I can’t think of any place I’d rather be.  Can you?

Easter doesn’t lend itself to pageant tableaux the way Christmas does, with its colorful cast of characters: Mary, Joseph, the baby, three wise men… the innkeeper, the shepherds, the sheep and a giggling host of angels.  No wonder we put our children in bathrobes, smudge their faces with charcoal or glitter and put on a show.  We have made a major production of the nativity, and then added flourishes of our own creation: cards, carols, garlands, and the Grinch.

But Easter is entirely different.  It starts in the dark, in a graveyard, with the stone rolled back from a donated tomb.  Three women—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome—sidle in at dawn on Sunday to anoint their teacher’s body for burial, too rushed on Friday by the coming Sabbath to complete their necessary ablutions.  There is an earthquake in one account, quiet in some, shouting in others, confusion all around, and fear… always fear.

But it is not a major production at all, “and the minor attractions we have created around it—the bunnies and baskets and bonnets and eggs—have so little to do with (the action), that they neither add nor subtract very much. …  It’s not really even much of a story when you come right down to it,” writes Frederick Buechner, “and that is of course the power of it.  It doesn’t have the ring of great drama,” he adds.  “It has the ring of truth.”

And so here we are this morning, sidling in as well, many of us weary from visiting hospitals or graves ourselves, worried about politics and the pandemic, wondering about work—too much to bear, the missed opportunities, or both, tending by habit at home to relationships or systems that wound, and hoping against hope that there is Light and Life and Love at the end of the tunnel.

…Long before this winter’s snow
I dreamt of this day’s sunny glow
And thought somehow my pain would pass
With winter’s pain, and peace like grass
Would simply grow.  (But) The pain’s not gone.
It’s still as cold and hard and long
As lonely pain has ever been,
It cuts so deep and fear within.

Long before this winter’s snow
I ran from pain, looked high and low
For some fast way to get around
Its hurt and cold.  I’d have found,
If I had looked at what was there,
That things don’t follow fast or fair.
That life goes on, and times do change,
And grass does grow despite life’s pains.

Long before this winter’s snow
I thought that this day’s sunny glow,
The smiling children and growing things
And flowers bright were brought by spring.
Now, I know the sun does shine,
That children smile, and (it’s) from the dark, cold, grime
(That) A flower comes.  It groans, yet sings,
And through its pain, its peace begins.  (Mary Ann Bernard, Resurrection)

Resurrection comes.  When a person sees himself clearly, perhaps for the first time in his life, and he moves away from behavior that hurts others and himself, that is resurrection.  When a couple, long married, realizes that decades of small betrayals and half-truths have transformed their once rich relationship into something dead and dry, and instead of giving up, they let something new and more honest be born, that is resurrection.  When an artist dejectedly faces an empty page or a pot of paint, but then allows a spark to take her imagination into some new way of seeing or shaping reality, that is resurrection.  And when a scientist goes to sleep with a similarly blank page and wakes to a new equation or insight into the life of a cell or the universe, that is resurrection.

Resurrection comes… not always when we pray for it or desire it… not always as we ask for it or expect it… not always how we think it should appear.  But it comes.  Wherever we are, God is always running toward us.

Some would have us cynical and disappointed most of the time, angry that in the midst of life, there is death.  But Jesus tells another story.  He says: in defeat and disappointment, even in dying, there is more life.  Not necessarily more days, not necessarily easy solutions, not necessarily power or credit or cure, but always more life.

When Mary Magdalene and the other women stole through the streets at daybreak on the way to the tomb, all they expected was death.  They planned to wash Jesus’s body, which had been hastily dragged from the cross before sundown, and they brought oils and spices for their work.

Mary Magdalene had been somebody when Jesus was around.  She was no longer called a sinner or made the subject of people’s gossip.  The others began to look her in the eye, instead of down their noses at her.  The teacher Jesus saw in Mary her essential self, and that helped her feel strong and whole.  But this morning Mary was like a corpse, on her way to take care of somebody else who was dead, sure of nothing now, except that she had lost everything, again.

Then “as they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Then Mary left with her friends, and later she ran right into the arms of the living God, but no one believed her.  How could someone like Mary Magdalene have such good news to tell, the leaders—the disciples—grumbled narrowly, true to form.  Even on Easter Sunday, they sink to judgment and selfishness, probably out of fear, and we know something about that, too.  But Mary is the point—this condemned and excluded one who runs to God, because she realizes that God has been running to find her, all this time.  And that is resurrection.

