Psalm 130: A Season of Waiting for Morning

First LightToday’s Psalter:  Psalm 130 (Lent 5A)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.  Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!  If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;  my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.  It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

The Psalmist writes from the deepest bowels of life.  It is his or her lowest point, feeling so overwhelmed with despair, almost hopeless.  And yet, there, is the sound of the still small voice.  It’s only a whisper but it is there.  The Psalmist strains to hear, laying there in the darkness, unable to sleep, unable to see the light of the morning.  It is a Psalm of faith.  It is the expression of one who though wallowing in the depths of sadness and despair, cannot feel God’s Presence and, yet, knows in the deepest part of his or her being that God is there.  It is the writing of one who knows that there is always morning, if we will only wait.

The words of the Psalm promise us that no matter how dark the night will be, there is always morning.  There is always redemption.  The King James Version depicts it as “plenteous redemption”.  We often hear of redemption as if it is some sort of payment that God required for our sins, as if Jesus’ death was somehow foreordained because we were such sinful creatures that God could take it no more.  But redemption also means restoration, to bring something to a better state.  It is what the Psalmist knows.  God is there, though unseen, restoring, recreating, even in this moment of darkness.  Redemption is not about payment; it is about the promise of morning, the promise of life.  Redemption is not about what Jesus gave us or what Jesus did for us but what God in Christ does even now.  God brings morning.

The Psalm does not give us empty promises that “everything will be alright”.  Rather, it is honest.  Sometimes life hurts.  Sometimes life hurts more than we think we can bear.  Sometimes we have our own dark night of the soul.  But in the darkness, we learn to wait.  We learn to hope.  That is what Lent is–a waiting in the depths.  We are journeying now deeper and deeper into the darkness.  We know that it will be painful, at times even unbearable.  But our faith tells us that God is present whether or not we can feel the presence.  And so we learn to wait.  We wait through pain and betrayal and last nights together.  We wait through darkness and death.  We wait in the stillness and foreboding silence.  We wait because we know that morning always comes.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present.  (Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536, Also attributed to Carl Jung, because the quote was posted above his door in his house in Switzerland.)

“Out of the Depths”, John Rutter, “Requiem”

On this 5th Sunday of Lent, claim your own depths.  Imagine what your own recreation looks like.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

I have posted a reflection on the Stations of the Cross as a “page” on the blog.  If you go to dancingtogod.com and click on it at the top, you can view it.

 

Staring Into the Face of Resurrection

Snake (Coiled) Scripture Text:  Numbers 21: 4-9
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Well, as if we weren’t having enough problems in this wilderness! It seems that all through the Scriptures, there is always lots of complaining going on in the wilderness. The people complained because there was no food, so God gives them manna enough for an army. They complained that there was no water, so God tells Moses to strike the rock and the waters supposedly gushed forth. The complaints continued. Nothing was ever enough. Nothing was ever right. The one here always sort of cracks me up. “There is no food and no water!” “Oh wait, there IS food but we don’t like it.” (OH, that’s the REAL story!) But, regardless, this is the oddest passage. Without its mention in this week’s Gospel passage, chances are we would have avoided including it in the Lectionary altogether.

But in their defense, the wilderness sometimes seems to be unending torturous despair. The people are weary; they are frustrated; and they are no longer convinced that their leader really knows where he’s going at all. So, of course, the group that doesn’t like change, that wants to go back, becomes louder and more influential. I don’t know. I’ve always thought that perhaps the poisonous snakes notion might have been a little over the top. I mean, sure…complaining…bad, poisonous snakes all over the place…REALLY bad. You know, there is just something about a snake that commands your attention.

So God comes up with the oddest solution. Make a serpent of bronze and put it on a pole and when someone is bitten by a snake, have the person look at the snake. Well, that is very strange. Essentially, God’s antidote for the snakes is a snake. So, let me get this straight. The more we look at our fear, at our evil, at those things that invade us, at those things that plague us, the less hold they have on us. I think the point is not the snake; the point is what God does with it.

