Monday, February 27, 2017

Ignored, Dismissed, Insulted


Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.  Matthew 15:21-28, NRSV

(I preached on this passage yesterday in church and continued learning about the passage during and after our service.)

A man approached me after church while I was tucking my sermon notes back into a folder. 

“There were three words you used that really struck me," he said,  "Can you remind me what they were?”

I looked at him, a solid man, my height and balding, a good ten years older, perhaps.  He was one of the few in the congregation I didn’t know well and while I spoke he had alternated between lowering his head, eyes fix on a spot on the carpet in front of him, and looking at me with grave concern.  It was easy for the anxious, insecure preacher in me to imagine him disagreeing with the entirety of the sermon or, more simply, disapproving of a woman in the pulpit. 

“You said three things that happened to the woman,” he said, “real succinct.”

Lowering his reading glasses from where they were perched on top of his head, he peered over my shoulder while I rifled through my notes looking for the line I guessed he had in mind.  Finding it in my bare bones notes I pointed and he nodded and read aloud, “Ignored, dismissed, and insulted.  That’s really all there is, isn’t it?”

At first I thought he was referring to my sparse notes, then I realized he meant that the woman in the passage pretty much experienced the sum of what we humans can do to each other. 

“Thanks,” he said, raising his reading glasses again and shaking his head as he walked away.

//

I started the sermon portion of the service by reading the passage three times, pausing for a brief silence between each reading.  “Try listening with your eyes closed,” I said.  “All you have to do is pay attention.”

After the reading, I invited the congregation to share their impressions of the passage – what did they notice, who did they relate to, and what were they curious about?  Every time I start a sermon this way, the congregation identifies almost every single one of the relevant issues in the text, often outlining the relevant points of my sermon for me with hardly any effort at all.  I guess maybe that speaks to the power of crowd-sourcing, but I also take it as a sign that people are much more capable of reading the bible than they think and that every good reading of a passage begins with a lot of questions and a little confusion. 

During our discussion, one man in the back mentioned how struck he was by Jesus’ response to the situation – that Jesus seemed to allow the situation to unfold in front of him and waited before making a definitive judgment. 

This is one of the things I would identify as a positive later in the sermon too – Jesus listened to the woman despite seeming to be pretty clear about wanting nothing to do with her.  Because Jesus listens, the Canaanite woman is able to insert a new perspective into the conversation, one that makes room for Jesus to recognize and respond to her faith.

//

I thought about all of this as my husband drove us home with the kids squabbling in the back of the van and my head pounding from sinus pressure.  “Ignored, dismissed, insulted.”  I thought about the Canaanite woman’s vision, the way she shifted the conversation away from the position of those at or beneath the table to the meal itself which was so abundant it couldn’t help but overflow beyond the table’s borders. 

Riding home I thought about the people in our world who possess a greater vision, those who are willing to push against status quo and shift the level of conversation into a wider more productive space.  These people are, most often, outsiders, people who for one reason or another have been relegated to the outskirts of society.  But their exclusion, painful as it is, often comes with the gift of perspective – positioned on the outside looking in, they often see beyond what is to the possibilities of what might be.  Lacking the benefits of insider status, outsiders like the Canaanite woman are often willing to risk more in order to attain a more inclusive vision and they’re not the only ones to benefit from it.

People like that are often ignored, often dismissed, often insulted.  But I wonder what it would be like if we were to be a bit more like Jesus; if we were to pause a little more and listen more often to an outsider perspective, if we were to refrain from ignoring, dismissing and insulting.

When Jesus listens to the Canaanite woman he discovers ‘great faith’ in a place where no one would have thought to look.  I hope I can learn to listen more to people with outside perspectives and I also hope I’ll continue to push beyond the risks to share what vision I’ve been given.  At times like this, when people are so divided and arguing over a place at the table, we need a broader vision more than ever.   

