Aug 15 2012

Lost and Found

 

For many followers of Jesus, today is the Feast of Mary. Rarely do I find stories that do her justice, but this one, a meditation on Jesus gone missing by Christin Lore Weber, never fails to constrict my throat, moisten my eyes, and open my heart.

It is not just for mothers, but for anyone who has lost what is most precious.

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Our boy is gone. I looked in every tent, asked every child, pleaded with our kin. Old Phanuel was bedding down the beasts and told me not to fret. Jesus is a boy, he laughed, and boys will do what boys will do. I wept, hiding beyond my veil. He could be dead. What about the bandits of the hills? He could be captured, enslaved, like Joseph of the tale we tell on winter nights circled round the fire. He would not have run away. Not my child.

I have lost a lot of things. The first veil made by my mother’s mother when she was a girl. It was rough spun stuff and woven crooked just a bit. I left it in the sycamore outside the village where I played when I was young. My mother wept and sent me after it, but it was gone. A string of lapis beads from Joseph when we were betrothed. I wore them like a promise everywhere and always. It was in Egypt they were lost, somewhere along the road where we spent a night without a moon. I’ve lost much simpler things: my favorite needle made of bone, the clasp that Joseph carved to hold my cloak in place when it was cold and I am drawing water from the well, a pale blue cup, a clear carnelian stone. Tonight my hands hunger to touch these things. I would lay my head on the rough weave of my grandmother’s veil and again and again, through my tears, whisper the name of my child.

Tonight we can do nothing. We listen to the wind. We wait. Joseph paces past the fire. While I watch he stops; he turns his gaze to the invisible hills and his body bends against the fire’s light, like that of some abandoned God whose image stands broken where once the young men danced. He looks to be the ruin of a man. After this night he will never not be old.

I will not sleep. The nightbird calls;  a desert lion prowls the outer circle of the camp. The watchman listens for a child’s cry, but not as I listen. I have schooled my heart to Jesus’ every breath so that for thirteen years I have rested only in his breathing. His dreams awaken me so I am kneeling by his mat the moment that he starts from sleep and calls my name. How can he be lost? I would have felt him go. Such absence would have split my soul. I cannot sleep tonight; I will sit facing East listening for the breathing of my child. Wherever he may be I will surround him like a lullaby and he will sleep in peace.

When I lost the lapis beads we retraced our steps to where I last remembered wearing them. Each round pebble seemed a clue. Beads scatter from a broken cord. I searched in clumps of grass and broke my fingernails digging in the sand one place I thought I saw a glint of blue. We walked, zig-zagging back along the road, our eyes sweeping every inch of ground. If I could have found just one blue bead I would have treasured it like the midnight sky for all my life. As the sickle of the moon fell beneath the twilight we returned to where we began. Joseph looked at me as if to say, “The beads are gone but you will wear my promise always as earth wears the lapis sky.”

At dawn our kin spiraled outward from the camp calling Jesus’ name. Rebecca thought she heard him whimper from behind some rocks. She cried, “He’s here!” and we followed her, scrambling up a stone outcropping toward the sound. It was but a lamb caught in a bramble. Young Asher saw a speck of red appear and disappear across the plains and thought it must be Jesus’ coat. We found just a tattered blanket blown here and there by desert winds. I lost him more that twenty times today. Whenever I close my eyes tonight to rest from hope and fear I see him in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s towers and sprawling streets lie just below. It is the third day. I want to run to the temple. I want to cry his name. I know that he is here. He would be sheltered by the temple like a womb. But my heart is tight with unwept tears. If he is in the temple could God have wished it so? When Sarah lost her only son because his father heard the voice of God, she also must have wondered and wept. How she must have run across the burning sand to meet him when he stumbled down the mountain with old Abraham blinded by fire. That night she must have arisen from her sleep a hundred times to look at Isaac and she must have asked the darkness, “Why are mothers not consulted in these things?”

