Friday, February 24, 2017

A Feast Day for Those Who Follow

Today is the traditional feast day of St. Matthias. In the 1960's, the Roman Catholic church moved his feast day to May 14, so that we're celebrating his life in a month that makes more chronological sense--Matthias was the apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, who committed suicide after he realized what his betrayal had wrought, so it makes sense to celebrate his life after Easter. Of course, traditionalists will celebrate today. And Eastern Orthodox believers will observe his feast day on August 9.

I've recently become a bit fascinated with this saint. I've done a smidge of research, and I can't tell what, exactly, he's the patron saint of.

If I was in charge, I'd make him the patron saint of people who must wait for recognition. Would I make him the patron saint of people who must wait for recognition in the workplace only, or in any situation? Is that process of waiting so different?

I have this on the brain because I work in a place where our local job ladder is very short. We have lots of folks who have been working for the organization for ten years or more--when there's a job opening, we can't promote them all. And once a person has been promoted, it might be years--decades even--before there's an opening above.

I imagine that the circle of Jesus was similar. There's the inner circle, the twelve, chosen early. Then there's a massive outer circle. Who would have dreamed of the incidents that led to a job opening in the inner circle?

Of course, as a woman, I will always wonder at what Gospel revisions went on in the early church. Was the inner circle really that tight? Was it really only twelve? Was it really only men? We know that Jesus had a sympathy towards women that was uncommon for his time period. Would he really have excluded them from the inner circle?

Then I think of the logistics of being one of the twelve--all that travel, all those difficult circumstances. Maybe it was kinder of Jesus not to call women to be part of the inner circle. If you go back to the sayings of Jesus, it's clear that he doesn't see hierarchy in the same way that humans do--he clearly mocked the idea that some disciples are more chosen than other.

So, would Matthias have even seen his appointment as a promotion? Maybe it's just our later proclivity to make lists that sees this development as a promotion. Of course, there is that passage in Acts that seems to show that the disciples shared our proclivities toward hierarchy and list making.

I think of Matthias, patiently waiting, following Christ, never knowing the outcome. In that way, he's the patron saint of us all. We follow Christ, not knowing whether we'll be chosen for some superhuman greatness, or whether we'll be called to stay put, quietly ministering the people around us. Some of us believe that God has a plan for us, while others believe that God will use us where we are, like a master weaver. Some of us believe that the universe is essentially chaotic, but we are not excused from God's mission of Kingdom building. Some of us know that we cannot possibly comprehend any of this, and we know that we are lucky that God does not depend on our puny imaginations.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Meditation Rocks

In this high stress time, let's remember how simple it is to create a Zen garden:

How soothing it can be to rake shapes in the sand:

Those photos reminded me of the time that my spouse and I made meditation stones:

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed writing on the stones with a gold pen:

I don't usually wear clothes with pockets, but if I did, I might slip one of these worry stones in my pocket to take with me through the day:

I love how rocks turn into footprints:

There's probably a metaphor here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, February 26, 2017:

First Reading: Exodus 24:12-18

Psalm: Psalm 2

Psalm (Alt.): Psalm 99

Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

Here we are at Transfiguration Sunday again. We celebrate this festival on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, although the earlier festival day was August 6.

It's such a familiar story that we may feel that we can get nothing new from it.  But it's a story that bears repeating. 

When I read the Gospel again, I'm not surprised by Peter's offer to build booths and celebrate the Transfiguration in a commercial way.  Christ's command to tell no one makes me pause.  Why can't we share this amazing moment?

Christ says this often. Go and tell no one--that seems to be a constant command. And it seems antithetical to the task of the Church.

In just a few months, we'll get a very different  Pentecost message. Aren't we supposed to go and witness? Spread the good news? If Jesus is our role model, what do we make of his command to stay silent?

In some ways, perhaps Jesus knew the times he lived in. He knew that early fame would undo his purpose. He knew that people would focus on the physical plane--"This man can heal my blindness"--but not the spiritual plane, the one where we need healing the most.

He also knew that people who see visions, who catch a glimpse of something otherworldly, are often shunned by the community. What would have happened if James and John and Peter came down from the mountain and proclaimed what they had seen? How would the community have responded?

Jesus knew that he couldn't appear too threatening to the status quo too early. In the verses that follow, the ones not included in this Gospel, Jesus makes clear that persecution follows those who see visions. And that persecution still persists today. Our culture tolerates those of us who pray. It's less tolerant of those of us who claim that God replies to our prayers.

The life of the believer is tough, and one measure of its difficulty is knowing when to speak, and knowing when to hold our tongues. Sometimes we should keep our counsel. Sometimes we should testify verbally. Always we should let our lives be our testimony.

Christ also might have been wary of the human tendency to rush towards transfiguration.  We yearn to be different, but so often, we shun the hard work involved.  We might embrace transformation before we stop to consider the cost.

