True. We’d just have masses of people dying of…something. By that logic, no one ever need have cancer again. Just don’t get screened for it!

Racism, too, is a subject Americans have often ignored, hoping the pain and agony of over 300 years will simply “go away.” Guess what? It won’t.

We have a choice to make. Remain ignorant or confront the painful truth. Which will it be?

Moles are content, I wager,
blind and underground.
It is no place for people.
Open your eyes
and the light will blind you,
true. It will also heal you.
As scales fall from your lids,
you will quake, your inner Saul
excised like cataracts under a laser.
Being Paul will feel as uncomfortable
as an icy plunge, but you will ease into it,
the temperature of the water slowly
warming to buoy your body.
You will see underwater,
without distortion.
It will come as a shock.
True wisdom always does.
There is nothing to do
but bow to the pain of it.
The price is too high
to stumble on, unconverted.

God does not send in vengeful fury a plague,
but holds the hands of the dying and asks:
What can you learn?
God does not smash the dams, sending
rivers raging over home and hearth,
but heals, shields, restores and asks (oh so gently):
What did you learn?
And when God shows us the beauty of silence,
of water and air free of debris, of nature healing,
and we roar instead for haircuts and sweaty congregation,
ocean-front suntans and the snarl of traffic,
God only sighs and asks, in endless, enduring refrain:
Will you learn?
Will you learn?
Will you learn?

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