Our future’s history

One dark night – I think it was in the early 20’s or just before – there was a great and terrible storm in Denton. It engulfed the whole city, especially the city center.

soldier monumentOn the south side of the square, there was a bolt of lightening as bright as the light on the Damascus road, and that young confederate soldier looked up. He shook his stone head and covered his eyes. When the flash and rumble had subsided, he put down his rifle and climbed down from that arch.

As he was climbing down, he stepped for a moment on the old water fountain on one side of the base of the arch and it crumbled under his weight. From it sprang an arch of water that sprayed up – higher than the stone arch, itself – and fell just to the other side. Seeing that, the young soldier moved to the other side of the arch and raised his foot and stepped down on the fountain on that side, crumbling it and releasing an arch of water that rose and joined the first in mirror image.

Suddenly there was another crack of lightening. It struck the stone arch and broke it into a thousand pieces, but the arches of water remained, dancing in the bursts of lightening that continued to spark the night around him.

Then Johnny went to work. He took the pieces of the stone arch and began to fit together a mosaic that extended up the sidewalk toward the courthouse. It was tedious work. He had to fit and re-fit the pieces until they came together well. As the night wore on, he realized that he would not be able to finish his work before daybreak, when the spell of his re-enchantment would break. He sat back in despair and dropped his head into his hands.

Then, slowly, he noticed dozens of other forms had gathered round him – men and women, boys and girls, a diversity of faces and voices. They all took up the task with him – fitting the pieces of the mosaic along the line of the sidewalk, moving northward. The continuing rain created a small stream that ran through their work, from the courthouse to the water-arches. The gathered throng finished the mosaic just as the rain stopped and the sun ran its rosy finger across the horizon.

Johnny stepped back to admire the view, resting his tired form upon the wall of courthouse, his feet planted among the low bushes that ring the building. A shaft of sunlight fell upon him and the spell was broken. Johnny turned back to stone. He stands there now, gazing out upon a different world than the one he knew when he was soldering. There is a new look of pride in his stance – one that sprang from his change of heart, from his awakening to a world where difference is strength and where the circle of his heart was expanded with one great lightening strike. It is the same world where we can learn and grow and work together, as our hearts, too, are changed.

The dawn now finds its reflection in the small stream that, miraculously, continues to run from the seat of justice to the water-arch. There, on a hot summer day, the children of Denton cool themselves as they splash together. They, in their laughter, continue to write our future’s history.

[images from the Portal to Texas History ]

my cavern

cavernI stand at the mouth of a cavern – huge, dark … powerful in its presence and mystery. I want to enter, something calls me in, but I am also fearful. If I walk this path, will I soon get lost amid the stalagmites and stalactites and crevices and boulders that lurk within the shadows? Will I fall or be trapped? Will I simply wander to no avail?

Yet, there is this call, not really audible, just a tug upon my soul. I take a deep breath and step toward the dark. And in that first step, I feel my heart open just a bit – or perhaps it just softens. It is an almost imperceptible move, like the coming wakefulness of morning, arising from the deepest sleep to the next level, just below awareness.

I take another breath and resist the urge to steel myself. It is not about holding tight, but letting go. Another breath, another step, ears on alert, heart inching ahead of my frame, I move. One slow step at a time, searching … or, no, opening, I move.

This is different. I somehow know that this is not a process where I will find something, or figure it out, or come to understand. This is a process in which I will be changed, opened, melded.

It has taken these few steps for the whole sense of this call to change. I am not called to some great mission, to some accomplishment that will be a offering for you. I am called to become someone different, someone melded, molded, reconstituted into a vessel, or … not so much a container for something other than I am, but a container that is an amalgam of me and you – a container that can now hold something that could not otherwise be held.

Beheld… that word, itself, turns a corner in me. If I let myself be seen – and the darkness provides a bit of a robe for my nakedness even as I shed my successive layers of protection – if I let myself be seen, I will become more of myself. Beholding as creation.

