Remembering Our Baptism

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I shared these words with Highland this Sunday morning as part of our marking of Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1. May you remember your baptism with compassion for your former self, your present self, and your future self – all of which are immersed in the grace of our baptismal waters.

In your home today as you worship, I invite you to remember your baptism. How did the water feel?  Warm?  Cold?  Flowing?  Stagnant? What thoughts filled your mind? How fast did your heart race? Was it conviction that led you to the water?    The Holy Spirit nudging you? Or custom?  Tradition?  The desire to escape the flames of hell that your pastor described with spit flying out of his mouth every Sunday? Is that what conviction looked like back then to you?

What were you hoping was going to happen in the waters?
Were you expecting to feel different when the pastor lifted you up?
What were the lunch plans to follow?  Gifts you anticipated coming along with this moment?

For many of us, remembering our baptism causes us to recall our ignorance – just how naïve we were. There was so much we did not know.  There was so much we did not understand.

I want you to return to the waters with me this Sunday as we pray. As I pray, I want you to imagine getting back in those baptismal waters alongside that former self – the one you were when you were baptized.

What would you want to tell him or her or them?
What embrace would you offer? Words would you say?
What would you want to say to the pastor who baptized you?
If you didn’t feel safe with that pastor, you may need to ask him to leave the baptistry before we pray.

Let’s begin our prayer with a moment of silent reflection.

God who holds all of time together in divine harmony – smoothing out the edges with grace, mercy, understanding that is beyond our capacity to hold,

  • Show us how to love our former selves with tender compassion –
    • admiring our courage to publicly proclaim faith and get drenched in public
    • forgiving ourselves for all we did not know
    • wrapping ourselves with the grace that became our birthright in these waters.
  • Strengthen us to love our present selves with tender courage.
    • Dare us to quit again whatever new self-saving attempts that we have adopted over the years.
    • Dare us to accept forgiveness and live in humble recognition of You, surrendering over all we cannot control and realizing that the world is better for it.
  • Prepare us to love our future selves with tender devotion –
    • imagining our future selves standing with us in the baptismal waters,
    • forgiving us for all we do not know today,
    • wrapping us with the grace that is our birthright all the way to the end

We pray to You, for we know now that we cannot will You into being but that You will us into being – filled with grace and truth – and we are free. We declare our faith: Jesus Christ is Lord – our crucified and risen Lord.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we baptize and we pray, Amen.

Be assured, baptized community – those who have been baptized before and those whom God is calling even now to enter the waters. Here in the waters, we are buried with Christ and raised by the Spirit to walk in the resurrection life of the new creation.

We are baptized into the mystery of God’s drenching presence. God smiles as we let go of the burdens we bear on our shoulders and choose again to follow Jesus – going where we would not go on our own, loving people we could not love out of our own goodwill, defying powers and principalities that cannot be defied by human willpower and strength alone.

God smiles as we embrace our identity as we rise from the water – new creations, belonging to Christ, who practice resurrection daily. We are one body – the baptized family of God – whose past is healed, future secure, present wide open and wild with resurrection hope. Let us sing our faith.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Vastness Within

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For the joy of creating purely for pleasure, without necessity or deadline, and for finding language to express truths which make me breathe easier, I picked up off my shelf Lightning Paths: 75 Poetry Writing Exercises by Kyle Vaughn. I purchased it years ago after Krista Tippett recommended it, but I had never truly explored it. Yesterday afternoon on the back porch seemed like the right time.

The first “exercise” was to be inspired by Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”  The task: “Write a poem in which thirteen small sections reflect different ways we might see something.”

Using Stevens’ format and even some of his language (especially parts V and XIII), I wrote about the “largeness within” that has stuck with me ever since I finished Sue Monk Kidd’s The Book of Longings. There’s a line in Anna’s incantation bowl that has been swirling around my soul ever since I read it: “Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it.”

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Vastness Within

I.

My words and smile go forth beyond me,
but it is the vastness inside of me that
breathes deep and blows magic into the world.