Twenty-five years ago, Kelly Clem pulled up to the front of the church she served as pastor, Goshen United Methodist Church, in Piedmont, Alabama.  She and her two daughters, Hannah and Sarah, climbed out of the car and went into the church to begin a rehearsal for the Palm Sunday Passion play.

In the middle of their rehearsal, a powerful storm erupted and a tornado hit the church head on.  In a matter of seconds, the church was turned to rubble.  In the eerie silence that followed, Kelly realized that the roof of the church had caved in on everybody there.  Hannah, four-years-old, who only minutes before had been standing a few feet away from her mother was now nowhere to be seen.  Frantic, Kelly began digging through the debris, and found Hannah’s foot protruding at an odd angle, and cold.  They got the little girl out and a rescue worker took her away.  Kelly’s husband Dale left work and met their daughter at the hospital.

Minutes later, Kelly turned to find Sarah, who was shaken but O.K., escaping with only minor scratches.  The next hour or so passed in a blur of looking for others, until Dale got through to Kelly: Hannah didn’t make it, he said.  That night 20 people died in the church and 86 more were seriously wounded.  And this all happened leading up to Palm Sunday.  Most of Holy Week was filled with funerals of friends and family, including Hannah’s, gathering at borrowed churches across town.  Kelly later said that as she lay in bed that week, bone tired and emotionally numb, she was sure that Goshen Church was gone.  It must have been buried with the rest of them.

But as Saturday approached, the phone began to ring.  Would there be an Easter service at Goshen Church, people asked.  Should we gather?  Could we?  Kelly seized some energy from somewhere and said, “Yes.  We’ll have a sunrise service at Goshen Church, in the midst of the broken mess,” she told them.  “We’ll be there on Sunday, waiting for Easter.”

That morning at dawn, Kelly assembled in darkness with 200 people beside what was left of the building.  In the center of the property, where the altar would have been, someone took two ceiling joists and nailed together a cross.  At around 7:00, the sun spilled over the horizon in colors of purple and pink, which her sister noted were Hannah’s favorite.

With her face swollen, her heart broken, and her shoulder in a brace, Kelly looked out at all the faces there and said, “I can’t think of any place I’d rather be.  Can you?”  Then she opened the Bible and began to read: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  No, in all these things we are made more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  And that was sermon enough.

I can’t explain the resurrection, but I am a witness to it. Look at Mary Magdalene. Look at that momma in Piedmont, Alabama. Look at your family in recovery. Look at the scientists who willed a vaccine into existence in months.  Look at the folks waking up to their racism and turning from their death-dealing ways. Look at the legislation that cuts child poverty in half.

Look at a church that says all people are worthy whatever your color, wherever you live, whoever you fall in love with, and however much you have or don’t have.  Look: the tomb is empty, he is risen.  Look: the Word has become flesh again and moved into your neighborhood, from Galilee to Gaithersburg, and every town in between. And in your precious heart God has found herself a home.  Right smack in the middle of our lives, where we know we are tired and we feared we were done, our strengthening voices have found their Easter song: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Love,
David

Today on this Maundy Thursday, as we continue remembering and retelling our faith community’s ancient, sacred drama, that began with the waving of palms last Sunday, I am meditating on Christ, in a woman named Vilma.

Like my parents, Vilma left the Philippines — a country made up of over 7,100 islands halfway around the world — to find and make a new life for herself here in the United States.

As many of us have now read and seen on video footage, last Monday morning as she was walking to church, Vilma was assaulted, stomped on and kicked by a man who told her “she doesn’t belong here”. The video footage is taken from inside a hotel where one can see a hotel employee-security officer closing a glass door as he and others watch the scene unfold.

I am meditating on betrayal, that Jesus experienced at the hands of a friend, that Vilma experienced at the hands of a stranger.

I am meditating on mocking and insulting, that Jesus endured as Rome’s latest “example”, that Vilma endured as America’s latest “other”.

I am meditating on a weeping mother, beholding the body of her beloved son; and a weeping daughter, beholding the body of her beloved mother.

I am meditating on crowds and bystanders; hatred and fear; isolation and inaction.