And beholding goes both ways. As I find my way through a successive unmasking of my very self, I find my way to you, as well. You dwell in truth. An honest soul, and only an honest soul, can truly encounter you. It is a law of the spiritual realm – that truth is a prerequisite.

Yet truth alone, sterile and hard, will not suffice. Somehow, honesty must be mixed with the affirming pulse of life itself, the truth of true connection, where the coming together is full and free and beautiful. Some would call it love, but even that word seems too light a thing.

And now all my words fade to mere filaments of hope. They cannot really do justice to what is.

I stand, naked, in the dark, still shedding layers of presumption and constraint. And the darkness, itself, a deep and quiet and holy darkness, swirls around me, urging union, promising completion.

Slowly the darkness becomes light. Turns out the darkness was within me, and I have begun to shed it, ever so slowly. The light begins to smile upon me, to welcome me, to make its way into me. My growing honesty is, at last, allowing me to embrace – to be embraced by – the truth of you.

This process is not done, but it is begun. And I am glad.

My soul, a bit raw from this successive unveiling, feels closer to itself. It confirms a truth that has long dwelt with me. I have no words. Except, perhaps, ‘thank you.’

[photo by Emily Mocarski per cc 2.0]

a change in plans

plans
A change in plans
Can be disconcerting.
It suggests that I’m not really
The one in control, after all.

Imagine that!

It also reminds me
That my focus, all too often,
Is on the circumstances,
On things to do and places to be.

I have a to-do list,
Not a to-be or to-be-with list.

But, when plans change,
I am reminded
That the richness of life
Lies in the continual dance of relationship.

Circumstances are just the medium
Where we dance that dance.
Life is not really about what, but who.

And I am so grateful
For those who dance this dance with me.
They touch my soul with grace
And open my eyes to the deep.

With these companions,
Plans are dance steps drawn upon the floor.
When you are actually dancing,
There is joy in creating the dance together.

Change is where the life is.
Let’s dance!

[image modified from photo by Jeremy Keith per cc 2.0]

no magic

magicThere is no magic.

There is only mystery.

Magic presumes a mastery of the mysterious, where certain incantations will constrain the outcome. But mystery will not be constrained.

That is good news, when mystery is the very heart of goodness.

I want to release myself to the embrace of mystery.  I just don’t know how. So, I keep trying magic. Until I give up my attempts at control, I keep the mystery at bay. Such is my quandary.

I’d pray about it, except that I keep turning prayer into an attempt at magic, an Aladdin’s lamp. Three wishes will be granted for the rubbing.

Just like to me mess up a blessing.

Aauugh!

Why won’t I learn? When you bargain with a loving God, you only cheat yourself.

[photo by Linus Bohman per cc 2.0]

Not. Perfect.

learning to walk

So, here’s a surprise for you:
I’m not perfect.
Never have been.

In fact, perfect isn’t so good,
‘Cause you’d have to stop right there.
Any move from perfect goes away from it.

And perfect –
Doesn’t have many friends.
Too insufferable; too lonely.

What I am; what you are
Is unfolding; growing; transforming,
All of which embrace imperfection at their start.

Like a little one,
Learning to crawl; learning to stand;
It can be a lovely, messy process.

What it requires is a loving environment.
Where each new step is cherished
And loving arms reach out to hold you through it all.

I am grateful to have such arms around me.
We fall together; we help each other up; we laugh.
Perfect! (not.)

[photo by wrk per cc 2.0]

The short list

A list of things that will pass:

  • The soft sighs of a sleeping childpeaceful sleep
  • Spring’s cool mornings
  • Flowers that wake after a rain
  • The ache of yesterday’s exercise
  • The strength of my resolve
  • The urgent demands of this day
  • The current political mess
  • The opportunity on my doorstep
  • This, this, this, too.

A list of things that will not change:

  • God’s love in all of this

At last, I can breathe again. Nothing is too precious or too painful to be outside the realm of the embrace of love. I am grateful.

[photo is my own … already she has changed]
[Thanks to Brene Brown for her work on foreboding joy.]

