Maundy Thursday

Tonight many Episcopal churches will gather for Maundy Thursday. Some will have an agape meal (a communal meal centered around the love of Christ), some will wash feet (remembering how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, and some will celebrate the Eucharist.

Food is such an important part of our lives. I tend to take it for granted. I’ve never gone with out food. Instead, I spend my days trying to limit my intake. However, I have spent the last ten years working with people who are hungry, people who don’t have access to healthy food, and people who can’t afford the fresh fruits and vegetables I take for granted.

Our church, St. Mark’s and St. John’s on Culver Road in Rochester turns vacant lots into gardens. We partner with colleges and Universities to teach students about the effects of racism and the cycle of poverty in Rochester. We employ high school students from impoverished neighborhoods to work in the gardens in the summer as part of the Summer of Opportunity program.

We had a senior in High School work for us who had never tasted a raw tomato. Cindy, our priest says we are saving the world one tomato at a time.

We have a food shelf once a week where people can come and get food. The stories of our guests would fill a book. The only way to really understand the poor is to be in relationship with the poor. There buy by the grace of God go I. And by grace of God, I mean I was born into priviledge. I had every advantage – good food, good education, clothing, housing, cars that ran, parents with a college education and good jobs. And I’m white.

Jesus showed generous hospitalty to everyone and we try and do the same. After volunteering at this church I no longer take my privledge for granted. Aside from feeding people, we are trying to help change a broken system. We recently found out that 95% of the students in our church’s neighborhood school are reading and writing below grade level. The same holds true for math.

There is plenty of money in Rochester. There are plenty of smart, creative, and action oriented individuals as well. We just need to focus.

Beneath the surface

For the first part of my life, when I sat on a beach, I was only aware of the surface of the ocean. I was mesmerized by the waves, the varying heights, and the way they crashed on the sand. I remember thinking how vast the ocean looked and not being able to imagine how it stretched between continents. I never thought about what lay beneath.

I was an adult when I first went snorkeling. By then, I knew there was an abundance of life in the ocean. I had seen photos and movies but these did not prepare me for witnessing countless multicolored fish right in front of me. I was shocked, just below the surface there was a whole other world.

I had the same experience with my spiritual life. I only engaged with the surface. I went to catechism, I memorized the answers I needed for confirmation, and I rarely went to church. My family was busy on the weekends skiing and hiking. We made the major holidays but it was more of a cultural experience than a spiritual one. I was more concerned with my Easter dress.

I discovered the beautiful world underneath the surface when I gave birth to my first child. Everything changed for me after that. I took nothing for granted, I felt a keen sense of gratitude for the child that I had been unable to conceive for years. I realized that there was something more below the surface of everyday life. It felt like energy from the Holy Spirit prompting me to pray. My gratitude for the new child I was holding poured out to God. I kept saying “Thank you, God”.

Prayer changes everything. When we pray, our awareness becomes focused on the prayer and we see things differently. We become aware of our internal spiritual life and we can connect to it. We can connect to the love and mercy of God and become aware of where God’s grace is happening in our lives. This connection makes all things new.

When I went to tell my priest about my discovery of an internal spiritual life, he gave me a book by Henri Nouwen called “Making All Things New.” I read this book once a year. It reminds me of the time when I discovered prayer and my relationship with God deepened.

I talk about prayer a lot. The question I get asked the most is “How should I pray? What is the right way to pray.” There is no right way to pray. People have told me that when they hear me pray, I’m very direct and I don’t use many words. This is true. Sometimes the pray is simply “Help” or “thank you.”

There is much life below the surface, we just need to look.

Betrayal

There is nothing worse than betrayal. I think this is the most difficult emotion to resolve.

Everyone experiences betrayal, some experiences are worse than others. A common reaction is the desire to hurt the betrayer like they hurt us.

When I was in Israel on a trip with a bunch of clergy, we were sitting on some steps outside Jerusalem reading the scripture where Peter betrays Jesus. Just as we finished reading we heard a cock crow. It was just like it was written in the scripture.

I always feel sympathy for Peter. Who wouldn’t be tempted to deny Jesus when acknowledging him would cost you your life? I can’t imagine how Jesus must have felt when he heard that his closest friend denied knowing him. How disappointed and sad.

