Saturday, April 18, 2015

Poetry Saturday: The Ides of April

What a week it has been:  for me it's been a week of travel, back from the other side of the planet and back to work.  For others, it's been a week of numbers, counting how many students actually attended classes.  Many of us had to do our taxes.

I thought it might be stormy today--it's the time of year when weather systems are on the move.  But it looks like next week will be when the rains roll in.

I think of an earlier poem I wrote.  I don't have as much time to write an essay today, so here's a poem for our Saturday, which captures this mid-April mood.  We talk about the ides of March, but it seems to me that each month has its danger points.

The Ides of April
Mid April, when bills come due and debts
must be paid.  Both winter and summer battle
for dominance and rip the landscape
with tornadoes and late spring snows.

Good battles evil, captives set free
by way of forced and bloody frenzies.  Refugees
driven from their homes trudge down dusty
roads towards a desert destiny of freedom.

A gospel of radical love battles entrenched
orthodoxy.  We must sacrifice our lust
for structure and rules, our yearning
for punishment.  We must arc our minds
towards grace and unconquered redemption.

We must be as flowers who battle
against the frozen ground, who thrust
themselves towards a distant sun
in the hope of a future warmth,
a profuse explosion of fiery blooms.

And here's a photo of a fiery bloom from my recent trip to Hawaii.  We were surrounded by floral loveliness, but this plumeria/frangipani tree captured me like no other:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Flunking Holy Week

Two weeks ago, we'd have been getting ready to go to the airport to make our way to Hawaii.  Because we knew we'd be leaving early, we didn't go to Maundy Thursday services.  Because we were in the air all day, we didn't go to Good Friday services. 

But because the stream of the liturgical year is always moving below the rocks of my regular day, I was aware of what I was missing.  I did my own recognition of the holy days, but it was strange to observe them alone.

Wendy has a post about flunking Lent.  I flunked Holy Week.  Or maybe I just made a D.

On Maundy Thursday, I did have communal meals, but nothing like some Maundy Thursday meals I've had in the past (the occasional Seder, the pot luck dinner).  A group of work friends went to lunch in our work neighborhood; someone paid for our lunch, including the to-go lunches that we were taking back to colleagues who couldn't leave their desks.  That would have been strange any day, but it felt especially weighted with meaning on Maundy Thursday.

On Maundy Thursday evening, while the rest of the Christian world washed feet and stripped altars, we shared a simple meal of hamburgers with a friend and then did our final packing.  Again, our activities fit a Maundy Thursday theme in a way, but a strange way.

We got up early on Good Friday and made our way to the airport.  We waited for our first flight, and one of our fellow travelers told us about his recent heart attack and renewed life:  an Easter story!

In the Dallas airport, an announcement invited us all to the chapel for a Good Friday service, but didn't tell us where the chapel was.  I wondered if the worship planners did what they would normally do, or if a Good Friday service in an airport chapel would be substantially different.

And then we got on the plane for our almost 9 hour flight to Hawaii.  I thought about all the mortifications of the body that a long flight requires.  I won't go as far as to call it a crucifixion; I'm very clear about the agony involved in that punishment.

We flew west, so the falling of the night was always behind us.  I'd love to be the kind of person who sleeps on a plane, but even on overnight flights, I have trouble.  On a flight where the sun doesn't set, it's even harder.

We ended Good Friday sitting by a pool under the light of the full moon.  We drank tropical drinks and ate fried chicken.  Even my best poet self can't make that experience fit into a Good Friday theme.

It's strange to be in the Easter season, having missed Holy Week and having had a very simple Easter.  I like Wendy's assertion:  "Now it’s Eastertide, a new season, a new day, a new opportunity. I am trying to practice creativity this Easter. I am following Christine Valters Paintner’s book The Artist’s Rule, and seeing what I can do over this season to be contemplative and creative. So far I am at a brilliant so-so."

A brilliant so-so--at least it's better than flunking!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Wounds: Hidden and Healed

I continue to think about doubting Thomas, the figure from last Sunday's lectionary.  I think about his insistence in touching the wounds of Christ.

How many of us demand the same?  We want proof, something made of marble and concrete, before we believe.

I think of all the forces I'll never understand:  electricity, internal combustion, how the orchid can survive with so little water.

I walk the labyrinth and feel my equilibrium restored.  I'm not sure I understand that process either.

I think of all the hidden wounds.

I pray for healing, another process I cannot always comprehend.

Luckily, God does not need my comprehension.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 19, 2015:

First Reading: Acts 3:12-19

Psalm: Psalm 4

Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-7

Gospel: Luke 24:36b-48

In this week's Gospel, we have another post-Resurrection appearance story, and what an odd story it is. In the post-Resurrection stories, Jesus has taken on supernatural capacities that he didn't really demonstrate before his crucifixion. Here, he suddenly appears (a few verses earlier, he has vanished after eating).

