Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hosanna! Save Us!

The blogging discipline didn't go so well this year. I'm not feeling too badly about it, either.

I was just talking to a friend who I hadn't seen in a while and gave her the laundry list of grave illnesses and death close to me the last few months. What's sort of sad is that I remembered a couple more that I didn't think to tell her about.

Let's just say, all these things have me a bit blue. And blogging hasn't been the priority I meant to make it this lent.

And today, we start Holy Week. This morning, we sang "hosannas" and waved palms. We read the Passion story, and some of us made plans for the many things we're doing for the rest of the week, in connection with the many services at the end of the week. That last bit sort of takes me out of the "now" of the hosannas and palms. I think I would benefit from spending some time with the hosannas and the palms.

"Hosanna" is one of those mysterious words in the Bible. It's not easy to translate, apparently, and has levels of meaning. It has an element of praise. It has an element of supplication. I suppose the people laying down their cloaks under the donkey were expecting a certain kind of deliverance from this humble king, and many (most? all?) were disappointed.

Still, we sing "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" Help! You can help! Please help!

The deliverance that will come will not be everything I hope for, but I believe deliverance is coming. I believe I might even be blessed to recognize it when it comes, but that isn't where my hope lies. Redemption is at work. I must work with it. And the betrayals I'll perform before Thursday . . . well, let's not think about that just now. Right now, I and a lot of people around me need a savior.

Here's another cloak on the road.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Commending Spirit

One of the abbas from the 4th century desert once advised: If you do not keep death ever before you, you will lose courage.

I've thought about that a lot, lately, naturally enough. I thought about it tonight, at our Wednesday evening lenten service. We're using the compline service out of Evangelical Lutheran Worship. There is a chanted responsorial in it (light print for the leader, bold print for the congregation):

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Into your hands, I commend my spirit.
You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.
Into your hands, I commend my spirit.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Into your hands, I commend my spirit.

I was taken, tonight, with the source of the repeated responses. This isn't just simply saying "My life is in your hands," this is quoting Jesus on the cross as he dies. Are we praying, in this response, "I'm ready to die now"?

If we do not keep death ever before us, we lose courage. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

The psalm for the evening was part of Psalm 136, the one that has the refrain, "for God's mercy endures forever" (your translation may vary).

I'm ready to die now, for God's mercy endures forever.

It works for me.

In that I'm-not-really-ready-to-die-now, kind of way. But whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. And if we don't keep death ever before us, we lose courage.

There is much need for courage these days. The member of my congregation who had the massive heart attack on Sunday has been non-responsive since Sunday afternoon. He has swelling and bleeding in his brain. Things don't look good for him. So it is not my death, but his that is before me at this moment. But as John Donne would have it, there is no difference.

So in my prayers for healing, I hear the refrain, into your hands, I commend my spirit. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. For God's mercy endures forever.

Amen and please. Please and amen.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I've not counted the days, but we're here, somewhere near the middle of the season of lent. This season of renewed discipline, rededication to almsgiving, of prayer is a solemn, serious time. I fail at all these. Discipline, almsgiving, prayer, solemnity.

Repentance is another word associated with lent. So as I fail, I stop, turn around, try again, try another way, try to do better, getting better at failing all the time. This isn't me beating myself up, this is me trying to take stock as I look around me, trying to gather some courage and find some action to take during this season I'm in, this season of cancer and heart disease. Friends and acquaintances in dire straits and here I sit, sadly lacking in skills for oncology and cardiology.

I read once, long ago, that "lent" comes from an old English word related to "lengthen," as we in the northern hemisphere experience a lengthening of daylight during this season. Maybe that's what I'm looking for. More daylight. More illumination.

Well, who isn't? Who is seeking to sit in darkness?

One of my favorite prayers is comes from our Vespers service:

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p.317)

Long nights give way to long days, and we cannot possibly know what the light will reveal. We think we know some things, but if we're lucky, the Spirit will remind us of how little that is and that we walk by faith, even in these lengthening days. Give us faith to go out with good courage.

I don't know what to do. So I do what is in front of me, the work that has come my way, whether it's my days in retail, my nights with freelance writing, my time with my congregation, but trying to be present, trying to pick up what is there that needs picking up. It won't be enough. I will fail and I will try again. Exercises in humility, putting aside the idol of success and trusting that trying will accomplish some small part, trusting in the hand that is leading, in the love that is supporting.

