Journal Archive 2005 CYCLE A

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An Epiphany
I moved to a totally new geographic area this past June. After living in the Midwest for a majority of my life, I chose to move to the Southwest. In contrast to my former job working in a hospital and with health care students I am now a home hospice chaplain. Everything is new…all the numbers that define how I can be reached and found, where I buy my food, go to church, work, and play.

Listening to the readings for the celebration of Epiphany, I found myself feeling very compassionate toward the Magi. They had only a star and a deeply spiritual sense that they were being called…drawn to a location to meet one who would change the lives of many. It was this deeper navel navigator this gut sense that this star would lead them to the most holy.

Unlike the magi who seem undaunted about traveling to a new geographical location, I find new geographical places have a way of stretching and expanding my sureties about who I am and where I am called to be. I have experienced this especially in my new work. Over the past ten years of working in the hospital in oncology, I gained a good reputation for my work and my presence. My health care colleagues learned over the years to trust that in my visits the patients would be spiritually well cared for and my time with them would bring another level of strength to their struggles with cancer.

However, here in this land I was new and for the most part unknown. My new colleagues know my credentials but not my stories. Many of the patients I see, live with the mysteries and challenges of dying from old age. Each visit we begin anew, as their very full memory seems to have no or little room to take the name of yet one more new person. And so it is like being the magi – new each time. I have followed the star which leads me to them, but unlike the magi I want them to remember me, remember at least a piece of a previous encounter.

It was hard for the first months, to see the blessing of this continual need to begin again…yet the truth is they asked me to be the very best I can be, totally present to the now, not relying on the past.

“They set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. Matthew 2: 9-10”

It is as if they demand from me each time to live waiting, to be ready for an Epiphany moment – nothing but the present star overhead exist, nothing but now counts.

I have to say that I didn’t get to most of those thoughts or options. For me I struggled with one primary question: would giving her money encourage her to continue in this practice?

So here I am, holding a new story of invitation…an invitation to hold with holy reverence that the gospel may be simple, but in my humanness with my need to be in control of truth…living it out is not always so easy.

As I move into this new week, may I dare to take into my prayer the heartfelt believe that my roots that are planted deep in running streams…and that the greening of my soul is being cared for by the Master gardener.

Like Smoke Rising
These days have been very cold, very cold. About fifty feet from the hospital (where I work) is a glass shelter. In the shelter there is one long bench, some kind of lightening fixture and in the winter, there are lights mounted close to the top of the structure that provide heat. It serves as kind of a warming house for smokers.

The last couple of days, I have noticed a few souls making their pilgrimage to this smoking shelter. The structure doesn’t have a door per se which allows the smoke a way to leave…not having a door also allows the cold to come in. It was striking to me to watch the smokers standing up on the bench so they could be closer to the heat and a little distance from the cold floor. Viewing this scene caused me to pause and wonder what it would take for me to go outside when the temperatures are 10-15 degrees below zero, without the wind chill.

Certainly there is a piece of addiction connected to the choice and for some there are multiple reasons for a distance from whatever story is happening for them within the confines of the hospital, but my mind didn’t stay on those thoughts very long. Instead I wondered if my passion, my desire for God’s closeness in my life was as strong as the smokers for a smoke.

Are there any situations or circumstances in my life that push me beyond my everyday patterns of a short prayer here and there, moments of God awareness to a way of being that I would brave the cold of unfamiliarity to encounter the Almighty? What circumstances in my life take me from the comfortable, and the easy to climb into the awesome presence of the Sacred?

I have to wrestle with these questions, since the other day they have been my smoke rising up…

The Kingdom of God is at Hand
I was the on call chaplain for 24 hours beginning Christmas Eve at 8:00 a.m. and finishing 24 hours later. It was a busy day, lots of folks happy to see a chaplain for a variety of reasons. In my praying with folks, I used the Luke nativity story as part of framing prayer.