It takes a long time to process betrayal especially if the person is close to us. Betrayal changes us. We may find it hard to trust anyone. Trust is so delicate and easily broken.

Dealing with betrayal is hard work. But necessary work. Holding on to betrayal is like allowing acid to eat away at a metal pail. The acid has to be scooped out and put in a safe container with warning labels. When we work at getting out our betrayal we need to do it in a safe place with a person who is familiar with this type of work. Stories need to be told and processed. It takes the time it takes. But it can be done.

A few days later during that same trip, we were up around the Sea of Galilee and there was a church that had three hearts leading up to it with the words “Peter, do you love me?” on each heart. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. One for each denial. Peter said yes three times and then Jesus told him to “Feed my Sheep!”

They worked it out. Jesus gave Peter the chance to reassure him. If Jesus were anybody else I could picture him saying “Well if you loved me, why did you deny me?” Jesus doesn’t go there, he makes Peter say yes, I love you, Lord three times. There is a lot here to unpack.

Betrayal is complicated. Sometimes people who have betrayed us don’t deserve our trust. I worked as a chaplain for abused women and abusers used God to trap women in relationships. We made vows before God they would say. I would tell them that physical abuse broke those vows and that God does not want anyone to be abused. We can forgive our betrayers but that doesn’t mean we have to submit to more abuse. And it doesn’t mean we have to trust people we know don’t deserve our trust.

Living with the residual feelings of betrayal saps all of our energy. It’s like inhaling carbon monoxide. There is no room left for life-giving oxygen.

Jesus did the work. He figured out what he needed from Peter to move forward and Peter did not disappoint. When it was over, Peter went on to feed the sheep. Intentionally doing the emotional work we need to do is life-giving and it’s what gives us the energy to go out and do what we are called to do.

Is Peace Possible?

The Westman Islands

Eldfell is a volcanic cone about 660 feet high on Heimaey Island. It erupted without warning on Jan. 23, 1973, forcing people to flee their homes in the middle of the night. Although nobody died, the eruption destroyed over 400 businesses and residences. The volcano was active for six months and the island actually grew by 20 percent.

We went to the volcanic museum on the island which recounted this event and saw what was left of a house that had been buried in ash. There were movies of the family returning to see their house being excavated and the trauma from this experience was written on their faces.

What I found interesting was that almost half of the people whose homes had been destroyed by the volcano did NOT return to the island. Almost three-quarters of the people whose homes were intact returned to the island. The population was around 5300 people.

What will happen to Ukraine? The number of people displaced is astronomical and the damage is pervasive. And yet, I heard a news piece talking about peace negotiations.

I sat in church listening to the reading of the passion (Luke 22:14 – 23:56) thinking about the people of Ukraine. Thoughts of betrayal, revenge, and forgiveness flashed through my mind as I envisioned Jesus dying on the cross.

Is peace possible? Isn’t that the goal? But what about all the people who have died and the destruction?

We are called to follow a different expression of power. I read a post by the Arch Bishop of Canterbury on this very subject. He says it best. These are his words below:

“As we enter Palm Sunday in the shadow of war, in a world of confusion and chaos, Christ the coming King comes with deep challenge about how to hold power, and how to use it.

Palm Sunday is a day of contrasts. A king, who arrives on a lowly donkey. A royal welcome for a poor, itinerant rabbi. A crowd who is eagerness to listen, and yet ambivalent to act. Palm Sunday is day of joy, yet, lingering in the background, we know this is the start of Holy Week: we are in the shadow of the Cross.

Palm Sunday is demanding; it asks us to look at our lives, and ask, who are you waiting for – and are you really ready to follow?

The king that is coming is a king that confounds all expectations. He does not come in power and might, he does not dazzle or overwhelm. He comes in humility, and invites rather than coerces. How often do we want a God who comes in and sweeps away problems, evil or conflict? We are given a king who doesn’t fight his enemies, but submits to them; who isn’t victorious in battle but dies the humiliating death of a criminal.

And yet, he is king. The idea that there is a king is somewhat offensive. The idea that human structures of power are not final, that their ideas of self-sufficiency are mistaken, that humans need God as king, to learn to order their lives well, alone and together, is not popular. It challenges the idea that I know best. That we know best.