It is notable, too, that nothing is said to imply that God destroys the snakes.  Essentially, God does not destroy the enemy—God recreates it.  Isn’t that an incredible thing?  You see, we need to recognize that the traditional Jewish reading of the “Garden of Eden” story differs from the classical Christian version.  While the snake has often been identified in both faiths as Satan (or satan), the Jewish understanding is not that of something or someone outside of God’s command or a rebel against divine authority.  Rather, it’s sort of a prosecuting attorney, entrusted with testing, entrapping, and testifying against us before the heavenly court.  It’s part of God’s way of maintaining order.  It’s part of God’s way of showing us a mirror to look at ourselves.  So, from that standpoint, these snakes or serpents are not enemies but, are rather a part of ourselves, a part of who we are, the part that we would rather not see. (And, yes, now we would rather they all be snakes rather than that!) Redemption is free but it is not given freely; one has to be willing to surrender the part of oneself that we’d rather not see. That is the only way that it can be healed.

So, did you see what has now happened to the story about “the dress”? (You know the blue and black that sometimes looked white and gold that brought the internet, social media, and the news world to its knees as people argued over the color of the dress.) Well, the Salvation Army in South Africa has come up with a stupendous global advertising campaign to raise awareness for domestic violence. There is a billboard in England that shows a picture of a bruised and battered woman that also employs the use of facial recognition technology. Each time a person looks at the billboard, the camera will take a picture of their face and the battered woman will heal a little bit more on the billboard. How incredible is that? If we look, the healing begins. (http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/new-anti-domestic-violence-campaign-features-the-dress/17wrjfdwt)

That’s the crux. If we look at the snake, if we look at the billboard, if we look to the Cross, the healing begins. Redemption does not happen by ignoring evil or turning one’s eyes away from that which is uncomfortable; it happens by staring it square in the face and seeing God’s Presence come through as it is re-created.

Nature doth thus kindly heal every wound. By the mediation of a thousand little mosses and fungi, the most unsightly objects become radiant of beauty. There seem to be two sides of this world, presented us at different times, as we see things in growth or dissolution, in life or death. And seen with the eye of the poet, as God sees them, all things are alive and beautiful. (Henry David Thoreau)

FOR TODAY: Open your eyes. Look it square in the face and encounter God in a way that you never have before. Encounter redemption; encounter re-creation; encounter resurrection.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Reclaimed in the Wildeness

Fork in the desert roadScripture Text:  Genesis 21: 14

14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

Well our heroes from yesterday are not shining examples of humanity in this story. After God promised Abraham a son with his wife Sarah, they laughed in disbelief. But they waited…and waited…and waited. They got impatient, as we all do at times, and took matters into their own hands. (Don’t we all do that at times?)  So Sarah devised a plan where Abraham would father a child with her slave Hagar. After all, in her mind that would fulfill the promise that Abraham would become the “father of a nation” so maybe this was what God meant all along. But, of course, things did not come out completely rosy. Predictably, Hagar’s pregnancy provoked Sarah’s jealousy and bitterness, and so she drove Hagar into the wilderness. But, true to character, God found her there and welcomed her back, in effect reclaiming her as part of the story. He told her that her child that was to be born would be called Ishmael, which means “God hears”. He said that her descendants would be “too numerous to count”. (This is starting to sound vaguely familiar!)

In the passage for today, it is probably some fifteen years later. It is the occasion of the weaning of Isaac, which probably means that he’s about three years old. Once again, those old wounds and jealousies surface for Sarah and, once again, she drives Hagar, this time with the child Ishmael, into the wilderness. Hagar gives up, toying with just leaving Ishmael to die so the whole sordid thing would end. But then, once again, God hears. And then God makes what is really an extraordinary promise to Hagar that is almost identical to the promise made to Abraham. “I will make him into a great nation…God was with the boy.”