II.

We think we have seen the ocean,
But our eyes fool us into contentment.
Eighty percent of the majesty is below the surface.

III.

At the sound of its waves, the leisure-starved
Close their eyes and breathe for the first time in months.

IV.

The vast ocean and my limited frame are one.
There is only one reality, and it is ours to explore.
This is our little secret.

V.

I do not know which to prefer,
That which I can never know
Or that which is within reach,
The mystery of the depths
Or the feel of water lapping on my toes.

VI.

Packed bags, stuffed with tomorrow’s laundry,
Carry all the beach gear home, after serving its annual purpose.
Is sand still in between my toes?
I glance out the window to catch one final glimpse.
An ache grows deep inside.
How do you keep existing while I live all year without breathing?

VII.

O disconsolate land-locked captives,
Do you know that the vastness lives inside of you?
Your wonder is packed away with the sand shovel,
Even though there is still an opportunity for snorkeling out in the deep blue within.

VIII.

I know one hundred and fifty ways to get a three-year-old to sleep.
I know one hundred and fifty ways to help a congregation make a decision.
I know not where I begin and end, but I know You
And that is more intense wisdom than can ever be explored in one lifetime.

IX.

When I close my eyes, I can still hear the ebb and flow of the water.
It whispers of all the peculiar, spectacular beings
Which continue their work while I sleep.

X.

At the sight of every color ever seen,
And some never seen, radiant upon the water,
The wounded are healed,
The murdered revived.

XI.

A mother scans the water with anxious eyes, looking for her son.
Spotting his alighted eyes and hands splashing God’s handiwork,
She breathes deeply until the next wave comes.

XII.

My lungs expand with a prolonged breath.
The ocean must be settling.

XIII.

It was morning all day long.
The waters breathed deep.
I am home, at last, and will
never be able to be found.

Freedom to Be In the Dark, Filled with Grace and Power

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Inspired by…

book thiefRe-reading Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and thinking about all that children are capable of enduring and surviving.

“He came in every night and sat with her. The first couple of times, he simply stayed – a stranger to kill the aloneness.  A few nights after that, he whispered, ‘Shhhhh, I’m here, it’s all right.’ After three weeks, he held her. Trust was accumulated quickly, due primarily to the brute strength of the man’s gentleness, his thereness. The girl knew from the outset that Hans Hubermann would always appear midscream, and he would not leave.”

Acts 6-7: Stephen described as “filled with grace and power”

This season of “healthy at home” when some children are home but not surrounded by health.

 

To all the Liesels living through this pandemic with silent suffering and a small hope still burning within you: Continue reading

Freedom to Be Changed

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IMG_2816In line with Highland Baptist’s “Freedom to Be” series, here are some reflections on our Freedom to be Changed – inspired by Acts 2:14a, 36-41, where we see people find freedom as they are changed – repenting and being baptized.  So much has changed for us that joyfully choosing to be changed feels difficult to grasp.

I held this irony while reading a book recently delivered by Carmichaels Bookstore (grateful!) of another woman who has lived through pandemics.  After giving up her free life to become an anchoress (a life of “sheltering in place” in the church for prayer), Julian of Norwich discovers a rich and abundant spiritual life. Her inner life and religious devotion have intrigued and inspired centuries of fellow mystics. In her “Revelations,” Julian writes the following:

“God wishes to be known, and God delights that we remain in God, because all that is less than God is not enough for us.

And this is the reason why no soul is at rest until it is tempted of everything that is created.

When the soul is willingly emptied for love in order to have God who is all, then is it able to receive spiritual rest.

Also our Lord God showed that it is full great pleaseure to God that an innocent soul come to God nakedly and plainly and simply. For this is the natural yearning of the soul, thanks to the touching of the Holy Spirit, according to the understanding that I have in this showing –

God of Thy Goodness, give me Thyself;
for Thou art enough to me,
and I can ask nothing that is less
that can be full honor to Thee.
And if I ask anything that is less,
ever shall I be in want,
for only in Thee have I all.”

