Climax

clouds-floating-over-a-mountainScripture Passage:  Mark 9: 2-9

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.  9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

How did we get here so fast?  Everything seemed to just fly by.  Wasn’t it just a few days ago that we were reading of the birth of a child?  Wasn’t it just awhile ago that Jesus was beginning his ministry and calling the disciples to journey with him? In the big scheme of things, we’ve gotten to this point pretty fast.  Here it is—a child born into anonymous poverty and raised by no-name peasants turns out to be the Son of God.  He grows up, becomes a teacher, a healer, and capable of hosting large groups of people with just a small amount of leftovers.  Then he asks a handful of people to become his followers, to help him in his mission.  They leave everything they have, give up their possessions and their way of making a living, they sacrifice any shred of life security that they might have had, and begin to follow this person around, probably often wondering what in the world they were doing.  And we’ve essentially read through all of this in a matter of a few months since early December.  And then one day, Jesus leads them up to a mountain, away from the interruptions of the world.

Now, this is sort of interesting.  There is no proof of an actual geographically-charted mountain.  It is presented as if it just rose up, uninterrupted, from the terrain, as if it is rather a part of the topography of God.  Even for people, such as myself, who cannot claim a single, stand alone, so-called “mountain-top experience” that brought them to Christ but rather came year by year and grew into the relationship…even for us…this IS the mountain-top experience.  And there, on that mountain, everything changes.  The clothes that Jesus was wearing change, taking on a hue of dazzling, blinding, white, whiter than anything that they had ever seen before.  And on the mountain appeared Elijah and Moses, representing the Law and the prophets, the forerunners of our faith, standing there with Jesus.  Peter wanted to build three dwellings to house them.  For me, that’s sort of an interesting part of the story.  Dwellings…I guess because that would keep them here, essentially bound to our way of living.  Dwellings…to control where they were.  Dwellings…to somehow put this incredible thing that had happened into something that made sense, to bring it into the light of the world where we could understand it.  But, instead, they are veiled by a cloud and from the cloud comes a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”  “Listen to him!”  And then they were gone and Jesus stood there alone.

The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus seems to us that it should be the climax of the Jesus story.  After all, how can you top it—Old Testament heroes appearing, God speaking from the cloud, and Jesus all lit up so brightly that it is hard for us to look at him.  But there’s a reason that we read this at this point.  In some ways, it is perhaps the climax of Jesus’ earthly journey.  Jesus tells the disciples to keep what happened to themselves, if only for now.  This is the ultimate in thin places, those places of liminality, “betwixt and between” what is and what will be, those places that if we dare to enter, we experience that glimpse of the sacred and the holy.  The light is so bright it is blinding.  God’s glory is so pervasive that we cannot help but encounter it.  And these Old Testament characters?  They show us that this is not a one-time “mountain-top” experience.  It is part of life; it is part of history; it is part of humanity.  Rather than everything of this world being left behind in this moment, it is all swept into being.  It all becomes part of the glory of God.

And then the lights dim.  There are no chariots, Moses and Elijah are gone, and, if only for awhile, God stops talking.  And in the silence, Jesus starts walking down the mountain toward Jerusalem.  From our vantage point, we know what happens there.  And he asks us to follow and gives us all the portions we need to do just that.  And we can.  Because now we see the way to go.  Let us now go to Jerusalem and see this thing that has happened.

The journey to Bethlehem was much more to my liking.  I am content kneeling here, where there’s an aura of angels and the ever-present procession of shepherds and of kings who’ve come to kneel to the Newborn to whom we are newborn.  I want to linger here in Bethlehem in joy and celebration, knowing once I set my feet toward Jerusalem, the Child will grow, and I will be asked to follow. The time of Light and Angels is drawing to a close.  Just when I’ve settled contentedly into the quiet wonder of Star and Child, He bids me leave and follow.  How can I be expected to go back into darkness after sitting mangerside, bathed in such Light?  It’s hard to get away this time of year; I don’t know how I’ll manage.  It’s not just the time…the conversation along the way turns from Birth to Death.  I’m not sure I can stand the stress and pain; I have enough of those already.  Besides, I’ve found the lighting on the road to Jerusalem is very poor.  This time around, there is no Star…

