Monday, March 25, 2013

A Different Kind of Holy Week

In the past it has been very meaningful to take the journey of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through the celebration of Easter, with the same community.  Some years I've been in church every day of the week.  Other years it's just the major remembrances, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, with or without the Vigil.  Before I was ordained I sometimes had to pick and choose because of my work schedule.  What I really enjoyed was attending (or leading) the services with the same group of people.  Usually those who observe all of Holy Week form a small community that grows a little with some services and shrinks with others.  But you look around and see the same core group, taking the journey together, remembering those last days of Jesus' life.

In addition to the services I always try to simplify during Holy Week, spending time in prayer and journaling, trying to schedule few things that would distract me from my primary goal of spending time with God.  It usually doesn't work out as planned, but that is the goal.

This year is very different for me.  Instead of spending Holy Week with one community, I will be spending it with many communities.  This past weekend the Canterbury students from ODU and CNU and their chaplains gathered for a retreat in a house on the York River owned by Grace Church, Yorktown.  We attended Palm Sunday services at Grace and enjoyed hearing a homily before the reading of Luke's Passion narrative that invited us to find a particular moment in the story this year that really captured us and invited us in.  Afterwards at lunch in the Yorktown Pub we shared those moments.

Today is my day off, a time of some rest before the rich, full week ahead.  On Tuesday, a regular workday, I will join with the SpiritWorks community members for Bible study where we will most likely read and discuss Luke's Passion.

On Wednesday I will attend the Chrism Mass and Renewal of Ordination Vows with my fellow clergy and my bishop in the morning.  In the evening we will meet with our Moms in Recovery group at SpiritWorks.  We intend to explain Maundy Thursday and to wash the feet of the women in the program and anoint their feet with healing oils from Thistle Farms

On Thursday, I will participate in the Agape Meal, Maundy Thursday Eucharist, foot washing and stripping of the altar at St. Stephen's in Newport News.  It's possible that a few of my students will also attend before they head home to be with their families for Easter weekend.

I have not yet decided where I will observe Good Friday.  Perhaps at Bruton Parish where I attend when I'm not working and where we hold our Recovery Service.  Perhaps I will go down and walk the labyrinth at Grace Yorktown before their noon service.  I'll listen for where the Spirit is calling.

Then, on Holy Saturday evening, I will be the "stage minister" for the joint Easter Vigil by the York River with Grace, Abingdon Church, and St. George's.  The bishop will be there, and I'm thrilled to be baptizing a member of the SpiritWorks community that evening.  Many communities coming together to celebrate.  At 6 a.m. on Sunday I will be back at St. Stephen's for their sunrise Easter Vigil with ALL the lessons to preach and preside at the Eucharist.  Another celebration of Easter at 10:30 before I collapse in a post-liturgical nap of lengthy proportion!

At first I thought it was weird to have such a disjointed Holy Week.  But as I see it all written down, it seems quite appropriate.  Many of my communities are represented.  There is flow.  Sometimes I'm leading, sometimes I'm participating in a supportive role, sometimes I get to just show up.  It fits in well with my multi-faceted ministry.

Thanks, God, for calling me to be a weaver, for sending me out into the world and back again into your church, for making the boundaries more permeable, for teaching me in such a concrete way that your kingdom is everywhere, and that I can observe Holy Week wherever I am with every community I'm part of.  Thanks especially for the gift of your son and for this most holy week in which we remember.  Please be with all the people and communities this week and reminding us again of your love for us all.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Judge Not

Every morning I have spiritual study time.  This year I'm reading through the Bible (The Message this go around) and so I read a few chapters from it.  Then I usually read a daily meditation, like the one from Melody Beattie in my last post.  I finish by reading a portion of a "spiritual" book.  I sit on the love seat in my study, and on the right side of it is a stack of books that I have started but not finished and to which I turn once in awhile.  One of the books in the stack is Joan Borysenko's book, Inner Peace for Busy People.  I got to do a workshop with Joan a couple of years ago, and I resonate with what she teaches and writes.

The section I read today was titled, "Judge Not."  Whooee!  I was immediately reminded of the beginning of Matthew 7 in which Jesus says, "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye', while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye" (NRSV).