Unity with Ourselves

mirror image(A small talk given during Lent 2012 at FUMC Denton)

The focus of tonight’s gathering – my assigned topic – is ‘Unity with Ourselves.’  When I mentioned that to my husband, he laughed.    Isn’t that a given?

Well, for some people, more than others, I think.   Less so for me.

I know too well the mess that sits between my ears . . . and more between my head and heart.

I understand too fully Paul’s dilemma, when he says in Romans 7, “I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. In my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”

Why does that happen? I’m not sure I can answer for Paul, but I have some sense of the seeds of my own predicament. Growing up, I wanted to be the good little girl – and from the outside, I think most folks would say I was . . . That set me up.

The first lie I can remember telling was to my Sunday school teacher. She asked me if I was a ‘daily Bible reader’ that week. I said, ‘yes.’   I told that lie more than once.    Good little girls should be able to say yes to that question, I thought. But, I was not a daily Bible reader most weeks, even though I often managed a few days each week.

Had I been honest – there would have been grace. But I wasn’t looking for grace; I was looking for honor.  I was trying to hold the ‘goodness’ within myself.    That’s not where goodness dwells.

So I began to create a pseudo self. The good girl, the competent one, the righteous one. It reminds me of an essay by Anne Lamott, who talks of her delight that on Halloween we get to see folks as they are – as rascals and heroes and divas and such – instead of all dressed up in the costumes of everyday life – the suits and uniforms that represent the roles we try to play – the power ties and high heels we wear to divert attention from our shaky knees.

You can feel pretty lonely and impotent, trapped behind that everyday cardboard mask. Yet you are afraid to put it down. People might really see you.

Not that they don’t already see you, of course. I’m really the only one fooled by the game. I’m the only one really surprised – and horrified – that I am not perfect – that the good little girl, herself, is a lie. And so I bear my cardboard shield . . . and all it does is keep me hidden from myself.

Well, that’s not actually all it does. It also robs me of the opportunities for grace and connection. By upholding a false sense of my own self-contained wholeness, it keeps me from finding the wholeness that is real – the one that comes through connection – with Christ and with each other.

Paul saw it, too. He says, from the midst of his quandary,

‘Wretched man that I am, who will rescue me?’ and then he answers,

‘Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ, my Lord.’

There is now no condemnation, but deliverance.

No need to stand on my own, but in the spirit.

So, here, during Lent, I find myself before the mirror of God – a mirror that will reflect only the truth.

Join me here, in your imagination, if you will.

We stand before that mirror, and the mask is gone. It’s pretty scary. When we lift our eyes we can see ourselves as we really are – but what we also see – in a way that washes all the fear aside – is the Christ, whose eyes are fixed upon us and filled with deepest love.

The me – the real me – is the one that Christ so loved. There is no ‘good little girl.’ There is, instead, a woman – full of aches and holes – but also gifted. Gifted in just such a way that my part fits with yours. That my words, through grace, might warm your heart and your heart, through grace, might move your hands toward justice – might hold a child, might feed a hungry one, might speak comfort to a friend, might work against the powers that oppress. That your lips might sing out a song of assurance. And when I see your love lived out, it warms my heart in turn, and moves my hands, my lips, as well, and shores up my resolve. There, before the mirror, there is, at last, a wholeness – a wholeness woven through us all by the love and grace of God.

It makes me smile. I don’t really like high heels anyway. Deep down I know that I’d rather be a part of a whole that pulls me into the bigger vision of God, rather than some small complete package on my own – even if that were possible.

So, as we round this corner of the year, as we live the season of Lent, let us look into that mirror. Let us realize that this season is not so much about eliciting some sense of mortification in ourselves – that was already there, behind our masks. It is, instead, about remembering to drop the mask and let the grace of Christ flood in. It’s about embracing the love that makes us part of the greater whole. It’s about the coming power of the resurrection, which, even as it is already here, is growing stronger in us all.

It’s realizing, with Paul, that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ – not even our masks. It’s realizing that the unstoppable power of God is on the rise – and that we are invited to be a part of that whole, wonderful, loving reflection of truth.

[photo by onn aka “Blue” Aldaman per cc 2.0]