Thursday, November 28, 2013

A day of gifts, community and thanks.

The gifts of this day 'o thanks from the princess...

My mommy

This Village (that plays games, read stories, makes faces during worship, teaches sewing and piano, goes hiking, loves endlessly)

The West Wing (yes, she loves this show)

New toys in the dining hall

Woody Ball (a crazy game of bowling, dress up, dodge ball and capture the flag brought to the village by a family that learned it in Korea)

Birdseed Salad

My in(village) family, my out(village) family

Being healthy

Chocolate covered strawberries

The gifts of this day 'o thanks from the pastor...

Pals to turkey trot with, a daughter old enough to enjoy the running


Face-paint turkeys (being a mother constantly means rising to the occasion...even if the occasion is face painting a decent turkey)
Happy Thanksgiving! 

Sensational brunch; fresh fruit and truffles

Sun crawling over the mountain on our wild games of Woody ball

The miracle of a mid-day hot shower

Bright, ringing bell choir

Feast meal; family style dessert sharing

Prayers of thanks for everything we can think of…grace for all we forgot

Banangrams (I may have an addiction)

Sore legs and a not-so-sore back

Resting under a fuzzy blanket with my overly-tired daughter

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A frame to hold you.

For those who do not live in a monastic community in the mountains and attend daily worship -- this reflection may seem particularly bizarre.  "Liturgy" is a big 'ole church word used to describe the rhythm, flow, up and down of any worship service.  Hopefully, the idea of taking the ordinary and making pausing to be grateful and present it not such a bizarre notion. 

Last week my daughter brought home an activity she learned at school.  She instructed me to create a square using my pointer fingers and thumbs of both hands.  She then covered my eyes, turned my head and lifted my finger-frame in front of my face.  “Now…open!” she squealed.  I gazed past my dry, cracked skin into the frame that now held a small portion of the snow-capped
mountains above us and the rushing creek below us.  We were standing in the middle of the covered bridge that crosses Railroad Creek, a place where it is impossible to take in all the beauty of the earth.  It is a place we see nearly every day while living in Holden Village.  Looking through my finger-frame brought focus to the wonder; the border that suddenly appeared around the snow dusted pine gave clarity and importance to details that would otherwise be missed.  Even framing my sweet girl’s face helped me to see the masterpiece that was held in the frame, her deep brown eyes were somehow more enchanting.  All these sights: commonplace and extraordinary, overwhelming and yet captured in the frame of my hands.

Every Sunday night in this village we, as a whole community, gaze through another frame.  We shuffle into the Fireside room for our weekly Eucharist service and one pastor or the other introduces the liturgy.  The rhythm of the liturgy is what connects us to ancient worship practices and contemporary gatherings around the world.  The word “liturgy” means, the work of the people, and as the gathered assembly we become the workers who move through confession and forgiveness, Kyrie and Sanctus, hymns and canticles, prayers and broken bread. The liturgical frame has the same power as the simple finger-frame.  The liturgy takes the expansive nature of faith and relationship and offers focus and heightened awareness.  In the liturgy we can use infinite and sweeping words – Gloria, mercy, alleluia, confession and amen – and in the liturgy these infinite notions come to our immediate gathering. 

This past year at Holden we have lifted up a variety of frames through which we see a God come near, the masterpiece of the community, the power of the gospel promises to hold even us.  During the seasons of Advent and Lent, both seasons of preparation and promise, both seasons of wonder and waiting, we were framed with Jon Hermensons’ Is this the Feast? Jon first wrote this liturgy for Lutheran ministry called MercySeat in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The title alone begs for ambiguity, the music invites the community to wonder, to listen and to sing – what a frame to capture the gravitas of the seasons, what a beautiful cradle for the work of the people.