Like Peter, we might want to turn Christ into Carnival: build booths, charge admission, harness holiness. Jesus reminds us again and again that the true work comes not from telling people what we’ve seen, but by letting what we’ve seen change the way that we live. Our true calling is not to be carnival barker, but to get on with the work of repair and building of the communities in which we find ourselves.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Catching February

Many decades ago, I kept a separate runner's log--2 of them, in fact.  One was fancy and spiral bound, full of inspirational photos and quotes and an essay at the beginning of each month.  One essay was titled "Catching February."  It was written by the guy who took over the project when Jim Fixx died.

The premise of that essay was that into every runner's life comes a time of February.  It's cold and bleak and downright dangerous to run in February (this was particularly true in the northern states before climate change made some winter months balmy).  The writer talked about returning the running regimen after having "caught a case of February."

On Sunday, I realized that I'm in a time of spiritual February.  Our church has had some deaths lately.  One was an older parishioner who had been in decline, so his death wasn't a surprise--but he was always in good spirits, so he'll be missed.  The other death was a bit of a shock:  a woman who fell and because of the blood thinners she was taking, she bled to death before anyone found her.  I got home and called a grad school friend:  her father, who has suffered from Parkinson's which has gotten much worse in recent years, has entered hospice care and is refusing food and drink.

I feel a sense of February in other ways too.  I'm feeling both disconnected from people, and worse, I'm in that phase that I sometimes experience, where I want to just finish the job of disconnecting, that "burn it down" phase.  I've been resisting this impulse by scheduling time with friends to reconnect and to remind myself that these friendships are important, that my sense of unmooring is partly in my head and partly that we're all working at different places now.

I've had friends who said they admire my faith or my beliefs.  I explain that it's not about faith or belief.  It's about the actions that we do, and especially when we do them during these times of spiritual February.

And so I go to church, even though I sometimes wonder if I might not get more nourishment by reading spiritual texts on my own.  I pray, even when I'm not sure that God is there or that God is listening.  I make dinner dates with friends so that I can remember that we are friends.  These are important spiritual practices, especially in a time of spiritual February.

Monday, February 20, 2017

More Thoughts on Meekness

Our pastor occasionally shares the sermon space with lay leadership.  A few days before Sunday, he asked me if I'd like to share some additional thoughts on the part of the Beatitudes for the day:  "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

I told him what I would say, that I would likely be somewhat political and talk about Archbishop Romero and the ordinary Civil Rights workers of the 1950's and 60's.  He said that was fine.

So, that was what I did.  I talked about Romero who was chosen to be Archbishop because the Pope's people thought he would not cause trouble--in short, that he would be meek.  But then he went on to champion the poor, who were being brutalized by both the government and the rebel groups.

And then he was killed.  I reminded us all that we may pay that price.

I talked about the Civil Rights workers, many of whom were not eloquent like Martin Luther King.  I said that being meek doesn't mean that we don't get off the sofa.

And I reminded us all that there are many ways to contribute.  If we're not comfortable marching, we can pick up some food for the food pantry each time we grocery shop.  I had Epiphany on the brain, having just blogged about the Epiphany stars, and I talked about how we needed to be the light that the world needed--as we move from the end of the season of Epiphany, as we prepare to move into Lent.

Hard to believe how February has just zoomed right by--Ash Wednesday is just around the corner.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Epiphany Stars: A Follow-Up Story

On the first Sunday of January, my church celebrated Epiphany, and I was the one leading the service.  For years, I had read about Epiphany stars--a practice early in the year, where participants choose a star with a word on it, and that word guides them through the year.

I decided to abandon the dark sermon about Herod and modern refugees and to go with Epiphany stars.  On Saturday, I cut out the stars, wrote words on them, and put them in a bag I got from the Mepkin Abbey gift shop.  In church the next day, the experience went well.  For more, see this blog post.

A few weeks ago, a woman stopped me on her way out of church.  She told me that she keeps the star that she drew out of the bag on the dashboard of her car.  The star instructed her to "look up."  She told me that she's glad that the star is there to remind her.

I knew the woman, but we're not church friends--in other words, she didn't have a motivation to find the experience a good one.  I was pleased to hear that the experience was meaningful for her, and meaningful beyond Sunday morning.

I thought about how I had been hesitant to choose that direction for Epiphany.  I was reminded of my own star:

I'm also aware that I was able to say yes because I knew that the service was Jan. 1, a day with sparser attendance--and attendance might also be impacted by everyone's knowledge that our pastor would be on vacation.  I was able to take a risk with a different kind of sermon, a more interactive sermon, because the day was going to be different anyway.

But I'm glad I said yes to that Epiphany service.  I'm going to try to use that as a reminder to say yes more often.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Labyrinth Longings

Two paths run side by side:

How much does the landscape change if we're just one loop to either side?

How much does the landscape change if we shift the season?

It is good to have a walk with a friend.

It is good to have a time apart.

Let us rest awhile in this place.

We take off our shoes because we're on holy ground, the holy ground of the labyrinth.