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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

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A good friend revealed to me that she no longer believes. “In what?” a mutual friend asked. “Any of it,” our friend replied. “Prayer. The Holy Spirit. The afterlife.” I hope we were supportive of her; what she is going through is hard. But the road she’s on is one that even saints have trod. Why believe? I can only say that I believe because I need to, because I want to, and because I can. How? It is, as Aziraphale of “Good Omens” would say, “ineffable.”

Faith is fragile.
Prone to breakage,
chimeric and illusory.
Yet just when I think
I can turn my back,
There it is:
A breath on my shoulder,
an arrow, indicating,
a suggestion, a whisper,
a hint of something coming
swiftly. Surely.
I cannot name it,
identify the make and model,
even as it runs me down.
To name it is to contain it,
and that I cannot do.
It springs back, cautious, and
my doubter’s mouth is stopped
by something.
Something?
Something.

 

Book club.  Women’s Bible Study.  Adult Sunday School. Choir.  Green Committee.   Craft Fair.

Involved in as much as I am, it is so easy for church to become something of a check list.  Readling list out?  Check.  Upcoming meetings posted on Facebook.  Not yet.  Need to get that done.  Rehearsed first track of cantata?  Need to do that too.  Where I am going to find the time and the energy?

Then I have to remind myself that if I’m asking this question, my focus is in the wrong place.  It is time to walk the labyrinth, or sit in prayer in the sanctuary, or light a candle and pull out the Book of Common Prayer.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Shift my focus.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Spend some quiet time with God.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Take this serenity back out into an all too busy world.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.

–SueBE

 

A recent poll revealed that nearly 80% of Catholics could not explain transubstantiation of the Eucharist. This, the pollsters noted, was a terrible failure. I disagree.

Sue BE was right when she advocated embracing one’s own ignorance and seeking solutions. But not everything is cut and dried. Transubstantiation — the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ — is a mystery. Not every mystery can be diligently divined. Some things remain a mystery.

And that’s okay.

Sure, humans are programmed to want answers, to lean toward black-and-white clarity. But (as Sue also noted) we’re only human. We can’t understand everything. We can’t solve everything. If you can’t live with ambiguity, with shades of gray, with mystery, you’ve got a bumpy journey ahead of you.

The road never did go straight.
Sands shift. Time expands and contracts.
And there you are, in fog, flailing, falling.
Still. Love is sure, and never fails; faith
supplants compasses. Head into the strange
knowing: what cannot be known now
will come, swimming into view, duck
where once was bunny. You will
recognize all things by their contours.
You will stumble into light. But for now,
be at peace. Mystery is a gift. You will
open it at leisure, realizing
it has been in your pocket
all the time.

 

 

On jury duty years ago, we were given a break during a case so we could stretch our legs. I went to the snack store, picked up some noshes and got in line. When it was my turn, the cashier asked, “What have you got today, ma’am?” In response, I said, “Oh, just a couple of these things,” and absent-mindedly waved toward my snacks. “I’m sorry, ma’am, you’re going to have to be more specific,” he said. “You see, I’m unsighted.”

I apologized profusely — so much so that he realized I didn’t just mean I was sorry for the flip answer. I’ll never forget his response. He said, “No need to feel sorry, ma’am. If the Good Lord had wanted me to be sighted, he would’ve given me sight. I work around it.” 

His strength of character was impressive, but so was the collective moral compass that switched on for those waiting in line. The man could tell which coins he was being given by their weight and size, but the bills all felt alike, so he had to ask what denomination he was being given. 

Suddenly we all had eagle eyes. You say you gave him a twenty dollar bill? Let me check on that. People were craning their necks to keep everyone else honest. It was as if a tiny Community Watch had formed spontaneously.

I think of that day when I lose faith in humanity, or when I think I’ve got it hard due to my own visual impairment, which developed later. That man soldiered on despite the hardship and got it done. And those people in line did the right thing without being asked. The truth is, the milk of human kindness hasn’t yet soured into yogurt. Just under the surface, the still, small voice is speaking loud and clear.

When I saw the headline “I will not declare a state of emergency in Newark over lead water crisis, (NJ Governor) Murphy says,” I realized that it’s probably for the best that I’m not governor of New Jersey. I’d end up doing things unilaterally based on my conscience. No doubt I’d be kicked out of office for going around all the roadblocks, like apathetic politicians and reams of red tape. 

First, I’d declare the obvious state of emergency for Newark, a city of 285,000, that hasn’t had safe drinking water since lead was found in city water lines. Next, I’d declare a state of emergency for Camden, a city with a population of 74,000, that doesn’t have a supermarket, forcing residents to rely on corner stores for their food. 