Of course the first thing I wanted to do was to race off to FaceBook and post on the timelines of all the people saying judgmental things, especially in the comments.  This would include people on both sides of many issues.  So much of what I read online is Judgement, followed by Snarky Comment about someone else's intellect, morals, or spirituality.  This morning I was ready to rush to the computer and lift up my e-fist and e-shout, "JUDGE NOT!  YOU HYPOCRITES!"  My only sadness was that members of Congress are not friends with me on FaceBook and so would not hear my barbaric yawp.

But here's the thing that brought me up short.  While I'm shaking my e-fist and typing capital letters for my e-shout, I'm doing the very thing that I'm cautioning others against.  I'm judging others for their judgement.  I'm trying to take the speck out of everyone else's eyes while ignoring the log that's in mine. It's very easy when I hear the words, "Judge not," to think of all the other people I know who need to take note.  In my opinion anyway.  What is much harder is to look at the places where I judge.  And they are legion.  I would prefer for everyone to see me as a generous, sweet, good person who wouldn't judge anyone.  Sometimes I can even believe that of myself.  But, if I am honest, and recovery is all about honesty, then I need to take a look at my own judging.

Most of my judging goes on in my head.  It's instinctive, rapid, and influences me before I'm aware of it.  And of course, the judgments I'm making say more about me than about the person I'm judging.  Added to that is all the self-judgment.  It's a vicious cycle of thinking.  Yesterday I was watching a video about Thistle Farms, and heard founder Becca Stevens talk about the women that she works with who are coming off the streets of Nashville.  She has worked to create a community of unconditional love, which she defines as "Love without judging."  What is it like to love others and ourselves without judging?  What would the world look like if we did?

Love without judging.  It's so hard when people are different from us or have opinions that we think are wrong.  It's so hard to disagree with an opinion without judging the other person.  It's so hard to keep all our projections to ourselves.  It's so hard to look at other people, all the other people in the world, to look past the things that annoy us and see God in them.  I believe that when we do, we live much happier, more peaceful lives.  We are the ones who are most hurt by our judgments.

The last part from the Joan Borysenko passage says, "You might try this tip that I learned from author, speaker, and wise guide, Ram Dass, many years ago.  When you catch yourself grumbling about someone else, own the projection and say, 'And I am that, too.'"  Ouch.  All those things that bother me about others are part of me, too.  Better get back to removing that log from my own eye.  Looks like it's going to take some time.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Victim No More!

Every day I talk to people who are victims - of disease, abuse, racism, crime, sexism, classism, trauma, addiction, bullying and the list goes on and on.  These people tell stories of the horrible things they have experienced, and my heart breaks listening to them.  They need lots of understanding and compassion and love.  They deserve apologies, acceptance, and new beginnings.  Some of them will get these things.  Others will not.

What I'm thinking about this morning is how amazed I am when I meet people who have decided that they're not going to be victims any more.  These people may or may not receive what they deserve or get what they need.  But somewhere inside they must have made a decision that life would be better if they stopped being a victim.  It's those people I want to learn from. 

I have been a victim to some things in my life that were important to me though not as tragic as others.  I find it's seductive to remain in that place of "victimness," especially when it took me so long to admit that the things that happened to me were wrong and stopped burying them under my "Make lemonade" smile.  Sometimes the lemons are just rotten and the lemonade they make will be rotten, too.  At the same time, life as a victim sucks.  I don't want to invalidate the reality of my or anyone else's horrible experiences or deny my feelings as I have so often done.  But I also don't want to get stuck.  I get to choose how I respond to what happens in my life. 

My daily meditation from Melody Beattie's The Lauguage of Letting Go this morning was titled, "Removing the victim."  She writes: "The issue is not whether others see or care.  The issue is whether we see and care about ourselves...  It is our job to have compassion for ourselves.  When we do, we have taken the first steps to removing ourselves as victims."  Sometimes when I get stuck in my victim status, it's because I'm seeking understanding, compassion, and apologies from others.  Or I'm looking to be rescued or fixed.  This meditation gave me a new way of looking at things - instead of searching for comfort and care outside myself, what I really need to do is have compassion for myself.  Not a pity party, but true compassion and acceptance.  And then I can take steps toward making it different.

This Lent I've been working on forgiveness.  At the beginning of Lent I wrote down 40 names of people I need to forgive and folded them up and put them in a container.  Six days a week I pull out a name, read it, and pray for God to help me forgive that person.  Some come easily. Some do not.  On Sundays I work on forgiving myself.  This morning I read a quote on my friend Les Carpenter's FaceBook page.  A character named Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer said it, "To forgive is an act of compassion [...] It's not done because people deserve it. It is done because people need it."

