to live

Here
Forgiveness for us
who did the very thing.
Love for us
who hate.
Refuge for us
who wander, who flee, who are lost.
Mercy Compassion Joy Rest Healing Strength
Presence Welcome Trust Friendship
Healing Peace Reach
Life
all the things
breaking through
the stone
“Now go and tell and do
likewise”
Here in the darkness,
dawn
Him
We to live
this HOPE

thoughts on advent. 2016

I’ve put this annual reflection off, and now it’s Jan 1, 2017. I haven’t wanted to write it because I don’t like to do things for the sake of doing them. I don’t like saying rote things that could be counted as trite, like I haven’t thought about it. Especially to those who are going through pain. I’ve been the recipient of that, and it sucks.

And I’m weary. A lot of people have said that. They have said they are excited to get rid of 2016. But even that makes me weary. I don’t have a lot of hope for 2017.

There’s been quite a few I know who have just been through it. Like you wouldn’t believe. Family members sick, broken relationships, internal turmoil, death … And others  who have been waiting – waiting for jobs, for a change, for health…

And I work for an int’l development agency, and we’re inundated with news of Syria and millions of refugees fleeing. We hear of children trying to cross the border into Texas because of the violence in Central America. And our country is incredibly divided, not to mention our own families at times. And it’s exhausting.

So I want to be careful about saying just words.

As I began this advent, I thought – I’d like to reflect on PEACE. We need peace in us, in our world, all that…isn’t the Christmas story full of peace?

But then I couldn’t find it. Do you know how many times ‘peace’ is mentioned in the Christmas story? Once.

You can’t force a meditation. And truth be told, there wasn’t much peace. Israel was occupied, under another regime.  There’s a lot of waiting. And in that waiting, so much anxiety. So much fear and doubt.

And when I read the part about Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. It hit home. How tired they must have been. Finally getting there and hearing, ‘no room’. Mary had to have thought (well I personally would have thought) ‘of course, this is just about how I’d expect everything to go based on this year…”

How exhausting it must have been for Mary, both physically and mentally. Was she full of doubts? Doubts that others had certainly placed in her. Fears she herself couldn’t help but have.

And when they did arrive to where they expected to: “No room”, landing in a stable, placing this baby – whom they had been told is the Messiah – in a feeding trough, Joseph must have felt incredibly inadequate as a husband and a father at this moment.

I’m sure the shepherds couldn’t have come at a better time, bursting in shouting ‘where’s the Messiah we’ve heard about?”.

I see both waiting (Simeon, Anna, Israel) and journeys taken (Mary, Joseph, the wise men) in the Christmas story. But the process is the same. The emotions are the same. The inner turmoil and questions still exist whether you are stagnant or wandering.

Were the wise men disappointed to find a baby in the end? How many times did Simeon and Anna ask God, “How long, Oh Lord? How much longer?”

And then Mary and Joseph again having to get up and flee for their child’s life – really holding the destiny of mankind in their hands – leaving a weeping town behind them… because of them.

So often, I tend to get into myself, and my path feels tired, full of doubt, unrelatable. And just when I think I’ve arrived where I wanted to go, it wasn’t what I expected or it’s even scarier than I imagine.
Or I never move.
At all.
And everyone else does.
It can feel incredibly lonely sometimes. And very far from peaceful. And the people I thought I could trust – well, they disappointed me.

So what’s left? What small piece can I take with me as I enter into a new year?

I’d like to be like those shepherds. I’d like to be able and willing to show up in the right moment because I took the opportunity – without hesitation, confirming to a fellow wanderer that they are on the right path. So much of the violence, pain and hatred of 2016 may not have been directed specifically at me or happened to me, but if I can come around and just be some one who says, “I’m here with you”; then I want to be that person.

I’d like to continue on waiting (or moving) despite my fears and doubts. So I have to ask, how could all these people do that? How does anyone? Really there has to be a very deep motivation for either one – greater than all our unmet expectations, disappointments and feelings of inadequacies and loneliness.