I am meditating on Christ in the man named Brandon, who perpetrated the violence; on his own pain and internal, daily crucifixion, that could lead him to such brutal treatment of another human being (and, years before, of his own mother).

I am meditating on the darkness that overwhelms, and the light that breaks through.

I am meditating on the holy work before us … before us individually and as a community … to bind up each other’s wounds and to be instruments of healing and hope, in our time and place.

I am meditating on Love Rising, always Rising, ever Rising … and the mystery of it All …

And finally, I am meditating on gratitude, gratitude for being on this sacred journey, together in community with you.

Cristina

Dear Folks,

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem that afternoon on the back of a colt, on one level he was looking for a rumble.  The Palm Sunday procession was a protest march, a calculated bit of street theater that appropriates a series of metaphors from the prophets, the psalms, and the pages of the daily news.  In the 10th century BCE, the Psalmist wrote, “Hosanna (or in English ‘Save us!’).  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  The prophet Jeremiah wrote two centuries later, “Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious… humble and riding on a colt.”  And not too long before Jesus, a people’s revolt led by Simon Maccabeus had been celebrated with parades and the waving of palm branches.  The stage and the props and the actors were set.

But Jesus’s battle was always with structures, not people—from beginning to end he believed that any individual could choose being good over being right.  Surely one could see that the well-being of all was better than victory for some?  Turn over the tables, then, if a system has become death-dealing!  He showed his followers that religious observance and social status were not nearly as important as the authorities would have us believe.  It was how you treated others that mattered most, and the depth of your loving was the measure of your worth.  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly, and you will be changed—and the world might change along with you.

Jesus spent the next week in the Temple courts in an increasingly difficult dialogue, holding the powers that be accountable for their actions, seeking justice and healing for all, inviting peace as a better and more lasting alternative to winning.  And we know the rest of the story.  As it turned out, the people didn’t want a man on a colt bringing peace, asking them to take salvation into their own hands.  They wanted a king, and the authorities wanted a puppet whom they could control.  Just about everyone was either disappointed in him, or angry, or both, and the mob grew thirsty for his blood.

The people who knew Jesus firsthand wanted salvation, but like most of us, they couldn’t grasp it when it was offered.  We want to be delivered from our distress instead of being saved through it.  Do you hear the difference?  But there is no way around Good Friday, right, only a way through it?  And for what it is worth, we have a companion who has gone there before.

What if the story of Jesus is that we have what we need to make the changes that we long for?  What if the story of Jesus is that God is working through our agency the salvation of the world?  What if the story of Jesus is that we are healed by love not only for ourselves but in order to love the other?

A God who suffers with us has shown us what it means to be truly human.  Compassion is what saves us.

Love,
David

Ever since the dawn of the period called The Enlightenment, most Christians in the West have related to God in one of two ways.  God was either a distant clockmaker with no real concern or activity in the sensory world (as the early American deists would have it) or a moral principal or concept of police/judge (to keep everything in order and society humming).  No one concerned themselves with the former image in daily living and only the latter one when necessary to keep a clean conscience.  Either way, intellectual assent to a set of dogma or laws of the Church was all that was needed.  That assent was coined “belief.”

When we look at Western Christianity today, especially the current so-called evangelical Christianity in America, we can begin to perceive why both interpretations of that Holy Mystery who creates, redeems, and transforms missed-the-mark.  We have only to see how most of us current Christians actually model our lives after Jesus of Nazareth.  The fruit we bear speaks our Truth…not the words we say.

The biggest lie believed is the one that says we are separate from GOD; or that any of creation is separate from GOD.  Out of all the “Omnis” we say about GOD, I wonder how we have maintained this falsehood in our psyches for so long.  If God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent, why in the world are we so afraid to live in intimate relationship with GOD (i.e., in Grace)?  It is our minds that have chosen separation; our souls cannot separate and know better.

As the old obviously Christianity dies a slow and painful death, a new way of living is poised on the horizon to be birthed.  It is Christianity as a lifestyle instead of a religion.  It is Christianity embodied by its practitioners in the world.  It is the actual Beloved Community, conceived not only as peoples, but as all that exists.  We finally come to perceive that we are one with the rest of creation in GOD.  After all St. Julian of Norwich has said, “We are not just made by GOD, but we are made of GOD.”  This realization will finally destroy any reason for us to rape the earth or its people because of this truth.  The cross of Christ does– has done this work.  But first we must reconnect with God as GOD IS and not as we want GOD to be.

