Station II: Take Up Your Cross

Copper Plate Depicting Station II
Samarpan Spiritual Leadership Center
Poway, CA

Scripture Passage:  Luke 9: 18-24
18Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”19They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.”20He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”21He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone,22saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”23Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.24For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

The second station of the Via Dolorosa depicts Jesus taking up his cross.  Tried in a sham trial and condemned to death, Jesus is handed the heavy blocks of wood that have been hastily bound together.  What began as God’s creation pushed through from the soil has been taken and turned into an instrument of death.  So, Jesus takes up his cross.  The gates of the fortress open and Jesus is pulled to his feet and handed the heavy wood.  He begins to walk what would become known as the Way of the Cross, the Way of Sorrows, the Via Dolorosa.  He passes through the gate.  There is no turning back.

We are told to take up our cross and follow.  Surely that doesn’t mean this!  Surely the Gospel writers meant it metaphorically, meant that we shoul learn to be like Jesus, to follow his example.  It can’t mean this.  Surely we’re not supposed to take this literally!  So, what does that mean to take up our cross then?  If Jesus was nothing more than an example of how we’re supposed to live, we could have just as easily followed Mother Teresa or someone else that did a really good job of being a human.  And when you think about it, Jesus kept getting himself into trouble.  He continuously broke the rules and there are indications in the Gospel accounts that he may possibly have dealt with some anger management issues.  So, how do we follow THAT?  We deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow.  Now?  Now, when things are not going well?  NOW we’re supposed to follow?

Jesus was not just an example of how to live; Jesus was the very embodiment of the Way to God.  And this Way of the Cross, this way of sorrows, this Via Dolorosa is part of that.  It is not rational to us; it doesn’t make sense.  But Jesus didn’t come to make sense; Jesus came to show us the Way to Life.  Being a disciple, a follower of Christ has little to do with behaving (Thanks be to God!).  Being a disciple means that we take all of this life that we hold dear, all of this life with which we’ve surrounded ourselves, all of these rules and all of these “right” way of doing things and lay them aside.  And we begin walking–through the gate, into the mystery of something that we don’t understand.  In essence, we walk into the unknown carrying nothing but our faith.   We deny ourselves and open our eyes to what God has placed before it.  That is our Way; that is our Cross.  And we walk this Way of the Cross.  It means more than following; it means becoming the very Way itself.  It means yielding ourself to the mystery that is beyond what we know and becoming who we were always meant to be.  It will take us through every aspect of life–through darkness and light, through suffering and joy, through doubt and faith.

It is not an easy way.  The cross is heavy.  The rough-hewn wood is splintering into my skin. Those along the pathway that are yelling and jeering make it even more painful.  This was not what I had planned.  I never thought that it would turn out like this.  I mean, I had so much more to do.  But I will go because I know that I do not walk this way alone.  Life as we know it is not all bathed in light.  Perhaps the darkness ensues at times to show us that God is there, even there, in the darkness, walking with us.  And I also know that somewhere down this road, there is more Light and more Love and more Life than anything that I could have conjured up.  And somewhere it will all make sense.  But, for now, I will take up my cross and walk this Way.

Grace and Peace,



Scripture Passage:  Luke 9: 23-24
23Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.24For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

So, out in that wilderness, Jesus was doing more than just being tempted.  The wilderness is not something that is done TO us.  It is a place you enter, a place you experience, a place in which you change.  But change is hard.  It is not something that happens by just piling on more stuff.  A couple of years ago, I had my bathroom remodeled.  Well, intellectually I knew that in order to build something new, you had to first tear out the old.  But it was still disconcerting.  At the end of the contractor’s first day of work, I walked into the house and saw all of my things covered in plastic.  That in and of itself was strange.  But then there was the bathroom.  There were no lights (because the electricity has been disconnected and partially ripped out) but all I saw was an empty room walled no longer by tile and paint but by raw wood.  And there, there where the toilet had been, was a big gaping hole.  All of the fixtures (yes I mean ALL of the fixtures) were piled in my yard.  I had this sinking feeling.  “What have I done?”

