Picking Flowers

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To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.

– Karl Barth

It’s gray and wet today. Like a spring day closing the books on a long winter. It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and then Advent, Christmas, New Year’s. It’s too balmy to be on the verge of winter.

Except it doesn’t feel like the cathartic relief that comes from seeing those first blooms on the trees or crocuses pushing up through remnants of snow. Post after post on any social media is something about the Paris attacks, something about Syrian refugee children, something about Africa and bombings, something about women being incarcerated or killed, something about guns and violence and hunger and terror. It feels weighty and somber, lonely and dark. I want to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers until Christmas.

But then, there’s the video of the father who tries to reassure his son after the Paris attacks last week. The father tells his son, “They have guns. But we have flowers.”

We have flowers.

I keep thinking about this past summer and how relentless Anna was when it came to picking flowers. We couldn’t go out anywhere anytime when she wouldn’t stop to pick flowers along the road. Maybe at the park. Maybe riding bikes on the B-Line. Maybe walking through the Target parking lot. Maybe our front yard after I just planted some. Flowers, all the time, and she would give them to me, a handful of weeds with the roots hanging off, saying each time, “I know you love flowers.”

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Every morning on the drive to the children’s preschool we sing songs. Days of the Week where we sing “There’s Sunday and there’s Monday…” through to Saturday to the tune of the Adams Family. Instead of snapping our fingers we click our tongues. Sometimes “Rise and Shine,” and old familiar tunes, as I am reminded by Stina Busman Jost at her blog, like “Deep and Wide” and “I’ve Got a River of Life.” But they sing their songs, too, the ones that they are learning at Gan Shalom about Baby Beluga and the Shabbat songs and blessings. They’ve been interested in learning the ones that punctuate our Sunday worship services, too. The Kyrie. The Gloria Patri. The Doxology. The Sanctus when we have communion. We sing each one. Over and over.

Lord have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us.

I sing allowing the desperation tinge my voice while clutching the wheel for dear life like hands clasped in prayer. And then we go into the songs that praise and sing hosanna and acknowledge that heaven and earth are full of God’s glory. But, the Kyrie stays with me throughout the day. Like every flower – no matter how small or minute – Anna insists on putting in a glass full of water next to my laptop. Always there. This song feels like a protest chant – its persistent roots hanging off reminding me of the life that anchored it to the soil, words that live always on the edge of winter and spring. Because even as we sing these words, calling for mercy, we do so with the hope and belief that God’s mercy is already there.

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I roll out of bed and land on my knees. Push myself up. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and do the sanctified work that’s there in front of me like Sarah Bessey reminds me. Keep looking. Keep seeing. Keep feeling. Keep trying to love like there’s no tomorrow. Love hard. Love recklessly. Hug a little longer. Play those irrational and illogical games with the twins. Read that board book with Ozzie for the 917th time. Try to answer Andy’s question about the schedule for the 15th time without exasperation. Let bathtime be like a baptism each night, and let the sweat that rolls off my face after a long run be an anointing. Laugh, cook, drink, clean, make a huge mess, sit and stare out the window. Let all of it mean something, mean gratitude, mean earnestness and hope, mean life abundant. And tell the children stories about this abundant life – how it’s meant to be shared, how it’s meant to be experienced by every single human being – even if it means we might have to tell the stories that are sad and hard. Because that’s okay. Those are the ones that will hopefully shape their empathy and compassion. All of it. All of it is necessary for life right now. All this work is worship.

Because all work can be worship, songs are prayers, prayers are protests, and picking flowers is resistance. Click To Tweet

Anna Flower

Prayer: Limping Around the Altar

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Limping around the altar.

The words from 1st Kings this Sunday morning about the prophets of Baal trying to quicken fire from heaven onto their offerings with shouts, cries, and blood. But, of course, in vain. After hours of circling their offerings pleading with this mysterious slumbering god to answer them they begin to get blisters on their feet. So they limp around more until there is clearly nothing left to be done.

