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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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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.

…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.

What is it that God wants us to do?  The question applies equally to tricky situations and big life choices.  There are a variety of ways to determine the answer.

Pray.  That one seems kind of obvious but how often do we remember to do it?  Should I take this class or that class?  Is this promotion a good choice?  What about giving money to this man with a sign?

Discernment.  Do you belong to a prayer group?  If so, ask the group to pray for you.  Ask them to listen for guidance.  Perhaps they can hear a message you cannot.

Read Scripture.  Often the answers to the questions we ask can be found in scripture.  Listen for God.  Help your neighbor (which extends to the broken lying in the road). Encourage your fellows in Christ.

Pray Again.  Remember, there is more than one way to pray.  You can use a prayer you have memorized such as the Lord’s Prayer (Thy will be done) or the Prayer of St. Francis (Let me not be).  You can pray while you draw or even while you walk.  Trace a finger labyrinth.  Sing.

Listen.  I don’t know about you but often I get so busy telling God what I want him to do, that I forget to listen.  But prayer is a conversation and, as any good conversationalist will tell you, conversation requires not only that you speak but also that you listen.

The answer may not be immediate.  Wait is also an answer and sometimes it is the one we least want to hear.

–SueBE

One of my friends works at a company that makes customized blankets and yard banners and much, much more.  Recently she explained to me how they do it.  When they make a blanket that is printed with an image of someone’s pet, they first print that image in reverse on a blanket-sized piece of paper.  Once that has been done, the blanket must be spread out oh so carefully so that it feeds through the steam press without shifting or wrinkling.  Then, as it passes over the paper, is it blasted with super steam.  The steam transfers and sets the image.

When I learn something and don’t use it, I forget. Then I find myself having to re-learn that particular skill.

Praying for my enemies?  Oh, yeah.  That does work.  It really changes my stinking thinking around.

Using my prayer beads?  Right — it slows down my thoughts and keeps my praying for much longer than my usual short-and-sweet memos to God.

Praying while I walk a labyrinth?  That’s one of the best places for me to hear God.

Knowledge that I don’t use is quickly lost.  Sure, it is wonderful when I regain it but how much better is it when use sets it up as a reliable practice?  Set by steam, ready for daily use.

–SueBE

This is one of my favorite prayers. Okay, technically, it isn’t a prayer.  It was written in The Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.  But I use it as a prayer.

For those you who don’t know of Julian of Norwich, she lived approximately from 1342 to 1416.  She was a spiritual counselor, a woman who set herself off from the world and lived at St. Julian’s Church in Norwich.  Thus the name by which we know her.  That’s right.  This isn’t even her real name.

Does that mean we should pity her as a woman whose identity has been taken from her?  I don’t think so but not because that isn’t an issue.  It is but in this case I suspect it is what she wanted.  She was an educated woman who wrote the oldest surviving Western book to be written by a woman.  She has a clue.

In The Revelations of Divine Love, she writes about her visions of Christ.  In one vision, she was bemoaning the fact that sin had to exist.  Wouldn’t everything be better if there was no sin? But Christ answered her in her vision, “It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

How often in prayer do we spend our time looking back, gazing on past sin and suffering?  Oh, God.  Why did this have to happen?

It did happen.  But there is God and where there is God there is hope.

“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

The world is not a perfect place and yet we have grace.

“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

We are flawed but we are God’s.

“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

–SueBE

As a writer and editor, I’ve always been a proponent of proper punctuation. It not only renders our words more readable and comprehensible, it can eliminate tragic misunderstandings. Don’t believe me? As a (rightfully) famous book about grammar points out in its title, a panda bear “eats shoots and leaves.” A murderer at a café, however, “eats, shoots, and leaves.” Big difference!

I’ve been pondering punctuation in relation to real life: Is death a period or an ellipse (…to be continued)? Or is it a semicolon, as we move from one part of our “sentence” (a complete thought) to another? Only God knows.

I pray in commas, brief pauses in my day, bare blips,
or often longer stops — ellipses and em-dashes —
the occasional exclamation, in pain, worry, joy…
a curved question mark, arced in self-pity.
The perfect prayer is, I think, a period.
Self-contained. Measured, like a bolt of cloth.
Shaped most simply, a clay cup
of subject, verb, and object.
And best if God is all three.

Trees are powerful things.  They take root in our emotions.

A fallen tree makes me sad.  I always want to pat it and try to make it feel better.  “There, there.”

Having to cut down a tree?  If it is sick, I can just barely tolerate the necessity.  If it isn’t . . .  Even if it has to be done for safety purposes, it is simply better if I’m not there.

Maybe this is because trees are slow to grow.  Plant a tree today and you aren’t going to have shade in a week or even a year.  This is an investment of decades.

Not that this should surprise us.  God is a long-term thinker.  It takes time for things to build, to grow, to mature.

Maybe that’s why we so often think that God isn’t listening to us.  Perhaps God is on tree time.   The next time you need to go to God in prayer, find a tree to lean against, sit on a shaded bench, stare up through the branches.  And talk to God who made both trees and human kind.

–SueBE

Some prayers are easy. And some…not so much. It is easy to pray for the unborn — little tabulae rasae of infinite potential — but not so easy to pray for those on death row, for folks on the fringes, for those who might not even want our prayers.

I cannot judge your heart.
You would not permit me,
even if I could. I am, as always,
at arm’s length, the rain beating
its wet fists on the window. It will not
be let in. Even so, I know fear,
and fear is often where you live.
Let us meet then on common ground:
I wish you safe passage.
I wish you better than common sense
would grant you. I wish you endless
horizons, walkable on feet that do not tire.
I wish for you the thing you will never give to me,
and that is peace. It hurts to hold you.
It hurts to let you go. God speed.

Had you told me, back when I was a kid, that someday I’d be doing all my writing on a laptop computer, I never would have believed you. (Also, I would have asked, “What’s a laptop computer?” Those were simpler times, folks.) Even during college, I wrote out all of my papers — no matter how lengthy — in longhand before typing them up. My brain-to-pen connection was strong. Nowadays, everything flows through my keyboard. Even prayers.

What is it
that emanates from you:
enters, moves and exits,
dances my digits
across lonely letters,
forming whole words,
little acts of creation —
a platypus, perhaps,
beaked but mammalian,
spare bits that somehow swim —
or a perfect petit four, iced
elegance, consumed in a gulp?
Is it the stuff of charlatans,
tapped alphabets, levitating tables?
Or is it you, yourself,
hunting and pecking,
posing a sort of code,
and do I even interpret one word in three?
Whatever this holy magic is,
please may it always be.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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