In his fascinating book, THE REBIRTHING OF GOD, John Philip Newell, describes the categories of reconnection needed for GOD to be born anew in the Christian faith.  Among them include our need to reconnect with the earth, with light, with spiritual practices, with compassion, with love and with non-violence.  He contends that when we reconnect and discover Christ in all these things, we will be born anew, and I believe he is correct in this matter.

As we begin to experience ourselves connected more and more to the eternal ONE that IS, we realize life as we perceived it is bigger, more grace-filled and more delightful than we might have first imagined.  As we intentionally reconnect to the whole…to that which is larger than ourselves—we take on an entirely new way of existing in the world and THAT my Friends IS Good News!

So, I have arrived at the conclusion that this being born again thing is a continuing process.  We shed the old skin that no longer fits, for new skin that does.  As the COVID pandemic moves into its waning life in the world, the previous months of isolation and our new emergence offer us opportunities to come forward as new and different people.  I, for one, am looking forward to it!

I am especially excited about our celebration of the Feast of the Resurrection together this year. It is a new day and a new time.  The events of the past 12 months have forced me to reconnect in wonderful and different ways.  What about you?

Sending LOVE-LIGHT!

Freda Marie+

In her TEDTalk “12 truths I learned from life and writing” (which as of today has over 6.2 million views), writer Anne Lamott says, “…the first and truest thing [I’ve learned] is that all truth is paradox. Life is both a precious unfathomably beautiful gift, and it’s [also] impossible here, on the incarnational side of things … It’s filled simultaneously with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, desperate poverty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together ….”

https://www.ted.com/talks/anne_lamott_12_truths_i_learned_from_life_and_writing

I was struck by this truth as I — along with hundred of others (over 2000 by the end of the day) – stood in a seemingly-endless-but-slowly-and-surely-moving-line to get my COVID vaccination shot this past Saturday at M&T Stadium (clergy and other essential church personnel fall under the 1c category of eligibility in Maryland).

There we all were … person after person after person after person … some of us bundled up and some of us shivering, following the signs and looking at our cell phones. In the part of the line where I was, there wasn’t a whole lot of talking going on. Perhaps we were all still a bit stunned and in disbelief that we had actually made it, to this point: in line, to get a vaccine!!!

As I watched people and made my way forward, bit by bit by bit, a myriad of thoughts danced through my consciousness, including: How fragile, we humans are, needing protection from this invisible foe! How resilient, we humans are, able to combat this invisible foe!

Mostly, I felt gratitude. Gratitude to all the folks around me, honoring their civic duty to show up and get vaccinated. Gratitude to the army of neon-vested volunteers and staff, officers and “helpers”, clearly visible and on-duty, alongside members of our National Guard, directing traffic; greeting and guiding people; informing folks and answering questions. Gratitude to the healthcare workers, techs and nurses, full of energy and focused on making sure that every person was attended to. Gratitude to all the people I never saw, who put up signs, distributed the Purell bottles, set up tables and chairs, thought through logistics, arranged for the i-Pads for electronic check-in … The list goes on and on and on …

As I was waiting for the “ok” to leave, having gotten my shot, I spoke with one of the nurses who was monitoring all of us in that part of the stadium, for any negative reactions to the vaccine. Her name was Rhonda and she was a traveling nurse from Connecticut, who would be staying and working in Baltimore for the duration of this mass vax effort. As I moved my left arm in big, wide circles, working through the soreness, she told me how glad and excited she was to be in Baltimore here with us, making sure we all got vaccinated and doing her part to end this pandemic, so children can go back to school, grandparents can hug their grandchildren, businesses can open, and life can move forward. After 30 minutes, we wished each other well and waved goodbye, as her colleague spoke on a walkie-talkie, “Another one done and leaving …”

Look what we can accomplish, when we all work together, with God’s help and grace.   

Love,
Cristina

Dear Folks,

No scripture is more familiar to us than the tale of the Prodigal Son.  Say the opening words, “There once was a father with two sons,” and most of us would be able to provide a sketch of the narrative.  Ask someone to describe God, and many would offer the father in this parable as example number one: he runs to meet us when we are still far off!  Countless preachers have mounted the pulpit and parsed it word for word, perhaps to a fault.  Peter Gomes, former chaplain of Harvard, created a four-month sermon series on the Prodigal.  After the sixteenth homily on this single text, a woman greeted the pastor at the door of the church, exhausted.  “Lordy,” she said, “I am sorry that that poor boy ever ran away from home, but even more sorry that you ever heard about it!”  And yet, there always seems to be more to learn, more to say, more to hear in this mythic story.  We try on the various roles in the parable—angry older sibling, forgiving parent, selfish younger son—and find ourselves through its retelling.