This is a little bit different wilderness story.  Hagar was not “driven” to the wilderness; she didn’t go there for solace or renewal; she wasn’t wandering through it on the way to the Promised Land.  Hagar was sent away, forced into the wilderness mainly by Sarah’s jealousy and resentment and Abraham’s fear and remorse.  And there God again reclaims her, giving her a new story, a new promise of life to come.  The story is a reminder that God is God, once and for all, and that God, with infinite compassion and abounding grace will reclaim us even from ourselves, even from what we humans do to each other.  One by one, in the deepest wilderness of our lives, God reclaims us as children of God.

God’s focus becomes a focus on the future.  Five chapters before this when Hagar had run into the wilderness to avoid Sarah’s wrath, God came.  Sent into the wilderness as forsaken, Hagar encounters God.  In fact, God draws her into conversation.  Hagar becomes the first person in Genesis to encounter an angel of God and the first woman to be given promises (the first woman, ever!).  She becomes the only person in the Old Testament to actually name God.  Hagar, sent into the wilderness so that she would not be part of the story, is reclaimed by God and given a story all her own. In his book, Peculiar Treasures, Frederick Buechner says of this story that it tells “how in the midst of the whole unseemly affair the Lord, half tipsy with compassion, went around making marvelous promises, and loving everybody, and creating great nations, like the last of the big-time spenders handing out hundred dollar bills.”

Both children are recognized as belonging to Abraham but also to a particular future that will be worked out in the future. God announces that it is through Isaac that descendants will be named for Abraham, referring to the covenantal line. But Abraham can be assured that God will care for the future of Ishmael as well, making of him a great nation, making him of the great story that God is continually writing.

In this season of Lent, we do wander in the wilderness.  Some of our wildernesses are self-imposed; some are gifts given from God for renewal and recreation; and some wildernesses are so deep that God must pluck us out of the undergrowth and hold us, setting us upright, so that we begin a new journey.  Lent teaches us that the story is always more than we planned, more than we can see, more than the road that we are on now.  In this wilderness season, the story begins to move beyond ourselves.  We just have to learn to pay attention and allow ourselves to be reclaimed by a story we did not fully know.

Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void. (Simone Weil)

FOR TODAY:  What is your story?  What chapter is God calling you to include?  How is God reclaiming you from the wilderness in which you wander?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Return to Grace

Rainbow

Scripture Text:  Genesis 9:12-17

12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

This is actually the tale-end of the story of Noah and the famous ark filled to the brim with the remnants of Creation.  And here…after all this time of pounding rains, all this time cooped up with animals of all kinds, all this time rocking and swaying with the boat…here, God speaks.  The familiar bow of color is set in the clouds as a sign of the promise that God has made.  We usually take it as a sign that God will take care of us, that God will right the wrongs of the world and order them yet again, that God will somehow assuage our pain and grief and put things back the way they were.  Really?  THAT’S not what that says.

Now we can either look at this story as a sort of children’s story, complete with rainbows and pairs of elephants and zebras and orangutans or we can look at this story as one depicting a deity who was so angered by the rebellion of the Creation that God wiped it off the face of the earth. Truthfully, neither one works. Indeed, this is a story about rebellion and human sinfulness. (And to be honest, what story is NOT?) But the whole point is that no matter how far the human creation wandered from the Creator, there was a calling back, a return, an offering of love and forgiveness and a chance to begin again. Now, that’s hard for us to fathom too, possibly because we are not good at offering each other “do-overs”. We are not good at understanding a God who would dispense with all means of justified destruction and just offer Presence and Grace and a future filled with hope. It is hard for us to imagine that no matter what we do, no matter what we screw up or blow up or make up, God is offering a chance to return, a chance to be recreated into something that only God can imagine.

You see, the Celtic tradition would look upon the rainbow not as a promise that God would “fix” the world or “fix” us, but as a threshold, a point between what is and what will be.  So, the promise is not that God will fix everything, but that, always, there is a chance to begin again.  We always and forever, no matter what we’ve done or thought or how many times we’ve flaked out in life, have the chance to return to the beginning. God does not wipe what has happened.  God does not forget what we have done.  Rather God, knowing and remembering full well what the creatures have done in Creation, STILL God offers a threshold through which we can return to Grace–if we will only step through.

