Between

Lectionary Scripture Text: Psalm 31: 1-5, 15-16

1In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.  2Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.  3You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, 4take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.

5Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.  15My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.  16Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

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, every single one of us, perhaps wiped out the hell of each of our lives rung, by rung? 

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!

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 Way.  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. 

Do you remember how we started this whole thing?  Do you remember the Creation account from Genesis, how how God spoke Creation into being, how God spoke US into being.  So today we wait for God to say us into being 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.  Because, granted, today IS very wilderness-like.  In fact, you could say that it is the ultimate wilderness—lonely, forsaken, no clear path ahead.  I know.  You thought we were going to “wrap” this whole wilderness thing up, right?  But, see, wilderness is an opportunity.  It’s an opportunity for God to say us into being again.  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 the Light is so very, very bright. 

The shadows shift and fly.

The whole long day the air trembles,

Thick with silence, until, finally, the footsteps are heard,

And the noise of the voice of God is upon us.

The Holy One is not afraid to walk on unholy ground.

The Holy Work is done, and the world awaits the dawn of Life.

(“Saturday Silence”, Ann Weems, in Kneeling in Jerusalem)

You must give birth to your images.  They are the future waiting to be born.  Fear not the strangeness you feel.  The future must enter you long before it happens.  Just wait for the birth, for the hour of new clarity. (Rainer Maria Rilke) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Shhh…You’re Supposed to Be Listening

There were some problems with this post, so I apologize if you’re getting this a second time!

Psalm 29: 3-9

3The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. 4The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. 5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. 6He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. 7The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. 8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 9The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The voice of the Lord…God’s voice…listen…

Most humans don’t listen that well.  We like talking, filling our lives with our own thoughts and our own opinions and, at times, our own bloviations.  And think what we miss!  Is it possible that in our call to wait during this season, we are also being reminded to listen, to listen for God’s voice?  You know, when you read the Old Testament, there are lots of places where people are convinced that they hear God’s voice, that they hear God calling to them.  And God tells them to go from where they are or follow a star or climb a mountain or cross a sea or listen to a burning bush. So, did God quit talking?  Or did we quit listening?

God’s voice comes to us in a myriad of ways—nature, animals, others, our own conscience, our own thoughts (if we listen to them rather than feeling like we need to spit them out into the world before they’re fully formed), and music of all kinds.  I often hear God in music.  I think it’s because music breaks in and seeps into us.  It quiets us.  It teaches us to LISTEN, to listen to something other than our own voice.  Joan Chittister said that “music is the only sound of heaven we’ve ever been given…music is where the soul goes to put into notes what cannot be said in words.”  That’s why music crosses languages.  I listen to lots of music for which I can’t understand the words and, yet, I do understand them. 

That’s the way we need to learn to listen—not to know what words are being used but to learn to let what we hear penetrate deep into our souls.  We will hear God’s voice but it may not be in the words or the language to which we are accustomed.  It may be a song we’ve never heard.   This is the season when we stop and learn to listen for God’s voice.  It’s there.  But we have to listen. 

So, I found this video.  It’s a little different but I think it says a lot.  It teaches us to listen…and to sing.  It teaches us to respond to the music we hear.  (I WOULD turn the sound down a bit if you’re next to your dog.)

Down in the forest 
We'll sing a chorus  
One that everybody knows 
Hands held higher  
We'll be on fire  
Singing songs that nobody wrote (Wolf Conservation Center)

But ask the animals, and they will teach you… (Job 12:7)

In this our Season of Waiting, we are learning to listen, to listen to God’s voice.  It’s there.  It’s everywhere. It surrounds us, goes before us, follows us, and seeps into us. It’s leading us to that for which we are waiting.  But we have to stop.  And we have to listen.  It happens in the silence, the holy silence, the spaces between our words.  It happens in OUR silence.  See, Creation is full of songs of all types.  It never stops.  It never sleeps.  It is always there.  We don’t have to know the words.  We just have to listen.  When we are silent, we will hear the music around us.  And it will become a part of us.  And we will recognize it when it does.  Because we’ve heard it before.  It is God’s gift.  It is God’s voice.  Shhhhh….You’re supposed to be listening.