And then it’s Elijah’s turn. He strikes me as a bit of a bad ass. But, also kind of an asshole in a way. The way he plays with the other prophets a little and rubs it in their faces with the jars and jars of water poured out on to the offering even overflowing the moat he dug around the altar. A little smug. Like he knows that a firestorm will surely rain down on his little table but you know, might as well really prove this point.

And, yet, here, maybe for a moment, he takes a different tone. Pauses. Praying something that maybe he learned in synagogue school as a child. A simple prayer for assurance. One that might come out of a moment of flailing and drowning. Elijah prays Psalm 121: I lift my eyes up to the heaven…Where does my help come from?

I lift my eyes up…

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We were about halfway through Summer Hebrew. My first class in seminary. Exhaustion from the first month of grad school, work at a church 90 minutes north, and transition into East coast culture (ie. jug handles, allergies, and ungodly humidity) was taking a toll on me. On my soul and spirit. I was weary.

Hebrew was also kicking my ass. The speed and intensity of learning the language was much more demanding than I had anticipated as a cocky, self-assured expert Christian. And so I sat in precept – the small group class that met after each lecture – overwhelmed and sensing – surprisingly – I wasn’t totally alone. There were more frustrations voiced from almost everyone. More so than the usual light-bulb revelations and epiphanies or breakthroughs, “I get it!” It was more “Argh!!! What are you talking about???”

And we got to the end of the hour ready to close in prayer. The TA – also sensing some angst – decided to do something different. She turned fingers deftly skimming her worn out Hebrew bible and paused for a moment before saying, “Hear these words from Psalm 121.” She read to us. In Hebrew first. Simply and perfectly, with a lovely surprising familiarity, strange from this beautiful, blond, blue-eyed young woman. Then her own translation afterwards. And we prayed her translation together.

Something broke in me. And I looked up and saw the same in those around me. Almost of all of us were weeping.

No doubt there is something profound about hearing God’s word read in the original tongue. Words that seemed to have come directly from God’s own lips. But, it was in the English, too, even though our teacher didn’t take time to parse every word for us, and conjugate everything correctly, and take it to a committee, somehow, somehow, somehow, something ancient and cosmic broke forth, the Holy Spirit broke in irrupting oceans of grace providing her the words to give us that we desperately needed in that moment. It was the best interpretation. For us. Maybe it wouldn’t have the same effect in another scenario, or on a Sunday morning. But, it was perfect in that moment, and exactly what we needed to come to God’s throne.

It was a moment of grace. It laid waste all my defense mechanisms, and I found myself giving up on circling my idols and own altars, not limping any more but laying there at the foot of the altar. Surrendering. Trusting. That God would provide rain in those seasons of drought and fire for those seasons of uncertainty.

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I’m sitting on a pew. Oz has finally stopped fussing and nursing and flailing in my arms. He’s asleep. Mouth slightly opened. Fingers curled around the neck of my shirt. And the organ is playing loudly but sweetly and wrapping him notes of grace. Somehow I’m comforted knowing that he will grow up not only with the music of the twins’ shrieks or Sesame Street but these glorious and holy sounds poured into his ears. Sounds building and rising like hills, those hills of God’s abiding presence, and God’s promise to not sleep and to not slumber while always watching over him.

The Lord’s Prayer: Out of the Mouths of Babes

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For the last several Sundays the pastors of FPC have preached through the Lord’s Prayer. Though I’ve heard at least a couple versions of this series it has been a neat chance to reflect again on a prayer that is often so routine it’s like breathing. The children’s times have been lovely and simple too, with them following the series and using this time to learn how to sign the prayer. So many little moments and little nuggets here and there – I’ve tweeted most of my thoughts on the sermons throughout so I won’t rehash them here. But I was thinking a bit through the last installment, which was yesterday. The last sermon was on the word, “amen.”