Our faith journey is no different.  We do not go through our lives collecting more and more knowledge about God or more and more spiritual disciplines.  Try as we might, we cannot continue to take on increased faith and hope to cram it into our already-busy lives and our already-over-taxed bodies and our already-full minds.  Our faith journey, just like everything else in life, does not work like that.  Early 14th century German theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart said that “God is not attained by a process of addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction.”  Our faith journey must involve letting go of those things to which we hold so tight, of creating room for God to fill us.

The Season of Lent has traditionally been one in which many people are compelled to give up something.  Most think that by creating that want, one will be reminded to think of God.  I suppose that works.  If you think of God every time you want chocolate, go for it.  Other people spend Lent adding something to their life, perhaps something that they know that they need to be including in their faith journey anyway.  So while both of these ways of journeying through Lent are good, I’m not sure that either is enough.  (Shoot!  You mean I gave up chocolate and it’s not even enough???)  No, seriously, subtraction and addition are good things but they are both necessary.  As Meister Eckhart reminds us, our faith journey is first an act of subtraction, shedding those things that pull us away, that distract us, that get in the way of who we are.  They are the temptations that we so want to hold onto for comfort, for security, for power, for control.  Let go.  That’s what the Scripture says.  Let go of what you think your life is.  Create room.  And then God will have room to add the things that give you life–trust, strength, faith. 

This Lenten journey is not just one of giving up.  It is a season of ordering, or remodeling one’s life, tearing away the things that you thought you needed so that God can create something new.  But it’s more than a season.  Each Lenten journey is a part of our whole journey.  So rather than it being a temporary way station, this experience of subtraction is part of the Way itself.  Lent is just a time to teach us that.

Grace and Peace,



Life is full of disruptions.  I’ve spent the last couple of hours checking on whether or not the United States government is going to shut down tomorrow.  Apparently, in a last minute compromise of sorts, that has been averted–at least for now.  I suppose we’ll play this game again in a week.  Life is full of disruptions.

We are definitely creatures of habit, beings dependent upon the rhythms in our lives–the rhythmic workings of our own physical bodies, the rhythms of day and night, of seasons, of time, and the rhythms that we’ve created in our own lives.  These rhythms are important to us.  They bring us a sense of order.  Life is just easier when it meets our own expectations of what will happen.  But life is full of disruptions.  Perhaps that is one of our lessons for this season of Lent.  In its own way, Lent is about disruptions.  It is about a change in rhythm.  It provides an opportunity to break from the familiar, to release oneself from the staid and sometimes almost robotic way of existing through which we walk without much thought or caring.  Lent invites us to think and care by offering us a sort of holy disruption.  It is a way of changing our rhythm, of relocating our center as we recalibrate our priorities and our lives.  It prepares us to see things differently.  It prepares us for what is to come.

For my Lenten discipline this season, I have been writing on this blog.  It is not always easy.  In fact, sometimes it is downright disruptive (as I’m sure you can tell on those days when I don’t get it in very early!).  And yet, this holy disruption has changed the rhythm in my life.  It has made me think more deeply and more often about things.  It has opened my eyes to ways that I can encounter God that before I would have sped past and completely missed.  It has, indeed, relocated my center.  And as I approach Jerusalem, I am ready for that disruption too.  But the whole point of Lent as a holy disruption implies that it is, or should be, a point of permanent change.  Unlike the bill that is at this moment waiting to pass the House, Lent is not really meant to be a mere stop-gap.  We’re not really supposed to just go back to “life as usual” when the Easter lilies come out.  (Now, you see, that is all the more reason why you shouldn’t give up chocolate for Lent!)  It really is about change and preparing us as we trudge toward the biggest disruption that Creation has ever known.  Because there at the Cross, life as we know it was disrupted by death and then death as we know it was disrupted by Life.  And neither death nor life will ever be the same again.

So, as the drums of Crucifixion begin to get louder,  let your disruption become your Life!

Grace and Peace,


LENT 5A: The New Dead

“The Raising of Lazarus”
Fresco by Giotto di Bondone, Italian, 1304-06

Lectionary Text:  John 11: 1-4, 17-26, 41-44
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”… When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”… Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”…So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

So, gray and brown are the new black; forty is the new thirty, fifty is the new forty, and hybrids are the new luxury car.  Things change.  The ways that we live and talk about things change.  There are always new perspectives bursting into our consciousness.  And Lazarus is the “new dead”…Let me explain…have you ever noticed the last part of this story?  “The dead man came out…”.  It is not that “Lazarus came out miraculously alive again”. He did not appear and then go back to work that day.  It says, “the dead man…”.  Lazarus was still dead the way this world thinks of dead.  Jesus did not undo his death.  The point was that Jesus turned it into something new–a new life, a new way of looking at things, a new creation.  “The dead man came out….let him go…”  We can’t even imagine how great it’s going to be. 

