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It seems as if we’re always waiting for God — to answer our prayers, to point us in a new direction, to give us a sign. But why would God lag behind us? It is ludicrous to contemplate. God, if anything, is way ahead of us. What if the truth is this: God is actually waiting for us — to do something, to hear something, to be something. How would we respond? More importantly, how will we respond when we realize it’s happening right this very minute?

You’d tap your watch if you wore one
to indicate my tardiness, and still
I cannot plumb your intentions.
Whatever sign you sent, I missed:
the alarm too silent for my aging ears,
the town crier lost on the wrong street.
I am left imagining your expression —
mildly amused? Vaguely disgruntled?
Or endlessly patient — that would wound
most, I think, the inference of my neglect.
You’ve given me boards, washers, screws,
but the instructions, I believe, are in Swedish.
Are we building a table? Or a catapult?
Should I pack a suitcase or board up the door?
I know the answer of course, it is there,
hiding behind the author of Hedda Gabler
and the words to every Beatles song.
Just out of reach. Fuzzy, near forgotten.
Only fear keeps me from finding it.
So I will pray for courage.
The courage to be on time.

This morning, I reached for some clothes to put on and must’ve inadvertently grabbed my cranky pants. Before I knew it, I was grumbling about things that aren’t really problems at all. 

As I started to make breakfast, I thought, Oh great, I’ll make breakfast and then I’ll have to wash the dishes right away so they don’t pile up. It was a problem with a built-in solution. Don’t let them pile up! Wash as you go. It might take longer to make breakfast this way, but I’ll end up in a better frame of mind.

Then I thought, It takes forever for the water to warm up in the morning so I can wash the dishes! But actually, it gave me a moment to adjust the thermostat. It’s chilly today, and I thought, It takes so long for the house to heat up in the morning! But actually, it gave me an excuse to stealthily sneak into my son’s room and abscond with the warm, cozy scarf I knitted “for his birthday,” fully intending to use it for most of the day when he’s at work or school! Please don’t tell.😇

These small annoyances are blessings in disguise. They give us moments to reflect on the things we take for granted. Being able to count on food on the table. Heat in the winter. Hot and cold running water. They’re tiny reminders to reflect on the sustenance and providence we’re blessed to receive every day.

“You know why Jesus had such a tough life?” my husband quips. “He was the only white guy in Israel.” No, my beloved is not being irreverent. He’s referring to the fact that in most depictions — including the statues in our own church — Jesus does not look Jewish. In fact, the entire Holy Family seems to have been Westernized, stripped of ethnicity — whitewashed.

Depicting the Holy Family in realistic ways throws people into tizzies. Take for instance this week’s disturbance at the Vatican. Two vandals threw statues depicting “Our Lady of the Amazon” (given to the Pope in honor of the Amazonian Summit) into a river. They were disgruntled that Mary was depicted as an indigenous Amazonian woman.

And yet: Our Lady of Guadalupe — a Mexican Mary — is the patron saint of the Americas. Our Lady of La Veng is Vietnamese. And so what? People are hung up on appearances. What they fail to remember is that none of us knows what Jesus, Mary or Joseph looked like. But I’ll bet you one thing: They didn’t look like WASPs.

What are we to make of them?
Of their glorious otherness?
It is too much for heart or hand
to hold. And so we shrink them,
squint to fade their margins,
blur the tricky bits. We do not
know a Mary with curves and kinky hair.
A dark-skinned man with a penchant for defiance
would make the neighbors edgy. His radical
proclamation of love, likewise, frightens.
(Ask Dr. King: Such things bring killing,
even today.) We make bland in our mouths
what is too rich to taste. And so they stand,
in churches, in cathedrals, looking like something
out of Central Casting. And we do not know them.

How long does it take to know someone? A month? A year? A lifetime…or maybe even longer? When it comes to seeking God, I’m not sure there’s a limit. To look for God is to look forever. Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that anyone who thinks he can get his arms around God, contain God, package God, speak for God — that person is a liar. God is too big for any of us. Even the statement “God is love” begs the follow-up: What, then, is love? The person who can sum that up in one word— or ten — is a better linguist than I.