The Reign of God comes in small pieces, broken but glorious.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Reminisce Interrupted

Well, my lenten plan to remember God-incidents hasn't gone so well lately. I'm finding myself quite distracted these days.

In my head, I've started calling this "a season of cancer." Starting in October with the death of my friend Pat Clark, who I wrote about for All Saints Day, I've since assisted at a funeral of another friend at my home congregation, which was the week before Christmas. Then, in January (I think) a dear friend was diagnosed with cancer. And now, last week, another friend. Terribly scary time for people I care about.

Then, yesterday, between services, a member collapsed with a massive heart attack. He's in the hospital in critical condition. So, this season of cancer is expanded to heart disease. (Forgive me if I make this about me for just a moment, but I do pause to point out that the heart attack victim is exactly my age---and I've already had one heart event in 2006. Hard to ignore these things.) I might add, it is a sobering thing when you see a defibrillator used on someone you actually know.

I'll get back to my "Memories of God" series and will likely do them occasionally after Easter has come and gone.

In the meantime, I'll stop with the gloomy news and note that there are other things going quite well for me. As I told someone on Facebook the other night, my prayers lately are something along the lines of: "thank you. what? wow. oh no. squee! stop it! really? please." with varying inflection and order.

When things are swirling around as crazily as they are right now for me, I have to guess there is some kind of Breath moving. I'm reminded of (of all things) an Amy Grant song with the line: "The same wind that knocks us down, if we lean into it, will drive our fears away."

Leaning. Leaning.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Journal as Reminder and Clarifier

Memories of God #10

I was just reading my journal from my last year of college. That was the '86-'87 academic year.

Wow. I was in a lot of pain. I was regretting a lot. I was graduating with a degree in theater and wishing I'd been a commercial art major. I was in something like love, but feeling shameful and damned about it. I came across an entry where I wished I weren't alive. I said I didn't want to commit suicide, but it would be okay if I just ceased to exist, that it would save everyone a lot of trouble.

During this period, I tried to keep a journal as if I were writing to God. It was a short-lived experiment. I found writing to an omniscient being to be redundant, and so many of my entries are full of "O Father, you heard that conversation." Which, of course, means little to me more than two decades later. Thankfully, I let that experiment go pretty quickly.

But there's the thing. In the middle of regret and not a little despair, I was still talking to God, looking so hard for God's leading. True, it was that early-twenties angst-ridden sort of searching, the kind that immobilizes and becomes addictive for it's sweet agony, but it was still an earnest seeking.

I thought I would put in a few paragraphs from that time, but they're complicated, too complicated for the time I have to explicate. There are also names and places that are not entirely mine to publish on the web.

But, well, take for instance this Lutheran Student Movement regional retreat I attended. There was someone there doing guided meditations. I had a powerful experience with one of the exercises, one that pulled me back, if only a little, from the brink. Pulled back just a little is enough to save a life.

I'm being vague tonight. That's sometimes required to protect people who didn't sign up to be written about, and to obscure some of my own embarrassment about those years. I write tonight to remember that God was there, in this time that I felt like I was taking up more than my share of space on the planet, when I wanted to disappear. At a retreat, God sent some people who were God's hands and voice to pull me back from an edge. How will I ever be grateful enough?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Experience as Idol

Memories of God #9

I don't remember how or when I came to this conclusion, but it's maybe worth noting as I reminisce about God.

There was a period of fairly intense experiences of what I would call God. This was late college years and a few years following. I've mentioned or otherwise alluded to a couple of them.

Then somewhere, those experiences stopped. Not entirely, but the intensity of them did. I wanted those spiritual highs all the time, why were they suddenly absent?

And I realized that the highs were becoming my god, not the God I met in the experiences. Subtle difference, I suppose, but it's a bit like a love relationship. You can only have so many orgasms until someone has to get up and go to work. There are other things to do besides making love---which is how many mystics allude to their experiences.

So as I spend some time these lenten days, reflecting on my memories of God, I feel it's important to pause and remember: sometimes there are no fireworks. Sometimes you go through days hardly noticing or acknowledging one another. These are the days of ordinary time, days of contentment, days of discontent, but days that make up our ordinary lives.

They are days of choosing faithfulness in the boredom. They are days of knowing God by not feeling a tap on the shoulder.

It's knowing God by remembering, holding God in our memory even as God remembers us.