The grace of God means something like:  Here is your life.  You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.  Here is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.  I am with you.  Nothing can ever separate us…There’s only one catch.  Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.  Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.  (Frederick Buechner)

FOR TODAY:  What does it mean to return to grace?  What does it mean not to forget what has happened, not to forget what you have done, but to allow yourself to step through the threshold that God has opened wide, to allow yourself to begin again?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Psalm 130: A Season of Waiting for Morning

First LightToday’s Psalter:  Psalm 130 (Lent 5A)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.  Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!  If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;  my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.  It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

The Psalmist writes from the deepest bowels of life.  It is his or her lowest point, feeling so overwhelmed with despair, almost hopeless.  And yet, there, is the sound of the still small voice.  It’s only a whisper but it is there.  The Psalmist strains to hear, laying there in the darkness, unable to sleep, unable to see the light of the morning.  It is a Psalm of faith.  It is the expression of one who though wallowing in the depths of sadness and despair, cannot feel God’s Presence and, yet, knows in the deepest part of his or her being that God is there.  It is the writing of one who knows that there is always morning, if we will only wait.

The words of the Psalm promise us that no matter how dark the night will be, there is always morning.  There is always redemption.  The King James Version depicts it as “plenteous redemption”.  We often hear of redemption as if it is some sort of payment that God required for our sins, as if Jesus’ death was somehow foreordained because we were such sinful creatures that God could take it no more.  But redemption also means restoration, to bring something to a better state.  It is what the Psalmist knows.  God is there, though unseen, restoring, recreating, even in this moment of darkness.  Redemption is not about payment; it is about the promise of morning, the promise of life.  Redemption is not about what Jesus gave us or what Jesus did for us but what God in Christ does even now.  God brings morning.

The Psalm does not give us empty promises that “everything will be alright”.  Rather, it is honest.  Sometimes life hurts.  Sometimes life hurts more than we think we can bear.  Sometimes we have our own dark night of the soul.  But in the darkness, we learn to wait.  We learn to hope.  That is what Lent is–a waiting in the depths.  We are journeying now deeper and deeper into the darkness.  We know that it will be painful, at times even unbearable.  But our faith tells us that God is present whether or not we can feel the presence.  And so we learn to wait.  We wait through pain and betrayal and last nights together.  We wait through darkness and death.  We wait in the stillness and foreboding silence.  We wait because we know that morning always comes.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present.  (Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536, Also attributed to Carl Jung, because the quote was posted above his door in his house in Switzerland.)

“Out of the Depths”, John Rutter, “Requiem”

On this 5th Sunday of Lent, claim your own depths.  Imagine what your own recreation looks like.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

I have posted a reflection on the Stations of the Cross as a “page” on the blog.  If you go to dancingtogod.com and click on it at the top, you can view it.

 

The Day Between

What do we do with this day, this Holy Saturday?  We are still grieving.  The reality of it all is beginning to sink in, beginning to be real.  Jesus is gone, dying alone on some hill that we don’t even know.  So, what do we do today?  How do we pick up the pieces in the midst of our pain and despair and just go on with our lives?  Oh, we 21st century believers know how the story ends.  We’ve already jumped ahead and read the next chapter many, many times.  (Don’t tell those that don’t read ahead, but it all works out in the end.)

And yet, we do ourselves no favors if we jump ahead to tomorrow.  After all, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus rose on the third day, the THIRD day, as in one-two-three.  The third day doesn’t happen without today.  It must be important, right?  But, oh, it’s just so painfully quiet.  The sanctuary is dark, awaiting to be redressed for its coronation.  The bells are quiet, hanging expectantly for tomorrow.  And we still sit here draped in black with our Easter brights hanging there ready for us to don.  What are we supposed to do today?