Palm Sunday demands humility in every way: in our ideas of power and status, but even more so, in our understanding of ourselves as we come before God. Humility is dangerous, because it both challenges the powers that be, and refuses to respond to their challenge with force and conflict. Palm Sunday inevitably leads to the cross.” Arch Bishop of Canterbury

Peace only comes through the grace of God.

Robot Vacuum Cleaners

A robot vacuum cleaner is one of the greatest inventions ever, especially if you have a dog that sheds. It wanders around your house learning your furniture placement and vacuums in places that you can’t reach picking up dirt and dog hair when you are not even home!

I’m always amazed when I empty one of these things as to the amount of dirt and hair it has picked up. I had no clue the house was this dirty but seeing it one place is certainly eye opening.

I think this is how grief works. We go through our days noticing little things, like the smell of chocolate cookies baking, putting chips on a paper plate, making peanut and jelly sandwiches, and calling children in for lunch. Each piece evokes memories of my grandmother and they begin to accumulate. After days, months, of accumulating these memories we are filled up and it’s important to find a place to empty this accumulation of emotion.

I got a call once from an angry parishioner who spent their (I use the pronouns they, their, them to mask their identity) time talking to me about how lousy their contractor was. Why call your priest to complain about your contractor? I asked how they were doing with the death of their spouse. They were not doing well. The grief had accumulated and had manifested itself in anger at the contractor. They needed to open themselves up and clean out the strands of grief that had accumulated through time, been vacuumed up, and buried inside of them. If we don’t clean out the grief, it will accumulate such a build up that we will stop working just like the Robot vacuum cleaner stops when it is full.

It can be hard to share our grief. We need to find the right person who is willing to be present to our feelings of sadness. Naming our grief, telling stories, and sharing our sadness is the only way to empty ourselves so the grief is allowed out in a healthy way.

Whenever I over react about something, it is a red flag. This morning I got extremely upset because I missed an appointment. I felt like my whole life was out of control. Classic over reaction. I had to dig down to figure out what my emotions were really about and I figured it out. It was some grief that had been accumulating and needed to be cleaned out.

Holy Week contains liturgies that can bring up our grief which is why there are not a lot of people who go to Good Friday service. Letting ourselves feel the emotions of the moment, the enormous sadness of the loss of Jesus on the cross can be the way we open ourselves up and let out our own accumulation of collected moments. We live in that moment of grief and sadness through the void of Holy Saturday until the first fire of the Easter Vigil creates a light to lead us beyond our grief.

The best place to grieve is within a community centered around the love of God shown to us in the death of Jesus on the cross. We can open up and be emptied.

Will you knit me a dress, Grandma?

Are you kidding? Of course, I’ll knit you a dress. This is how it happened. I took my granddaughter, Olivia to a yarn store while we were visiting. I needed some needles to start a project.

Olivia is four years old. She walked into the store and went right over to a shelf of hand-dyed yarns, picked up a skein, and said, “this is really beautiful.” It was an expensive hand-painted yarn with some bright blue sprinkled among dark chocolate brown and cabernet red. I gasped. I wanted the skein. I gritted my teeth and told Olivia I was just there to buy needles so she wandered off to check out some more yarn.

She came back after a few minutes later and watched me reading the needle packages trying to find the right size. “Grandma?” She said. “Will you knit me a dress? I found some pink and purple yarn. They are my favorite colors.”

It’s hard to knit for children. They are not gentle with clothing and a hand-crafted garment can get stretched and poked and snagged. But how could I refuse? I knelt next to her, took out my phone, and explained that the first step was to pick a pattern and then look at yarn. She nodded. We looked up girl’s dress patterns on Ravelry (an online community for knitters) and we found a pattern she liked. I looked at the suggested yarn. It needed to be DK weight.

A four-year-old knows nothing about gauges or yarn weights. Olivia heard me say “DK”. She headed to her pink and purple yarn. “Let’s see if this is DK Grandma, she said. She ran to the yarn, picked it up, and screamed, it’s DK, it’s DK.

There it was in big letters on the ball band “Dreambaby DK”.

I’ve been knitting on that dress from Missouri to New York and I still have a few inches to go but I am granting her wish. She certainly granted one of mine! There I was in one of my favorite places thinking that a four-year-old was going along for the ride and instead, she is having the same thrill looking at yarn and imaging what it could be as I was. It was a powerful connection.

I had no expectation that she would enjoy the experience. I just needed some needles and she was spending the day with me.