I just couldn’t help myself. The gates were open and the hills were beckoning…I can’t seem to stop singing wherever I am. (Maria, from…”The Sound of Music”)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Shhh…You’re Supposed to Be Listening

Psalm 29: 3-9

3The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. 4The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. 5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. 6He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. 7The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. 8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 9The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The voice of the Lord…God’s voice…listen…

Most humans don’t listen that well.  We like talking, filling our lives with our own thoughts and our own opinions and, at times, our own bloviations.  And think what we miss!  Is it possible that in our call to wait during this season, we are also being reminded to listen, to listen for God’s voice?  You know, when you read the Old Testament, there are lots of places where people are convinced that they hear God’s voice, that they hear God calling to them.  And God tells them to go from where they are or follow a star or climb a mountain or cross a sea or listen to a burning bush. So, did God quit talking?  Or did we quit listening?

God’s voice comes to us in a myriad of ways—nature, animals, others, our own conscience, our own thoughts (if we listen to them rather than feeling like we need to spit them out into the world before they’re fully formed), and music of all kinds.  I often hear God in music.  I think it’s because music breaks in and seeps into us.  It quiets us.  It teaches us to LISTEN, to listen to something other than our own voice.  Joan Chittister said that “music is the only sound of heaven we’ve ever been given…music is where the soul goes to put into notes what cannot be said in words.”  That’s why music crosses languages.  I listen to lots of music for which I can’t understand the words and, yet, I do understand them. 

That’s the way we need to learn to listen—not to know what words are being used but to learn to let what we hear penetrate deep into our souls.  We will hear God’s voice but it may not be in the words or the language to which we are accustomed.  It may be a song we’ve never heard.   This is the season when we stop and learn to listen for God’s voice.  It’s there.  But we have to listen. 

So, I found this video.  It’s a little different but I think it says a lot.  It teaches us to listen…and to sing.  It teaches us to respond to the music we hear.  (I WOULD turn the sound down a bit if you’re next to your dog.)

Down in the forest 
We'll sing a chorus  
One that everybody knows 
Hands held higher  
We'll be on fire  
Singing songs that nobody wrote (Wolf Conservation Center)

But ask the animals, and they will teach you… (Job 12:7)

In this our Season of Waiting, we are learning to listen, to listen to God’s voice.  It’s there.  It’s everywhere. It surrounds us, goes before us, follows us, and seeps into us. It’s leading us to that for which we are waiting.  But we have to stop.  And we have to listen.  It happens in the silence, the holy silence, the spaces between our words.  It happens in OUR silence.  See, Creation is full of songs of all types.  It never stops.  It never sleeps.  It is always there.  We don’t have to know the words.  We just have to listen.  When we are silent, we will hear the music around us.  And it will become a part of us.  And we will recognize it when it does.  Because we’ve heard it before.  It is God’s gift.  It is God’s voice.  Shhhhh….You’re supposed to be listening.

I just couldn’t help myself. The gates were open and the hills were beckoning…I can’t seem to stop singing wherever I am. (Maria, from…”The Sound of Music”)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

As If It Is

Advent 2B Lectionary Passage:  2 Peter 3: 8-9 (10-15)

8But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

Now as patient as the writer of this passage sounds, it is likely that he or she (yes, I think there could have been some she’s writing!) probably assumed that Jesus’ return was imminent (as in weeks or months). In fact, my guess is that most of those that walked the earth in the time of Jesus and the years after would be absolutely stunned and perhaps downright flabbergasted that you and I sit here today having the same discussion.  They assumed that Jesus was returning in their lifetime and that this return entailed Jesus just showing up and making everything right.  But if that had happened, think about what humanity would have missed!

I used to really wonder what Jesus’ return would look like.  I mean is he going to return to Bethlehem?  Maybe this time he’ll show up in Paris or New York City or Moscow, Russia.  Maybe Australia.  Or Tahiti.  Or perhaps he’ll go for a bit of drama and plop down in the middle of the Super Bowl or something. OR…(and hear me out here) what if the “return” that Jesus spoke about has already happened?  I mean, have you read the account of Pentecost?  Remember the rush of violent wind and the Holy Spirit that filled all who were there.  Remember the quote from the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…”

The truth is that we don’t know what will happen or when it will happen or, for that matter, if the Coming that Jesus talked about has already happened.  The full transformation of all of Creation will happen when it will happen.  And it will look EXACTLY like God envisioned it will look.  God’s time is God’s time.  And in God’s time, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. And for us?  We wait. 