I saw him first as any mother might, simply safe. He looked at us and smiled as if we’d never been apart. “We’ve sought you, sorrowing,” said Joseph and his voice was weighted with the desert nights and millennia of desert sand. I saw my son. I had not seen him quite this way before. “Why did your seek me?” His inquiry was innocent and wise. He had expected us to know. I saw our future in him then, the truth of all our lives. We all live in one another’s love. No one can be lost. I turned within, listened to the voice of my heart and he was there as he had always been.

He came with us. I had looked into the eyes of my son and seen God. Now he came along like any other little boy.

All that was years ago. Our son returned to Nazareth to learn wisdom from simple things of earth. Joseph taught him how to work with wood, respect the natural grain, rub it with the wax of bees until it glowed. With our cousin, Nathaniel, Jesus learned the art of growing grain to yield a hundredfold of fruit. He reaped at harvest-time and brought home riches from the earth from which we made delicious bread. He carried the basket for me when we observed the Feast of Loaves, sharing our riches of food with those more needy than ourselves. We go to synagogue and he learns the wisdom of the law. He also listens to the birds and asks me, “Where is the beginning of the wind?”

His eyes are lapis, deeper than the night and clear. All my life when silence wraps me like a shawl I will close my eyes and wonder at these things. I will gather bright blue beads wherever they are scattered in my heart and join them on a cord.

What I have sought is in my heart. I wear it like a promise.

Glory to the One who loves us with a mother’s heart. Glory where our life begins and to the home from which we walk to seek our names. Glory that our lives are scattered beads around the world. Glory to the One in Whom nothing is lost.

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(An edited repost from the archives)


Jan 18 2012

The Child of Tomorrow

When I was seven, I walked into an empty church and was struck by the silence and peacefulness. There was a Presence in that silence I longed to know. A few years later, my family moved to Germany and the rich silences of the ancient churches and monasteries fed my young spirit.

Today I read a poignant New York Times article called The Joy of Quiet.  It both disturbed me and encouraged me to think about how Christ might respond.

The author began with describing an advertising conference whose focus was on how to market to the children of tomorrow.

I was horrified, though not surprised.

What did surprise me was what the marketers decided would be the needs of tomorrow’s child:

Stillness. Silence. The ability to unplug from ubiquitous virtual connection.

The article described “black hole” resorts where people paid for the privilege of no TV, no internet, to go off-grid and disappear, then went further and discussed internet Sabbaths and monastic retreats. One story was about the  author seeking out a Benedictine monastery to walk and think and unplug.

As a student of both monasticism and contemplative living, the article reminded me of something I first considered a few months ago:

The next wave of desert monasticism will be a technological one.

Rather than thousands leaving the cities to seek God and prayerful community in the desert, as Christians did in the 3rd and 4th centuries, I think that we will begin to see thousands unplug for similar reasons from all but the most critical connective technology.

I’m not judging technology as evil, or denigrating it’s ability to connect people across the miles. I am fully enamored with the latest and greatest apps and productivity tools. I facebook and tweet and blog and skype and pin. But I also feel the seepage of energy and a lessened ability to focus and pray after too long in front of a screen. I feel the compulsive thrill of connection when the reward centers of my brain see a “like”–yet must question whether that is a mark of relationship or simply marketing. I feel ambivalence when I try to reconcile my on-line presence and the call toward a contemplative life.

Connective technology is not only all pervasive, but like the root system of bamboo, it’s nearly impossible to curtail, let alone dig up. It often grows over and around any boundaries against it, and cannot be eradicated.

I find, even living alone, that silence, solitude, and stillness is not a foregone conclusion. I have to actively choose it or every moment can be spent listening, watching, surfing, connecting, doing.

The article also pushed me to ask a question:

How might the children of tomorrow be introduced to the stillness and silence of contemplative life, even monastic life?

I’m reminded of my own childhood experience, encouraged and supported by my parents. How often they took me into the churches and let me wander, unhurried, and soak up the prayerful peace.

I’m reminded of Seattle’s St Mark’s Cathedral Compline service, every Sunday night at 9:30pm. Thirty minutes of ancient sung prayer, the service gathers hundreds of people of all ages,  armed with pillows and blankets, to lie in the aisles and up around the altar. Oh, I would have loved it as a kid.