Tradition (and the older version of the Apostles’ Creed) holds that Jesus died, was buried, and descended into hell.  So is that what this day is?  Descent?  Good grief, wasn’t the Cross low enough?  The well-disputed claim is that Jesus descended into death, descended into hell, perhaps descended into Gehenna (Greek, Hebrew–Gehinnom, Rabbinical Hebrew–גהנום/גהנם), the State of ungodly souls.  Why?  Why after suffering the worst imaginable earthly death would Jesus descend into hell?  Well, the disputed part is that Jesus, before being raised himself, descended to the depths of suffering and despair and redeemed it, recreated it.  The sixth century hymnwriter, Venantius Fortunatus claimed that “hell today is vanquished, Heaven is won today.” Why is that so out of bounds of what God can do?  Don’t we believe that God is God of all?  Or does it give us some sense of comfort to know that we are not the worst of the bunch, that there are always Judas’ and Brutus’ that have messed up a whole lot worse than any of us and so are destined to spend eternity on the lowest rungs of hell?  But, oh, think about the power and grace and amazing love of a God who before the Divine Ascent into glory, descended into the depths of humanity and redeemed us all, perhaps wiped out the hell of each of our lives rung, by rung? 

And, yet, again, we cannot leave it all to Christ to do.  Just as we were called to pick up our cross yesterday, we are called to descend down into the depths, plunging into the unknown darkness, so that God can pick us up again, set us right, and show us a new journey.  And so this day, we stand between, between death and life, between hell and heaven, between a world that does not understand and a God who even in the silence of this day has begun the redeeming work.  In some ways, this is the holiest day of the week.  How often do we stand with a full and honest view of the world and a glimpse of the holy and the sacred that is always and forever part of our lives?  How often do we stand together and see ourselves as both betrayers and beloved children of God?  How often do we stand in the depths of our human state and yet know that God will raise us up.  This is a pure state of liminality, a state, as the Old English would say, “betwixt and between.”  It is where we are called to be.  It is the place of the fullness of humanity as it claims both human and divine.  In the silence of this day, we stand with God.  And we wait, we wait expectantly for resurrection, we wait for God to say us once again.  It is where we should always be.  We won’t though.  We won’t be there. (Remember, we’ve had this problem before.)  And maybe on some level, it’s too much for us to always be there, always be waiting expectantly for God.  But at least we can remember what this day feels like as we stand between who we were and what we will be. 

So, for today, keep expectant vigil.  Do not jump ahead.  We can only understand the glory of God when we see it behind the shadow of death.  But, remember, shadows only exist because of Light. 

“Welcome, happy morning!” age to age shall say:
“Hell today is vanquished, Heav’n is won today!”
Lo! the dead is living, God forevermore!
Him, their true Creator, all His works adore!

Refrain
“Welcome, happy morning!”
Age to age shall say.

Earth her joy confesses, clothing her for spring,
All fresh gifts returned with her returning King:
Bloom in every meadow, leaves on every bough,
Speak His sorrow ended, hail His triumph now.

Refrain

Months in due succession, days of lengthening light,
Hours and passing moments praise Thee in their flight.
Brightness of the morning, sky and fields and sea,
Vanquisher of darkness, bring their praise to Thee.

Refrain

Maker and Redeemer, life and health of all,
Thou from heaven beholding human nature’s fall,
Of the Father’s Godhead true and only Son,
Mankind to deliver, manhood didst put on.

Refrain

Thou, of life the Author, death didst undergo,
Tread the path of darkness, saving strength to show;
Come, then True and Faithful, now fulfill Thy Word;
’Tis Thine own third morning; rise, O buried Lord!

Refrain

Loose the souls long prisoned, bound with Satan’s chain;
All that now is fallen raise to life again;
Show Thy face in brightness, bid the nations see;
Bring again our daylight: day returns with Thee!

Refrain
Just wait…
Grace and Peace,
Shelli