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Hard Words (Like Water on Stone)



I'm preaching on a difficult passage of scripture this Sunday, one I would not have chosen.  This rough poem arrived mid-week as I found myself wrestling the text.  Frustrated, I stopped to reflect on what I was doing and found myself invited to let the word do its work in me.  Sometimes we have to trust that the hard things also might bear fruit if we are willing to be present and vulnerable with them.  * I have to give credit to the show 30 Rock for the term 'mind vice.'

When the passage assigned
is hard and sharp, 
solid, like stone,
I try to crack it with
my mind vice.  Stuck,
I also apply the pressure 
of commentaries - three - 
each striking from different 
angles.  And when the passage
fails to yield (does it ever yield
under such force?) I turn it daily,
in my head, like a rubix cube. I hunt,
like the woman who's lost a coin, for 
a key to unlock the good news hidden
within.  

(Too often, I am merely looking
for comfortable news, rather than good.)

When I wear myself out, when the words
wear me down, I decide at last to let it be.  
I am the one who yields, who accepts, that I 
have been given these words, not others.
Then the passage works on me, like water
on stone until I am cracked open and somewhere 
in the cool, dark, earthen heart of me the gospel 
seed is planted and takes root.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Gumption (Initiative, Courage, Spunk)


(now THAT'S a moustache . . . )

(Lately, I've been having fun playing with words that strike me and writing a little about their definition and use.  I love words.  This post is an old one tweaked from the winter of 2012, back when I had three littles at home and drove my oldest to school every morning.  It was a challenging time, to say the least.)

Gumption noun
1. initiative, aggressiveness, resourcefulness
2. courage, spunk, guts

Gumptious adjective
See above definitions.

Every day, while driving my daughter to kindergarten drop-off in a van stuffed with four children that I’d wrestled, wrapped and carted out one-by-one, I saw him.  Sometimes it was on the way to school, sometimes on the way back home, but always, he appeared on the edge of the horizon; regular, predictable, like the sunrise. 

I found him consistently fascinating.

He ran along the side of the road with a loose, loping gait.  Drooping athletic pants swayed as he pressed forward, one step at a time, his arms bent, hands in front of him.  A hat, or more often a white visor, and white gloves completed his attire. 

But the thing that struck me most was his moustache. 

It takes a certain kind of moustache to attract the attention of a driver passing by with a van full of noise and need at twenty miles an hour.  Maybe you can picture it without me having to draw it out in fine detail, but I will tell you it was brown and heavy yet, well-trimmed. 

He was a regular Tom Sellek, my mustachioed man.

Something about his regularity, the predictability of this sighting, this crossing of paths pleased me. 

That, and his moustache.   

It takes a little gumption to sport a moustache like that, don’t you think?  And I guess there are times when we could all use a little gumption.    

When's the last time you noticed someone's gumption or displayed a little gumption of your own?  I'd love to hear about it!


Friday, February 17, 2017

Love Leads (Let Us Follow)


(In honor of Valentine's Day, I'm sharing a post on the topic of love each day this week.  Today's post is from fall 2015 and looks at the way love can lead and open doors. When our own love is worn and lacking, we can always lean on the love of another.)

In the rush between dinner and dessert, in the harried press to Get-These-Kids-to-Bed, four-year-old Isaiah remembers.

Running through the house, he shouts, "Guys! We need to do our yeaves!"

//


Last Tuesday I cut contact paper into the shape of a large, barren tree and stuck it to the wood paneled wall in the living room.  Then we cut a bowl-full of leaves.  Every evening we each write what we’re thankful for on a leaf and stick it to the tree.  By Thanksgiving the tree will be full and green, vibrant. 

//

Isaiah doesn’t remind us to do our leaves because he’s so very grateful.  Most of his leaves proclaim anticipatory gratitude for the handcuffs he hopes to receive for Christmas (heaven help us).  He reminds us because after the note’s written, he gets to color his leaf and Isaiah is a big fan of coloring.  He’s been known to spend a whole afternoon coloring at the kitchen counter.  

He loves it.  And his love leads us, even if it has nothing at all to do with gratitude. 

That’s the way love is. 