I’m reminded of Godly Play, a liturgical Sunday school curriculum which invites children into prayer, story, and silence for reflection.

I’m reminded of the awe I’ve see on a young girl’s face during the Eucharist at St Paul’s–when Mother Melissa, in her beautiful robes, lifts the bread and breaks it, pausing for a holy and rich moment of silence.

Here is Mystery. Here is the presence of God.

Children need to run and laugh and play.  Children need to bang on pots and yell and impact their environment. But in a culture that offers non-stop visual and auditory engagement through activities, virtual worlds, TV, radio, music–

How can we balance the noisy and fun running around times with dedicated spaces and experiences of stillness and silence?

How can we give them an experience of a different rhythm, a different decibel level, a different way of spending time, a different way of seeking and experiencing Christ?

Monasteries are not commonly known for being a place of retreat for the whole family–I’ve only visited one which embraced that vision. But I would love more such places to open their doors wide and provide child-friendly experiences alongside their adult-centered retreat offerings.

Have you found child-welcoming contemplative or monastic centers where silence and stillness is part of the experience? I would love to hear about them, and your own thoughts about this topic.


Oct 19 2011

{Day 19} Cultivating a Relationship with Your Home, Part 3

When I think how close I came to not taking my apartment, I marvel at God’s patient persistence and the grace gift of faith.

I’ve moved nearly every year for the past decade and when I moved back to Seattle to write my dissertation, I gave myself a month to find a place, and my constant prayer was…please, a place I won’t have to leave for a while.

But the rental market skyrocketed that summer and rents rose to near Boston levels. I despaired. Slowly my faith in God’s provision was replaced by a willingness to pay more.

Finally, I just had to admit that a higher rent was not the answer and I took the whole project to God in prayer, made a list of the things that I longed for in a living space, things that I knew from experience would be helpful as I worked at home and lived day to day:

From my journal:

1. Below $900 (this is hard, I don’t believe it is possible).
2. A place I can spend my days in without going stir crazy. A home. Peaceful. Retreat. Aesthetically easy on the eyes.
3. A cat
4. Washer and dryer–I really like having a place to do laundry.
5. Trees
6. Fireplace
7. A deck for tea on pretty days
8. Near a bus that will get me to Bethany without too much trouble.

I walked into the place a week later (and no, it didn’t come with a cat, but it did, unlike many other places, allow for the possibility. I wonder sometimes if a cat will turn-up on my doorstep one day–I already have all the supplies).

It also had a view and a dishwasher, things I really wanted, but felt I couldn’t ask for.

It was also strangely, delightfully coincident that that building and street names are the same as my middle name.

The curious thing is that I almost didn’t take it. Every other place I’ve moved, there were no doubts, I felt certain and made the decision. In this case, even with all the rightness of the place, I didn’t have that confidence.

I sat in the apartment–the landlord said I could take a couple days to decide, and visit as much as I wanted. I sat some more until my rear hurt from sitting on the stone fireplace seat. And the next day, I sat some more and finally started to pray. Yes or no? Should I or shouldn’t I?

I asked for prayer from friends. I spent a lunch with my friend Cathee listing all the pros and cons. Then I went back to my temp place and prayed some more. And it struck me: I was being asked to make a choice based on God’s leading, as near as I could discern it, let go of my concerns and my pride, and simply trust HimThis was a gift being held out, I had the freedom to say no, but I was scared to say yes.

It became critical to ask one more question of God: Will you be there, in this new place, no matter what?

(I think there was little bit of a chuckle).

Yes, Susan. Of course.

It is easy to forget that this world is more than trees and soil, concrete and wood, atoms and molecules, that there is a spiritual world woven in and through and around us, and a God who promises presence. As we consider our homes, as places where we are vulnerable, places for rest, love, and laughter, or places of tension and anger, all homes are places of God’s healing and loving presence.

“For in him we live and move and have our being.” –Acts 17:28

Practice: Walk around your home and reflect on how you see, feel, and meet God in this place, and how you would like to know God’s presence in your home, in its atmosphere, among the relationships of those who live there, in the logistics of money and upkeep, in the role it plays as place of hospitality, and in any other ways the Holy Spirit inspires you to pray.