view-of-city-of-jerusalemThe shepherds have left; they’ve returned to hillside and to sheep.  The Magi, too, have gone, having been warned in a dream, as was Joseph, who packed up his family and fled.  If I stay in Bethlehem, I stay alone.  God has gone on toward Jerusalem. (“Looking Toward Jerusalem”, from Kneeling in Jerusalem, by Ann Weems, p. 14-15.)

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9: 23b)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Encounter

"Women at the Well", part of a mural by Emmanuel Nsama, Zambia
“Women at the Well”, part of a mural by Emmanuel Nsama, Zambia

Scripture Passage:  John 4: 5-26

5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.20Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

The journey has shifted.  No longer are Jesus’ words limited to those in his immediate circle.  He leaves the confines of what he knows and begins to turn to outsiders, those who tradition and cultural and societal norms have rejected. First on the list are the Samaritans.  The less than civil relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans dated back at least 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.  Both believed in God.  Both had a monotheistic understanding of the one true God, the YHWH of their shared tradition of belief.  But where the temple of YHWH for the Jews existed on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the Samaritans instead worshipped God on Mount Gerizim near the ancient city of Shechem.  And with that, a new line of religious understanding was formed.  The Samaritans believed that their line of priests was the legitimate one, rather than the line in Jerusalem and they accepted only the Law of Moses as divinely inspired, without recognizing the writings of the prophets or the books of wisdom.   What started as a simple religious division, a different understanding of how God relates to us and we relate to God, eventually grew into a cultural and political conflict that would not go away.  The tension escalated and the hatred for the other was handed down for centuries from parent to child over and over again.

So, here is Jesus breaking all of the boundaries of traditional religion.  He, unescorted, speaks to a woman.  He speaks to a woman of questionable repute.  And he speaks to the enemy. The truth is, there is nothing about this woman that is wrong or sinful or anything else that we try to tack on her reputation.  This woman was just different.  Her life had been difficult.  She lived in the shadows of humanity.  And the most astonishing thing is that this seemingly low-class woman who is a Samaritan becomes the witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Once again, the Gospel is found not in Jerusalem and not on Mt. Gerizim but in our shared existence as part of this “new humanity”.

Now, the woman does miss Jesus’ point.  She looks upon Jesus as some sort of miracle worker, rather than seeing that he offers a new way of being.  Even this story deals with suffering—the woman surely suffered.  Good grief, she was there by herself—couldn’t even face the crowd.  And Jesus—well Jesus was just thirsty.  “Give me a drink…I thirst.” We all have needs; we all have fears—that is the nature of our true humanity.  And maybe the story teaches us that from our need we will realize who God is.  Maybe, in fact, it is IN our very need that we find God, those times when we are unsure of ourselves and not quite so confident that we are heading the right direction in our lives.  So, this woman’s new life begins when she recognizes Jesus’ true identity.  Maybe that’s our problem.  We are still looking for the Jesus that will make our lives easier rather than the one who will give us new life.  We are still looking for a Jesus that will affirm where we are rather than leading us to this new thing that God is doing.  We are still looking for a Jesus that will become our own personal Savior, our own private Messiah, rather than the Salvation and Life of the world.

Our faith journey is not just ours.  Contrary to what some may tell you, you are not carrying the sole responsibility for “getting it right”.  The journey, rather is made up of encounters with those that God places in our path.  At each turn, we grow, we change, our pathway broadens.  The procession to the Cross has already begun.  We are walking together, gathering others into our midst as we walk.  This is what Jesus did.  The journey to the Cross began long before the gates of Jerusalem at the end of the Palm Sunday Road.  The journey began “in the beginning”.  The journey weaved through a garden, into the lessons learn from the stories of an ark, and was there as its followers were carried into exile.  The journey held deliverance and led us up to a mountaintop.  It has held prophets’ voices and the wisdom of sages.  On it were two women named Naomi and Ruth who held each other through their trials.  It was the road for kings and judges and those who were trying to figure out why a life had fallen apart.  The journey turned into a small town outside of Jerusalem where life and clarity and salvation were born.  It returned us to the place of exile, which this time held deliverance.  The journey is one of water and wine and welcome for all.  This journey has taught us how to love and how to thirst.  It has shown us what it means to have faith and not need certainty.  It has taught us that questions are part of it all.

