Starving

In that conversation the kingdom of God felt further away than ever.

It didn’t feel here, in the present, but somewhere in the distance – a mere dot on the horizon we will never be joined with.

When we speak, we speak not only for ourselves but others, too. And in her voice I heard the voices of a multitude, one as much as alive in Jesus’ lifetime as it is now. Like a game of tug-of-war happening across space and time. Because ignorance and hate don’t have boundaries: they are the same everywhere.

The exact shape may change but the meaning is the same. They can be dressed up and hidden behind jargon that sounds caring or looks good on paper but poison served in fancy cake is still poison.

 

She said why should any of it matter, we’re all humans. As though our shared humanity somehow wipes out everything else. Like cultures and societies and all the systems in them don’t exist; as if we weren’t individuals tangled up in all of this, trying to protect that very same humanity from the divisions that threaten to destroy it.

Knowledge puffs up, writes Paul, love builds up.

But how do you keep an open heart? How do you look at the future with hope?

 

I could have hung up. Could have put down the phone and walked away, from it and her, for good.

The conversation was going in circles and so felt pointless. And yet the fact that we were having this conversation at all means something.

Sometimes the larger picture obscures the details and the events of our everyday lives pass by in seemingly meaningless ways. Could this moment, then, be used for something good? If words can transcend space and time then maybe this small thing, here in the present, will help something larger to grow in the future?

 

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, He said, the smallest of all the earth’s seeds.

What happens now may seem insignificant and yet I can’t help but feel life is progressing towards something. Like human history was always intended for this. All of these moments, all of us, will one day yield a crop of something good and nutritious. And only then will  we realize how starved we once were.

 

 

 

Not All, But Closer Than Before

Sitting on the floor of my parent’s living room, rummaging through shelves for something to read. I was looking for something light but found a bible instead.

It was something of a surprise to find a bible amidst old paperbacks, mostly sci-fi, and a few over-sized art books. A scrap of paper was tucked into the opening pages of Leviticus and I remembered that my father had been reading the Old Testament the year he began to convert to Judaism. Neither his conversion nor his reading progressed very far.

Regardless.

I took the bible upstairs, thumbed through it, and stopped at Philippians.

 

The anticipation of Advent had been palpable this year. There was an overwhelming sense of something about to change, a coming of sorts. Something both bigger and smaller than the child in the manger. Bigger because it felt immediate, like something about to enter my everyday life. Yet smaller because what is quite so large or extravagant as the Incarnation?

And then, as sometimes happens, everything began to unravel and all I could do was weep.

And complain. Bitterly.

 

There was no reason why I stopped at this particular letter. It seemed as good a place as any to stop and explore this translation.

Sometimes I want to live, and sometimes I long to go and be with Christ.

Oh.

How had I missed this before?

This short letter, written in Rome, has an honesty that makes me ashamed.

For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.

Was my complaining, my whining, my seemingly relentless tears testifying to my lack of faith? Sometimes all you can do is lament and that is good and as it should be. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise: the pain is real, uniquely yours, and sacred because of this. Platitudes, like this too shall pass, can devalue what you’re experiencing. But the line between lamentation and whining is sometimes thin and vague.

I am still not all I should be…

Someone recently said they were amenable to the idea of purgatory because it is an opportunity for all that is contrary to what God wants us to be to finally be burned away.

I wonder if maybe, just maybe, there are times when purgatory is here and now. What if those times when the hardships pile up are not tests of faith but moments pregnant with the possibility of transfiguration? Because none of us are all that we should be and why should we wait until we have shuffled out of our skin?

In His time here I see a life lived fully and a life given freely. And I am doing neither. I have closed myself off from the grace and peace here in the present moment. A grace and peace so powerful as to not only forgive but burn away all that you are and are not; all you have done and failed to do. And it’s not available later, or only later, but right now.

The letter writer knew it then and I know it now. 

This is the peace I am clinging to and the grace I am longing to be shaped by.

Lord, I am still not all I should be. Amen.

 

 

Open

What makes a heart open? What light begs its delicate petals to unfurl?

Lately, when I think of my husband, I think of the peony bush by the back door. One day there were small, tightly closed buds and then it was in bloom. It all felt so sudden though I know it didn’t really happen over night -I just didn’t notice until all that beauty was right before me.

So when he said he would like to read that book, the one about God’s relentless love for us, I was shocked. I wanted to ask why and why now but really, it doesn’t matter. Still, I began to reflect on how he’s changed: it’s like there’s more of him give these days. Not just time and money, but himself. That goodness and generosity was always there but like the peony, it seemed smaller, a bit more closed than now.