Oct 5 2011

{Day 5} Welcoming Back Hope

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For many years, I took Amtrak everywhere, rather than flying. There were many reasons for this–I enjoyed seeing the beauty of this country and crossing timezones at a slower speed. I loved getting to know fellow travelers, many from distant countries where train travel was the norm.  I also was terrified of flying, which thankfully, has been healed.

One of my favorite things about train travel was the anticipation. When I got on the train, it felt like the beginning of an adventure–new sights, sounds, and people to enjoy. Everything was interesting, everything called to my attention.

At night, sleeping on a moving train can be challenging–it is much more turbulent than a normal plane or car ride–so I would find myself staring out the window, watching the darkened landscape zip by, wondering about the souls asleep in houses tucked away just beyond the tracks.

One December, I traveled from Boston to Texas via Chicago and as I kept vigil in the dark, speeding through Western Massachusetts, I saw something beautiful: houses miles apart bejeweled with holiday lights. These farms were far from towns, major roads and even sight of each other, and I wondered why they put up lights. Certainly, their occupants no doubt enjoyed coming home to the bright splendor on dark winter nights, but in this one long lonely stretch of farmland and trees, it was a regular sight. Even random outbuildings were lit up.

Then I realized. Near as they were, they could see the passenger trains and knew we could see them, if we looked. In the time-honored tradition, that still happens in rural America, you wave at trains–and during the day those on the train wave back.

That night, every shining house was waving, hoping to be seen, giving a gift of beauty if we on the train would but look.

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Contemplative living is an odd mix of both paying attention without expectation about what will be noticed, and hope that there is something and someone to notice, maybe to even receive a glimpse of the deeper Love that holds everything together.

But sometimes what beckons to be noticed is not lovely or beautiful or desired.

Sometimes what we hope for is dampened or destroyed in disappointment. And when this happens, I often ask: Why keep paying attention? Why live contemplatively–to look with and for God in the world–when all I see are disappointed hopes?

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The author of Proverbs writes, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when longing is fulfilled, it is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)

Our hopes point us to the Author of All Hope, and while we live in a world where hope is often deferred, to live in hope is to live abundantly in God.

We can take our longings to the God who holds us and weeps with us, and live again in hope for how he will redeem our disappointment (and oh, yes! How wonderful is his redemption revealed in Christ.)

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Yesterday, we considered how a way to find out what you love is to pay attention to what breaks your heart.

Today, I’d invite you to tenderly and gently pay attention to your disappointment in order to find your hope.

Follow the bread crumbs back to that fragile hope, to the house bejeweled with light in the darkness, and to the Love waiting there to hold and heal and cherish you.

God is waving at you in your hopes, look out the window and see.

31 Days


Jul 27 2011

Night bus companions

I got on the 71 in the University District after an enjoyable dinner with my friend Julia.  Riding a Seattle bus from the Ave to downtown at night never fails to be just another commute.

As the sun quietly disappears and the bus windows reflect back the humanity rubbing shoulders in this moving metal cylinder,  the gathering of party-heels and mini-skirts, make-up, tattoos, piercings, workers, homeless, lonely, and teens is sometimes poignant, sometimes loud, often perfumed with eau-de-bourbon, and occasionally scary.

But most of the time, it’s simply quiet with an undercurrent of loneliness–everyone pretending to be invisible, lost in their own reverie, attached to iPods and listening to their life soundtracks alone.

As I quickly scanned the full bus, taking a seat, I determined the relative peacefulness of the riders and took in the details of clothes, and expressions. Always, for a mind-expanding moment, I’m suddenly aware that everyone has a life of complex relationships and histories, everyone had a “day” and that day was different than mine, unconnected but for city–except we’re all now together on the 71.

I snapped out of my cosmic musings when a movement across from me revealed a rabbit. Surprised, all my surreptitious people-watching skill failed. I simply stared.

Gently held in an older man’s arms was a large charcoal gray bunny.