Love opens doors, makes way, and helps us remember what we set out to do, who we wanted to be, when we ourselves have forgotten.  And if we don’t have enough love of our own, all we need to do is follow someone else’s, to sit for a while in the glow of their passion and delight. 

I don’t love coloring like Isaiah does, but his love for it cuts through the evening rush, spurs memory and reminded, we follow in its wake. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Love That Carries


He's tall and burly, like someone who played football in high school.  Gray-haired, with some extra weight around the middle, he carries his daughter to school wrapped in a blanket every day through the long winter months.

I saw him this morning, as I do most mornings, walking back toward home as I waited in the drop-off line with my van-full of kids.  He walked down the sidewalk toward me with the now empty blanket draped casually over his shoulders.  It looked to be a quilt made of the sort of colors that bring to mind a Winnie the Pooh motif, a baby blanket, maybe.

Most days, I've noticed him, and most days I've thought, "Really, you carry her?"  There's part of me that still thinks it's a bit much - his daughter's in first grade at least - but today I saw it differently. 

Today I recognized the value - the depth - of a love that carries.

Grown men don't often walk around with baby quilts draped over their shoulders, but this one does, and as I write I'm reminded of those pictures of Christ the good shepherd walking with a lamb draped over his shoulders.  In those pictures that lamb is you, is me, is us - we who're being carried, wrapped in those incarnate arms of love.  

I wonder whether his daughter will even remember the way she was carried each frosty, breath-catching morning.  Maybe she won't and certainly a day will come when she says, "No more."  But slow-dancing in the kitchen with one of my bitty-boys on my hip, his head tucked into my shoulder, I know the truth, that being held, being carried, shapes us deep within in ways that can never, ever, be forgotten.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Outlaws and Rebels, Every One

Butch Cassidy and The Wild Bunch (Photo Source)

(To celebrate my new web page and in honor of Valentine's Day, I'm re-sharing some old posts this week focusing on the topic of love.  Today's post is from February 2013. Stop back tomorrow for another look at the many ways love finds us.)

*   *   *

"They crucified two rebels with him, one on his left and one on his right." Matthew 27:38

*   *   *   *   *

My 18 month-old twins saunter through the house with swaggering bravado like two black-hats straight out of the lawless west.  Working together, they form a mafia-esque crime-ring, a rebellious conspiracy against law and order and decency.  Trafficking in black market goods pilfered from the pile of floor-sweepings in the kitchen corner, they gather on the back of the love seat, perched in the window to inspect and trade their haul.  

They rip the heads off of their sister’s dolls and leave graffiti on the living room walls and every time I kneel to zip Isaiah’s coat, Levi circles around behind me and roots through my purse.  A gifted pick-pocket, he snatches my wallet and phone with such speed, stealth and precision that even I, the victim, have to marvel.  

When one is finally caught red-handed, and placed in solitary (ie. the corner) the other comes quickly to the rescue, crouching down beside him, chattering what I imagine are plans of daring-escape and revenge.  Like true accomplices, though, they quickly turn on each other when caught together at the scene of a crime – a mutually enjoyed destruction turns all finger-pointing and tears when the fuzz shows up.  

The other day I watched Levi running through the house with what appeared to be a little shiv.  It sported a jagged, plastic tip and looked capable of inflicting real harm, so I quickly confiscated it, tossing it into the trash.  

As we lay in bed at night, my husband and I hear a “scritch, scratch, scritch” on the bedroom wall near our heads.  Levi’s crib sits just on the other side of the wall, so we sleep head-to-head, divided only by a few thin inches of plaster.  We tell ourselves he’s rubbing the nubby bottoms of his footed pajamas against the wall, but as I lay listening late into the night, I think of that little shiv and wonder if he isn’t tunneling his way to freedom one tiny scratch at a time.  I picture him tumbling through into our bed some night, his face full of surprise and delight to find us there waiting.   