As part of my call I had the opportunity to be with a mom as she gave birth to her third son. I stood on one side, her mother-in-law on the other and the nurse and doctor front and center. Christmas morning from 4:00 a.m. until 6:30 we encouraged and breathed and prayed… The husband of this new mom, for the third time, was a solder over in the Middle East, just a week or two from being stationed in Iraq. Our connection that early Christmas morning to the Holy Family was tangible.

At Christmas time or during the holiday season, I am more apt to look for that star light connection between my life and Jesus. But today, in the midst of ordinary time, my eyes aren’t as ready to feel the connections between now and then. And yet this is actually the time when the Christ light shows up in the common interactions. The smiles given to us from the stranger walking by, the driver who allows us to change lanes when the cars are lined up bumper to bumper, the meal prepared for us by loved one (containing the just right comfort foods to get us beyond the blimps of the day.)

Jesus says to us, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

Let us live ordinary time in a way that makes us citizens of that kingdom.

No Fail Recipe
About twenty years ago I lived with three religious sisters, all of whom were at least twenty-five years older than me. Although I had learned to cook growing up and cooked for my room mate and myself…cooking for my sisters took me to new levels of challenge.

Our supper meal was an important meal, as it was along with Morning Prayer, the one time we all talked about our day’s work. The sisters were all very good cooks and there was a level of sophistication each night that far surpassed my pre-convent supper meals. So, I asked my mom for some suggestions on some meals I might cook. She told me that she had this “NO FAIL” stew that was both delicious and easy. I thought, great…

I am not a big Jell-O eater, but this group of women really liked Jell-O salads, so I decided to fix Jell-O with fruit cocktail. I had never made this combination before, nor had I ever made Jell-O before, so I put in the mix fruit (juice and all) and the Jell-O mix plus the water. I mixed it up and put it into the refrigerator to chill so it could firm up.

After the Jell-O was made I made the no fail stew and felt really proud of myself for trying new things and creating a lovely dinner. (Up until this time, I think I had made baked chicken at least five times) Suppertime came and I set the table, got the ambience ready for the dining room and checked on my meal. The no fail stew smelled great, but the Jell-O salad was not so firm… I thought give it time.

I called the Sisters to the table, worried that the stew would get cold waiting for everyone to get there…after all I had decided to venture down a new path seeking to crank up the quality of my meals. The Jell-O never firmed up, even when bordered by beautiful lettuce. The first sister to take a forkful of the stew said, “This stew is really hot.” I thought, great it didn’t get cold while we were waiting and praying. Then I tasted the stew and I thought, “Oh my God, this stew is REALLY HOT!!!” I looked around the table and saw tears running down the faces of the three sisters. I quickly got up from the table and got bread out to help put out the flames. I found out later, that Mom’s recipe called for just a teaspoon of pepper, not a tablespoon…makes a big difference.

In today’s readings from the gospel of Matthew (5:13-16) talks about salt that has lost its flavor and about our call to be light on a hill. In my “NO FAIL” stew story, the flavor was lost due to too much flavor. It reminds me of times in my life when I was so enthusiastic to be salt with flavor and a light on a hill that I blinded people with my message. So, as pilgrim seeking to live the message of transformation and healing, my challenge is to live the message from such a deep place inside, that others are drawn by who I am, to ask the question, “What is that “NO FAIL” recipe that she lives her life by?”

From Inside Out
On Tuesday, I gave a retreat morning to some chaplains in another city. The focus of the morning was “Self care: Presence and Passion.” The focus of the morning was taking time to be in the present moment in order to be connected to one’s passion, one’s calling. We had barely begun the retreat, when a long distance telephone call came for me. It was a friend calling to tell me that a dear friend’s son was either dying or had died. The hospital had called early that morning asking for me.

I came back to the chaplains and told them briefly about the phone call. They asked, “Do you need to go?” I appreciated their question and yet I knew deep down, that I was exactly where I needed to be and so that is what I told them. The retreat morning continued with time to reflect on the pulls and gifts our inner landscapes, how do we make space for our passions and calls to take root, and finally how to allow God to breathe through our daily life to live the present moment.

