I Had to Go to Church

photo credit: Some books via photopin (license)
photo credit: Some books via photopin (license)

I knew I had to go to church on Sunday. It was essential, the priority. The beauty of church -community coming together in best and worst of times, made perfect through the gathering of imperfect people, joined by longing, need, celebration, joy. Our work, to show up. God’s work to complete.

When peace like a river attendeth my way, 

When sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

I grew up singing these words, It is Well With my Soul. This hymn often sung in response to tragedy or suffering…a way to defy the hold of hopelessness, to proclaim the words, to own the redemption in the narrative God has been writing within human history, within our hearts. Rarely can I sing these lyrics, which I deeply love. I adore pairing my voice with others in church, claiming the harmony, the depth, the rise and fall of the notes, the words. This song, renders me mute, my emotions fail me. I fall apart, overcome, silently weeping throughout.

Part of the reason for the difficulty I face lies in the history of the hymn itself. In 1873, Horatio Spafford, penned the lyrics in response to the tragic death of his four daughters. Standing aboard a vessel, en route to meet his surviving wife, these words were recorded while he stood over the location of the accident, the bodies below.

The agony, the trust, the questioning, the grief…

My sin – O the joy of this glorious thought

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more:

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O My soul! 

Yet, isn’t it in our suffering, in our terror, our wounded-ness where we get to see the heart of Jesus? Isn’t this where we get to enter into the life of another? When we can set aside our differences, our prejudices, our principles and seek to understand, to enter into the questions? Our suffering binds us to the suffering wounds of Jesus. The suffering eventually leads us to a place where we can croak in a weepy mess and eventually proclaim: It Is Well! It is Well With My Soul!

This past Sunday was remarkable. We went to church. We have been attending a congregation in Denver, one that seems to be meeting the criteria in  Dreaming of Church.  An inclusive, open and affirming congregation. One where all people are invited to sit, rest, receive, become. To be there on the Sunday after the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v Hodges. What a day of celebration! Standing in an auditorium, my white, heterosexual family and me, with 400 other people, the majority who KNOW suffering. These words rang. The walls vibrating with voices raised harmoniously, ebbing and flowing.

It is well. It is well. With my soul. With my soul. It is well, it is well, with my soul.

To be here on this particular day with my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. To be in church, singing this together, receiving with arms raised, eyes closed, tears streaming.  I can’t think of a greater gift…for me, to personally witness, for them, to receive the gift of God’s abundant mercy and grace. Validation. In church.

Jesus has redeemed us all. The work is done. We are called, invited to live in freedom, to live whole, to live approved. Every single one of us is loved beyond measure. Nothing can separate us from the Love of God, not even the church.

And voices crescendo, hands raise higher, tears stream further…the fullest decibel:

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, 

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll:

The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,

“Even so” – it is well with my soul.

Beauty, beauty – sheer, relevant, palpable beauty! Grace filling, tumbling, pouring out upon the auditorium. Grace not measured precisely, to the nearest ounce, but dumped like an offering upon each and every head, each and every person with eyes to see and hands to receive, inviting each and every one of us to accept the abundance, the love, the hope.

Each one of us accepted, approved, invited into radiant mercy.

Amen.

A Prayer of Lament for Charleston

Last night, a young man, 21 years old, spent an hour at the AME Church in Charleston, SC before opening fire and killing 9 black people engaged in a Bible Study and Prayer Group. This is a hate crime.

I have entered the collective grief, the best way I know how, as white, middle class, suburban, stay-at-home-mom. My grief must involve asking myself many questions regarding my white privilege and the white privilege of my family.

Lord,

Let me not be so comfortable in my white skin, that I fail to recognize the privilege of my family. The fear I don’t have to have because my boys are white. I know a bit of the fear, having a daughter. I recognize the vulnerability of her gender, but she is white and middle class, there will be justice for her. 

Skin color can remove this insurance. Skin color alone put my family and me in a place of privilege. Certain rights are ours by virtue of our race. Until we all start to see the ways in which we succeed based on nothing we’ve done – we will not see change for our African American brothers and sisters.

How do I live in response to these truths?

Check and confess my white privilege, my assumptions, my racism.

It’s in all of us and until it is brought into the light, recognized and confessed, recognized and confessed, recognized and confessed, there will be no healing for our collective.

Lord, forgive me. For my blindness, my relief, my cushion of comfort because my husband and boys aren’t black.

Forgive me for the thoughts: If they’d just listen and follow the rules. If they’d just….  If they’d just….

NO! 

If we’d just stand with them.

If we’d just put ourselves in their place for one moment.

If we’d just stand firm, against our own white privilege and demand our African American brothers and sister receive the same rights.

If we’d just challenge the systems, in solidarity.

If we’d just talk to our kids, show them the news, read the accounts, raise our children to see and celebrate color…not just white. 

If we’d just subject ourselves to the same level of fear, day in, day out.

Lord, forgive us. Have mercy on us. We beg of you.