But lest you think your waiting is just sitting around dreaming of redemption and re-creation and twiddling your thumbs, you need to remember that you are Spirit-filled.  And as those who are Spirit-filled, we need to realize that WE are the ones that God is calling now.  WE are the ones that God is filling and gathering and sending.  WE are the ones that are supposed to be peacemaking and justice-building.  WE are the ones that are called to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.  WE are the ones that are called to wipe out racism and welcome those who are excluded. WE are the ones who are called to be Christ on earth.  So while you wait for God’s time for the full redemption of Creation to come to be, as one who is Spirit-filled, you are called to live AS IF it’s already here. 

In this Season of Advent as we practice holy waiting, when we both remember those who looked for the coming of the Messiah so long ago and look ahead for Christ’s coming into our own lives, we are also reminded to live as if it’s already come to be.  Because if everyone lived AS IF it was here, as if the world was transformed into what it was meant to be, then it would already be.  The truth is, this IS God’s time.  It’s ALL God’s time.  And we are smack dab in the middle of it.  We wait for the darkness to be pushed away by the light but in the meantime, we need to do a little of our own darkness-pushing.  God is waiting for us to respond, for us to proclaim God’s love and mercy, for us to live “as if”—as if the coming of the Lord is now, as if God’s Spirit has already spilled into the earth, as if justice and righteousness was the only way, and as if we knew no other way to live.

Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God;  But only [they] who see, take off [their] shoes—the rest sit around it and pluck blueberries.   (Elizabeth Barret Browning, from “Aurora Leigh”)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

The Waiting Game

SCRIPTURE: Mark 13: 32-33

But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 

Once again, we’re being told to wait.  Most of us don’t do that well.  We’re so accustomed to instant results and instant gratification.  We have become creatures dependent on microwaves, high-speed internets, and never-ending freeways.  We are used to getting what we need and what we want NOW.  We’ve seen that this year when we are being told to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and patiently wait for a Covid vaccine or for the virus to begin to subside.  But millions of us still packed onto airplanes, into potentially unsafe holiday gatherings, and into probably much too crowded stores to begin our holiday shopping.  (Insert eyeroll here!) Yeah, we don’t wait well.

But this passage reminds us that faith is essentially a waiting game.  It is the season of preparation but we tend to equate preparation with knowing what will happen, when it will happen, and how many people will be involved.  But Advent preparation is not about planning; it is about a sort of active waiting.  “Adventus”, the Latin from which our season derives, means arrival or coming.  It’s only partially about looking ahead.  Think of it as a place between two ways of being, a threshold between God’s coming into this world some 2,000 years ago and the promised coming for which we wait.  Part of it is remembering.  And part of it is entering what is to come.  It’s not a checklist; it’s an act of faith.  Waiting is an act of faith.  It’s not temporary.  It’s not preparing for the “Thing”.  Waiting IS the “Thing” in this season. 

In The Life of Moses, 4th century theologian and Eastern Church Father, St. Gregory of Nyssa, talks of the incarnations of God, as in more than one.  He talks of the many comings of God—the moving of God’s Spirit over the waters, the burning bush, the cloud of knowing—that for him leads up to the Incarnation of God in the form of a human, the Birth of Jesus Christ.  But if those who were waiting for the (big “I”) Incarnation had put everything into that, ignoring all those places in their lives where God burst in and was made known, all those (small “i”) incarnations, then they never would have been fully prepared as faithful people to welcome God into the world.

Advent is not “pre-Christmas”.  It’s not really meant to only be the time that we get ready for the big day.  We cannot live one season ahead.  God will come when God will come.  The full revealing of God has in store is yet to be.  But this Season of Waiting awakens us to what has already started to be so that we’ll know the pathway that we are to take.  The feast has yet to begin but the dancing has started.  So we stay alert to the incarnations that God inserts into our lives.  And we dance with them.  And we wait.  We just have to wait.

You must give birth to your images.  They are the future waiting to be born.  Fear not the strangeness you feel.  The future must enter you long before it happens.  Just wait for the birth, for the hour of new clarity. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Patiently Waiting

edge-of-the-cliff-608x400Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (James 5: 7-10)

OK, so we’re thinking we’re supposed to be reading stories of angels coming to Mary and Joseph or maybe more about that vision that God holds for us.  And some guy named James or, in that century, someone that wrote in the name of some guy named James, tells us to “be patient”.  Who is this?  He obviously did not have Christmas shopping to do.  He obviously did not have to worry about putting his decorations up.  He obviously did not have to crank out bulletins and sermons for the next four weeks.  He obviously did not understand our situation.  I mean, we need to get this show on the road.  Isn’t that the way we do things?

