Palm Sunday: Awakenings and Hosannas

Palm Sunday: Awakenings and Hosannas

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Listening to the Pray-As-You-Go podcast this Palm Sunday morning in the midst of demands for strawberries and Cheerios, Wild Kratts, and fights over the trains, I picked up the words of St. Ignatius on consolation and desolation.

“I call it consolation when an interior movement is aroused in the soul, by which it is inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and as a consequence, can love no creature on the face of the earth for its own sake, but only in the Creator of them all.  It is likewise consolation when one sheds tears that move to the love of God, whether it be sorrow for sins, or because of the sufferings of Christ our Lord, or for any other reason that is immediately directed to the praise and service of God.  Finally, I call consolation every increase of faith, hope, and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly and to the salvation of one’s soul by filling it with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord. I call desolation what is entirely the opposite of (consolation), as darkness of soul, torment of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness rising from many disturbances and temptations which lead to want of faith, want of hope, want of love. The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad, and separated, as it were, from its Creator and Lord.”

It connects to the reflections I spoke of on This Everyday Holy: I’m reading the Palm Sunday passage of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem – found in Mark and Matthew. It’s the words the people were shouting: “Hosanna” and what they literally mean: We beseech you to deliver us. Simply: Save us.

John Helmiere, pastor of Valley and Mountain, a new worshipping United Methodist community in Seattle, came to speak to our Bloomington churches about the way they do church, and one of their rituals called Table Turning Monday as a way to embody Jesus’ turning those tables over in the temple. And then he reminded us that after this ruckus and vandalism, he made his “triumphant” entry into Jerusalem.

What the Bible doesn’t tell us is the parade that is happening at the main gate of Jerusalem, and that this march of protestors and demonstrators following Jesus came through the back gates. While Jesus is parading in on a donkey or in some translations both donkey and colt through one of the back gates, on the other side of the city Pilate is parading in on a war horse accompanied by a squadron or two of battle hardened Roman soldiers. One blogger writes that such a demonstration would have been especially pertinent at Passover since Passover was explicitly a celebration of the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. In a way, Jesus’ subversive donkey ride reminded all those waving Palm branches that Rome was the new Egypt, and the Emperor was the new Pharaoh.

Another theologian observes the significance in the Matthew passage where Jesus wants two animals, a donkey with her little colt beside her, and that Jesus rides “them” in the sense of having them both as part of his demonstration’s highly visible symbolism. In other words, Jesus does not ride a stallion or a mare, a mule or a male donkey, and not even a female donkey. He rides the most unmilitary mount imaginable: a female nursing donkey with her little colt trotting along beside her.

Writes David Wells, professor of theology: “Where is the horse, the steed that bears the triumphant general, the untamable champion loyal only to the skilled commander, so beloved of great leaders from Alexander to Napoleon? It’s not here. In its place is a young colt — hardly the symbol of leadership. Jesus seems to have no understanding of rank. After all the fuss about procuring, even sequesterng, the right animal, just the kind of action worthy of a king, he gets the wrong animal. He chooses an agricultural tool, not a weapon of war; a tractor, not a tank.”

It’s these bizarre – can I say, queer – images of peace of that compel me. Jesus a revolutionary and leading a demonstration in the back alleys of the city of Jerusalem. Jesus riding in on the backs of the most vulnerable – a female donkey nursing her young. Jesus responding to cries of help and deliverance. All my notions of accomplishment and exceptionalism, triumph and success, all of it goes by the wayside once more. Tweet: All my notions of exceptionalism, triumph and success, all of it goes by the wayside once more. @miheekimkort http://ctt.ec/wBK8N+

“Learning to walk in the dark is a spiritual skill some of us could use right now. If you are in the middle of your life, maybe some of your dreams of God have died hard under the weight of your experience. You have knocked on doors that have not opened. You have asked for bread and been given a stone. The job that once defined you has lost its meaning; the relationships that once sustained you have changed or come to their natural ends. It is time to reinvent everything from your work life to your love life to your life with God – only how are you supposed to do that exactly, and where will the wisdom come from? Not from a weekend workshop. It may be time for a walk in the dark. The night sky will heal me – not by reassuring me that I will be just fine, but by reminding me of my place in the universe.

Because…to be human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight, admitting limits and transcending them, falling down and rising up.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)

If there’s anything that can reorient us this Lent it is the reminder of our humanity – the inevitability of light and darkness, and the reminder that we need someone to deliver us, to rescue us, to save us.  Tweet: If anything can reorient us this Lent it is the reminder of our humanity - we need to be saved @miheekimkort http://ctt.ec/a344Y+  Save us from the systems and principalities of the world. Save us from churches who have tunnel or myopic vision. Save us from our need for achievement and triumph. Save us from ourselves.

Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Deeper Story: Memory, One Last Cracker, and the Daily Examen

Deeper Story: Memory, One Last Cracker, and the Daily Examen

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Become aware of God’s presence.