We are still gathering in.  And now it turns…one more mountain to climb and then the procession will enter Jerusalem.  But that is not the end; there is always more up ahead.  But we do not travel alone.  God has already gone before us and still walks with us to show the Way.  So, as our Lenten journey nears Jerusalem, remember from where you’ve come and remember what you have received from those that you have encountered on the way.  Remember who and whose you are.  Remember that you do not walk alone.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Add Water and Stir

wedding-feast-cana-ic-4025Scripture Passage:  John 2: 1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

This was an embarrassing situation—the wine has run out, and there appears to be no solution.  Either no more wine is available, or there is no money to buy more wine. The guests seem unaware of what is happening. If something is not done, all will be embarrassed. Some commentators even inform us that litigation was possible in such cases. (Can you imagine being sued for not providing enough food and drink at a marriage ceremony?)  But, regardless, it is clear that Jesus mother expects Jesus to do something out of the ordinary.  She expects him to fix it.  Maybe it’s a message to us that Jesus didn’t just come for the “big”, splashy things.  Maybe it’s a reminder that God is in even the ordinary, those seemingly small things in life that we think we can handle, that we think don’t really even matter to God.

But this?  I mean, really, wine?  Why didn’t he turn the water into food for the hungry or clothing for the poor?  Why didn’t he end the suffering of one of those wedding guests who were forced to live their lives in pain?  Why didn’t he teach those that were there that God is more impressed by who we are than what we do?  Now THAT would have been a miracle.  But instead Jesus, in his first miraculous act, the first of his signs, creates a party, a feast.  Maybe it’s a reminder that we ought to just relax and trust God a little more.  Maybe it’s trying to tell us that God is indeed in every aspect of our life.  And maybe it’s telling us that life is indeed a feast to be celebrated.

And think about the wine itself.  It begins as ordinary grapes.  Well, not really.  If you go even farther back, you start with water.  Everything starts with water.  And then those ordinary grapes with just the right amount of water, the right amount of sunlight, and the right amount of nutrients fed to them from the rich, dark earth begin to seed.  And then we wait, we wait for them to grow and flourish and at just the right time, they are picked and processed and strained of impurities and all of those things that are not necessary.  And then they are bottled and tucked away while again, we wait.  They are placed in just the right temperature, with just the right amount of light, and just the right amount of air quality, and we wait.  We wait and until it becomes…well, a miracle.

And remember that when the wine ran out, Jesus did not conjure up fresh flagons of wine.  Rather, he took what was there, those ordinary, perhaps even abandoned vessels of ordinary, everyday water and turned it into a holy and sacred gift.  Water and a miracle…So this story of wine makes a little more sense.  Wine is water—plus a miracle.  But in case it is lost on us, remember that our bodies are roughly two-thirds water.  No wonder the ancient sages always used water as a symbol for matter itself.  Humans, they taught, are a miraculous combination of matter and Spirit—water and a miracle—and thus unique in all of creation.  No wonder that wine is such a powerful, sacramental, and universal symbol of the natural world—illumined and uplifted by the Divine.  Wine is water, plus spirit, a unique nectar of the Divine, a symbol of life.  And we, ordinary water-filled vessels though we are, are no different.  God takes the created matter that is us and breathes Spirit into us, breathes life into us.  We, too, are water plus a miracle.  13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart said that “every creature is a word of God.”  It’s another way of reminding us that we are water plus a miracle, God-breathed, holy and sacred.