The wise men, Shepherds, Joseph, Mary – all had a deep pull, that only a very deep calling could keep them going.  Something – that in the midst of the oppression, fears, doubts, weariness, murderous threats, fleeing, loneliness, trouble – something greater gave them a reason to continue. And continue in what may have seemed to some a bold or scary choice. I want this courage and this passion. This I want to remember and hold on to.

Theirs was a deep hope in the belief that Mary carried the Savior of the world, and that he was called the Prince of Peace.
There. Peace.
Let me again repeat this line from that old Christmas carol: “the hope and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight …”

If

If this heart is cracked
I apologize
It’s seen and trusted
and broken

If these eyes
look away
I apologize
They have forgotten a steady gaze
of love. that holds it
locked

If these lips are closed
I apologize
they’ve allowed unmentionables
and revealed deep secrets. and lost all access.

If these feet walk away,
That’s all they’ve ever known.
That’s all they’ve ever known.

The Euphony of Baltimore

Inspired by Pastor Chris Dreisbach’s sermon at Old St. Paul Episcopal and a good man on Eutaw Street:

A step over cracks and chicken bones on
Eutaw street
I pass the flock of Raven-decked men in
deliberation:
“You don’t know what…”
but I never find out as I keep walking
and “Loose ones!” drowns out
all else
in my ear

A wide U-turn by an MTA bus spurs an angry honk
by a yellow taxi cab
The doors breathe open
letting out umbrellas, tired faces, a hope that today,
Tuesday, may be a little sunnier, a little
better, bring a little more money, maybe that
check will come in today, maybe one day…
…there will be less maybes

I can’t ignore the silent man sifting
through the layered cardboard
packed tightly in Tito’s Vodka and
stereotypes
and an aroma of sour loss
And I can’t ignore that just last week
Lexington street taped in yellow warnings and
flashing lights frightened mid-western visitors
from crab cakes in Mrs. Faidley’s.

But one,
one grizzly bearded small man
steps back up the curb toward me,
looks up from under his purple hat
nods and casually says
“Good morning, Dear Heart, good morning.”

makes me smile, simple as that
and I can’t help but think
Baltimore is beautiful
Baltimore is beautiful

lexington market

Advent 2015: interruptions and fear

Over the last month, what has stood out to me as I meditate on the Christmas story is perhaps a reflection of what this year has been like both globally and personally: the prolific amount of interruptions in the lives of the people in the Christmas story.

I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. Can you imagine the complete change in Elizabeth and Mary’s plans – on both ends of their lives? But they welcomed the (unusual) interruption with a willingness and an anticipation that I doubt I could have.

Then there’s the innkeeper. All the inns in Bethlehem were full (a good problem for them of course), and he could easily turn away this interruption as others had done (that most likely wouldn’t benefit him). But he didn’t, and we remember him as the man who didn’t turn away the Messiah.

Then the shepherds, living their regular daily lives, watching their sheep. Probably frightened out of their wits when an unbelievable amount of angels filled the skies. Sounds story-book really. Still, after the sky emptied, they went to the manger and found Jesus there – just as the angel had said. And from then on: lives interrupted, never to be the same. But they ran to welcome this Messiah everyone had been waiting hundreds of years for.

True, this was about a good interruption, for a hope that brought joy and peace. But it still meant the unknown, a change not planned for, fear, possible rejection, a pause for an indefinite amount of time or a completely new direction. For the wise men, they packed up everything in search of something they weren’t even sure of.

And the list goes on: Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph again on their way to Egypt, Herod. oh. wait. Herod. This guy… like them, he was also interrupted and also afraid. And out of his fear, insecurity, jealousy, he reacted in the opposite extreme.

But here’s the crux – where it hits home, because sometimes I’m more like Herod than Mary. No, I’m not killing toddlers, but I have often responded to fear with fear. And that isn’t a solution. It only creates more fear in us and others.

Honestly, most of the interruptions in our lives aren’t the good kind. Most of them don’t promise good news, hope and joy. Most of them do bring fear, the unknown, possible rejection.

