Nothing Can Keep Light Out

So many thought Monet / was making it up, / imagining wildly
what things might be / if God held them closer.
But what he did / was much braver.
Like a human microscope / he kept looking and looking
as warmth left the trees / as waves remade the sea
as loss slowed into peace / undoing hard men.
He watched / strange flowers open / where only silence had been.
He focused so far in / that everything shimmered.
He proved by the strength / of his attention that
nothing can keep / light out.
It’s a small leap / to say that love / works this way—
a light that lives in the bones, / just waiting to be seen.
So why not / prop your heart / out in the open
like the easel that it is / and dab its blood / on everything.
—“Stacks of Wheat” by Mark Nepo

Too often, I think, we make the season of Lent punitive. It’s as if we want to punish ourselves for being human and fallible, for making mistakes, and even for enjoying ourselves. But this is not what Lent is truly about. The purpose of Lent is to help us dig into our deepest spiritual needs—to encourage soul-searching and vision-clearing—and to expose our hearts in order to prepare our whole selves for the resurrected, ongoing presence of Christ in our lives and world.

Now, this soul-searching heart-exposure might seem like a welcome and wonderful experience for those who long to be known, but it can also feel uncomfortable, disconcerting, even painful. And yet—no matter what—no matter how open and exposed we become—and no matter how we feel about it—we are held in the Heart of God who knows every inch of the wilderness within us and without, and who never fails to offer sustenance for the paths that lie before us. Even more than Monet, who Mark Nepo talks about in his poem above, our God focuses so far in, that everything within us shimmers. And our God wants us to know and believe that, indeed, nothing can keep light out. For neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God.

And so, for the next 40 days of Lent, I invite you to consider the light you see now—and the light you long to see. The light that lives in your bones—and the light that has the capacity to open your heart in a new way. For it is true: nothing can keep light out.

See you in church,

Hope is a Spiritual Practice

Hope, like every virtue, is a choice
that becomes a practice
that becomes a spiritual muscle memory.
It is a renewable resource for moving through life as it is,
not as we wish it to be.
—from “Becoming Wise” by Krista Tippett

All it would take is one quick look around to start feeling completely hopeless. Crime, pollution, political corruption, poverty, hunger, physical violence, sexual violence, emotional violence, gun violence, psychological violence, spiritual violence, racism, natural disasters, un/der employment, floundering schools, homophobia, chronic illness, paralyzing loss, crumbled dreams. . . . It really wouldn’t take a lot to focus (what’s left of) our attention on these vast sources of hopelessness. In fact, I know plenty of people who do just that. I see Facebook pages devoted almost entirely to reasons to be hopeless . . . about our government, our environment, the spiritual state of affairs of our world. Just a glance, and I feel instantly weary (as if I weren’t already. . . . So what am I doing on Facebook?!).

But, just as I don’t want to board the hopelessness train, neither do I want to ignore reality and drift through my days in the rosy carriage of privilege and denial. I want to approach life with the kind of spiritual maturity that acknowledges the realities of how things are but does not acquiesce into absolute despair. I want to manifest the kind of hope that Krista Tippett describes in the quotation above—where hope is really a spiritual practice—as important as any other. This allows me to recognize situations for what they are, but does not require that I succumb to the devastations those situations may carry. I have (ok, I work to develop) the power—in the form of spiritual muscle memory—to get on the spiritual bicycle I may not have ridden in ages and move in a different direction.

So, as I look around, yes, I see significant challenges. But I also see the incredible gifts and commitments of members of this church rising to meet those challenges. I see people working toward and claiming alternative realities. I hear voices speaking out against injustice, and I feel movements preparing to turn the tide toward greater love, generosity, and welcome. In other words, I see reasons to hope.

See you in church,

Something is Waiting

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone, / when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks, / the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, / to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry, / to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations, / to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
—“Now the Work of Christmas Begins” by Howard Thurman

As we enter this Christmas season and the New Year, we are invited to hold the tensions of mortality—life and death in a moment—and to allow ourselves to be deeply human, fallible, imperfect, beautiful, messy, brilliant, uncertain. For just like the baby Jesus—born into our world once again—we each cradle a multitude of births and deaths in our own lives. Something is waiting to be born in us. And something is waiting to die.

Jesus is born into our world to demonstrate the powerful possibilities of being deeply human—to live and die—in all our complexity—in indivisible relationship with others. This is so very important. That no matter what, we are not alone. We are surrounded by vast communities of God’s other children. No matter what exists in this moment—good, bad, and everything in-between—Emmanuel. God with us. Even in the bleakest and most heartbreaking circumstances. Even in anxiety, frustration, and overwhelm. Even when we can’t seem to find hope or peace or joy or love. Emmanuel. God is with us.

And we are the ones God calls—in this moment—to do our best to incarnate the hope and peace and joy and love that the world so desperately needs. And this has always been the case. Our God has always chosen the most unexpected, unsuspecting people to do the most incredible and world-changing things. Like asking a poor, unwed, teenaged, Palestinian girl to give birth to the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Savior, the Christ. Who would have expected that? And likewise, God invites us—and people everywhere—to be deeply human, to rely on relationships with others, to trust Emmanuel—God with us—and to incarnate the justice and joy, the goodness and grace, and the hope and possibility that will liberate an imprisoned and broken world.

You are invited to be a tabernacle for the holy. God chooses to dwell in you. And if we listen closely, we will hear our own annunciations—the voices of angels whispering to us continually, “Do not fear. You are not alone. The Holy One has great things in store for you.”

See you in church,