So in this week “between”, that week when you don’t want to essentially jump into the Passion stories way too soon, we are moving–moving from Bethlehem through Galilee to Jerusalem, moving from birth through growth to maturity, moving from life to death to life again.  This is the week in which the Procession begins.  And here we remember, we remember this child born among us; we remember this child delivered to us; we remember our baptism.  And, now, we remember that that baptism calls us to be something, calls us to be water plus a miracle.  The water has been added.  Now start stirring.  Let your Lenten journey be one that moves your life into what it should be–a miracle.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Dripping

The Jordan River, Israel
The Jordan River, Israel

Scripture Passage:  Mark 1: 4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And in that moment, everything changed…All of the accounts of Jesus’ Baptism leave us with the image of God’s Spirit pouring into him, changing everything.  But only in the Gospel of Mark are the heavens literally “torn apart”–not opened, but torn, ripped, dramatically separated.  The Greek word for this means “schism”.  It’s not the same as opening.  Open, close, open, close–it is something that can be done over and over again just like you open and close your front door.  But torn is different.  Torn would imply that the ragged edges could never quite go back together again.  It is a new ordering, a new Creation, with the seam between earth and heaven forever weakened, forever separated just enough that one who stops long enough to look could see through the threads.

We are told to “remember our baptism.”  Well, for those of us who were baptized as infants, that is a little difficult.  I was too young.  I don’t remember.  I know there was water; I know there were words; and maybe there was some tearing of the seam between heaven and earth.  But I don’t remember.  Well, thankfully, this sacred journey is not dependent upon chronological memory.  Remembering is not just looking back.  It is, rather, looking through that once-weakened opening between heaven and earth, and seeing ourselves in a different way, as a New Creation.  Because whether or not we remember or whether or not we noticed it, for each of us, the sacred spilled into us and changed everything.  Remembering is to remember that we are part of something far beyong ourselves and certainly far beyond what our minds could eover really remember.

As Jesus stood, dripping with the waters of the Jordan that poured back into themselves, everything indeed changed.  In that moment, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Creation and Eternity, manger and Cross, all who came before and all who would follow, were one.  In that moment, all that was and all that would be were almost indistinguishable from each other.  In that moment, all of those who were there that day and all of those who were part of the past and all of those who would come later in this walk of humanity, were swept into those waters, swept into the memories of what would be.  Remembering means that we realize that we are part of the story, that we, too, emerge dripping with those waters.

This is a journey of remembering.  Lent is not usually the season when we read this passage or are told to “remember our baptism”.  But it is there, always there, always peeking through that now-jagged opening between heaven and earth.  Remembering our baptism means realizing that we are right now dripping wet with those waters, recreated, with the heavens forever torn apart, forever visible if we will only see.  Remembering is not limited to my memory of the words that were said when that little bit of water was sprinkled on me as a baby but rather the waters that are still dripping from each of us now.  In this and every moment, everything has changed.  Remember your baptism and be thankful.  This do, in remembrance.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

A Place to Flee

"The Flight Into Egypt", Vittore Carpaccio, c. 1500
“The Flight Into Egypt”, Vittore Carpaccio, c. 1500

Scripture Passage:  Matthew 2:13-2313Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”  16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” 19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

(OK, see, I had something else in mind to write today, but my journey took me another way…Thanks, Mary! :))

We keep talking about our “journey” like it’s some neatly-mapped pathway from one point to another, like there is only one way to get to where we need to go.  But, really, our “journey” is a series of journeys, all connected, all with a beginning and an ending that pushes us into the next leg of our Way.  Rainer Maria Rilke speaks of living one’s life in “ever-widening circles”, all complete and yet inter-connected, each in its completion giving way to the beginning of another and all together creating an infinity of time and space and being.

We don’t deal with this particular Scripture a whole lot.  It appears in the Revised Common Lectionary once in Year A on the first Sunday following Christmas, so it is in competition with New Year’s, national Associate’s Sunday, and, depending on how the calendar falls, Epiphany Sunday.  So what does this mean?  Well, on one level, it is indicative of the unstable and almost chaotic way the world was put together then, with people vying for power and doing anything to make sure that their position stayed as it was (OK, maybe it’s not just about then!).  It is also a depiction of the great love that Mary and Joseph showed for the child Jesus, wanting to protect him, to rush him away, giving up themselves, giving up their own lives, leaving their families, probably Joseph’s carpentry business, leaving all that was familiar and all that was comfortable to make sure that the one that they loved was safe.

But Egypt?  If I remember, Egypt did not go well for Joseph and Mary’s ancestors.  In fact, Egypt represented oppression and slavery and forced labor and loss of home and way of living and way of being and overwhelming despair.  Well, apparently, God can redeem anything!  After all, Joseph is told to flee into the very place from which those before him fled.  This time around, Egypt means safety and freedom and redemption.  Oh, how our journeys turn, giving way to one another!  Perhaps this is a taste of what is to come.  Jesus will never be “safe”; Jesus will never be “comfortable”; Jesus will never be in a place of stability.  Jesus will always be journeying, fleeing from one circle to another–from a home that has no room for his birth to a place of exile that offers freedom and life.  Jesus will spend his life fleeing toward temptation and walking away from self-centeredness.  Jesus will spend his life with no place to lay his head and fleeing toward Jerusalem.  Jesus’ life of ever-widening circles will take him from rejection by his own to welcome to a place of exile over and over again.

Maybe each of our journeys prepares us for what’s to come, for not only the next, but to resolution down the road of a journey that we once thought had ended.  Perhaps this image of Egypt not as a captor but as redemption is a foretaste of what’s to come, that an instrument of death, an ending that logic tells us has no redemption, begins again.  And there, we will be called to the home where we have always belonged, where there was always room.

So on this Lenten journey, think of your journeys, think how they connect, how they redeem each, and how each is part of calling you home.  And imagine that the one that ends in despair could possibly be the one that begins your life.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

In Those Days…

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.3All went to their own towns to be registered.4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

They say that hindsight is 20-20.  I don’t know whether that’s the case or not but I think we’re making a mistake if we don’t somehow pay attention to it, somehow incorporate it into our life.  Life is not sequential.  It is not some neat orderly arrangement of one life event after another.  Rather, life is filled with a vast array of memories and occurrences and dreams that are in some way connected and intermingled and  always somehow give way to each other.  As my grandmother, who lived to the ripe young age of 101 1/2, came into her final years, I had the gift and the privilege of being a part of what I would call her “taking stock”.  I spent time driving her around the town in which we both grew up and noting the things that had once been, the things that were, and the things that would someday be.  We drove past the Stockdick farm.  The house in which she grew up in her early years was no longer there but through her shared memories, there was even for me a faint recollection, memories and images that came flooding in even though it was long before I was born.  There was the house and the barn and the tree swing.   The tree had remained, a lasting memory of what once was.  And then down the road was the Stockdick school.  My grandmother remembered every student that had attended there with the exception of one.  That bothered her.  There were about sixty or so but it still bothered her, as if she had not only forgotten a person but also had forgotten a part of her past.   There is a Greek word, “anamnesis”, that we loosely translate as “remembering”.  But it is more.  It is the taking unto oneself the memories that make up our story, whether or not we were there, whether or not we truly have hindsight.  It is what we do when we take Communion.  It is also what we do when we read the Scriptures and take them to heart.  It is what we do when we remember our story:

It had been a hard trip. Bethlehem seemed an eternity away from the Galilee that she knew.  And then there had been that mad scramble to find lodging.  She wished that her family had gotten word.  But everyone had come to this small city at the samie time.  She had known the baby was coming, coming quick.  And poor Joseph was in such panic.  They had finally bedded down in the back room, the grotto, of someone’s house.  It was the part of the house that sheltered the animals.  Maybe that wasn’t so bad.  They were out of the cold, out of the elements, and away from all of the politics that was going on during that time.  But when she looked into his eyes, it all went away–all the chaos, all the rejection, all the stuff of life.  She knew that this child was different.  She knew that he was destined for greatness.  No, that’s not right…he was destined for something more.  It didn’t matter where they were.  It didn’t matter that they were young and scared.  It didn’t matter that that place was not safe or comfortable or the right place to have a baby.

In those days, a child was born.  In those days, God came into the world, not bursting into it with fanfare and acclaim, but tiptoeing into a back room, the place that we would least expect God to appear.  Indeed, the child was destined for something more.  And just a few miles away from this small city of Bethlehem was Jerusalem, the holy city, the future of the world.  But it’s good to take stock, especially in this moment of uncertainty and unknowing.

In this holy season, let us remember.  Let us remember from where we came.  For it is only then that we will know where we are going.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Lenten Threshold

Celtic Cross-2Scripture Passage: John 1: 1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2He was in the beginning with God.3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Yes, even those of us who are in traditions where we honor few feast days of saints get in to this one and don our green.  Now, admittedly, most of us don’t even know much about Patrick or his tradition, save a few legends about snakes and stuff.  Patrick was said to have been born Maewyn Succat (Lat., Magonus Succetus) in Roman Britain in the late 4th century.  When he was sixteen, he was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family.  He wrote that his faith grew in captivity and he prayed daily.  The story is told that one day Patrick heard a voice saying “your ship is ready” and took it to mean that it was time to return home.  Fleeing his master, he traveled to a port two hundred miles away, found a ship, and sailed home.  He entered the church and later returned to Ireland as a missionary.  By the eighth century, he had become one of the patron saints of Ireland.

Patrick’s life, like his Celtic tradition, is based on pilgrimage.  Life in this tradition is about growing and moving and not “pitching our tent” in one place too long.  It is about connecting to all of Creation, about honoring and revering all as sacred.  It is about treating all of life sacramentally, embracing it as a gift from God and a way to God.  Embracing the Celtic spirit means going on a journey, open to moving from one place to another, one thought to another, one way of seeing to another.  In the midst of this journey, Celtic spirituality recognizes the importance of crossing places, seeing them as thresholds of growth.  These places are truly looked upon as sacred spaces.  Bridges and gateways express a determined refusal to be stopped by what blocks our way; causeways open up pathways to places that have been inaccessible; and burial grounds mark the crossing place from life to death, from “this world” to an “other world”, from time and space to eternity and infinity.      These thresholds prevent us from becoming islands, closed off to change and moving forward.  The thresholds open up new worlds and new possibilities.  Thresholds are bridges between the now and the to be.

For us, this Celtic tradition holds a lot of things that can help us on our Lenten journey.  In fact, they are notions that we spend a good part of our Lenten season trying to grasp.  Lent itself is a threshold, a sacred doorway to growth and connection, to learning to embrace our own lives as gifts, as sacramental journeys toward a new oneness with God.  It is a journey to the ultimate threshold of all, the gateway between life and death, between the world that we know and the Way that we are called to go.  Lent keeps us from staying behind when God is moving just ahead.  There is an Old English word, “liminality”, that literally means “betwixt and between”.  It is a place of intersection, a threshold, between what is and what will be.  And we are called to that place, to the intersection of this world and the world to which God calls us.  We are called to be “betwixt and between”, with our feet firmly planted in this world and our heart, our soul, and our mind stretching beyond ourselves, stretching to God.

And the snakes?  Well the legend credits St. Patrick with banishing all the snakes from Ireland.  Evidence suggests, however, that post-glacial Ireland never had any snakes.  But some suggest that Patrick was instrumental in ridding the Celtic Christians of all the “serpents” that were so common in their pre-Christian Druid belief, of helping them get rid of those things that got in the way of their movement, of their threshold, of their journey toward God.  Hmm!  Sounds like Lent to me!

So, as we journey during this Lenten season, let us embrace our threshold, let us embrace all of time and all of space that has brought us to this place, and then let us journey toward the Way that God is calling us.

Rath De ‘ort (Gaelic, pronounced Rah Day urt, “The Grace of God on you.”)

Shelli