The drama is the third in a series that Jesus tells after the scribes and the Pharisees have complained about him hanging out with sinners: about a shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep to fend for themselves while he went after one stray, about a woman who turned her house upside down in order to find one lost coin, about a compassionate father who dealt graciously with both of his sons, despite their significant differences.  All three stories address the Pharisee’s concern that Jesus seems to condone sin by the company he keeps, and all three reply that “God is too busy rejoicing over found sheep, found coins, and found children to worry about what they did while they were lost.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)

If you are familiar with the service in the prayer book called Reconciliation of a Penitent, you will know that the parable and this service end with the same words: “Now there is rejoicing in heaven; for you were lost, and are found; you were dead, and now are alive in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Go in peace.  The Lord has put away all of your sins.” (BCP, p.451) But leading up to this final scene are significant differences between our rather narrow sensibilities and the openness of the gospel.  According to the parable, no confession is necessary, no promise expected of better behavior in the future, no apologies needed from those who have sinned against you.  According to the parable, “you don’t even have to make it to church.  The loving father, who sees you coming while you are still at a distance, will rush out to embrace you,” (Taylor) and forgive you before you can even get a word out of your mouth.  And while this is good news for the prodigals within us and among us, it is likely to disturb that part of us that identifies with the older brother.  What gives?

Does the father do the math on what his younger son has cost him?  The prodigal wants his rights without responsibility, his freedom without relationship, his future without waiting or working toward it.  His turning toward home seems motivated more by a calculation of benefit and a state of desperation than a heartfelt recognition of where he went wrong and how he has hurt others.  And yet, despite a repentance that we might find faulty or incomplete, the father extravagantly forgives his son and showers him with gifts and loves.  Where does this story do its work on you?

Most of us find our hearts pulled in one direction and our heads in another.  And if this father is the way God is, that notion both pleases and offends us, depending on whether he is running towards us or our enemies.  Most of us have a hard time believing that love can be so limitless and grace that free.  Would it be if we were in charge?

How is Lent going for you, three weeks in?  I haven’t been too successful with my fasting, and I’m behind in the reading I set out to do.  But God has run toward me more times than I can count on Zoom, of all places…  Through three extraordinary sermons by my colleagues—listen to them on Redeemer’s blog when your week is dark and you need some light… through the vulnerability offered in Wednesday’s Bible study—it is never too late to join the dialogue… through some difficult truth-telling with my colleagues in BUILD—reach out if you’d like to practice the struggle and grace of difficult conversations… through VOICES focus on our environment—recordings are here (C-Change Conversation, passcode: rq14bms) and here (Blue Water Baltimore, passcode: 4xR##$ym).

When you get a minute, re-read the story of the two sons, Luke 15:11-32.  Picture it like a movie in your mind.  Take the part of each character by turn.  And see how the work of reconciliation reaches out to take your hand.

Love,
David

“I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.”

So reads one of the anthems in our Maundy Thursday service, words Jesus speaks during John’s telling of the last supper (John 13:34). Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet, calling them to follow his example of serving others. Afterwards he warns them of his upcoming betrayal, singling out Judas, but the disciples don’t understand. And then, as Jesus explains that he is going before them very soon, going somewhere they cannot follow, he instructs them to love one another as he has loved them. It is by this that everyone will know they are his disciples.

This is the mandate from which Maundy Thursday draws its name. Maundy comes from the Latin “mandatum,” meaning a mandate or command. In this case it stems from Jesus’ commandment that we love one another as he has loved us. For many years, in different branches of our Christian family tree, people have symbolized that love and service by washing someone else’s feet.