There was another frame from MercySeat, yet another musician who built a frame that called the village to another time and place, Good News Bad News connected the village with the yearning sounds of southern gospel.  The frame carried us into the summer season, which was also construction season in the village for this year.  The strong off-beats that led us to sing “Glory to God on high…” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” lifted the paradox of triumph and sacrifice – and the community awkwardly formed a circle for the communion meal to taste and see of the triumph and sacrifice.

The beauty is not in the frame itself, but in what is illuminated within the borders.  Martin Luther himself was firm in his belief that liturgy should never become law, the liturgy can and should change and flow in anyway or shape that will help the clear, bold and direct telling of God’s love.  The liturgy is not law nor is it gospel in itself.  The picture inside, the image of the body of Christ hearing  that message, that Word is what is the holy, captivating gift that our liturgy wraps in its frame. 

The liturgy is ordinary, so ordinary its shape as been maintained for centuries of practice and observance.  The people are ordinary, too.  Hippies in the mountains, hipsters in the city, hurting souls, healing bodies, feet that wander city sidewalks and mountain trails – together the great communion of all the saints is held together in the frame. When we gaze past our own broken existence and see through the frame of the liturgy, we are connected to a God who is both everywhere and right here, and we are connected to a community that is always and right now.

Liturgy: Commonplace and extraordinary, overwhelming and yet captured in the hands of God.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sweet Dreams

Holden Village
All Saints Year C
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Luke 6:20-31

Tonight we stand in a thin place – a place between physical, rational existence: what we can see, touch and know and a place beyond all that.  A place we have only known in our reaching imagination, our nightmare scenarios, our visioning for the future of our lives…experiences we cannot touch except with our hopes.

Our Old Testament lesson is from Daniel, a man known for being thrown into the lion’s den and for seeing visions and talking about the apocalypse.  Truthfully, this reading was just crazy enough to have me flipping quickly to the incredibly rich Ephesians readings…and then Bible and Brew happened.  The craziness of Daniel was not enough to distract the faithful crew gathered for bible study yesterday morning; instead we discussed the importance, power, and perhaps even truth telling of our dreams and the dreams that appear not just in the Old Testament of the bible, but throughout the entire Living Word.

Daniel dreams of four beasts emerging out of a raging sea and an Ancient One who sits on a flaming throne…in the reading for tonight we do not get the gory details, but they are there if you are brave enough to read the book of Daniel; there is terror and earthly powers engaging in battle. And over the raging sea Daniel sees an image of hope, the Ancient One riding down on the clouds of heaven and he hears the good word, “The holy ones of the Most High will receive the kingdom forever – forever and ever”.

There is woe in his dream, there is blessing in his dream, and he brings this vision to another to share what he has seen and heard and now feels. Daniel does not dream alone.  

It is difficult to know what to do with dreams and visions and especially difficult to know where and what God is doing through these middle of the night trips, if God or the Holy Spirit is doing anything at all.  But even up here in the mountains we have a troupe of folks meeting regularly to share and wonder about their dream lives.  I do not remember many dreams, but the ones that stick most closely with me are the dreams that feature people I have loved that have died.  I would like to share one of these dreams with you…

I first arrived at Holden Village as a musician on teaching staff in July of 2010.  We took the cross-country train trip with very little luggage, yet I was carry a heavy, unseen burden with me.  In June – just three weeks before our Holden trip, one of my very best friends died suddenly and unexpected from an undetected auto-immune disease.  Her name was Breanna, we met in college and lived together for two years with two other women.  The four of us were fused together with a mighty bond and saw each other through new jobs, sick parents, marriages, divorces, children and all the adventures of early adulthood.  Those three weeks between her death and our trip to Holden was spent in haze of grief, talking with her mom on the phone, planning the funeral and travelling to be with the small community in Minnesota that was grieving as mightily as I was. In those three weeks I got up every day and went to bed every night carrying a heavier burden of grief than I could believe.  Breanna, inspiring teacher, faithful wife and love-struck mother, fierce friend and sister – she was a saint of God and if we did not recognize it in her living, certainly her shocking and unjust death made it clear.

