Thursday, April 17, 2014

Let us Lay Aside Our Judgments (a Dare to Keep a Steady Gaze Upon that Which Disturbs Us this Holy Week)




My friend was speaking at a retreat recently, teaching about the use of icons in prayer.

Icons are painted with skewed perspective, limbs jut off at odd angels and the symmetry typically associated with beauty is often missing.  

“The first thing we do when we see an icon is that we judge it,” she says.  

//

The quickest, simplest way to create distance between ourselves and that which discomforts us is by casting judgment. 

//

When I returned to complete my Chaplaincy residency, just a few short weeks after my oldest child was born, a new crop of summer students had joined our small rotation.  Among them was a heavy-set woman with wild, frizzy hair and frumpy clothes.  She talked loudly and out of turn, taking up too much space both physically and verbally and worse yet, she seemed utterly and completely unrepentant about it. 

Oh, she made me bristle and cringe. 

I was quieter because of her, hoping that my own silence might cue her in.  I was more restrained in an effort to somehow make up for her lack. 

I judged her quickly and harshly for all of these traits that I found so dreadful, building a silent and sturdy wall between us.

In Clinical Pastoral Education this kind of strong reaction is fodder for reflection.  So I thought about my reaction and talked about it with my supervisor.  Eventually I came to see that this woman seemed to somehow be the perfect visual and physical embodiment of my shadow-self.  She embodied the traits I feared most and in judging her I was judging the most unacceptable parts of myself. 

If I dared to welcome, accept and even love her, how would I keep myself in check?  If it was ok for her to be simply as she was, then maybe the same was true for me.

Wouldn’t that just be giving myself permission to be loud, large and unkempt?

I wasn’t ready to let that happen, though, so I judged her and parts of myself with her. 

//

Icons are not pleasing because they often appear to be somehow broken.  To accept the image they bear often requires the acceptance also of our own broken image.  We are afraid to look at them just as we are afraid to look at our own deep brokenness, in rejecting them and the image they bear, we reject also the most broken and fragile parts of ourselves.

There is much brokenness to be observed in the sacred stories of this Holy Week, much that we would rather not see, hear, touch.  Everywhere we look in the gospel readings humans are found behaving badly, they are out of focus, skewed, jutting off at odd angles in relation to the One who walks quietly among them.  It is so tempting to cast judgment or, better yet, to look away. 

//

“Icons are quiet paintings,” my friend continues, “They are not art, they are not meant to be beautiful.  In their quietness, they invite us in.” 

//

May we lean in close this week, my friends.   

May we lift our faces, our eyes, our hearts to that which disturbs us most deeply.   

Let us withhold our judgment on the brokenness we see lest we also judge ourselves.  

Give us steady eyes, dear God, as we gaze at your image distilled across the shattered surface of humanity.  Grant us grace that we might learn to see and be seen through eyes of love.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spiritual Misfit (a Review and FREE GIVEAWAY)


Michelle DeRusha's debut book, Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith, was the first package to arrive at our new house.  As a member of her launch team, I received a free copy and started reading it late at night while we waited for the phone and internet to be set up.

In my mind, I read it by candlelight, because at that point we had very little power in the house, but really I suspect there was a lamp or something shedding light.  It was an appropriate setting, as Michelle writes candidly and humorously about her own slow, uneasy journey out of darkness and into light.


Here are three things I liked about this book:

1. It's truly funny.  Yes, that's right, Michelle is a Christian and she's terribly, terribly funny.  Not funny in a cheesy, naive way, but funny in that truly human way that emerges when one dares to strip away all pretense, to expose the depths of one's own deep humanity.  Telling her story, Michelle does this again and again - honest with herself and honest with her readers, she gives us all hope as we laugh til we cry, seeing ourselves through grace light.

2. It's real about the tensions between faith and doubt.  Michelle grew up in church, but gradually drifted to a place of unbelief, where God no longer fit.  Never finding the freedom to ask questions, she simply decided to stop talking all together about God, about faith, about doubt.

Moving to the America's heartland only intensified her spiritual dis-ease.  Living in the land of bible and bread, Michelle did her best to blend in, hiding her doubts.  Finally, "hitting rock bottom" Michelle decided to fess up - facing fear head-on, she shares her deep doubts with her local pastor and begins to start again at square one, re-exploring the terrain of faith as an adult.

What I appreciate most about this section of the book is the way Michelle writes about the tension between knowing and believing and the choice to give belief a chance.  As she writes,

Almost as instantly as my heart told me I had experienced a blessing, a connection with God, my head squashed such a preposterous idea. . . . After twenty years of unbelief, doubt had become a habit. . . . The truth is, once I began to question my doubts at least as much as I questioned my toddler-step, doddering faith, I began to see small miracles everywhere (82-3).