These boys are outlaws, I tell you.  Even so little, so cute, they have a rap sheet a mile-long.   Looking at their round faces, their hair all downy-fluff, I'm reminded that we’re all thieves, all outlaws of one sort or another, every last one of us.  We’re all Davids and Delilahs, Judases and Peters, bent on greed and self-preservation.  We're all convicted, but not condemned, chiseling our way toward freedom, one tiny crack at a time, until at last we fall through the walls built of our own resistance.  Imagine our faces, then, full of surprise and relief to find ourselves landing in the lap of a love so wide and deep even our darkest sins can never exempt us from its reach.   

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love is Vertigo (a falling, floundering thing)



(To celebrate my new web page and in honor of Valentine's Day, I'm re-sharing some old posts this weeks focusing on the topic of love.  Today's post was shared on Valentine's Day 2013. Stop back tomorrow for another look at the many ways love finds us.)

I turned to see my two and four year old children driving their yellow, battery-powered, Corvette through our small, cramped living room.  I stood in the doorway between rooms, interviewing a potential babysitter, nanny when I looked up to watch her watching them drive by.  We were in the process of moving our older two out of daycare and hoping to hire someone to provide care in our home – the news that I was pregnant had finalized the decision. 

The incredible discovery that we were expecting twins had turned our world on its head the week before and, as I stood there talking, it still felt to me that our world was tilting, spinning out of control.  In that moment, the picture of our children driving through the house in a car that took up a third of the length of our living room struck me as both absurd and entirely appropriate. 

It was then that I knew we had fallen or were falling, though toward what I did not know.  The incline was steep and the sensation would not end, still has not ended, even now some two years later.  What I could not understand then that I do now is that what we were falling into was love, a deeper and wider love than we knew was possible.   

*   *   *

When I started dating the man who would become my husband, we would sit on opposite sides of the college cafeteria with our different groups of friends and make googly eyes at each other from across the room.  Whenever our eyes met there was a spark of electricity that spanned the distance and threatened to throw us off of our chairs if we didn’t glance away with speed. 

Later, when he studied in Oregon for a semester and I traveled out to visit, we spent an evening in Portland exploring, but all I remember is sitting together on a bench in the midst of the city.  I looked into his eyes, two deep and gentle brown pools, and felt myself falling, head-long, heart over heels.
*   *   *
When my daughter, my oldest, was born after months of waiting and reading, planning and anticipation, they placed her in my arms and I looked into those small dark eyes and felt a sudden and surprising moment of recognition.  It was an aha moment, a coming home and we sank into each other like two lost souls, like two lovers clinging as we plunged into life together.  I fell hard, as I have for every baby since.
*   *   *
Recently, I interviewed yet another babysitter.  The moment she walked in the door, my four year old pulled her into the hallway to see our new climbing wall. 
“A climbing wall . . . in your hall,” she said, “interesting.”  
I felt the same old sensation, the realization that we had fallen, are falling still, head-long into our love for these lives that have sprung up among us.  We are off-kilter, leaning hard into love and our home and our hearts are showing the expansion, the wear-and-tear of it all. 
Love, my friends, is a falling, floundering thing.  To love another, to be in and for love, is to consent to live continually off-balance.  Love is a leaning, plunging leap, a heart-pounding lunge that leaves your stomach in your throat and the only danger is that we would come to prefer the safety of solid ground over this sensation of continual plummet. 
To me, this is the only way to explain God coming to live among us, God looking, leaning down toward humanity.  God so loved the world that he leapt and fell in among us and in his falling for us he freed us from the fall, for the fall, and the taste is born in us for love – for leaping, falling, floundering, foolish love.

Christmas morning 2010, the Corvette we found for $25 on Craigslist.
Sitting in the Corvette, watching Bob the Builder.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Goodbye, Hello (An Announcement)


Cliff notes Version: Friends, this is a rather long post - the short version is this: Hey, look, I have a new web address! To celebrate the new address and Valentine's Day, I'll be posting a short poem or story each day this week around the theme of love.  Check back frequently - next week I'll return to my usual posting schedule.  