In the months following Breanna’s death she visited me in my dreams.  One dream began in her backyard, her handsome husband was grilling and the sprawling lawn was filled with people there for a good meal and party (which Breanna would have loved!).  I had a short and very ordinary conversation with Breanna as she bounced her baby around.  Then I found myself milling about when two familiar men approached me, in real life the two men and I were intern chaplains together and had spent many hours processing difficult ministry and life events.  In my dream I was so excited to see them so I could introduce them to my darling friend Breanna, the one I had just shard about a few days ago in chaplaincy group.  The men looked at me funny, and one of them said “You mean the friend who died?” With those words, with the acknowledgement of death and reality spoken alund the party disappeared, the dream was over.

For me that dream was holy land, after waking from the dream I knew I was in a thin place where I had seen real people I loved speaking a real truth, yet it all unfolded in an impossible place and was truly an unrealistic experience.  It was a space where I could process my current reality, a world without Breanna, a world where caring men helped me name the difficulties I could endure, a place where parties and joy and celebration can actually be the setting for such understandings.

It was a dream full of blessings, and woe and the communion of all the saints.

Blessing and woe are central words from our gospel reading where we hear Jesus teaching the disciples about life together on the earth.  Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry now, blessed are you who weep…and woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are full now, woe to you who laugh. 

These words of Jesus have been called many things: a sermon, a teaching for his closest followers, in Matthew’s much more poetic version we call these words the beatitudes (no woes over there!) and given our scene from Daniel tonight and the spirit moving in this community, I wonder what happens to these words when we consider them a vision…or a dream.

Perhaps this is Jesus, as crazy as Daniel, spelling out what he has seen in the night when he falls asleep.  Perhaps his spirit is as troubled as Daniel’s was so he brings it to the disciples – not so they will interpret it, but so they will live it.  Jesus is sharing the dream of God for the world – that all may know fullness, that all may feel laughter, that all would have enough and that we would live, make decisions and remember one another enough to make it so.

Blessing, woe and the community of all the saints.

It has been an All Saints triduum here in the village.  On Friday night’s prayer around the cross our worship was framed in the all sinner, all saint paradox of faith.  Last night we gathered to celebrate the day of the dead.  And tonight we will read the names of the saints in our lives that have gone from this earth, but not so far from our hearts and minds and maybe even our dreams. Every life remembered this weekend – be it of an inspiring saint or be it of a scandalous sinner – every life lived is holy and beloved by God and every life lived and concluded in death is a window through which we gaze outside of this world of woe and blessing.

One biblical commentator has this to say about the world we tread in and the world beyond…she writes, “Saints do not come into the world apart from suffering.  Nor will we be able to find the light of God in our own lives, apart from ours.  For the saints are not among us to show us the way into easy, comfortable lives.  They are here to show us how to keep going in deep darkness…how to have hope in mean times.”[i]

I do not know all that is at play in our dream life, or in the spaces between living and dying.  But I know about a God who went to the place of death – the places where hopes die, where loves die, the places where nations crumble and abuse makes way for death – God went to these place, came to earth to touch and feel and known them…and now and forever promises to stay in the places of death and suffering always.  For those we have loved who have died, God was with them and they rest now in God’s love.  For those of us still living, we live with the woe, with the blessing and with the entire communion of saints and we are all bonded through God’s love.

We are a part of this community of saints that we can touch, hear, feel and where members of this communion can feel real hunger, poverty and weeping as well as fullness, riches and laughter.  We too are a part of the community of saints that we cannot longer touch and who live in the thin spaces of our dreams or memories or through the various movements we make to honor their lives.

Tonight, together, we stand in the thin places, where God is always present to receive the dying, comfort the grieving and inspire the living with dreams that move us to that great day of unity with all who have died, all who have lived will receive the kingdom of God–– forever, forever and ever.


[i] Nancy Rockwell, A Bite in the Apple, 2013