Throughout the morning I kept thinking, “this is so unusual for me not to be working in my hospital…why did it have to happen when I’m not around…and then I would vacillate to the bigness of God and the gift it was for me to be practicing “Present moment living.”

This morning when I heard the gospel of Jesus being tempted by the devil, I could identify with my own inner struggle with being “the perfect chaplain.” On Tuesday, I so wanted to model being present and trusting in God’s ability to be God…without me being present to my friend and her family. At the same time, I wished that I could have been there for this family. It is so tempting to seek out being “a star…a model” and miss being present to the true call.

The evil one tempted Jesus with everything that was transitory…everything that had no permanence. Jesus having fasted drew on the truth that had brought him to that moment…the steadfast presence of God.

As I enter into this Lent, I am reminded today, that present moment is our best access to the bigness of God, whether it is in wrestling with our struggles with their own particular kind of seduction, or whether we are challenged by hunger for passing glories. The present moment gave Jesus the strength to be fed by God’s word; it gave him the wisdom to be guided not by the need for a demonstration of God’s magic but by God’s unseen presence. It gave Him the ability to turn to true worship and service of God and in doing so experience God’s graciousness. (Matthew 4: 1-11) We, too, are invited to journey this Lent one moment at a time. May we like Jesus journey into God’s strength, God’s unseen presence and God’s graciousness.

I am on vacation these days…today is the Sabbath. The time set aside to rest, to pause, to be aware of the bigness of God. Usually, it is a day filled with church in the morning, writing and doing a gazillion things that I haven’t completed on my weekend list. I must admit that my Sundays often skid far from the center of anything that looks like Sabbath.

As I continue to lean into the beauty of not being in my regular, “I am so busy,” mode…I realize that it is so easy to fill space with tourist activities…missing the opportunity to choose actions and being that fill the soul and guard the spirit.

If God who created the universe, cared for the specifics of breathing into all that is, took time to rest…to be in the present moment…who am I to be too busy? So today I seek to be in time and allow the fertile time of Lent to anoint my soul with the seeds of spaciousness and Sabbath breath.

Lost in Ordinary Events
I was last heard from reflecting on the power of Sabbath resting, since then I have been missing in action…well really I wasn’t missing in action, I was actually in action over my head. I have been in the process of getting my house ready to sell. I have been aware, that this is where my pilgrim duties lay, but from the outside no word is no word.

This absence made me think about scripture and how the story of people doing ordinary things is somewhat lost. Almost every ordinary story seems to end up in a wise insight, a healing, or something very unexpected. In my case the stories are full of breathing deep, trusting that all the needed to get done will, and taking another deep breath to ask for help from others.

The work did involve the miracle of a home being transformed into a near picture perfect home…for me it lost the specifics which make it my home… Anyway, I will continue to immerse myself in ordinary events of cleaning, moving, and now hoping. If I should uncover a big miracle you can bet I will make it the focus of a future entry.

Who Do You Say that I Am?
The gospels the last couple of weeks remind me of Jesus’ question, “And who do you say that I am?” This lent I have been challenged by that question. I am living in a time of major transitions. I hope to be changing where I live geographically and that in turn will put me in a new job.

All the pieces are not quite clear yet. I am doing all of the normal things that people do to build bridges to desired change. I am sending out resumes, I am putting my house on the market, I am making lists and checking them at least twice…and sometimes I even let myself glimpse the impact of the changes.

In my mind, I am doing these things well…from the vantage point of others I am skimming dailiness by making every event in my life a point on a linear calendar. And Jesus says to me “MC, in the midst of that change, who do you say that I am?” I find myself screaming, you are the one I am praying to so everything comes together and works…you are the one who sees the bigger picture…but down deep, I wonder…who do I say that he is?

Am I the one born blind from birth, afraid to really trust an unseen path in front of me, but so wanting the sight that I dare to ask, “Who are you Jesus Christ?” Am I the one mourning for four days over the death of my love one…the loss of the known future?