In early accounts of this practice, popes are described washing the feet of monks, kings washing the feet of peasants. It is an inversion of this world’s concept of what power looks like and does. Rather than wielding power over others, they are making themselves servants, caring for those the world sees as the least and the last. One church I know in New Haven, CT, has a Maundy Thursday practice of offering a foot health clinic, in addition to foot washing, to the people experiencing homelessness that make up a large portion of their congregation. (If you’d like to learn more, you can check out Chapel on the Green here.) At Redeemer, feet have been washed as a part of a Maundy Thursday meal. Last year, as we were still beginning to adjust to living our lives online, David+ washed his daughter Helena’s hands on Facebook live.

Whether it is a subversion of dominant power structures that have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God; the care expressed to God’s most vulnerable children; or the tenderness of offering love to family and friends, Maundy Thursday is a day on which we memorialize Jesus’ commandment: to love one another as he has loved us.

This is all well and fine, you may be thinking — but we’re still in Lent 1. Why are you writing about Maundy Thursday now? There are still five Sundays to go!

Very true! We have plenty time left to journey with Jesus through the wilderness, on our way to Palm Sunday and Holy Week. And so I wonder, what would it be like if we entered into our Maundy Thursday mandate now, this early in Lent? What if we suffused all of Lent with the with the light of Christ’s love?

I recognize the ways that so many have been caring and serving for so long. Some people have been serving us in deep and powerful ways since this time last year: health care workers, grocery store employees, maintenance staff, and teachers, our postal and sanitation workers. They have been keeping us healthy, safe, and fed. You may have cared for people in your life in new ways, too: calling to check in on friends and family more, delivering groceries to a neighbor, praying hard. Our country is in flux as we question racist power structures that have led to the staggering loss of life and livelihood in Black and Brown communities, both from COVID-19 but also at the hands of our police and justice systems.

I recognize the ways that so many have been caring and serving for so long. And I don’t invite this practice as just one more thing to do, a chore to add to an already long list. (This is especially true for people on whom the expectation always falls to serve and care — that would reinforce the power dynamics of our world, rather dismantle them.) Instead, I invite you to consider Christ’s mandate this Lent as a lens through which we see our lives. What if we truly lived this as our operating instruction: to love one another as Jesus loves us?

Certainly, we would do it imperfectly. None of us are perfect, and none of us can love perfectly. It is part of being human; that is something only God can do. But we are still called to try! And loving others as Christ loves us does not mean that anyone should remain in an unhealthy relationship, or suffer abuse, or acquiesce to systems that deal death rather than life. It does not mean standing by as injustice is perpetrated — it is the direct opposite. In his love for us and for the world Jesus challenged the powers and principalities that tell us that we are less than beloved. He lifted up the lives of the people society devalued and oppressed, serving them before all others. And he called his disciples to do the same, to love with the same tenderness and passion that he did. Their service to the world was a sign of that love.

 As we journey through this season of Lent, look at the world in light of Christ’s commandment with the same renewed attention that we bring to it on Maundy Thursday. How might I love others as Christ loved me? We may not be able to wash each other’s feet this year, but we can continue on with Christ’s mandate. We can continue to discover new ways to love one another and the world.

Love,
Rebecca+

Prayer is and has always been an integral part of my life.  In fact, I am a student of prayer and will be forever, I am sure.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my Soul to keep [;]
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my Soul to take. Amen.

This was the prayer each of us kids were taught to pray before bed EVERY night by my Mom.  Every one of us learned it at an early age; along with learning to talk we were taught to pray.  I do not wonder about this strong desire or even need to connect with God by my parents nor in their desire that their children should develop a relationship with God in this way.  Our lives as well as the lives of the enslaved peoples before them were rich with the Spirit and the notion of the Divine outside of and within day-to-day existence.  (No, Christianity did not bring God to Africa any more than it brought God to the Americas).  God was way more than that which men could teach my Mom would be apt to say.

What are your earliest memories of being taught to pray? Maybe it was something you learned later in life.  Many of us were taught that prayer was a “conversation” with God; mostly talking with a little listening on the side.  Because our parents prayed daily in our sight and out of sight and even throughout the day, we learned that GOD was always near to us.  Their way of praying taught us about their relationship with God—that it was REAL, tangible, and hopeful even when it was easier for them (I later learned) to live in despair.

Somewhere along the way the notion took root that prayer was, at the very least, a period spent thinking about GOD and God-ly things.  But when St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing,” I realized I had to re-think that attitude.  How could I learn to pray without ceasing?  I asked Jesus to teach me to pray in just that way.  I was not ready for the answers which have come over many years through many miles of life’s terrain —and continues.