We meet almost weekly over some seriously legit bagels – which I feel wouldn’t normally exist outside of New Jersey and New York – but I think these people who own the bagelry are actually from the Northeast. This means the bagels are perfectly soft on the inside, and when toasted, it’s the divine combination of crunch and carbs and lox cream cheese, and usually a random pickle or tomato slice completes it for me.

It’s three of us around the table, sometimes four, small in number but the conversations always feel significant and encouraging. They loom large for the rest of the day in my mind in a good way, in the same way an honest and simple meal or an artful glass of wine will nourish me long after I’ve digested it because it’s not just the nutrients or calories (or the de-stressing) but the smells and laughter, all the clinking of glass and silverware and ceramic, the light, the chairs, all that fills me, too.

We switch off posing a thought or question to prompt the conversation. This week it was about memory and the ways we cultivate our identity – as individuals and communities – whether through oral/aural, written transmissions, and I suppose, in our digital age through other forms (Tweets and hashtags? Status updates and groups? Google Plus circles?). She shared her appreciation of a classic spiritual discipline – the daily examen. And as she explained what it was, and how she has used it in the past to ground her in grace and gratitude, my mind drifted to the last week of putting the twins to bed.

Review the day with gratitude.

“One more! One more! More crackers, pleasepleaseplease, Mommy, more cracker!” they beseechingly chirp in unison at me. Except it sounds more like, “moeeeeee, peasseeee, peasepeasepease,” if it’s Anna, and “moooorrrnnn, Mommy, PEASPEASOHPEAS,” if Desmond. For some reason his “more” is “mourn,” like he knows that I’m mourning the day they figured out the baby sign and verbal word for more. As adorable and miraculous it was to see them communicate with us I kind of rue that day. Now it’s always more. More. More. More.

I shuffle off and grab a few more Ritz crackers and hustle back before they realize they can get out of bed and run down the hallway one more time. And as I hand them two more crackers, and tuck the blankets under their chin I recount the day with them.

“It was a good day, wasn’t it? We went to school, and saw our teachers and friends, and got to play outside and ride in the cars, and play in the big room, and have a nice snack.” I pause as they parrot what I say and add in their own memories or riff off each other’s stories or even completely make up stories or get off track and talk about something abrupt and random – “Mommy, dinos have big teeth.”

“And then we went to the playground and we went down the big slide, and tunnel slide, and curly slide and you climbed up the ladder and did the swings, and you were careful to wait for your turn–” and before I’m done recounting that episode both interrupt me with their own memories, their own revisions and redactions, and their own conclusions about what happens when you push someone or scream at another child or don’t wait your turn and mommy gives you the hairy eyeball and starts counting to three.

Pay attention to your emotions.

We go through a few more moments throughout the day working through our own sort of communal daily examen reflecting on what was good, what was bad, and what was hard, what was surprising. And while they’re doing it I’m mentally giving thanks for the moments of survival and abundant life – we managed to make it another day mostly intact and even enjoy ourselves! – and feeling a mixture of regret, bliss, shame, and amity.

The combination of emotions is a perplexing cocktail that makes me feel like the onset of a headache is imminent and my stomach churns from the nausea. Is it beer before liquor and never sicker? Or liquor before beer all clear? My mind wanders again seeking out an analogy from the hazy memories of drinking rules that never really worked when I thought of them at the moment because it doesn’t matter what you drink or when you drink it. Drinking a lot will always make you sick no matter what order. But I decide I will do a keg-stand on these emotions anyway because they’re the cozy debris from those memories of the day. Not everything was perfect, I wasn’t close to being the perfect woman/pastor/mommy/wife/friend/daughter/sister but these peculiar emotions are the little crumbles of bread that I snatch up from under the table to remember the stories, and remember who the children are, and who I am, Who we belong to, Who walks, sits, runs, gathers with us.

Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.

“Oooooooooh the Lord is good to me and so I thank the Lord for giving me the things I need…” I trail off hoping one of them will jump in and sing with me but they’re shoveling food in their mouths like I’ve been starving them for a week. Anna surprises me by singing the next line with a shy smile and we get to the end and all shout Amen!

Then Ozzie – the 13 month old – reaches for Desmond’s food who screams bloody murder with big elephant tears forming in his eyes so blindingly quick and Anna somehow manages to fall out of her chair and knock over her plate full of food and Ellis – the boxer dog – comes scooting in trying to get the food that’s now fair game and now Anna is shrieking at the dog to get away and that commercial from my childhood pops into my brain, “Calgon, take me away.” Is that even still around? I pray for God to make my feet like concrete blocks so no bubbles lift me up and away, I need and want presence, heavy presence, one that doesn’t run away out of fear or cowardice but faces it all, all the good, all the hard, and I soak myself in it, let it baptize me over and over again, the living waters might not have foamy bubbles but they’re the ultimate detox in a way, so I ask again, “God, keep me here.”