The book -we’re reading it together. Him, for the first time. Me, for the first time with him. And the conversations are slow, some days we say nothing about the pages read. We talk, instead, about our days and lives together. But this is a start.

 

It was New Year’s Day and we and a friend were out driving. He prompts me suddenly to tell the man sitting behind me about the book and the author and the message of his words, the Word itself. I did not expect to find myself evangelizing but there I was and there we were. Talking about God on the first day of the new year.

Like before, the conversation came in fits. There was utter shock in the voice behind me but also disagreement. Me, a cradle Catholic, now somewhere in the middle. Him, born and raised conservatively, evangelically, and thoroughly Protestant. So it drifted from one thing to another. The book. Scripture. Jesus. And both our pasts and present circumstances affected how we came to it all.

It wasn’t the kind of dialogue you’d hear in a stadium full of people or even on a street corner. But that conversation, like the one before it, was a place to start out from.

 

Sure, you can ask others if they’ve heard or where they’re going after that last breath, the last beat of their fragile hearts. And I can worry that I should be out there, in dusty lands, digging wells and helping the Living Water to flow. But to what end?

I find it almost as unexpectedly, a passage underlined the week before and I remember marking it, not really knowing why.

There, in Mark 7, is a deaf man. “Be opened,” says Jesus and so he was. Ears to hear and a tongue to speak with, plainly. And it didn’t happen in front of a multitude. No stage or lights. No microphone to project. Rather, he took him aside in private, away from the crowd.

This has me considering other ways, quiet ways.
Listening as well as speaking.
Words and silences alike.

Maybe it’s not always about what we say. The conversation in the car was as much about God as when my husband and I discuss our day. Because God’s story is our story. What we talk about when we talk about God is really the story of us wrapped up in Him.

The conversation in the car wasn’t a success any more than our daily conversations are a failure because God isn’t explicitly mentioned.

And all those seemingly mundane things in our lives are important, too. Indeed, our lives may be the greatest testament we ever give.

 

So this is what I’m meditating on and praying over.

That we are opened to God not only through burning bushes and thunderous voices but quiet breezes and wings on air.

That this opening is both private and public because our lives need both witnesses and lonely places in which to grow.

And that we find peace in however, wherever it happens.

 

 

One

We are already one. We just think we are separate.
-Thomas Merton

 

The events of this week, as seen in the media, have left me feeling disappointed and deeply saddened.

And yet I find myself compelled to keep reading, to try to understand thoughts which don’t come naturally to me, beliefs so very different from my own. Because there will never be understanding when we confront hate with hate instead of compassion.

As long as we continue to see some people as Other, there will never be unity and there will never be peace.

The truth is that there is no “us” or “them” but only we.

We were created a little less than divine. We were made out of love and blessed with infinite, relentless grace. And we are commanded to extend that same love and grace to one another.

So let us start now.

Missing Peace

Maybe it’s the time of year or maybe it’s this season in life.

Lights get strung around roofs and windows, making the nights a little less dark. And the songs all turn to joy and peace in a world that too often seems to have neither.

And me? I feel a restlessness.

While people are looking at the star hovering over the birth, my eyes have been drifting to the cross. At a time meant to be about birth and celebration, I’m leaning hard on the tree he hung from. 

 

This time of year, well, it’s downright hard.

From Thanksgiving right on till Christmas Day, it sometimes feels like there’s so little to be thankful for. Why give thanks at all? Why rejoice when we know that the man on that cross was once that infant at her breast?

My throat tightens and I swallow hard at the mere thought of it.

But I know there is something in missing in all of this. The story is missing a piece.

 

More often than not, it happens like this.

I’m reading one thing which leads to another which leads to my bible being thrown open. And with a pen I begin the search. I track it down the pages until I really get it.

Peace.

Peace, the missing piece.

 

It doesn’t end with the cross but rather begins at the cross. Something was lost and there was pain but only for something even greater to be born. And we carry this in our bodies, his life and death and resurrection. Paul says it in 2 Corinthians and I feel it deep.

“I am always with you,” Jesus said (Mt 28:20). I pause and let that sink in. It was days ago that I wrote that down, quickly, just for myself, but it’s only now that it’s all coming together. The missing piece sliding into place.

 

How can I house such a restless heart when the peace of Christ is in us? How could there be room for anything else?

That restlessness, it tugs and pulls and threatens to undo me completely. But it won’t. Because I’ve redirected myself to the cross. How many people do that this time of year? I don’t know. Still. As the body of Christ our story begins at the cross where true peace was delivered.

“… let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” says Paul, “and be thankful.” (Col 3:15)

Peace is a person and He is always with us. And this is where I will reside and rest and be thankful indeed.