It’s a good thing I’m not governor of Arizona, either, because I’d call for a dedicated tax to establish infrastructure for the Native Americans who live on reservations and don’t have electricity, the internet, or indoor plumbing. Some even have to use flashlights to go to the outhouse in the middle of the night and haul drinking water in buckets.

I’d probably end up being a benevolent despot, trying to right all the wrongs in society in one term since I’d never be re-elected. Sure, I’ve got no experience, no crony-connections and no idea how to do the job, but my qualifications are: 

  1. I’m a human being, and,
  2. I’ve got a heart, and it’s telling me: something’s not right. 

If being denied access to food and water isn’t an emergency, what is? May those in power be hounded by Heaven until they do the right thing.

My friend Krissy over at Visionarie Kindness Chronicles posted a poem today about her discovery of poetry and how it seeped into her being, helping her make sense of her life. It’s terrific. My origin story is more predictable: My mother read me poetry from the time I was a baby. I remember her reading “The Highwayman” — “the moon was a ghostly galleon/tossed upon cloudy seas/and the highwayman came riding” — and stopping to say, “Do you hear the horse’s hoofbeats?” She tapped out the rhythm of the poem and I HEARD IT. Nothing was the same after that.

I was in bed when poetry first found me,
pierced my heart ear-first, an elf, a thief,
a waif who having found warm welcome
would never leave me. I started hearing it
everywhere, whispering words I kept
hidden in the trunk of a tree, in a shoebox
with my paper dolls, behind the geraniums,
velvet-leafed, that flanked the house I
fledged in. They grew, took root,
cross-pollinated with prayer until
there wasn’t anyone else I could ever be,
so bound was poetry with my blood.
I wept alliteration, sighed in spondees.
I was a Phantom of Delight; I was
alone and palely loitering. I was
The Lady of Shalott in “My heart
belongs to Daddy” pajamas.
Heroes get powers. I got a pen.
But I learned how to fly with it anyway.
Now only God can see me coming.

Today marks the Feast of the Assumption, the day when Jesus’ mother Mary was lifted body and soul into heaven. The “body” part is a big deal, apparently; once dead, the rest of us won’t see our bodies again until the Second Coming. But why would we need a body in heaven? Are we really that attached to these lumbering “bags of mostly water” (to quote an alien on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”)?

We are, I suppose, tactile creatures. Our bodies give us something to hang on to. Something to physically claim as our own. But we are not just our bodies. Whatever it is that gives a bunch of cells and chemicals sentience, it is certainly more than skin deep.

You may put all manner
of disparate matter into a bowl,
it will not stand or speak or dance.
How then, does the stuff of stars
transmute into mortal form?
And why do we hold so hard
to them, to familiar flesh—
an old coat gone out of style,
a pair of boots too snug?
Sentiment? Memory?
We walk a lifetime in skin,
our soul’s home, for a moment.
Will we shed them like a shell?
Or carry them into the kingdom,
into doughy glorification?
Only the maker knows
how lowly flesh becomes
capable of the infinite.

What if you had an outfit that brought you good luck every time you wore it? You’d put it on and, instantly, everything in your life would go well. I bet you’d wear it every single day! But here’s the catch: It came to you from Icarus, the farthest star known to man, and it’s got alchemical properties. 

While you get the hang of wearing it, you may randomly:

  • Become invisible
  • Be able to read minds at will
  • Hit all the winning lottery numbers in every state at the same time

On the other hand, you may also:

Would you take the risk?

If only it were as simple as putting on a scarf or tucking in a pocket square!

Well, you can actually create your own personal pocket of grace. Here’s how:

  • Focus on the positive
  • Surround yourself with people who lift you up
  • Stay on the path to the “yes” life

And before you know it, you’ve created your own good vibes. Oh, and it helps to give thanks to the one who made it all possible. No, not some corporate sponsor or mystery philanthropist! The one who made it all: you, me, the sky, earth and sea. Here’s another word for that pocket of grace: Faith.

…that hasn’t been said? Mass killing after mass killing, putting towns like Dayton and El Paso on the map in ways they wish had never happened. I’ve heard a lot of analysis about America in the last week, a lot of analysis about who kills and why. I am surprised to hear, for instance, that America is the only developed country with bad parents. The only one where kids play violent video games. They only country with any mental illness. These things must be true because gun violence doesn’t happen in any other developed country — not like it does here in the US.

Look, here’s what I know is true: America is a man with a gun standing before a thousand men with a thousand guns, representing a million men with a million guns, all claiming (all at once) that violence is never the fault of a man with a gun.

Here’s what else I know: There are more of us than there are of them.

Do not forget. Do not let anyone tell you to “put it behind you.” Keep it raw. Keep it festering. Hold it in your hand, even as it scorches your skin.

And then vote. Vote like your life depends on it, because it does.

Also, pray.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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