3. It's not a "how-to."  Michelle resists the temptation to turn her life story into a three-step process finding faith and for this, I'm grateful.  As it stands, Spiritual Misfit's deeply personal nature is what will give it a nearly universal appeal for those losing and finding faith.  In shedding the masks and rules, Michelle dives in at the deep end and finds a way to float in the midst of faith and doubt.  Lifted by the grace she comes to know and trust, she invites us also to dive in, to open up, and look closely for the footprints of God in our own stories, our own lives.

Order Spiritual Misfit HERE. 
Visit Michelle's Blog to learn more about the book, read advance praise and peruse quotes.   

Interested in joining a book club discussion of Spiritual Misfit, either online (fb) or in person?  Let me know via the comments section below and stay tuned for further announcements here and on the A Field of Wildflowers Facebook page.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Spring is the Gospel Season




It started with a crocus or two.  Delicate blossoms like bright purple tissue paper, twisted.  

Then, later, the daffodils bloomed.  Just two, opening on a cold rainy morning that left them covered with ice, but they endured. Now dozens of yellow faces smile along the sidewalk and white ones wait to open.  

Yesterday it was brilliant pink Hyacinths, tucked in between the foundation and walk-way. 

This spring, our first in this old farm house, is a season of seeking and finding, a treasure hunt as we wait to see what will arise from the barren branches, the quiet earth. 

I remember going in to my children’s rooms in the morning when they were new, young buds fresh from the womb.  I unwrapped their swaddles with delight as one opens a present, a gift given and growing and now I see that they were wrapped, new buds like the daffodils, waking each morning to face the sun.  

//

Twice now in the month since we bought our home, individuals have stopped by to drop off keys to our house.  Friends and caretakers of the late owner, they come bearing stories and photos.

We received this property as one does an inheritance, which is to say aware that we are just one chapter in a long story of life and love and loss.  It may sound strange, since we bought the house outright.  But John and I have both felt it, the weight of this place, its enormity, the sense of a gift beyond what we knew to ask for or could command in our own right. 

//

Spring is the season of inheritance, of gifts beyond our asking.  The flowers that bloom bright and unexpected, planted by another or by no one at all.   

Spring is the dinner party, the dazzling spectacle of bright delight to which we are all invited.  

Yes, yes, THIS, it is for you, dear one.  

Spring is the gospel season, the good news pure and bright, and buried within it lies the pearl of great price.  

Counting the careful kept coins in my purse, it's clear that I can't afford to buy this field, this pearl, this joy.  

But spring whispers, inviting. 

The children wake, waiting. 

Joy beckons like the ocean deep.  

Feeling the sun upon my shoulders, I turn like the daffodils, the crocus, the hyacinth, from winter’s heavy weight, opening to receive what I could not buy.

This post is linked with  Playdates With God.

Stop back this Tuesday for a review of Michelle Derusha's new memoir, "Spiritual Misfit."  Leave a comment on Tuesdays post for a chance to win a free copy!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Season of Resurrection

 

The Season of Resurrection
 
Slender green fingers point toward the windswept sky,
where a battle rages between blue and cottony white.

Daffodil heads, wrapped in linen brown nod graciously, 
bright yellow flags waiting to unfurl.   

Everywhere  - under and all around - the voices of bright angels sing,
"Behold the One who is making all things new."

//

Although March's lion seems reluctant to lie down with the lamb, hints of spring are everywhere and we, my friends, are moving this Saturday to the farm house of our dreams.  These crocuses were peaking out this morning when I stopped by to help my husband with the enormous job of putting back together all of the things we've torn apart. 

Our older two started at their new school this week and that (Hallelujah!) has gone well.  They'll ride the bus on Monday and I will officially lay down my chauffeur hat for a few sweet months until the twins start preschool.

I moved two chairs and a candle stand into my writer's house the other day, swept and mopped the floor and took measurements for a desk.  Before long I hope to be writing and meeting with directees in that quiet, sunlit space.

We will be without internet for a few days (ie. for as long as we can stand it) and I will take a break from blogging.  There's still SO. MUCH. WORK. to be done.  But, spring is in the air, my friends and WE are all being made new. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Pharisee's House




The following is a work of fiction based on the story of Jesus eating at Simon the Pharisee's house (Luke 7:36-50).  It's based on a sermon from awhile back and seemed somehow appropriate for Lent.  
 
He tended to every detail. 

Invitations were carefully considered and extended.  The best linens laid, the finest dishes set out.  The seating chart arranged and rearranged again, everything situated to present himself in the best light.

He prepared his questions ahead of time. Clever queries, not too controversial, aimed more at displaying his own mental agility than fleshing out the nuances of this new and controversial teacher. 

Or maybe not.