The man had an animal carrier on his lap, but the rabbit was clearly content looking out the window from the safety of his owner’s embrace. After the man’s seatmate left, he put the creature on his shoulder, and there he (she?) confidently sat, nose moving rapidly.

Whenever the bus slowed to a stop, the man carefully reached a hand up and held his friend in place.  When things got chaotic, he brought the bunny back to the safety of his arms and the creature snuggled close.

The man saw me watching. I smiled, but he looked away. I’m sure he was used to looks. Dogs and cats on the bus are common sights. A Metro-riding rabbit was a new one in all my bus-commuting years.

What captivated me, though, was not the uniqueness of his companion, nor that said companion seemed so unfazed by the busy bus, but the affection so obvious between them.

Love emanated from the man toward his little friend. He cared for his companion in a way I’ve rarely seen other riders act with their dogs or cats. And though reading the thoughts of a rabbit is beyond me, the bunny seemed confident and caring of his friend as well, nuzzing his cheek, content to relax in his arms or on his shoulder.

They cherished each other, attended to each other. Witnessing the affection, in a setting often marked by a quiet, desperate loneliness, brought tears to my eyes.

Companion is from the Latin companis, with-bread.

They were the food of love for each other.

Love takes many forms. As they left the bus, man and rabbit, I silently thanked them. On a night bus ride of anonymity shone a bond of companionship, that for a brief moment caught me as a witness in its embrace.

Photo: Thomas Hawk

May 11 2011

Resurrecting Hope

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The past couple of months, as the trees leafed out and the wildflower seedlings poked their tiny heads through the soil, I felt the chill of winter.

It could be that Seattle had it’s coldest, grayest April on record.

But as the joy of Easter seeps slowly in, I realize Lent just lasted a bit longer for me this year.

I planted my blue morning glory seeds over four weeks ago and kept checking for signs of life, even as I checked my own heart.

Hope had gone into hiding.

Is anything growing?

Will anything ever grow?

And if it does, what’s its purpose?

I wait in hope that the lifeless seeds will one day bloom. It’s seemed to take forever, just to get this far, and I can’t see the end.

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This morning, asking my questions, I picked up a book by Richard Sterns, The Hole in Our Gospel. Sterns is the president of World Vision.

I  randomly opened it to an amazing story of seed planting.

Edward Kimball taught Sunday school in Boston and invested in the lives of boys and young men. One of these teens was particularly challenging, so Kimball visited him at his family’s shoe store. He spoke about the love of Christ (actually mumbled it nervously, not sure what to say), and surprisingly the young man committed his life to Christ then and there. This teen, Dwight L Moody, would ultimately share the gospel with over 100 million people during his life, as well as start inner city ministries and a college in Chicago.  In 1879, F.B. Meyer was influenced by Moody’s witness and became a minister, he in turn mentored J.W. Chapman, who ministered to professional baseball players. One of those players, Billy Sunday, became one of the most known evangelists of the early 20th century.  Sunday’s ministry of preaching led Mordecai Ham to follow Christ,  and Ham became an evangelist as well. Ham’s preaching and invitation to follow Christ was heard by a young teen, Billy Graham.

Richard Sterns writes: “Do you sometimes feel that you have nothing worthwhile to offer–that you are a nobody when it comes to doing great things for God? I wonder if Edward Kimball felt the same way. He never did anything spectacular or particularly newsworthy. He just showed up out of faithfulness to God, an hour or two each week, to teach the boys in his class. And yet Edward Kimball’s dedication to teaching Sunday school faithfully and caring about those boys changed the world.”

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Our daily work of love is a seed. Loving one person near us cannot but unleash God’s love in some unique way into the world.

And that amazing transformative Love will sparkle and spiral and twirl as it touches the lives of countless others down into the future.

We may never know to where and to what just showing up and sharing God’s love will lead.

But knowing that God’s Word of Love created the universe and raised his Son from the grave, we can hope for a garden of abundance to spring green.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord

more than those who watch for the morning,

more than those who watch for the morning.

–Psalm 130:5-6

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