When I read the Advent story, I’m also comforted by the amount of times Gabriel has to tell everyone “Don’t be afraid”. Because Mary was. Zechariah was. Joseph was. The Shepherds were. Who wouldn’t be? Who isn’t when it’s the unknown, the unpredictable, the unplanned?

These are the words I cling to in my life. And the fact that they were afraid – even in the face of good news. Like it’s okay.

The thing is -we’re going to be interrupted. By outsiders – like Mary and Joseph did to the innkeeper. Or personally, like Joseph who found himself marrying a pregnant girl (not with his child).

And being afraid is natural.

Maybe that’s why the words of “o little town of Bethlehem” have really caught me this year:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight.”

We’re not alone. I believe there is One who meets our fears, takes our fears, and in the end, changes it to hope. And if you don’t believe in the Christmas story, the essence is still true – we’re not alone and we are – in the end – part of what the Christmas story is also about: hope. Our response to our fears is so key.

It’s finding the willpower, the fight to respond to that fear with “let it be” (Mary), or respond with the right thing to do even though others around you may whisper against you (Joseph), or it inconveniences you (the innkeeper), or you don’t understand it (Zachariah)… Or maybe you make the choice to hurt others (Herod).

I know it’s not profound. I know that this can sound over-simplified. I know I haven’t faced the situations that others have, but I hope that I will not add to their pain by reacting wrongly out of my own. I can only hope (and I know not always, not always will it work out so easily) that I can bring hope for others.

He is.

My annual Easter poem, with gratitude… 

He is concerned with

a knowing for
the woman at the well
the surprise of a girl who hides for too long
from the whip every time she draws
the water she needs the whispers that sting her skin, piercing the heart
she’s claimed not to have … in the past

But he knows her.
He knows her.
And that’s all that he said.

He is concerned with
reassuring
the one who’s faith trusted his robes
deep in the crowd that pressed,
resting in a waking of power
that heals
the priest in the night
baffled and blundering
the blind men
begging to see
“Where have they taken him, please?”

He is concerned with peace
with giving back
the ear that went missing
with changing
the Sabbath
the temple
the curtain revealing
the code that he’s breaking
that shook all of us–white-washed tombs–
empty

He is concerned with
forgiveness
understanding
for we who have no clue what we are
doing or demanding
(asking “what is truth?”)
in life
in death
in love
in
intolerance for the man called a king
loved a man called a thief
and met him in heaven that hour.

He is concerned with looking
Through our wine and vinegar offerings
deep in the heart in the tears
to the water, the blood
Asking us from his position of death

to ‘take care of each other’

Then crying out that He – forsaken –
finished all the taking

that we all deserved
to take.