Julian: When they closed the door to your cell, how aware were you of all that you had given up? Did you linger in that last hug with your parents? Did you properly soak in the sights and sounds of all the familiar places, actively storing up memories? Continue reading

Freedom to Be Wrong

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FREEDOM_to be-hi-resIn line with Highland Baptist’s “Freedom to Be” series, here are some reflections on our Freedom to be Wrong – inspired by Acts 2:14a, 22-32, where we see that all the wrong-doings of humanity within and around the crucifixion could not stop Jesus’ power and God’s glory.

When the call first comes, it can be intoxicating to feel the weight of responsibility on our shoulders. Created in God’s image, we relish at the moment when we think we are on the precipice of doing something – something we know will affect change. We have a chance! We are determined to shift the powers, bring down the arrogant, lift up the lowly, save the lost, redeem the broken, right the world back to its originally intended goodness. Continue reading

What I Can Say? I don’t know. I know. No. Yes.

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71ZaiJTp0+LThere is so much uncertainty, overwhelming fear, and disconnection during this global pandemic, that I am resolving to remain more curious than certain.  I hope to spend these weeks considering all the big questions, but I also have to live with contentment so that I don’t lose my mind in the process.

Inspired by Kelly Corrigan’s brilliant, Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say, here’s what I’m learning that I can say to keep me grounded and free. Continue reading

Christmas Eve: Divine Interruption is Nigh

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While the world swirled around her in their daily rhythms and weekly routines, her life was interrupted and never returned back to its course. Her experience with divine interruption would grow slowly, from a seed to a plum, avocado to cantaloupe, watermelon to skies alight with heavenly hosts, and “Alleluias.”

In the most unlikely of places in the most unlikely of times, she ushered in the divine interruption through her own physical power and determination. She interrupted the world the way that the angel had interrupted her world.

Shepherds could no longer watch the sheep. Kingdoms had to do without their kings (whether because they followed the star or because they were too busy plotting evil plans). The skies could no longer rest for peace had broken forth in the stars.

Her life’s interruption became the interrupting story that still wields its power over our own daily rhythms and weekly routines. I hear the story again, and I must ask the question: am I willing to forgo my sheep, my kingdom, and my quiet to allow the angel’s message to disrupt all the conclusions I had carefully crafted?

This Christmas Eve, the skies prepare to burst forth in glory. A pregnant woman sighs with great pain and expectation. The divine interruption is nigh. Come, Holy One, come.

Nine Years of Learned Tenderness

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Over the past few days, I have found myself talking with my former self. Cradling her first newborn in the hospital, she is recovering from her first c-section and beginning her adventure into the great unknown. Here are the words we have shared:

Fear not: the weakness you feel right now does not forebode some great disaster looming. This overwhelming sense of fragility and ignorance is the working of tenderness as it welcomes you into a new Way of Being in a Whole New World.

Tenderness might trigger fear within you, and it might make others around you uncomfortable, but tenderness is the birthplace of courage. It is from tenderness that courage will emerge as you need it.  Trust that it is only from within this tenderness that you will be able to find strength. In the trusting, you will find that the human body, yours and his, is pure miracle, breath by breath. Continue reading

Hand-to-Heart Moments

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Rain falling on the final morning of summer, I feel the impulse to reach out and cup it in my hands as if any gesture might allow summer to be saved. What can we do on summer’s last day that could make permanent summer’s freedom?

When I speed through my days, life changes at a rate that is incomprehensible.
When I am present and breathe the moment in, life changes at a rate that is miraculous.

I do not ask for a life that is only the latter, for the former allows for life to thrive and for bodies to move and grow. But I do ask for a few moments every morning when I can stand still and see, as if from a distance, the coming and going, hunting and gathering, nurturing and sending, dismantling and creating, connecting and separating of our days. We live days as if they will go on forever, but the meaningful moments ping within us the reality that they cannot. Continue reading