My prayer time today is Twitter. I will be following the discussion from Austin Channing, Shaun King, Crystal Lewis, A’Driane Nieves. My next days will be devoted to participating in the collective grief, in reading, learning, paying attention.

I will join in the lament, the best way I know how, imperfectly and with love.

Cabin Musings: The Complexity of the Simple

Courtesy of my daughter - C.J.
Courtesy of my daughter – C.J. (This is not my cabin.)

Life on a different plane, unfolding before my eyes, each day new, different, yet the same. The goodness, the every-day miraculous, the constant unfolding and refolding of life back upon itself. It is refreshing relief to notice the beauty in leaves, birds, blades of grass, berries and wildlife.

I was awakened to morning thunderstorms. The rarity of this does not escape me. Thunder booming, rattling the house, while I, safe under the covers, revisited the dreams I never remember. I went to sleep with a lost cat on my mind, told it returned in the morning. But what about our friend who’s missing? Will he return today, like the cat? Such thoughts peppering my fitful waking moments.

Ground saturated this rainy season, the greens even more vibrant than they were before. How is this possible? The experience of grace, everything I witness asks to be noticed, counted, remembered. Birds so small they rest on worn out dandelion stem, eating the seeds, redeeming the death of the yellow. Billowing clouds, urgently scooting across the sky, filling in the gaps of blue, like a magnetic pull.  I prefer these gray storm clouds. My love of rain (except while backpacking or camping, for this is most inconvenient) will never cease, the mystery of what may come, providing relief from the sun’s relentless tyranny of production.

Standing on the bank, watching logs freed from their strongholds, carried downstream to some strainer. Dirt-bike tracks all over the yard, in the muddy mess, courtesy of my youngest..meeting his need for the motorized. Water tinkling in the ditch, levels altering daily, depending upon hay production needs downstream. The red chairs, the plastic adirondack kind, purchased for twenty dollars. Constantly breaking, needing reparation, until they go to recycling. I don’t know if they like these in there, but it makes me feel better for the lousy purchase. These chairs, a siren call, perched on the river bank visible to the rafters and fisherpeople. An invitation to come and sit, take a load off, from the stress and strain of recreation.

My heart bursts at the sound of whoo whoo, knowing the owls are back, our Great Horned friends who entertain us when we play the game of spotting them. The horses and donkeys skirting our fence. The buck that never goes very far from the property. His velveted sprouts inching their way up and out.

A morning and afternoon spent on the deck, in another red chair, under the orange umbrella, reading fluffy fiction. The black goldendoodle by my side, heating up in the high altitude sun, cooling herself in the stream. Never far, challenging horses, following a trail of scents before realizing she can’t see me anymore. The dog that runs and hikes with her nose in the backs of my knees. Her heart broken when we aren’t around…when I’m not around.

The breathtakingly-adorned hummingbirds sniffing about, hovering just long enough for a brief glimpse. Terrifying me while clipping past my head in their seeming erratic pattern of flight. The shadows of the forest dancing across my seeking vision. Slowing down. Looking up. Witnessing the complexity of the most simple.

The good, the everyday, longs to be counted, noticed, celebrated. Daily lives etched with suffering, with pain, with broken expectations. Countered, tempered by pursuing and noticing beauty. The smile from a stranger, the way a mother loves her child, the perfect stem of a flower, full grocery stores, irrigation, air-conditioning, the rising and falling of the sun, strong coffee, kind words, naps, laughter, good conversation, delicious food.

That Joy, she can be so elusive, yet when I stop, slow down, feel and let go, she meets me. When I recognize and name the beauty, the gifts, she and Grace settle in and stay for awhile.

Eventually they will depart, but I’m convinced it’s not their fault.

She’s Got the Whole World in Her Hands

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River running high, rain event contributing to so much water. Spring switched to summer overnight. No time to waste, no room to lollygag, work must be accomplished, life created and born. No room to sit back and celebrate, to pop a tab and take a swig, to reminisce and reflect.

We arrived last night, after a week, to the mountains. The typical snail’s pace of things, revealed at speed of light, almost violent. That fallen log I could once view from my chair, blocked by walls of overnight growth. The birds move faster here, the lilacs bloom as in time-lapse. All must occur in a shrunken window.

Just last week, a perfect robin’s nest discovered us, constructed low in the V of two trees. We photographed, ooh-ed and aah-ed over the four ethereally blue orbs, each placed with care in the precise location, for the most pleasing presentation. Dreaming of the life encompassed in each, we wondered the reasons for this too-low habitat, concerned for the inhabitants’ safety.

This morning, the nest empty. A couple of impossible thoughts crossed my mind: maybe they were born and flew away..in a week, or the mom and dad devised a clever system to successfully relocate each to safer limb. I eventually realized and accepted the impossibility of my gracious scenarios.