Thoughts on Advent 2014

As most of you know – I try to reflect on one very small part of the Christmas story each year – to keep it fresh and personal.
Honestly, this didn’t feel like a super productive year: no big changes or crazy trips. And maybe that’s okay 🙂 – It has felt like a year of Being – of digging in, rooting down – in friends, in faith, in self-awareness, in an ever-growing dissatisfaction with easy answers and a striving to be comfortable with complexities.
As is usually the case, I don’t seem to choose the direction Advent takes me. This Christmas (again), the name “Immanuel” kept coming up – this idea of the longing of of a Holy God to be present with us – a poor struggling human race. And this year, the name took on a deeper meaning for me.Part of my self-learning has not been pretty. I’ve realised that I hate being weak. I hate being vulnerable. I would rather be the one comforting some one else. I don’t like needing help. I don’t like pity and I feel uncomfortable with sympathy.
But I’ve slowly come to value true empathy. What a gift understanding is. What a comfort a simple act of presence is. What an odd relief to hear “I’ve hurt too”. And what beauty can happen when you yourself open up to others.
I can’t help but think that the Christmas ‘story’ really is the ultimate act of empathy. The incarnation is even deeper than “Immanuel – God with us”, but it is “God was us.”
“He knows our need” “To our weakness, is no stranger”. He truly knows our struggles. Not just because he is God. But because He became man.Perna Chodron, a Buddhist nun, wrote “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”This is so beautiful – and yet I didn’t truly appreciate it until I read it from the perspective of the receiver. Compassion means so much more when it comes not from some one reaching down – deigning to give but when it comes from some one reaching across out of his or her own pain and struggles.
 I’m still trying to comprehend it. God. as a baby. Every year, it becomes more and more miraculous to me – and every year it becomes more and more precious.
The Creator wraps Himself in mud and sin and pain and weakness – to reach out to us so we could be part of His light and love and grace.
For many people I know, this year hasn’t been the easiest. And I can’t even begin to comprehend what happened in Pakistan last week or what has been going on in Syria for years.
But the story of Christmas came also at a time of oppression, conflict, murder, loneliness, silence, poverty…
It’s why Jesus came to earth. To know us. To save us – in the deepest most empathetic way possible – He “made Himself nothing, by taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
I’m not Catholic, but I have to quote Pope Francis on this:
“God’s becoming man is a great mystery! But the reason for all this is his love, a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved. Charity, love, is sharing with the one we love in all things. Love makes us similar, it creates equality, it breaks down walls and eliminates distances. God did this with us.”Understanding and empathy gives us just a little hope that it’s possible to go on out of our own darkness, our own struggles – some one has been there before. Sometimes that’s all we need in order to see just a little bit.  We can make it one more day. Some one understands. Someone is here. There is a light in our darkness. There is hope.
That’s what we celebrate in December.And the thing is – is that when it comes to experiencing this, I find that this love, this hope is revealed in us and to us through others – through each other. I’ve seen this Immanuel “God with us” sense through people – those who for that moment put aside their own lives in order to better enter mine.
Just as Jesus entered our world, we enter in to the midst of each other’s pain (AND joy!). What I can do now for those around me is to be with, a presence, some one who becomes part of their present. With this gift of understanding, of grace, the “I’ve been there” – well, it becomes bearable. That’s what so many have done for me.
So this year – my reflection is less a lesson or platitude, but it’s really a song of gratitude. I can’t help but be grateful for so many who have sat with me. Given me hope. For those who I have gotten to sit with – allowed me to enter in to their vulnerability and weakness. That in itself is a gift.  I’m grateful for my friends and family and even strangers who have been “with me” and I with them. For a God – who somehow became a baby just like me, because of a love for a broken world.
Whether I just met you this year or I haven’t seen you in forever (and really whether we have the same beliefs or not), you have in so many wonderful ways revealed that Christ child and His presence and hope to me.
A heartfelt thank you.
Merry Christmas to all of you!

Residue

I heard the beginning line* below at a conference, and it caught my attention – it’s from Archibald MacLeish’s modern rendition of Job called J.B. And it started this line of thought…

“Blow on the coals of my heart”*
O God.
Let not my love grow thin
when weariness wastes the withered will.
Give me the foolish courage to answer (and even ask?) the question:

“Am I still breathing?”
Fogging a mirror that reflects
Mildewed eyes. Let not ‘faith’ become a tired word
A common degradation (that offends
or obscures or absorbs).
Let me grow angrypassionatejoyfuldevastatedoverwhelmed
Hammer the fear that lulls me to sleep
Wake me with a whisper
And let me gulp the wind.

The Middle

I can’t imagine what it’s like to flee my home as a refugee. Just a few sketched words:

Sand sifts,
brushes against the canvas tent
A small quavering
refuge
that barely replaces the once
solid house
now crushed in bones under rubble
Joy. It breaks and cracks,
Five hundred miles in the past.
The wandering is one thing
But the wondering is hell.
There’s a Nowhere in the heart.
And the soul is a worn stone, ground
as sand shifts
brushing the quavering
canvas of
refugees that barely can place
their home
now crushed
buried under waiting.
Peace. It looks away.
And hope grows in withered form here…