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]

assurance of faith

holding faith

My faith is less a conviction, grasped tightly
And more the whisper of grace resting lightly on my open palm.
It is not something I accomplish or hold on to;
It is a sweet gift continually opening itself in my heart.

My heart is opened in return.

It is not so much ‘my’ faith
As it is your assurance deep within me,
Singing a lullaby of love
That bids me rest my soul in you.

And when I do,
That peace,
That love,
That assurance,
Flows beyond the boundaries of my being
Into my small corner of the world.

I have faith in you
(when I am within you).
You have faith in me.
(You placed it there.
It will not be contained.)

Thank you.

[photo by lf-style per cc 2.0]

Merry Christmas

Image of Christmas

When you open sleepy eyes this morning
And remember that it is Christmas,
May your heart lift with joy.
May the first gift of your morning
Be the deep contentment of being held in love.

May you see all the gifts that grace this day,
Knowing that the tinsel gifts of your childhood
Were just the shadow –
A pattern of the kind of gifting
That flows from one to another, to another,
One gift begetting the next,
Until all are giddy with the exchange.

May you see the world with Christmas eyes,
Where the true economy – the economy of love – takes root.
Where it really is more blessed to give than to receive,
Where we can rest our hearts, our lives,
In the sure confidence that love will triumph,
That, at the end of the day, empty wrapping paper on the floor
It not a sign that it is over
But the promise that it has just begun.

May you greet the Christ, newborn into your heart this day.
May that Christ, the very essence of God made manifest,
Shine forth in every leaf and blade,
In every smile and hug,
In every gift that brings the giver’s heart close to your own.

May you see the exchanges of love made manifest.
May you give and receive in joy this day.
Merry Christmas.

[photo by open-arms per cc 2.0]

a monopoly on reality?

monopoly gameI am the small tin dog in the Monopoly game, caught in the circuit of the board. Pass go, collect $200, buy a house, market and trade, weather the bad cards, revel in the good ones and then… go to jail. I sit for a moment concentrating on the board in front of me when suddenly the “jail corner” grows to envelope the whole board. There is noting there but jail.

I turn and trot on my little tin legs to the edge of the playing surface and, without warning, I jump. I tumble through the air off the edge of the board, off the edge of the table, falling into nothingness. Panic strikes my heart – maybe the game is all there is. Maybe I am wrong to believe that truth lies elsewhere.

But just as these thoughts enter my head, I am caught in a strong wind. It whips around me at first, tossing me with its turbulent edges. But when I find the middle, there is calm. I sit within the movement of its powerful direction, and because I move within it, it seems almost still, like the calm of a sailboat catching the wind and pulling forward. The waves slap and the sail billows, but the riders who follow the wind are not buffeted by its power.

The wind carries me along like this for a good distance, high above the surface of a country I cannot identify, high above the trees and cities, over wisps of cloud that sit below me as I move on the current of the higher air. Then I am deposited on a hillside. I shake my tinny legs and roll in the grass for a moment and then lie, panting with excitement, on the grassy slope.

I am met there by a child. He wears a sweater and some woolen shorts. He walks over to me and sits beside me and places his hand upon my tin body. As he does, beginning where his hand touches me, I slowly turn from tin to flesh and bones. The doggy colors of my new coat melt over me, almost anoint me as they replace the coldness of the metal that I was before. I lick his hand with a warm, wet tongue and he smiles and wipes his hand upon his shorts.

“I’m glad you came,” he says, and rises. He begins to walk toward the crest of the hill. I follow. As we reach the top, I can see, spread before me, a whole countryside of fields and forests, with a small town nestled at the edge of the woods. Scattered among the houses in the village, there are a few red plastic houses from the Monopoly set, full size but just as empty as they are in the game. They boy smiles at them when he sees where I have fixed my gaze.

“When they no longer choose to be empty, they will be transformed as well. It seems an easy choice, but it is not.”

“I know.” As I speak the words, I am no longer a dog. I am a child about the same size as the boy. He reaches out and takes my hand.

“I think we are ready to begin,” he says and he turns and walks with me on a path toward the village.

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[photo by Barbara Friedman per cc 2.0]