This is the act of nature, the cruelty of life at all costs, the perpetuation of species..something sacrificed for another to live. Perfect recycling, perfect system. We think we should control this stuff. Life without suffering being the ultimate goal. We try to contain rampant disease, fix bad economies, relieve countries run by dictators. We seek justice, cures, healing. We await miracles, Lazarus moves.

Sometimes we are witness to cures, reconciliation in broken relationships, children adopted and brought to loving homes. We pray for and trust miracles can happen. We say this is not the order of things, this is not how it’s supposed to be, this is wrong.

While it is our work to fight for justice, to seek mercy in humility. It is our calling to right wrongs, to bring relief and restoration to this earth we’ve so carelessly battered. It is not our job to make the blind see, to force someone to choose better, to make people care.

My work is to rest in this little corner of my world, observing the needs that present themselves daily, trusting in the first step, the first smile, the first meeting for coffee. My immediate work is to slow myself so I may know and experience God’s infinite and abounding love for me, to learn to be kind and give myself grace. Now I am capable of greater, life-giving, adoring love for my husband, my children, my people.

These are the times where the people and communities closest to us need our gentle care. Teenagers have to be raised. Paychecks brought in, houses cleaned, lawns mowed, children ferried. Among us are hungry homeless and gay teens and foster families, friends with sick children, unanswered questions, painful diagnoses, hurting marriages. Meals will be made, wine will be shared, bread will be broken. We see the heart of God is to bring all things back to her bosom, her heart, her loving embrace.

Maybe the beauty and redemption lie in the smallest of things done with the greatest of love, the notion of the flap of a butterfly wing resulting in a hurricane across the globe. Regardless of belief, regardless of fear, regardless of right or wrong, love is the only answer, the only glue that makes sense of things. The greatest of these. This perfect love is the heart of God, calling back to Herself, to rest, renewal, redemption. This love is the reminder that She’s got the whole world in Her hands. Everything flows out of Her heart, everything is known, cherished, held. Each person pursued regardless of race, gender, sexuality, bottom line, appearance, nationality.

Did that mother and father robin love those precious blue eggs, as I love my children? I’m not sure. The last thing I want to do is assume wrong. The last thing I want to do is make a value judgment – that someone or something is more important than another. I mourn the loss of these precious lives, their potential and beauty.

I trust, in our God of love. I trust and I know each and every thing done with love for self and others impacts the whole world in mighty ways.

The Persistence of Water

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I meditate in the red chair on the river bank. I try to isolate the sounds, each molecule of H2O halting tumbling, turning, diving over stones. The rhythmic tune of the body, run-off, barely contained, freely flowing to where?

Last night, a tumultuous evening for many in our hometown as thunderstorms hovered over the county, a tornado touching down too close. Sirens wailing, Facebook posts of basement dwellers. Water everywhere, rain falling as it’s never fallen before. Post-traumatic fear, memories of historic flooding, just a year-and-a-half before. Damage still being recovered, homes in the process of rebuilding, some bridges never remade. Evidence still of devastation beyond our imaginings.

Water: essential, life giving, symbol of abundance. Water: the source of relief, recreation, quenching, cleansing, Baptism. Water: the tender balance, without it humans only able to survive three days. The lack of water, dehydration, waking me up in the middle of sleep, reminding me to drink after a busy day of activity. Unstoppable, capable of utter devastation, capable of remarkable beauty.

While the storm raged at home, we had the television on at our place in the mountains, watching, recognizing the landmarks from the news footage. Texts to parents and friends and neighbors. Concern for them, for our things, our animals. Everything fine.

The sheer terror water can bring. No power to prevent a torrent, only Mother Nature’s mercy. No power to prevent the devastation – to life, to property, to hopes. Land ripped open, torn, erosion from something so life-giving. It feels manipulative, wrong, like a practical joke gone bad. Sandbags disregarded, unnoticed.

Yet, the flow creates and re-creates, returns to ancient paths we tried to control. Water does what its going to do, without our intervention. We may think we can dam it up, tell it where to go, irrigate the convenient places we’ve decided we need. Yet, it will always recapture the path that we arrogantly assumed we could claim. We have a court for water rights, for who can perch in streams and fish, for who owns what. How can we own a molecule, a body that never sits still?

The flow will always find a way, regardless of our assumptions and beliefs and expectations. The flow will always result in new life, in shift and change – gradual or not. As canyons are formed by erosion through water, we get to be privy to change in the making, to history defined by lines. Striations marking time, carving human history. Lifespans determined by water.

It is a wonder we don’t see more events in the microscopic duration of our lives, as the space between us and these massive bodies is inches, feet. What maintains this defined homeostasis? One foot from moving through homes, six feet from obliterating towns. The perfect balance, essential blend of devastation and change, opportunity and growth. Redemption.

The thin line of human life, human existence determined by the tiniest of fractions. The miracle of the bluest egg, the most insignificant of flora, the beating of a heart, known, protected, loved…given life through seasons, through opportunity, through resurrection. Life always finds a way, life always given hope through assumed death. Life always marching forward, carving, creating, all things being made new.