We all need forgiveness.  We don't deserve it.  The same is true for those who have hurt us.  When we offer forgiveness to them and to ourselves, we take another step on the road to removing ourselves as victims.  Holding on to the hurt and the pain and the anger and the sadness just keeps me miserable.  Freedom comes when I can let go and offer it all up to God and begin new.  I can choose to do that each day.  With God's help.  And live my life not as a victim, but as a joyful child of God.  It's my choice.  And yours too.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Learning from Moms in Recovery

Twenty hours a week I work at SpiritWorks Foundation:  Center for Recovery of the Soul, a community recovery center in Williamsburg.  Our primary mission is in working with people who have been impacted by addiction - and truly that pretty much includes everyone.  I'd be curious to know if there are people out there who haven't struggled with some form of addiction or don't have any loved ones who have.  In a normal week visitors to our center include people in recovery from alcohol, drug, food and other addictions, codependents, people struggling with mental illness, people getting out of jail or prison, homeless people, parents, spouses, and children of addicted people, mentors and volunteers, and, most recently, moms in recovery.

It is our new "Moms in Recovery" program that has been teaching me so much about trust recently.  We work with the Southeastern Family Project (SEFP) located in Newport News.  This is a program for women who are pregnant and who would be having their babies in jail.  Instead they get to serve some of their time at SEFP where they live together in a house attending daily meetings and groups, parenting classes, and other activities designed to help them get back on their feet and begin a new life with their babies.  They are permitted to stay for 60 days after their babies are born.

Most of these moms will be released when they have completed the SEFP program.  Some will still have jail time to serve.  A few have families and friends to return to when they leave.  Many have nowhere to go.  They will be released to shelters with their infants. 

Every time I start to worry about something in my life, I think about these women, and it puts it all into perspective for me.  All of them have trauma in their backgrounds.  And they are all struggling with the disease of addiction, a nasty brain disease that has so much stigma attached to it.  And they all have new babies who have little chance of escaping the cycle into which they are born.  Many of these women are so determined to make a new life for themselves and their babies, and they reach out in trust that God's going to provide for them.  There are so many obstacles to their success. 

We have one mom in recovery who came to us before we started working with SEFP.  She came out of jail two years ago, and despite enormous difficulties to overcome, she has not looked back.  She has custody of her 5-year old son, a job and a home.  She has had many setbacks, including an on-the-job back injury that workman's comp refused to pay for and that took her out of work for months.  She has worked hard to get back on her feet, to pay off her fines, to be a good mom to her son, to become self-supporting, and to maintain her recovery.  She inspires me every day.  She has helped me to learn that God will provide.  It may not always be easy, but what we need will be provided.  We just have to surrender our need to control the outcome and let God work things out. 

I am grateful daily for this work that allows me to meet such people.  This Sunday's Gospel lesson is the parable of the prodigal son.  It has become one of my favorite stories.  I am so grateful for Jesus' witness that God welcomes us ALL back with open arms and loving heart and a party thrown on our behalf.  I wish for all of God's children to know the warmth of that embrace, the abundance of that love, and the joy of that celebration.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Every morning as part of my prayer and meditation time, I read a devotion from Melody Beattie's book, The Language of Letting Go.  Here's what it said for today:
March 7 - Fulfillment
"'Everything I need shall be provided today.  Everything.'  Say it, until you believe it.  Say it at the beginning of the day.  Say it throughout the day.
Sometimes, it helps to know what we want and need.  But if we don't, we can trust that God does.
When we ask, trust, and believe that our needs will be met, our needs will be met.  Sometimes God cares about the silliest little things, if we do."

Everything I need shall be provided today.  Everything.  Even as a 1st world person living with food, shelter, jobs, car, clothing, and so many things, I still forget.  I still worry.  I worry about retirement.  I'm only 43.  I worry about health and how things will work out.  I worry about where the money will come from, where the time will come from, how things will get done.  I worry too much, and I've been told that it's a misuse of my imagination. 

Everything I need shall be provided today.  What if I really believed that?  How would it change my day?  Because everything I need has been provided today.  Maybe not everything I wanted, but everything I needed.  Maybe I could spend more time trusting that my needs will be met rather than imagining how they won't be. 

Healing for me involves letting go of my anxiety and worry.  Trusting that my needs will be met.  Trusting that there will be enough money, insurance, time, energy, chocolate.  There is enough.  There is enough for the needs of today.  And that's all we have.  Today.