Maybe the invitation was a moment of spontaneity he later grew to regret.
Perhaps there was a knot of nerves in his stomach as the meal approached, a cool sweat breaking out on his upper lip.  

Jesus and his disciples arrived wearing the dust of the day and looking tired.  By now Jesus had a reputation as a “drunkard and a glutton.”

The Pharisee’s friends arrived, other teachers of the law, exchanging looks, eyebrows raised.  They were likely cordial, but distant.  

Simon began to wonder if he'd made a mistake.  Everywhere he went, Jesus drew a crowd.
Strangers from the town gathered around the open courtyard, leaning, leering, murmuring among themselves.  

Those gathered at the table found themselves separated by a thousand years of interpretation, a million nuances, a trillion tiny judgments that left the conversation stilted, nearly unbearable.  

//


She was at the river, washing her thin clothes, watching as the dirt lifted layer by layer, carried away by the current.  She beat the cloth heavily with a stone in her effort to clean what could not be cleaned - the reputation that followed her like a shadow.

Far from where the other women gathered, she was free from their endless chatter, alone with her thoughts, her fears, her deep aching loneliness.

Over the wind, over the water, John the Baptist's wild voice rolled like the echo of distant thunder.  

Like water, his words seeped in, bypassing her loneliness and cracking open a well of pain that she carried deep deep within.  

Drawn closer, she watched as one person after another approached the water where John stood, waist deep.

“Repent!” he said, to each and then, splash, they sank under, supported only by his thick hands.  

“Your sins are forgiven,” he proclaimed over every face as it broke the surface, dripping.  

She didn’t ask how or why or by whose permission as she stepped forward into the water.  Her wet clothes clung indecently to a body gifted with curves that drew men’s eyes, even here, even now.  

Stumbling on the uneven riverbed, she righted herself and her eyes met the wide, wild eyes of John.  His eyes held her there in a steady gaze.  

She felt naked before his searching eyes, vulnerable as her shame fell around her, dropping like garments.  

In a matter of seconds, she was turned by rough hands that held her gently and plunged into the dark, cold water.  The sound of the river pummeled her ears.  It was a whirl of chaos, then she too broke the water’s surface.  

The light, the sounds, pierced her as she absorbed the word that was shouted over her, “Forgiven!”
She stumbled, weeping, toward the river’s edge and sat there stunned while people continued moving in and out of the water and the refrains repeated again and again, “Repent!” and “Your sins are forgiven!”  

There was another word too, on the lips of everyone there, “Jesus,” a teacher, a prophet.  Jesus was the one, the driving force behind the man with the wild eyes.  

Jesus was the one turning the world upside down, Jesus was the water washing it all clean, the light casting out shadows, the love piercing the shame. 

//
 
Word spread through the village, there was to be a dinner, a tete-a-tete at Simon the Pharisee’s house and Jesus would be there. 

She ran the whole way to her shambled home and tore through meager belongings until her fingers wrapped around the small jar she kept hidden, wrapped in a rag, her most precious possession. 
By the time she reached the dinner, she was sweating, out of breath, her hair hanging down in tangles.

There was a scuffle on the outer edge of the crowd, some shouts and shoving as she burst into the courtyard. 
Disheveled, she erupted into loud tears, overcome with emotion at the sight of Jesus.
Everything stopped.
Every eye turned.
Jaws dropped.
Every man at the table stiffened, drawing back, but Jesus' body softened visibly as she knelt.   

Bending over his feet, her hands eased along the arches, the callouses smoothing hot tears over dry, dusty skin. 
The weariness in Jesus' eyes, his shoulders, softened as he opened himself to the love that welled up out of her eyes, her hands, her sweaty, bent back.
Jesus, love-hungry and worn, welcomed her touch and what was a holy moment for Jesus and the woman - a sacrament - was a blasphemy for the Pharisee.
The sound of alabaster shattering ricocheted off the walls.
The scent of perfume wafting woke Simon like smelling salts. 
His eyes narrowed as he pulled himself back, half-rising from the table.  His lips curled into a sneer as what sounded like a low growl rumbled forth.    

Jesus, sensing the shift, half-turned and spoke the name, low and stern, like a master calling off a dog, "Simon . . ." and then, pausing, he added, "I have something to say to you."

"Simon."  It was the name that drew him up short, giving him pause enough to listen. 

Simon, the name his parents gave him all those years ago, the name he no longer used, preferring, instead, the shelter of religious titles.  The name stripped him to his essence and he replied as though a school boy to his master, "Yes, teacher, speak."    

//

The woman’s gratitude becomes a table, a meal where she and Christ are fed.  

Simon’s judgment becomes a wall isolating him from this meal of grace.  

Oh, God, may we also be moved through repentance and forgiveness to the seat of gratitude, at your feet.  Never let us miss this meal of grace.  Amen.  

This post is linked with Playdates With God.