Truthfully, we Western Christians struggle with the whole idea of Holy Patience.  In fact, it is probable that for most of us, that phrase is an oxymoron.  We live in a permanent state of hurrying, trying to get to the “next thing.”  So we struggle with our faith journey which is always an exercise in the practice if patience, the practice of simply being, of honoring the sacredness of the moment.  Perhaps that’s the whole point.  We are not told to be patient because God doesn’t have time to deal with us right now or because God in some passive-aggressive act is holding back on the promise that we’ve been given and dangling it out there like some sort of temptress.  We are told to be patient because where we are is the place that we are called to be.  The “next thing” is not yet.

This season of Advent teaches us patience if we will only pay attention.  But we are in such a hurry to get to the “next thing”, to get to the big day, that we are missing out on the now.  Being patience does not mean ignoring what is to come.  Being patient is about understanding that this moment, this one, never-again-to-come-again moment is the place to prepare you for the next thing. Jumping to the “next thing” does not get you down the road faster; it takes you to a place that you are not prepared to be.  Be patient.  God will come when God will come.  God will come when the moment is the right one.  God will come and those who have patiently and actively waited will be the first to know.

I discovered that in the spiritual life, the long way round is the saving way.  It isn’t the quick and easy religion we’re accustomed to.  It’s deep and difficult–a way that leads into the vortex of the soul where we touch God’s transformative powers.  But we have to be patient.  We have to let go and tap our creative stillness.  Most of all, we have to trust that our scarred hearts really do have wings. (Sue Monk Kidd)

FOR TODAY:  Be patient.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Silencing the Frenzy

dreamstimefree_2009266120But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him! (Habakkuk 2:20)

Well, tis the season!  THIRTEEN MORE DAYS!!! 20% OFF ONE DAY ONLY!!!  FREE SHIPPING TODAY ONLY!  FIRST 100 CUSTOMERS RECEIVE A FREE ______________ [I don’t know, just fill in the blank!]  The truth is, we are frenzied!  We live at a frenzied pace with which, truth be known, none of us can keep up.  I think about my last couple of days.  I haven’t even been able to breathe. Today I decorated five Christmas trees (one big one, four small ones), straightened my house, decorated all over the house, made a cheesecake, and now I’m writing this really late blog. Oh yeah…I wrote a sermon too! I think it’s just a conspiracy to keep us from dancing!  (Sorry this is so late in the day!)

But, think about it–we’re probably not the first people on the planet to live frenzied.  Think back–”Joseph, you’ll need to spend the next few days and take off from your carpenter’s job (unpaid, I’m guessing) and pop over to Bethlehem to pay this new tax that we’ve concocted.  We hope that works for you. Oh?  Your wife is about to go into labor?  And, really, she is birthing the salvation of the world, the Son of the God, the Messiah?  Well, that’s great, but you still need to pay your taxes on time or we can garnish your wages or take your house or throw you into one of those new Roman prisons.”  And so they went–Mary and Joseph, supposedly on a donkey or a mule or something of the like.  They arrived in Bethlehem.  But apparently everyone had gotten the same notice.  Do you believe all this traffic?  Why didn’t we make a reservation?  (Oh, really, Joseph?  What were you thinking?) Where is that first century Groupon when you need it?  Mary, I know this is hard.  I PROMISE that I will find a place for us to spend the night.  You’re WHAT?  NOW?  Are you kidding me?

We all know the story.  There would be no room.  There would be frenzy.  And so we made do.  We took what we could get–a sort of back room filled with hay and cast-off blankets.  It was filled with animals cowering from the cold.  And there Jesus was born into the frenzy of the world.  Truth be known–there was never calm but there was always peace.  But the point is that God still came–came into the frenzy of the world.  God does not wait until everything is calm and together.  God does not come because you have all the decorations up; God does not come because you finally have all the gifts wrapped; and God does not come because the world is ready, because the world is at peace. God just comes, frenzy and all.  And all we have to do is put on our dancing shoes!

So, THIS Advent, let go of the frenzy and remember…the Lord is already in the temple…the Lord has already come…God is just waiting for us to notice.
There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as silence. (Meister Eckhart)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli