Walking to the Holy Island

Living Stones 

I am clearing a space / here, where the trees stand back.
I am making a circle so open / the moon will fall in love
and stroke these grasses with her silver.
I am setting stones in the four directions, / stones that have called my name
from mountaintops and riverbeds, canyons and mesas.
Here I will stand with my hands empty, / mind gaping under the moon.
I know there is another way to live.
When I find it, the angels / will cry out in rapture,
each cell of my body / will be a rose, a star.
If something seized my life tonight, / if a sudden wind swept through me,
changing everything, / I would not resist.
I am ready for whatever comes.
                     —from “Clearing” by Morgan Farley

There is a moment when the tide starts to recede, and the ocean floor is revealed as solid ground connecting two land masses that, otherwise, remain separated by the North Sea when the tide rolls back in.  Every day—the tide rolls in and out—hiding then revealing, hiding then revealing, that path that connects those two bodies.  And at some point over the hundreds, thousands of years of this separating and connecting, someone—or a community of someones—erected huge stakes marking the clearest path connecting the two bodies when the tide goes out.  And so, pilgrims have walked this journey from Lindisfarne in Northumberland to the Holy Island for well over 1500 years.  Walking to have their deepest and most important callings revealed to them.

And by its very nature, the walk is perilous.  There are countless stories of people through the ages miscalculating the tides and getting stuck or being washed away into the North Sea along that 4 mile stretch.  And even today, although there is a one-lane causeway connecting the mainland and Holy Island, it is also submerged with the tides.  If you’re on the island when the tide rolls in, you are staying on the island!  And yet, despite the perils—for those who understand the importance of the journey—and who are willing to prepare themselves for the risks—that perilous pilgrim path can lead to heightened spiritual awareness, moral clarity, and fierce courage in the face of obstacles.

And there is a moment when the tide starts to recede, and that grossly infected and enflamed wound of racism, white supremacy, and unchecked bigotry is laid bare for all to see.  We might wish it would remain hidden.  It is such an embarrassment.  We want to look away in disgust.  No, this is not us.  This cannot be happening. . . .  We might be tempted to think, “Where did THIS come from?”  But, really, we know.  And there it is.  Revealing itself over and over.  That festering wound with that precarious scab that rubs away and allows the wound to ooze its pus everywhere.  All over us. 

We can never just walk away from that intensely embedded racism within and around us.  It just can’t be done.  But facing it—honestly, faithfully, forthrightly—is not without peril.  By its nature, racism and white supremacy and unchecked bigotry aim to strip us ALL of our humanity again and again and again.  But for those who understand the importance of the journey—and who are willing to prepare themselves for the risks—that perilous pilgrim path of facing down racism and supremacy can lead to heightened spiritual awareness, moral clarity, and fierce courage in the face of daunting obstacles.

What I am suggesting, friends, is that we must own our own stories—to their core—no matter how painful, inconvenient, or embarrassing they may be.  Or those stories will own us and dictate our movements and behaviors—limiting the possibility of the life-giving transformation God wants for us. 
We have to acknowledge that as faithful pilgrims on the path toward God’s vision for us and our communities, many of us carry invisible backpacks of privilege.  Sociologist Peggy McIntosh documented this concept some 30 years ago.  And these invisible backpacks of privilege are part of our stories.  They include special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks, which white people do not usually want to acknowledge, and which leads to our being confident, comfortable and oblivious about racial issues, while non-white people—lacking these tools—more commonly feel unconfident, uncomfortable and alienated by issues of race. 

For example, I can always find a band-aid that matches Clivie’s skin color.  And I don’t have to educate him about systemic racism for his own daily physical protection.  I never worry in the slightest about being pulled over by the police without just cause.  And I had no concern that my skin color would raise any questions or restrictions when booking an airbnb for a large group in remote parts of Scotland.  These privileges I have go largely unrecognized; I carry them around with me in an invisible, weightless backpack. . . .

We witness racial violence and racial prejudice in big and small ways every day—from hearing that off-handed remark in conversation to watching heartbreaking, soul-numbing news from Charlottesville and our own White House.  Racism and white supremacy play out all around us . . . and within our own hearts.  And it is up to us to acknowledge it, confess it, repent from it, and work to end it.  This, my friends, is a deeply important spiritual issue.  Despite the perils.  Because there is a moment when the tide starts to recede, and we see that there is an opportunity before us. . . .  An opportunity to be authentic and real.  An opportunity to acknowledge our privilege and put it to use for the common good.  An opportunity to build relationships that have the capacity to heal.  Let us be pilgrims together on this path.

See you in church,

Christy

The Spirit is our Advocate

Living Stones

This morning the redbirds’ eggs / have hatched and already the chicks
are chirping for food. They don’t / know where it’s coming from, they
just keep shouting, “More! More!”
As to anything else, they haven’t / had a single thought. Their eyes
haven’t yet opened, they know nothing / about the sky that’s waiting. Or
the thousands, the millions of trees. / They don’t even know they have wings.     
         ………….
And just like that, like a simple / neighborhood event, a miracle
is taking place.
—Mary Oliver

      Beloved Ones, as we move into the season of Pentecost, we celebrate the birth and growth of the Church in the world.  We celebrate the stirring of the Holy Spirit within and among us.  We celebrate our call to bring people together in new, creative, and life-giving ways; to work for the common good of all Creation; and to shape life practices that allow all to thrive and flourish.  This is truly good news!  This is good news, even—and especially—in the wake of the heartbreaking news about terrorist attacks in Manchester and Jakarta.  Even—and especially—when those old fears seep in at the seams and our anger rises and we have a hard time believing the callous injustice we witness in our world.  Even—and especially—during these times, we have to trust and draw on the spiritual reservoirs of our faith community.  We have to remember that the Holy Spirit is our Advocate—and that the Holy Spirit is present with us now.
      Like I mentioned last Sunday, the Greek word used in John’s gospel for Spirit is paracletos.  And it is often translated as “Advocate,” which can function in a legal sense—literally referring to one who advocates for you before a court of law.  And it can also function more relationally—referring to one who brings help, consolation, comfort, and encouragement when you really need it.  But in any case, the most essential understanding of paracletos must include its most basic meaning, which is “to come alongside another.”  So, according to John, the Holy Spirit is an advocate that comes alongside us, and stands up for us when we need it, speaks on our behalf when we can’t find the words, lends a helping hand when we can’t carry everything on our own, and stays with us when we’re struggling so we will know that we are not alone.  The Spirit will manifest Jesus’s promise that he will not leave us orphaned but will come alongside us. . . .
      The Spirit will be by our side when our car stops running, when our anxiety spikes, when we feel bombarded by tragic news, when the pipe bursts, when we can’t get back to sleep, when our health triggers concern, when the job feels elusive, when we’re grieving the loss of a loved one, when work is contentious, when we fall out of touch with family, when we are uncertain about the future.  The Spirit is our Advocate—coming alongside us in comforting, encouraging, consoling, and caring ways that help us see and know an otherwise invisible God—and also encouraging us and guiding us to come alongside others.  Luring us onward and outward and toward the world.  With greater and expanding love.  Because this is what the Spirit does:  It slows us down, cracks us open, creates meaningful change in our lives, transforms our hearts, reassures us that we are not alone.  It reminds us to look our neighbors in the eye, to really see those around us, and it invites us to stand up and speak out and demand justice for both friends and strangers.  In other words, the Holy Spirit creates miracles all around us—and it invites us into those miracles.  Let’s celebrate them together!

See you in church,

Christy

This breath of God that fills us

Living Stones 

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain. / I dip my cupped hands. I drink 
a long time. It tastes / like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them / deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing / that just happened?
          —Mary Oliver
         
          Easter came and went.  And it sure looked like a no-contest win for the Empire.  All the social, political, economic, and religious systems that Jesus challenged in his ministry were still in place.  The kingdom—the kin-dom—the commonwealth of God had not arrived in glory to right all of society’s wrongs.  Caesar and Herod were still shoring up their own power.  Caiaphas and the other chief priests still held death-grip control of the religious establishment.  The challenges we all struggle with are still with us.  Jesus was crucified – some say he is risen – but it looks like nothing has really changed. . . .
          In our world, old-growth forests are being clear-cut.  Whales are washing up onshore with bellies filled with tires, car parts, and massive amounts of plastic waste.  Many governments are willing to spend more money on oil pipelines than free access to clean water and education.  The use of nuclear weapons is being bandied about like reckless teenage boys playing chicken.  And now, I guess, we have to protest to insist that science is real and worthwhile; that facts exist?!  It seems that we are actively campaigning for our destruction.  And I wonder what has our celebration of Easter really changed?
          Are we content to find our hope and security in military power, economic dominance, insulated privilege, the denial of climate change, and the abundance of cheap and disposable goods?  Or do we believe that something, in fact, has changed—is different—because of the resurrection?
          We often hear people say, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”  It always feels the bleakest before real and lasting change comes and transforms us—before that glass ceiling finally shatters—before evil and hate relinquish their strangle-hold on truth and justice and possibility….  And maybe that is what is happening when we find the disciples huddled together in a locked room a few days after the crucifixion.  They are afraid.  They’re just not certain about what—if anything—has changed.
          And yet, this story of the hibernating disciples is also a Pentecost story—a story about the birth of the church—against all odds.  The disciples were gathered there—intimidated and frightened; skittish and suspicious. . . .  And suddenly, Christ is with them.  And he says, “Peace be with you. . . .  Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Then he breathes on them.  Not the rush of a violent wind and the tongues of fire that Luke talks about, but a human exhale . . . and a simple word:  “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Now, I’ve heard preachers talk about how God must’ve been proud of the duck-billed platypus and the beetle and the blue heron and the moose.  But there is something special about human beings.  God fills human beings with great capacity for meaning and purpose—with the ability to search the heavens—with the power to tend and care for one another and for creation—to write poetry—to play music—to create art and beauty.  And Clivie reminds me: to build his interesting and complex transformer toys!
This breath.  This breath of God that fills us.  It is truly amazing, miraculous.  So extraordinary that we don’t want to imagine losing that breath of God—that creativity, that possibility, that powerful connection to God.
And that breath is what I was thinking about when I read about Ledell Lee last week.  I am always interested when Arkansas makes the news—because that place is so much a part of who I am.  But this week it made the news for a particularly troubling reason:  On Thursday (4/20/17), Arkansas executed Ledell Lee—its first execution since 2005—in a special rush to complete a number of executions before its lethal injection drug expires at the end of this month.  Even the pharmaceutical companies are arguing that there is a public health risk if their drugs are diverted for use in executions, but even so, the execution went ahead.  Now, there are many things that disturb me about this situation, but what especially grabbed my attention was an almost throw-away sentence in an article that stated that on Thursday, Lee declined a last meal and opted instead to receive communion. . . .  Who does that?!  Someone who wants that connection.  Someone who yearns to receive that breath, the Holy Spirit.
And that is the gift Christ left with those disciples.  There was nothing especially remarkable about any of them.  They were a commonplace, odd bunch.  But Jesus breathes on them and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit:  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”   
So, what has changed?  They’ve been sent. . . .  Jesus says, what I have done in my life is now up to you to continue.  YOU have to keep it going. . . .  They have received the Holy Spirit.  And it charges them to be about something beyond themselves.  They become the Church.  Not just worshipping God, writing scripture, and praying.  But going out and serving people—often people who don’t even offer thanks.  Emptying our pockets for other people’s children.  Finding ways to provide shelter for those in need even though our own carpet needs replacing and our furnace needs work and the ceiling in the fellowship hall is falling down and our kitchen isn’t up to code.  Making time to go over and mow her yard even though our own grass is a foot high.  Speaking out for those with little or no voice—our environment, death row inmates, science, grace.  Offering an ear, a hand, communion. . . .  Prioritizing compassion.  Emphasizing courage, kindness, and sacrifice—even when we might be tempted to focus only on ourselves.
So, what has changed?  These people.  Their hearts. Us.  God has breathed on us.  Filled us with new life.  And the hope of the Holy Spirit.  And our feet are right where they need to be.  To start right here.  Right now.  Moving our world in a new and hopeful direction that values love and solidarity—that embodies the moral vision of our faith—that treasures the gifts of all creation—that sees the blessings all around us and the ways we are all interconnected.  Happy Easter, everyone!

See you in church,

Christy