I have to be honest. 1) I was kind of ready to be done with the series only because I was starting to feel a little ADD and looking to move onto something else. I think I’m somehow already getting excited about Advent and Christmas – God forbid, it’s not even Halloween yet, what’s wrong with me?! I blame all the stores with their damn decorations up already. And 2) I wondered what and how much could be said about those four little letters beyond the definition. I mean, a whole sermon? On just amen? Really???

Amen. The sign we were taught for it was it to put your hands together and kind of bend your wrists forward twice. At least, that’s how I interpreted it: A child-like gesture, like how we sometimes tell our children to clasp their hands together, and bow their heads and close their eyes for a prayer whether before meals or during worship.

“To clasp the hands in prayer is to rise up against the disorder of the world.” -Karl Barth

What is it about this image and this quote Andy shared in his sermon Sunday … I can’t get it out of my mind. It conjures up images of the children signing the prayer each Sunday, and the moving embodiment and proclamation of these words … So dynamic …

Rebecca, a little girl with some special needs, who relies on signing to communicate often helping to lead this prayer and an incredible testimony to God’s Spirit using anyone at anytime to not only give a glimpse but to declare boldly God’s kingdom in our midst …

Sometimes seeing my little Angelpie with her eyes half-closed, squinting through her gorgeous eyelashes with a simultaneously goofy and solemn smile and few of her tiny fingers intertwined in prayer …

And then on Sunday this past week to hear and listen to the whole congregation pray the prayer together with voices that are seasoned and have been carried by these words throughout the years, through illness and wars and loss … and then voices almost chirping happily and in harmony, following along, young voices praying the words like they know somehow they are reciting something ancient and truly holy the way they annunciate each word clearly.

Saying amen is not just a rote vocalization. When we say it we affirm, proclaim, and ordain for it to be true in our lives.

This last sermon was likely my favorite. I want to live and walk as an αμεν to God’s grace, and to be that αμεν that confirms what God has done, is doing, and will do in the world.

New Year’s Resolutions…So Far?

“Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother’s arms,
Hath led us on our way,
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.”

A familiar hymn – normally sung around Thanksgiving time. Lately I’ve appreciated these classics more and more – I listen to a station on Pandora that plays these re-interpreted traditional hymns, which has led me to pay more attention to the words. The one above is one of the oldies-but-goodies that have touched me, and particularly relevant as one of my new year’s resolutions is to cultivate gratitude more intentionally in my life.

“All to Jesus I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
I surrender all, I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.”

Jadon Lavik does a lovely rendition of this hymn – one I recall growing up hearing in my family’s home church. In general, this expression of an abandonment of sorts (I love Brennen Manning’s words, “ruthless abandonment”), a letting-go-of-control based on my own intelligence and ability, a simple turning-over myself, a child-like trust, is something I always feel I need cultivate in my life. To me, there is a connection between surrender and gratitude – both important ingredients for my faith life. So much in this season of life calls for both for me to truly live deeply and presently in the moment – the imminent arrival of the twins, the inevitable changes I will experience in my identity and role, and the adjustment of priorities and schedules…All of this is a recipe for getting lost in all of the overwhelming reality of it. I’m hopeful that gratitude will anchor me, and surrender to Christ will nourish me.

This was my article for the newsletter in March…and something I hope to reflect on daily.

Spiritual Disciplines…Re-Mixed

I love Richard Foster’s books on spiritual classics, celebrating/celebration of discipline, etc, all of it being a wonderful exhortation to recover some of these lost arts of Christian faith. In light of conversations about heaven-culture in the previous post, and thinking about the growing conviction I have had lately to be deliberate and intentional about these practices, I’m doing a little re-mix.

So, a beginning disclaimer: I know that there are hordes of books on spiritual disciplines and truly, I’m aware, as the old adage from Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun,” but…in some ways, I’m writing for myself…as a spiritual discipline…trying to articulate why it is important to delve intentionally into these disciplines. Perhaps, by some crazy chance they will become habits…I do want to put out there that I’m aware of my context, and will probably write mostly from it, specifically being a clergywoman, a woman of color, a wife, and an East Coast-er, and all that goes with this crazy combination.