A Field of Wild Flowers grew out of a vision that arrived in early 2011 as I sat praying in the calm, white, spacious place of my Spiritual Director’s office.  It came at a time when life as I knew it (i.e. planned it) seemed to have ended.  It came when, for reasons deep and wide, I could no longer see a clear path laid out ahead of me; my sense of destination as well as my means of travel appeared to be irreparably lost. 

Which is all a fancy way to say that my life was upended by the arrival of twins, by a departure from my job as an Associate Pastor, and by the slow surrender of my long-held dream of attaining a PhD in Biblical Studies.  Before the twins’ arrival, I lived cloistered in our culture’s fantastical illusion that life is a highway – a long, sometimes winding, but steady road toward a distant destination which, most often, goes by the name ‘success.’  And, although we may each define it differently, the successful among us all agree that steady and determined movement toward it is key.

But, like Dante, “Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself in dark woods, the right road lost.  To tell about those woods is hard – so tangled and rough.”  I worked through those tangled, rough woods for months before I was free enough to embrace a new vision – to accept my placement somewhat “off of the main road” and commit to really exploring it.  What came to me, in the wake of acceptance, was the image of a field of wild flowers – a place with many paths, a space for wandering and discovery, a place of being rather than going. 

Thus was born, A Field of Wild Flowers.  Words became the lens through which I explored the daily looking for signs of life in the middle of this wide open space on the side of the road.  For five years, now, I’ve lived and written from that field, finding God in everything from housework to hens.  The more I explored the field of my life, the more I realized what I feared most wasn’t my failure to reach life’s highway’s destination, but the idea that God was somehow waiting for me in that imagined destination - the idea that the love and acceptance, the presence I longed for, was tied up in success' illusory arrival.  Imagine, then, my continual surprise and delight, at discovering again and again that God is right here with me on the side of the road, picking flowers, tending house and home, incarnate in each moment as it comes. 

Now, five years in, I find myself again in a place of transition, though less lost and less afraid.  I’ve learned to make my home here in the field of God’s goodness and grace and discovered that this is, in fact, my destination.  Writing has been the means of both discovering and exploring this destination.  Over the past several months I've found a new sense of clarity around my intentions as I continue to nurture and expand this site.  

I want to create and hold spaces where others can consider the possibilities of God’s presence in all aspects of their one precious life.  I want to help others learn to live in and listen beyond the surface of their days, to begin to discover the heartbeat of God that rolls like a steady drum beneath the peaks and valleys of daily life.  I want to tell stories that explore the possibilities of God’s presence, that illuminate the incarnational realities of God’s dwelling in our midst.  As such, I want to open and share with you the joys, sorrows, hopes and heartaches of This Contemplative Life. 

My hope is that this new site will allow me to both broaden and deepen my reach online and through in-person events.  I plan to continue to post here once or twice a week and will also add a newsletter that will go out twice a month.  This site will continue to boast a wide array of stories, thoughts and reflections; my hope isn’t to narrow my content but rather broaden my audience.  

My newsletter, Quiet Lights, will, offer short, simple reflections, images or poems to serve as an invitation to contemplation.  The newsletter will also feature updates on upcoming events. 

While I’m a little sad to move away from the image of wild flowers, which continues to ground me in the present, I’m excited to move into This Contemplative Life.  This Contemplative Life will continue to be a space that focuses on the small, day-to-day stories of my own life, but my hope is that my practice of attending to the intricacies of my own life will inspire you to attend to the details of your own life – for, contrary to popular opinion it’s God, not the devil, who’s found in the details. 

As always, I'm grateful for the quiet, faithful readership that has grown up around A Field of Wild Flowers.  A change to a new web address is a bit scary and I'd love your continued support and help as I move forward.  Here are three simple ways you can help me grow this space:   

* Please share this webpage, help me build a growing audience.  

* Like my Facebook page (still working to update the name there!). 

* Sign up for the bi-monthly newsletter, Quiet Lights, and feel free to share that and the resources therein with others too.

Note: If you currently receive my blog via email, you may need to resubscribe to continue seeing posts in your inbox.  