Today would have been my grandmother’s 102nd birthday.  She died a year ago in November.  I still miss her.  I can’t even really describe how.  We were more than grandmother and granddaughter.  We were some sort of soul mates.  I still want to call her, to talk to her.  Now don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes she made me so angry, downright infuriated me.  She had that fundamentalist bend that I just didn’t understand.  I suppose I had that progressive bend that she just couldn’t tolerate.  But we were more alike than we were unalike.  We had a kinship beyond our obvious blood connection. I enjoyed doing things for her toward the end.  I remember one time I was helping her go to the bathroom when we were away from her house.  (OK…that may be too graphic!)  But she looked up at me with those deep brown eyes and said, “You know…I used to do this with you.”  “Well then,” I responded, “it’s time I do it for you.”  Things change; people change; life changes.  I still grieve, still want to call her.  I’ve been thinking about her lately, grieving all over again.  I know she’s gone.  And yet, not…

You see, the thing we had in common was our faith.  And that faith, that shared faith, tells me that there is something new.  I don’t think this story of Lazarus was a miracle story, per se.  Jesus did not do some sort of magic trick so that Lazarus could walk out in his burial clothes.  The end of the story (although I’ve never noticed it and never even read any commentary to support this) says that Lazarus was still dead.  Death was not undone.  Lazarus did not get up and go back to his life.  Rather, death was recreated into life.  Recreation is not undoing; recreation is making something new.  There is still grief and wanting for what was, for the familiar, for the usual, for the phone conversations that we crave.  But this is better.  We justF have to live into it.  That’s what faith is about.

This story is also seen as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own crucifixion and raising.  It’s like he’s saying, “Folks…stay with me here.  There are things that are about to happen that are hard.  In fact, we’re fixing to go through crap.  (Sorry…couldn’t think of a better way to say it!)  Your loss will be unbearable.  And it will not be undone.  I will not pull some magic trick out of a hat at the last minute.  I will not undo my death.  But, as I said…stay with me…look what I’ve done here.  The best is yet to come!  If you stay with me, I can’t even describe the incredible things that will happen.  You just have to experience them for yourself.  Just stay with me. “

Death is not to be undone; rather, it is made new.  It is recreated into life.  It’s the “new dead.”  Isn’t that better?  Do you believe this?

So, in the Lenten season, know that the best is yet to come!

Happy Birthday Grandmother!

Grace and Peace,


LENT 5A: Ru’ah

The Valley of The Dry Bones (Gustave Dore’, 1866)

Lectionary Text: Ezekiel 37: 1-14 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

“Ru’ah.”  It is the Hebrew word that is here translated as “breath,” God breathing life.  It is also translated as “wind” or “spirit”.  Actually, we English-speakers don’t really have a translation that will do it justice.  It is not JUST breath; it is the very essence of God giving us life, God’s Spirit, God’s Word breathed into all of Creation, into all that is life.

Ezekiel was both a priest and a prophet in the 6th century BCE, before and during the time of the conquest of Judah and the Babylonian exile.  Ezekiel himself was taken into exile, into a land far away from the land of his birth and of his identity.  The temple was destroyed and the city lay in ruins.  All seemed hopeless and gone.  The bones here, whether taken literally or as metaphor, are dry, lifeless, and broken.  They symbolize all of the hopes and dreams that now lay in despair.  The kingdom of Israel is gone and their lives have gone away with it.  There is nothing left but corpse-like bones.

And then, according to Ezekiel, “the hand of the Lord came upon me.”  In The Message, Eugene Peterson says that “God grabs me”.  Think of that image.  Here was Ezekiel, probably feeling the weight of despair of those around him and virtual helplessness at what he could do as their leader.  But then “God GRABBED him…I have something to show you.”  And there in the middle of death and destruction and despair, God showed him what only God could see.  And then God breathes life into the bones and the bones come to life.  It is a story of resurrection.