Letting go of expectations makes these moments incredibly special. If I had thought she might enjoy going to the store, looking at yarn, and picking out a project with me then she would have met my expectation. Instead, I was surprised by joy when she immersed herself in the beauty and fun of the yarn.

Part of what I have been trying to do this lent is to let go of my unrealistic expectations and remain open to whatever the moment has to offer me. Otherwise, I miss out.

I am starting to anticipate Holy Week. Every church has its Holy Week traditions. We are doing our services differently this year. I have no expectations of these services and now I can be open to whatever happens. This is what it means to be present.

Waiting for Spring

I feel like my mind is playing tricks on me. After spending March in the south and being exposed to azaleas in full bloom, trees with blossoms and green leaves, we are back to the dormant grass and naked tree limbs. The earth is in that predawn moment between deep sleep and wakefulness. Some hopeful signs of a crocus peeking out and a sprout of green.

The starkness of Lent is like the brown landscape, the lack of vegetation, the appearance of death but underneath there is growth.

There are seeds that are germinating and reaching through the dirt to the warmth of the sun.

If the conditions are right, they will bloom, produce fruit, and be harvested.

What seeds are germinated for us this lent? What conditions do we need to provide ourselves to aid in their growth? What fruit are we being called to produce? What will we offer at harvest time?

Finding the Joy in Living

I’ve seen several news pieces on the Grammy winner John Batiste. I don’t know his music but I found the interviews with him compelling. His wife, Suleika Jaouad is suffering from cancer. She was diagnosed in 2011 and given a 35% chance of survival. She did survive and wrote a best-selling memoir entitled “Between Two Kingdoms” about her journey.

Just as her husband was being nominated for numerous Grammys (he won five), they find out her cancer is back. John said this news put the awards in perspective.

In spite of his wife’s personal struggles, they still find joy in living. Humans are resilient John says and somehow in the very worst circumstances, they are able to find joy. He sites the musicians in Ukraine who play their instruments in the bomb shelters, sing as they walk, and relish a bowl of hot soup.

Joy is found in simple everyday pleasures – a hot cup of coffee, an impromptu dance party in the kitchen while doing the dishes, a dog placing its head on your knee, the smell of bread baking, the sound of children playing, the dawn’s light creeping into the room, feet hitting the floor, giving thanks for a new day.

It’s easy to miss the joy.

John Batiste says music is a spiritual practice. Listening to music, playing music, or singing changes us in the moment. It helps us find the joy.

I used to chant the Venite at morning prayer when I was in seminary.

Venite     Psalm 95:1-7

Come, let us sing to the Lord; *
    let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving *
    and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.

For the Lord is a great God, *
    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the caverns of the earth, *
    and the heights of the hills are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it, *
    and his hands have molded the dry land.

Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, *
    and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. *
    Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!

This is how to spark joy!

We need a Rainbow

No matter how old I get, there is still something magical and thrilling about the appearance of a rainbow. As a student of the Bible, I know that it represents the covenant that God has with us and all future generations and God’s power and glory.

I cling to this belief in God’s power. The mass shootings, the atrocities in Ukraine, and yet most of our lives continue as if none of this is happening. It’s surreal. I feel helpless in the face of all the violence in the world.

As Christians, we choose love over hate, good over evil, and kindness over violence. We need to stay alert and aware of what is happening and be open to God’s call when it comes.

The Russian Orthodox have a saying from St. Seraphim of Sarov “acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.”

I’ve heard expressed as “save yourself and thousands around you will be saved.” It reminds me that what we do matters. In the midst of all that is happening around us, we have to hunker down and be the peaceful spirit.

Anxiety is the most contagious emotion we have. It’s not helpful and can spread to others and cause more harm. Keeping a peaceful spirit in the midst of chaos is one way to make a difference. We need to be thoughtful, take actions that are prudent, be good citizens, work for social justice, get involved and give feedback, and do the right thing for the good of others.

But first, we have to save ourselves. I do it with the Jesus prayer. Prayer is very effective, particularly contemplative prayer to create a peaceful spirit.

We are not helpless, we are part of God’s beloved community and by saving ourselves we save each other.

For more information on anxiety, try this article: https://hbr.org/2020/03/anxiety-is-contagious-heres-how-to-contain-it

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