YES and Yes and yes! Yes, I am the one who needs to hear and feel more than once that my lack of sight can be transformed by God’s love that is bigger than my imagination. Yes, I am the one who needs to know that the changes in my life are creating the path, a path chosen through prayer and listening. And finally, yes I am the one being called by Christ to let go of my known ways of being, the comfort of a familiar cocoon, to emerge with new ways of breathing life!
With your grace ‘Oh Holy Vision,’ with your light ‘Oh Path Creator,’ and through your voice ‘Oh Healing Breathe,’ I call you the Christ!

Easter’s Light
Easter Sunday, it has arrived. Last night as the fire was brought to full beauty outside the church and the Easter candle was blessed, we watched a beautiful full moon rise up in the east. It was powerful to watch the large light of the moon break open the darkness of our natural landscape.

Only moments later we entered the dark church lit now only by the lighting of smaller candles initially lit by the Easter Pascal candle…the light that brought us into the hearing of our ancestors’ stories…crossing the desert and being fed in unexpected ways…connecting to parents who were asked to give their most precious son to be the bridge to the Almighty, only to be called as surprisingly to instead sacrifice a ram as a covenant act to God. The Pascal candle called us deeper into the invitations to be fed and have our thirst quenched by life giving water…deeper still to the place where our hearts would be not only flesh but spirit graced embodied…

The Pascal light opens our hearts into the mystery of our stories as Christians walking often like Sarah and Abraham by faith, thirsting to taste the Divine Mystery in our every day lives. This light lead us like the women to the tomb, seemingly dark like our church before the light of the Pascal Candle entered. The light took us into the tomb; only to meet the deepest mystery of physical limitations being anointed and transformed by God’s imagination…the one who had died, and was buried, had risen! The light had been too big for the darkness…and it is this light that calls to us in this Easter Season to break the limitations of fear, of our woundedness, our doubts and move forward to the Galilee’s in our lives to be the Good News.

First Holy Communion
This past Sunday I found myself wrapped in a blanket of memories as I watched my eight year old niece receive her First Holy Communion. The First Holy Communion was held in the church where I grew up.

At the time of bringing up the gifts to the alter, there were ten children, five girls and five boys, who followed the two bringing up the bread and wine, doing simple gestures to the song, “One Bread, One Body.” When the words, bread or wine were mentioned, the children would lift one of their arms and point toward whatever was being mentioned. When the phrase, “one in the Lord” was sung, they would turn to people and lift both of their arms and gesture to them, just as they had the bread and wine.

It was very simple and yet in that simplicity and surety with which the gestures were done, I found myself rooted in the power of this Sacrament of the Eucharist…the bigger truth that I need to be reminded of all the time…We Are Eucharist to each Other! We Are one of the most powerful ways that each of us meet the Risen Christ! We point the way to the Holy, while at the same time being part of the way!

I was surprised with my own inner response to this experience. I would be remiss if I failed to repeat the comment I heard from two of the First Communicants when I was going up to receive, I heard them whisper, ” Mine tasted like card board.”

In the end it is up to us how we live our invitation to be eucharist for each other, we can be as the finest of bread or we can taste like card board.

Spring’s Winter
The other day as Hannah, my black lab, and I went for a walk, I was struck by the beauty of spring going head to head with the sharp breeze of winter reminders. About a block from our house the wind took on fierceness, which Hannah handled better than me. I was relieved to turn the corner and walk close to the large church. It made me think about the expression leaning into the Lord.

I have been blessed throughout my life with moments of leaning into the Lord which made the difference between a so/so decision and a decision that transformed my life. What was true on those rare epiphany moments were the exquisite ways in which ordinary people’s thoughts became foundations of wisdom and insight.

On the walk as Hannah and I walked against the wind and snow flurries, there were gorgeous fruit trees in blossom…the colors of their blooms stood out even more so in the gray of winter’s return.

I didn’t have a decision to make with the weather, but rather I was invited to live in the paradox of spring’s beauty and winter’s reappearance. Hannah, on the other hand, moved in time and space with ease and grace.

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