The idea of God creating and recreating over and over again is not new to us.  But most of us do not this day live in exile.  We are at home; we are residing in the place where our identity is claimed.  So how can we, then, understand fully this breathing of life into death, this breathing of hope into despair?  The image is a beautiful one and yet we sit here breathing just fine.  We seldom think of these breaths as the very essence of God.  In the hymn, “I’ll Praise My Make While I’ve Breath”, Isaac Watts writes the words, “I’ll praise my God who lends me breath…”  Have you ever thought of the notion of God “lending you breath”?  Think about it.  In the beginning of our being, God lent us breath, ru’ah, the very essence of God.  And when our beings become lifeless and hopeless, that breath is there again.  And then in death, when all that we know has ended, God breathes life into dry, brittle, lifeless bones yet again.  Yes, it is a story of resurrection.

God gave us the ability to breathe and then filled us with the Breath of God.  We just have to be willing to breathe.  It involves inhaling.  It also involves exhaling.  So exhale, breathe out all of that stuff that does not give you life, all of that stuff that dashes hopes and makes you brittle, all of that stuff that you hold onto so tightly that you cannot reach for God.  Most of us sort of live our lives underwater, weighed down by and environment in which we do not belong.  We have to have help to breathe, so we add machines and tanks of air.  But they eventually run out and we have to leave where we are and swim to the top.  And there we can inhale the very essence of God, the life to which we belong.  God lends us breath until our lives become one with God and we can breathe forever on our own.

I’ll praise my God who lends me breath;
 and when my voice is lost in death,
praise shall employ my nobler powers. 
My days of praise shall ne’er be past,
while life, and thought, and being last,
or immortality endures.
                         (Isaac Watts)
So, in this Lenten season, ask yourself, “What is it that gives me life?”, and then, exhale…and then inhale the very Breath of God.  That will give you life.
Grace and Peace,

A Season for Pruning

I haven’t had a whole lot of time to spend in my yard.  I really want to.  My neighbor and I struck what turned out to be a good deal for both of us and he cleared all of the “dead” stuff out and now I want to plant and work and see what happens.  There just hasn’t been time.  But the roses seem to know what to do anyway.  Drowning in deadness for so long, they seemed to breathe a longed-for breath once it had been cleared away.  I did get out there one day and pruned them, deadheading, removing all of the old blossoms and dried up leaves that were no more.  Again, they seemed relieved, almost free.  And then I waited.  First the bush with the medium pink roses began to bloom.  It is now full of about eight roses.  After that, the dark pink one began to fill itself with color.  Then the two yellow-flowered bushes followed by the white ones.  My favorite bush always blooms last. (Isn’t that typical?  Does it bloom last because it’s my favorite or is it my favorite because it blooms last?)  Right now it has about eight or ten buds on it that are trying desperately to burst forth with the most incredible strata of yellow, coral, and red colors on every flower.  And so I wait a little longer.  I thought yesterday would be the day but last night there were still tightly-closed but expectant buds.  All I can do is wait now.  There is nothing that I can do to hurry the process along.

You know, we comfortably think of God as omnipotent, all-powerful, assuming that if we can’t or won’t get it done, God will somehow be able to swoop in and clean up our mess, somehow force our blooms out of hiding.  I don’t know.  At the risk of questioning the Almighty’s power, is that really the way it works?  Is God really omnipotent?  I don’t see it.  Because you see, God, in infinite wisdom and omniscience, gave away a piece of the Godself and, in turn, denied God’s own omnipotence.  God chose to give away the power to choose.  It’s called free will.  And so God lovingly and patiently waits.

But what God does is give us a season for pruning.  It’s called Lent.  It is the season when God with the profound skill of a master gardener shows us how to prune and deadhead our lives, clearing away all the dried up growth and giving us room to breath and grow.  And God waits for us to choose life, waits for us to choose to bloom into the most magnificent creation, waits for us to choose to walk toward God and become what God intended us to be.  And still God waits until even the last bloom springs forth.  There is nothing that God can do to hurry the process along except to wait with us everyday and try to pluck the deadness that we hold so tightly from our grip.  God gave omnipotence away so that we could choose life.  We cannot do it without God but God will not do it without us.  So ponder anew what the Almighty can do!

So, in this Lenten season, this time for pruning, choose Life.  God is waiting.

Grace and Peace,