After it all, the kids finally quiet and asleep clutching apple slices and sock monkeys, clean laundry finally folded neatly in three large baskets, and the murmur of the dishwasher in the background, I collapse onto the couch and…

Look toward tomorrow.

Thankful. For these rhythms of love. For these practices of thick, meaty hope. For these signs of grace.

“For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us places where we didn’t know we didn’t want to go. As we stumble through the crazily altered landscape of our lives, we find that God is enjoying our attention as never before. ”
-Kathleen Norris

image credit: “poetic” by Seyed Mostafa Zamani licensed under CC BY 2.0

#Lent: Be Near

#Lent: Be Near

Christ be near at either hand,
Christ behind, before me stand,
Christ with me where e’er I go,
Christ around, above, below.

II

“It’s too dark.”

For a while I stopped fighting that battle with the twins – how much light to keep on in their room. After saying “good night” I walked quickly out and at the last minute switch off the lights. I wanted it to be pitch black so they wouldn’t be able to see everything in their room begging to be scattered and dumped out onto the floor. Clothes. Legos. Books. Stuffed animals. Curtains. But they would thrash and flail, crying their protests, and that felt threatening to me. What if they fell off the bed? Or crashed into a wall? So we kept blue night lights on or sometimes we would dim the overhead light to the lowest setting. Christmas lights during the winter. The projection of animals onto the ceiling spinning like a carousel.

I remember being afraid, too. As a child I had deep, heavy dreams that held me down in sleep, and I would squirm and kick trying to climb out of the darkness. Dreams terribly vivid, blurring with reality, and an undeniable presence there, too. I finally awoke on my back and looked down at my blankets – all undisturbed with no sign of the struggle. My eyes stayed open for a while out of fear of sliding back down into that hole. Until I was too old I would climb in bed with my parents and squeeze in between them comforted by the sound of their breathing on my neck. My father’s snoring would surely keep that awful and strange darkness at bay.

II

He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars….” As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him… – Genesis 15

The night sky will heal me – not by reassuring me that I will be just fine, but by reminding me of my place in the universe. Darkness is necessary to our health. Without enough of it, we make ourselves sick with light. – Barbara Brown Taylor

II

Even as I’m learning to embrace that darkness I see the necessity to teach the children to live in it, too. We have too many lights, too much brilliance, an overabundance of shiny, bright distractions to keep us from facing those deeper realities. How can they know the odd and wonderful feeling of nearness experienced in our darkest hours? The stars in the night sky may seem distant but I can hardly remember a time I felt God’s closeness more than looking up at shooting stars across the Milky Way in a Colorado wilderness. Something about darkness and stars, and feeling profoundly that need for God’s nearness makes me feel more human and alive.

Christ be in my head and mind,
Christ within my soul enshrined,
Christ control my wayward heart;
Christ abide and ne’er depart.

Christ the King and Lord of all,
Find me ready at his call;
Christ receive my service whole,
Hand and body, heart and soul.

#Lent: Cover Me

#Lent: Cover Me

Daniel 9

…We are covered with shame.

Baths for them every night seem a little ambitious, and maybe even obsessive and extraneous. But, they’re covered in all manner of dirt and grime – remnants of markers, glue, sand, glitter, peanut butter and jelly, paint.

Anything that will leave a mark.

I turn on the water, and the tub fills slowly. The boys come tumbling in with shouts, stripping clumsily with demands for trains and plastic animals. They cannonball in and yelp onto the tips of their toes. It’s too hot. The girl is reluctant. I coax her in with promises of gummy bears.

It is anything but relaxing in there. All three of them are too big and space is at a premium. They fight for the position next to the faucet, but howl at the audacity of water being poured over their heads. There is always one toy that ignites a world war. Soon they’re dumping water over each other and laughing at the small waterfalls down each other’s noses.

As they slide out onto the floor like so many seals on a dock each one rolls into a ball wailing, “Mommy, towel, towel, towel. Cover me.” When the air hits their skin, they always seem surprised by the cold. I wrap them up and snuggle each one before they break away. They run down the hall leaving little wet footprints and abandon the towels on the floor.

My hands and feet are wet, too. I wipe them dry on my clothes. The smell of their bath wash is in my nostrils.

Those of us who wish to draw near to God should not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy for this is a sure sign that we are approaching the opaque splendor of God. – Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark

#Lent: With A Puff

#Lent: With A Puff

Ecclesiastes 12

Remember your Creator…

I’m trying to wrap my mind around creation.
I look at my babies for insight
not babies anymore
making worlds with their words
their words
with a logos-like ferocity and will
saying for Thomas the Train “puff puff puff”
and my mind turns to temporality and fragility
water sliding off my skin as I do dishes
looking out the window at the droplets of sun on this winter’s day
but no snow covers the ground
the dirt and dust are ever present with us to remind me
we will someday disappear with a puff,
and I remember my createdness, my creatureliness, my creator.