The disciples quite logically assume that they're seeing a ghost. Their senses, rooted in the rational world, can't make sense of what they're seeing and hearing. Those of us who spend our secular lives surrounded by people who are disdainful of the mystical might find ourselves more sympathetic to their plight.

Perhaps we've felt the same way. It's not hard to accept the pre-Resurrection stories of Jesus, at least most of them. We're not unaccustomed to hearing about humans who can do almost superhuman things: human rights crusaders, charismatic politicians, the fabulous doctor that we'd hate to lose. Just think of Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Desmond Tutu, and Aung San Suu Kyi, and all those other people who might make us feel inadequate for just living normal lives. Some times, we lump Jesus in with those kinds of people, and we forget about the spiritual side of the Gospel. Even when Jesus performs spectacular miracles, they don't seem outside the range of possibility in our current day and age.

But these post-Resurrection stories don't let us dance away from Jesus' identity. We might know of someone who has been declared dead, maybe for a few minutes, and returned with stories of white lights and floating above one's body. But to die and lie in a tomb for 3 days and then come back to life? So far, no human has ever done that.

I like how these post-Resurrection stories, shrouded as they may be in mystery, are also still rooted in the earthy body-ness of Jesus. Jesus appears to people, and then he asks for food, which he eats. This evidence shows that he's not a ghost or a spiritual presence; doubters can't explain the post-Resurrection sightings with this claim. Jesus is still God Incarnate. His body still needs all the things our bodies need: food, liquid, sleep, a bath.

In this week's Gospel, Jesus again shows us a useful way of inhabiting our human bodies. He shows his scars, which might lead to some exchanging of stories, if the disciples didn't already know the story of how he got them. He shares food with them. He reminds them of their higher destiny and calls them to greater things.

Jesus is still here, reminding us of his scars and of the capacity to overcome those things that scar us. Jesus is still here, waiting to share a meal with us. Jesus is still here, reminding us that we are witnesses, that we are called to a far greater destiny than our tiny imaginations can envision.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Practice of Paying Attention

We may not think of the practice of mindfulness as being part of the Lutheran/Christian tradition, but I would argue that it should be.

I'm also interested in the intersections of mindfulness as a spiritual practice and mindfulness as part of a creative practice. 

In short, the practice of mindfulness can enrich us on so many levels--so why is it so difficult?  Why do so many of us avoid this practice?

One obvious reason:  if we are mindful, we are not mindful just of joy and beauty.  Mindfulness means letting ourselves feel grief and loss.  Many of us try to numb/avoid these feelings.

In her new book Small Victories:  Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, Anne Lamott reminds us that only by grieving, by letting ourselves feel that emotion deeply, do we move beyond grief.  Her essay "Ladders" in the book is an amazing exploration of the process of grieving.  She talks about the strange phenomena of full grieving often having moments of connectedness and joy.  She says, ". . . finally grief ends up giving you the two best gifts:  softness and illumination" (p. 35).

But it's not only grieving that can give us these gifts.  Jane Hirshfield reminds us that a creative practice can give us softness and illumination too.  In this interview, she reflects on her twin practices of Zen meditation and writing poetry:  "Both writing and any spiritual practice are technologies to exceed your own capacity for presence. Both are learned by entering them over and over, and both are without any arrivable-at destination. You don’t write a poem and say, “Good, I’ve done that now.” It’s more like breathing: you finish one poem and begin another. The same is true of meditation. One breath leads to another. Some breaths are transparent, some are filled with silent weeping. Some tremble on the cusp of disappearance, others become the sound of cars or birds. Closely attended, any moment is boundless and always changing. You emerge from these kinds of undoing awareness and you know it is not you yourself who are all-important. You know something of the notes of your own scale."

I'm thinking of mindfulness because of my recent holiday experiences.  On the plane ride to Hawaii, my reading light didn't work and the in-flight entertainment was also not working, so I spent much of the flight looking out the window.  I was amazed at the beauty of the country underneath me.  At points, I wanted to run through the plane reminding people to look outside.

Of course, most people were sleeping or looking at their electronic devices.  They probably wouldn't have appreciated my enthusiasm.  How much do we miss because we forget to look?

At the resort, I also noticed how many people sat and pecked at their screens.  Part of me understands.  Part of my route to mindfulness, after all, involves writing, which involves a computer.  But part of me wanted to say, "Here we are, at a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific, and what are we doing?"

No doubt about it:  mindfulness is tough, whether it's being mindful of our losses or of the surrounding beauty.  But many of our best teachers make it clear that the rewards of mindfulness are great.

Monday, April 13, 2015

From One Paradise to Another: the Hawaii Overview and Spiritual Insights

I am back from a long journey--faithful readers may not have realized that I was gone, since I left posts scheduled to go up.  Or perhaps faithful readers said, "Hey, she's not writing every day like she usually does."