Our beloved Book of Common Prayer calls prayer “responding to God by thought or by deeds with or without words,” and this gives us much more wiggle room than simply conversing with God about this or that.  According to the Prayer Book, praying involves doing something—that is, responding to God who is ALWAYS speaking within us. Did you even realize that you do not initiate your own prayers—that GOD does? As Father Martin Smith would say, “paying attention to God’s approach to us comes first.  Prayer is primarily attentiveness to God’s disclosure to us….” 1

At some point, I realized that I could include prayers for those I loved or who I knew were having a particularly difficult time, during my routine tasks throughout the day.  I could offer prayers while chopping vegetables, attentively and with great intention.  This opened the way for me to be able to stir prayers into my soups, into the kneading of my bread, or into planting my begonias on the Sunday before Easter.  Have you ever dug in the dirt to plant and suddenly knew without a shadow of a doubt that the HOLY was right there…you could sense PRESENCE?

But what if prayer has an even larger landscape?  What if prayer is simply be-ing-in-relationship- with-God?  What if prayer is a mindset or an attitude?  What if prayer is learning to be in the present moment where GOD is?

I do believe that prayer is the stretching forth of our hearts in desire and longing for something beyond us and within us simultaneously.  Prayer is a mystery and a great gift.  We humans conceive of ourselves as bodies, minds, and spirits and like the Holy Trinity each one of us is an organism whose parts are in relationship with each other; we are one human being.   For me, this means I can offer a dance, song, or even a party in prayer to GOD.  It would just be my way of inviting God into the dance or party because we are in-relationship and I am mindful of this present moment…now.

When we pray, we enter into the HOLY ONE of all that is and find ourselves knit together with the Holy Spirit in the communion of the ONENESS of all things—GOD.  This understanding changes our entire view of prayer and its place in our lives individually and collectively.  And since we are each uniquely and lovingly made, we each carry a special way in which we can use the multitude of prayer practices available to us or create our own either or both to be-with-GOD.

So, as a student of prayer this is what I have learned so far:  Everything is ENERGY; Everything is RELATED; We are LOVED…no EXCEPTIONS.

Faithfully,
Freda Marie+

(Smith, Martin L., The Word Is Very Near You: A Guide to Praying with Scripture, Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1989, p19.)

When was the last time that an old, tired concept that you had put in a “box”, labelled, and stored away in the closet of your mind was taken out, shaken out, and reenergized with new life, relevance and meaning?

This happened to me recently, with the concept of “fasting”. What does “fasting” bring to your mind? What feelings and thoughts do you associate with it?

For many of us, the concept of fasting — if we think of it at all — is something we associate with getting our blood drawn for lab tests (not a pleasant association!). Or perhaps we associate fasting with what our spiritual ancestors did and were exhorted to do, long long ago, as an act of repentance, as numerous passages from scripture attest. We might recall Jesus fasting in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. We may think of our Jewish brothers and sisters fasting on high holy days; our Muslim brothers and sisters fasting during Ramadan. Those of us who grew up Roman Catholic may even carry memories of fasting on certain “days of holy obligation.”

“Fasting” is something faithful people did long, long ago; something faithful people of other religions still do today; or something you might have to do, before you get your blood drawn.

At least, that is how I thought about “fasting” until just a few weeks ago, when I embarked on a 21-day functional medicine detox, on the strong recommendation of a dear friend who also happens to be a certified integrative nutrition health coach. She, herself, had completed such a program several months ago, and felt it was the single best thing she had ever done, to change her life and improve her overall health and well-being.

The program is based, really, on a simple concept: that it is good for our bodies, periodically, to “rest” from the “business” of digesting — to rest from using energy to process food — in order to have the energy, time and space to “take out the trash” and to get rid of toxins and other materials that have accumulated in our bodies and cells, that are harmful to us or that we do not need. Similar to taking time to clean out and purge our closets, cabinets and refrigerators, fasting affords our bodies the necessary time and energy to intentionally and efficiently “clean house,” if you will — the necessary time and energy to take care, of itself.

With that kind of recommendation and testimony from a dear, trusted friend, and professional in her field, how could I refuse? So I committed to doing the program and completed it at the end of January. During this period of 21-days, which included 6 days of fasting, interspersed with/spread out evenly between days of eating specified foods (mostly proteins, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits) — and now two weeks “post-detox” — I felt and continue to feel healthier in body-mind-spirit than I have in years. David, Grace and Ben will attest to the transformation and healing that has occurred. I am able to better care for others, because I am taking better care of myself. Thanks BE!

And so, I am now committed to incorporating fasting for 24-hours as a regular, weekly practice. Just as I did during the 21-day detox program, my “fasting day” will involve drinking plenty of water, herbal tea and a liquid shake that provides all the essential vitamins and nutrients my body needs, so I am not depriving my body of what it needs, but simply allowing it to rest from digesting, so it can use energy to clean house.

If this sounds like a practice you would like to try alongside me and others at Redeemer, during the upcoming season of Lent, please email me! I would love to share what I have learned, and am continuing to learn and experience, with you.

Take Good Care,
Cristina

Dear Folks,

Governor Hogan said we’re in for a long winter, and he wasn’t talking about the weather.  There are surely some good signs—COVID-19 cases and related deaths are down, schools are figuring out ways to see their students, vaccines are being delivered, albeit slowly.  Power was transferred peacefully to the new administration on January 20… but wet paint covered the angry vitriol and violence of two weeks hence. Bipartisan efforts to jumpstart the economy are on the table… but elected officials still demonize the other.  Denominations are taking concrete steps toward racial reparation, organizations public and private are interrogating their hiring and investment practices, people of color lead cities and school districts and businesses… but the sin of racism still cripples all of us, each of us.  To extend the governor’s metaphor, right now the nights stretch longer than the days, at least emotionally.  “Surely some revelation is at hand,” longed W.B. Yeats in 1919, as another pandemic left the world breathless.

We have been here before.  In the 6th century B.C.E., the Hebrew people lost their nation and their capitol city, their ways of worship and (they feared) their God.  Marched by force to a foreign land, they entered their own long winter of discontent.  And much to their surprise, God revealed God’s abiding presence, tied not to real estate but ritual.  God never left them, they just had to find a new set of eyes to see how his Spirit of healing and courage, of justice and peace had shifted from their heads to their hearts.  They would need to embody their principles of love of God and neighbor, of stranger and self if the people and their Way were to survive.

They did it.  In that time of extraordinary trial and pain, the Hebrew people wrote the stories and the laws that still shape our consciousness.  They sang the poetry of Psalms to give voice to their crushing sadness, their understandable anger, and their soaring hopes.  Prophets scanned the horizon for light and saw God coming through a servant who suffers with us and for us.

One of the features of ritual that got them through is lament, a corporate engagement with sorrow and grief.  Centuries before Elizabeth Kubler Ross, our ancestors discovered that not only is it counter-productive to set aside grief, one literally cannot get to the morning without moving step by step through our longest nights.  The liturgy of lament, recorded in fully 1/3 of the Psalms, invites the soul to engage the darkness within and the darkness outside as a means of grace.  It is by walking through the ritual, again and again, which restores us, if we let the Spirit take our hand.

Inspired by the work of Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill, I created a Liturgy of Lament for our Sacred Ground small group, and we tried it out last night.  I offer it to you as a private devotion now (in a journal, in your prayers), with the hope that we might one day use it together in worship.  In its original form I have directed it toward racism, but the ritual can be used with any system shaped by brokenness.

Yeats re-discovered in his own time that “things fall apart.”  But the center holds—and there will be sun and warmth again.

The Liturgy begins with Psalm 13, as an invocation.

INVOKE                How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

WORSHIP            Name who/how God is. (Just, loving, merciful, good?…inclusive, inviting, welcoming?…trustworthy, present, healing?…One…with us, especially in times of crisis)

DESCRIBE…         the difficult, painful situation of racism.  (Where are we?)

CONNECT…         the lamentable situation we’re in with the individual and corporate sins which created it.  (How did we get here?)

CONFESS…          your participation in racism.  (What have I done, what am I currently doing?)

REPENT                Express the deep sorrow you feel for the sins that got us into the problem, and describe a new direction/action you will turn toward.  (What is your “new mind” thinking? What are your “new eyes” seeing?)

ASK…                     for God’s help.  (We can’t do this alone.)

RECEIVE…            all of what this gift of God’s help and presence brings—hope, healing, insight, truth-telling, resolve, courage, solidarity with others… more.

GIVE THANKS… in all the ways that come up in you.

Love,
David