Monday, February 6, 2017

Tender: Showing Gentleness and Kindness



Tender adjective

1. Showing gentleness and concern or sympathy
2. (of food) easy to cut or chew, not tough
    (of the body) sensitive to pain

Tenderness noun

1. gentleness and kindness
2. sensitivity to pain

A quick Google search tells me that the word tender, in all of its various forms, has fallen out of use steadily and dramatically since the 1800's.  Maybe that’s why, early in my tenure at Physical Therapy, I noticed it as it drifted gently across the far side of the large, open room.  I lay on my own table alone, staring at the ceiling and exercising my abs, when my ears caught wind of the word floating softly like a butterfly on a summer breeze. 

I listened as a young therapist asked, in a gentle, rolling central Pennsylvanian accent, “Is that tender?”  Although I couldn't see the other patient, I imagined the therapist gently moving his or her arm through a slow stretch, palpitating the muscle with deep attention and focus. 

The beauty of the word moved me as did the concern and care evident in the therapist's voice.  The fluttering word landed inside my chest, opening and closing its gentle wings and I gazed upon its intricate beauty as I continued my own careful stretching, flexing and bending.

Later that night I told my husband, “I heard the word ‘tender’ today.  It’s not something you hear very often, is it?  I was so struck by its beauty.”

Noodling around online, observing the forms and uses of the word, I notice the breadth of its application.  Tenderness might describe a concrete physical reality, like a perfectly cooked pork loin or bruised muscle, but it also refers to an inward stance, a posture of the heart, if you will. 

For me, moments of tenderness, feel like a softening, a movement of openness toward the other that, inherently, leaves me vulnerable to pain – either the awareness of another's pain or the personal pain I might face if someone responds to my openness with attack.  It is often our most tender places that root us most deeply in the reality of our human vulnerabilities and, in that way, my own tenderness points beyond itself to yours, to the truth of our shared humanity.  

I don’t know if the decline of the use of the word signifies a hardening of the heart among English language speakers, but I do find it interesting that the phrase’s demise parallels the advent of industrialization and the movement from tactile and interdependent agrarian life to more isolated and automated ways of life.  The less I depend on the natural world and my neighbor for my own well-being, the less I need to worry about your places of tenderness, the less I need to risk telling you about mine, in order to ensure survival.

Of course, we lose something when we lose awareness of our tender places - in the physical realm we might compensate with a limping gait or inactivity.  In ignoring the tender places, we shut ourselves off from the possibility of their healing and become less tolerant of the tenderness of others.  Our current culture, here in the United States, is one in which it is often unsafe to either reveal or respond in tenderness.  In such an environment we lose not only connection and companionship, but also a fundamental truth about who we are and how we were created to live in relationship others and with the natural world in which we live. 

I’d wager too, that when we lose the ability to be treat one another with tenderness, we also lose the ability to recognize tenderness as a key attribute of God.  Even without checking a concordance or delving into Greek and Hebrew word studies, I’m prone to accept Brennen Manning’s affirmation that “Scripture suggests that the essence of divine nature is compassion and that the heart of God is defined by tenderness.” 


Signs of this – the tenderheartedness of God – are all over scripture.  The willingness of God to be moved on our behalf, even at the risk of pain, is evident in the thread of love that weaves its way throughout the entirety of the Old Testament all the way through to that fundamental verse of the New Testament that declares, “God so loved the world that he sent . . .”

Maybe this is a bit much to be making of a word that drifted into the focus of my attention one afternoon.  But maybe it's also possible that simple words and postures like tenderness and kindness hold the key to our future as a human race.  And if that's the case, then I'd like to suggest that we might start a return to tenderness by simply paying attention to the tender places that reveal themselves right in the middle of our daily lives.  

The next time you feel the impulse to lash out at your spouse or that faceless troll online, it might be worth it to pause a moment or two to palpitate around in the depths of your being.  Gently ask yourself, "Is that tender?"  Or maybe, simply begin by paying attention to the way the people around you limp - emotionally, spiritually, physically - and spend some time daydreaming about what it would take to create a space where tenderness births an environment where real healing and recovery can begin.