I love the idea of getting to know someone over ages and ages of time. It’s like reading a great book that never ends. I suspect I am not alone in this.

I could anagram your name
if I knew it, but you keep coy,
flirt with vagaries like “I am
who am.” Riddles, tricks of the light,
something seized than instantly lost.
We try to limit you to the page,
but you keep writing, in each leaf that furls
from the tree, another sentence,
in an eon perhaps a paragraph.
We cannot turn the pages fast enough.
No matter, you say, and pass a pot
of tea, a blanket. Settle in. Take all the time
you need
. I will take you at your word,
read slowly, mouth each syllable
like a diamond on my tongue.

The weather’s gone bitter cold, winter cold. Autumn in all its burnt ochre, crisp brown, burgundy brightness has seemingly been skipped over. Just thinking about trees — as they drop their leaves precipitously — makes me ponder harvest. Trees do as God intends for them to do: They grow, bear fruit, shed leaves and begin the cycle again. But what about humans? What is God’s intention for each of us and how can we know if we are fulfilling it? It is indeed a puzzle.

Trees we judge by their yield, yet —
what is the measure of mortals?
Not rings to mark time
nor grandeur of height.
Surely nothing as showy as an apple,
dappled, toothsome, sweet.
Making money is not near
as lovely as leaves, less utile
than blade and bud that sustain
whole species over long winters.
What have we to give but kindness
and the consolation of a listening ear?
You cannot put these on a table
or measure yield in bushels.
God alone will part our needles,
tap our trunks, ascertain
whether we have given good home
to those who alight on our branches.

alex-jones-Tq4YjCa2BSc-unsplashGot a problem? “Give it to God,” they say. Only sometimes it’s not that simple. I, for one, tend to be an ambivalent giver. I claim to hand over my trouble, only to take it back obsessively, ruminate on it, rummage through the possibilities, ponder all the “what-ifs.” As if Providence rests in my nervous little hands.

The great and wise Richard Rohr once said, “The opposite of Faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is control.” It’s a lesson we, like poor Hamlet, learn the hard way. That in the end, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will—….”

And, as we know, “the rest is silence.”

Of what substance
is hardship made
that, in shaping it
with sturdy hands,
it liquefies, slumps,
refuses to hold its shape?
Persists with devilish intensity
to be captured or controlled?
If only we understood:
That in lifting our hands,
in setting free that which
we cannot sculpt to our ends,
the obdurate thing will fly from us,
ascend to one who will form it.
The shape it takes, no wringing of limbs
will change. It is what it will be.
Swallow it, in pieces, as you can.

What if the universe — God included — is like a book: a really weighty one, like War and Peace? I’d like to think each of us is born with a scrap of this book in our soul, just a word or two, really, though the best of us (saints, for instance) probably get a whole paragraph. Our job in this lifetime, as I see it, is to seek out each other’s words and gather them together as best we can into some semblance of the Truth.

Nobody has all the answers. Not even the Bible, which is full of concepts and words that don’t translate neatly (or at all) into English. Ask two people to translate The Lord’s Prayer from its original Aramaic, and you will get two different prayers. It begins with the word “Abwoon,” which can be translated to mean “father” (though the root word is actually genderless) or “parent” or “divine breath” or “birther of all things.” Or any one of a dozen other things.

Nothing about God is simple. I am content to remain a seeker, a wanderer, picking up words wherever I can and trying to fit them into the puzzle that is God.

Nothing about You can be known.
You slip through our hands like sand,
just when we think that we can hold you.
Even your touchable Son, fully flesh,
escapes our grasp. We humans
like our shapes defined: This, then,
is a square; this is a sphere.
But what is the shape of God?
Avian? Flame? The man on the ceiling
of the Sistine Chapel, the one we
reach for but never touch?
Perhaps we ask too much.
We worry your lock with our
senses, with our brains.
If only we approached
with our hearts wide open,
the pins would tumble,
the lock would breach.
You appear, wide open,
when we least try to touch.

tilt shift lens photography of tealight candleWhen I looked online and saw how expensive candles were, I thought, Why not make some candles? How hard could it be? Plus, it might be a fun craft project. So, I looked up “Complete Candle-making Kits” and found one that sounded promising, but when it arrived, it turned out to be just a bag of wax and wicks with no instructions. Now what do I do?

Back to the online search. I found a how-to video and followed its instructions, but instead of a candle, what I ended up with was a royal mess. White wax spilled all over the white counter and hardened, and when I tried to scrape it off, it just made it look even worse. 

Back to the online search again. I found out that the heat of a blow dryer can melt wax that has set onto a surface, and then you can wipe it off with a wet paper towel. 

It was a life lesson for me. False advertising can lead to snafus, especially when you buy things online.

Isn’t it the same way with faith? Some try to sell a bill of goods, promising  that troubles will go away if you take a leap of faith, but true religion adds to your life. Lifts you up. Helps you to be a better person. It doesn’t require blind loyalty. Your whole paycheck. Mind control.

Coming to faith is like that do-it-yourself candle. It can light up your life or make a major mess. Knowing what you’re buying (or buying into) is a life skill worth having.

Pluto in True Color - High-Res.jpg

Is it possible that everything we’ve been taught is just somebody’s best guess? Even facts can change, like the fact that Pluto is no longer called a planet. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) determined that there are three criteria that define a planet, and Pluto failed one of them: keeping his block tidy. 

“In the end it was decided that to qualify as a planet in orbit around our Sun, a chunk of rock must have been made round by its own gravity; have cleared its neighbourhood of other debris; and not be a satellite of another planetary body,” wrote Jenny Hogan in the Journal Nature.

This change has been controversial, with NASA’s Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, stepping into the fray: “Just so you know, in my view, Pluto is a planet,” he said. “You can write that the NASA Administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I’m sticking by that, it’s the way I learnt it, and I’m committed to it.”

If experts can’t agree on the truth, what can we ever really know? Even when it comes to eternal truths, religions disagree.

We do know that it’s possible to belong to a religion and still voice questions about its practices, as Lori did recently. 

We also know that it’s possible to value the opinions of your church group but not be swayed by peer pressure, as SueBE wrote about in her last post.

Speaking up when things don’t seem right isn’t just a way to express yourself; it’s another way of honoring the One who created you, the world, and all the stars in the sky.

The Episcopal diocese of Washington DC moved this week to refer to God using inclusive language. Good for them. Yes, I know: God is referred to as male thousands of times in the bible. But Jesus himself says God is spirit (John 4:24), and spirit has no gender. Male pronouns have been standard usage for centuries, even when referring to groups with women in them. It’s a default, not a revelation.

Other pet peeves: Why was I never taught that Mary Magdalene is a composite of three different women and was amalgamated by one man — Pope Gregory the Great? And that there’s no biblical evidence that she ever earned a living as a prostitute? Why are Catholic children taught how important — how telling — it is that Jesus picked only male apostles, but the fact that he chose to reveal the Good News —and gave official sanction to spread that news — to women first, not men, is brushed past as though it doesn’t matter?

Why are we not told that all that “he-man, woman-hater” language in Paul’s epistles was likely inserted by monks inscribing them in the Middle Ages?

Why all the lies, both active and of omission? Why has my church kept my God from me?

God is not a rope to be tugged, a prize that falls to those who pull the hardest. God pours down on those in the margins. God comes to the poor, the disenfranchised, the weak. God stands with the powerless.

If you claim to represent God, but stand where God does not stand, what are you, really?

God our mother our father our life-giving hope,
Come to us, blind us with light that does not fail
to catch the corners, the alleys, the hidden places
your most needy children dwell. Burst boundaries.
Be bigger, loom larger, than words will warrant.
As you have before us, as you will long after.

Amen

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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