My family tries to go on a big trip every few years (while we're all alive and able to travel and able to make our schedules sync), and this year, we headed to Hawaii.  It was a wonderful trip, although the plane trip feels ever more arduous.

For an overview of the trip, see this post on my creativity blog.  In this post, I want to think about my trip from a spiritual standpoint.  Today's post will be more of an overview than an in-depth exploration.

--Although we were at a resort, we did more than relax in the sun.  I was glad that we had a chance to explore and appreciate the natural world of the island of Oahu, both by day and night.  We went on a great boat trip, where we saw all sorts of marine life.  Some of it is similar to our marine life in our backyard sea.  But we also saw Hawaiian Spinner dolphins and sea turtles and even a whale, which I assume was on its way back to Alaska.

--The natural landscape is breathtaking.  All sorts of mountains and clouds and sunsets to make me remember to appreciate the diversity of creation.

--We also got to appreciate the night sky in a way that I usually forget to do.  The moon was full for part of our trip, and I loved seeing the moon full in a new location.  I also had fun watching it set.

----We also had an astronomy tour.  A NASA ambassador set up some very powerful telescopes and showed us some wonderful objects, up a bit closer.

--Part of me still expects to see Hubble-type images when I look through those telescopes.  I am surprised to look through powerful telescopes to see stars that look like specks--larger specks than I can see with my naked eyes, but tiny still.

--Several days, I got up just before dawn to try to see the Southern Cross, but it was always too overcast.  Still, there was beauty to behold in the pre-dawn light.  I said a prayer of gratitude.

--We did a bit of driving around the island.  I was surprised by how few churches I saw--very different from the landscape of the Southern U.S. mainland.  One church simply labeled itself Protestant.  The Catholic church had a statue of Jesus, complete with several leis.

--Since the Lutheran church was on the other side of the island, we decided to create our own worship service.  More on that later.  Suffice it to say that it was very moving.

--There was an Easter worship service on the grounds of the resort, which was surprisingly well-attended.  We thought about going, but we'd already created our own, and we wanted to do that instead.  But it did make me wonder about local churches in my own resort community, and how we might minister to the travelers passing through our midst. 

--I loved staring out of the plane window.  What an amazing planet!  Again, I'm struck by the diversity, by the wonders of creation.  It makes me have new appreciation of the creator who made it all.

--Airplane travel tests my resolve to see my fellow humans with love and sympathy.  It seems a metaphor for all sorts of spiritual disciplines and tests.  I suspect this topic has already been covered by better theologians than me.

--There were many times when the noise and bustle of a resort was almost too much.  I was glad for the peaceful times of pre-dawn.  I wondered if Hawaii had many retreat centers.  Some day, I might like to experience one.  I suspect there would be an Asian influence, which could be good.

But overall, it was a great trip. It's good to travel, to make that effort, to see how other parts of the world live (and even in a resort, we see glimpses).  It helps renew my appreciation of both my home and the wider world.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Justice Poem Prompts

A few weeks ago, I wrote a series of prompts for the Create in Me retreat planners to use.  My vision:  that people would fill in blanks and come up with interesting ways to think about justice.

I thought I'd post the exercise here, too, in case it would be more widely useful.

Justice Poem Prompts



Fill in the blanks, make new blanks, and see what happens.



What does justice look like?



--The elders say, “Our children need ___________________________.”


--The prophet calls upon the legislator and says, “Do  _________________________.”


--The flocks say, “Give us ___________________________________.”


--The angel Gabriel gives us these instructions:  “_____________________________.”



A different approach; fill in these blanks and then in the next section, fill in those blanks:


Detail of shift from one season to another ________________________________


Type of noise ________________________________________


Element of nature  _____________________________________________


Type of emotion _________________________________________________


Favorite flower __________________________________________________


Something very tiny  ________________________________________________


Floor or wall covering  ______________________________________________


Something nourishing ________________________________________________


Favorite fruit __________________________________________________________


Element of self-care  ______________________________________________


Something that oozes _____________________________________________


Favorite treat  ________________________________________________________


Something that turns _______________________________________________


Something that grinds   ___________________________________________________


Now let’s move to the next section and see what happens:


--A commitment to justice helps us offer __________________________________.


--We yearn for the day when justice covers the earth like ______________________________.


--We are crushed into bits smaller than _____________________ by injustice.


--Truth rolls down through the valley like ________________________________________.


--When I work for justice, it’s as if ________________________________________________.


--I first felt the move to justice as __________________________________ ripening.


--Evildoers cover their rotten foundations with _____________________________.


--We burn with __________________________________for truth and justice.


--Injustice grinds us like a giant ____________________________________________.


--The____________________________ of justice turns slowly, but the turning does occur.


--The ___________________________of justice has found fertile soil in my heart.


--_________________________grows in the garden of justice.



One last question which may prompt poems:


Is the pomegranate of justice different than the pineapple of justice?