My Labyrinth Walk

Tonight I walked a labyrinth.

I first learned about labyrinths in seminary, and have wanted to walk one for years, and yet somehow I never have.

Tonight our pastor explained that some people like to view the labyrinth journey as one towards self-awareness, towards an inner understanding and union with God within. The journey towards the center can be viewed as a walk of petition, seeking guidance and accompaniment from God. The journey outward can be a walk of praise and thanksgiving, celebrating God’s presence in your life.

So I started in, full of expectation and hope for the spiritual awareness that was surely to arise deep within me…. and nothing happened. Step by step I trod, waiting expectantly for the awareness of the Spirit, for some divine revelation, for some knowledge of what I was going to get out of this experience. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I felt crowded. My personal space was invaded by quite a few women like me who also wanted to walk the labyrinth, meaning that through the twists and turns we were often turning sideways to avoid collisions, breathing in each other’s perfume, staring at each other’s bare feet.

Sometimes I don’t like people very much, which is quite ironic for a pastor. I’m an introvert. I often view spiritual activities as solitary activities. I wanted very much to find peaceful union and contemplation with God on my own on my labyrinth journey, and yet here were all these other people, walking and breathing and thinking and existing around me. It was very distracting.

So I started praying. God, help me discover what you want me to find. I focused on repeating the prayer a few times. A few steps later, a clear answer resonated within me. Seek me. Seek me. Seek me. With each step, I felt thus instructed.

So I started seeking. And suddenly, the Spirit was there. I could feel God in the soles of my feet as I strode across the canvas of the transportable labyrinth. I could sense God in the pleasant smell of the oil diffuser placed delicately out of the way. I could feel God in the gentle rhythm of my bones with each step I took. My body became aware of God’s presence, but my mind was still rejecting the bodies of the women around me.

Seek me. Seek me. Seek me.

I kept walking.

I don’t know how it happened, but by the time I was about to enter the center of the labyrinth, a realization hit me with heart-sinking shame: the bodies around me were not distractions from God. The bodies around me were God. God incarnate, the imago dei, all around me. It was as if Jesus himself suddenly appeared to me on my way to Emmaus, and I was shocked to learn he had been there all the while. And I had vainly and selfishly tried to push him away.

My sisters and I gathered in the center, forming a wordless circle, breathing in union, existing with God together.

And on the journey out, as I began walking, I felt a clear resonating mantra: The ground of your being is found on the journey.

I didn’t even know I was seeking the ground of my being. But I felt such immense relief in knowing where to find it.

You see, I’ve been feeling rootless lately. I’ve been in discernment regarding my call to ministry, and I’ve had trouble seeing a clear picture of the future. I’ve been reaching and yearning for a certainty, an end point, something I can look at and cling to and say, “This is my purpose in the world.” So God’s response on that labyrinthine journey was to tell me to look around at God’s glory in the present moment, to let tomorrow take care of itself, and to remember I do not walk alone.

May it ever be so.

Amen.

 

Lent 2014

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day we are reminded that we are from nothing more than dust, and to dust we will return.

It’s an uncomfortable thought, isn’t it?

A few months ago I wrote a post about bodies and the harmful Christian dualism that pits our bodies against our souls. We preach and teach as if our bodies are nothing more than temporary containment facilities that we can one day escape if only we deny our “fleshly desires” for long enough to make it to heaven. I wrote about how I thought that was the wrong way to go about loving ourselves and each other. I wrote that to shame ourselves and each other because of our embodiment was an act of isolation from God, who created all bodies. All we have to go on in the great mystery of life is accessed through our divinely given embodiment.

But, as I sit here on this Ash Wednesday, pondering my undeniably dusty past, and my eventual and inevitable dusty future, I wonder how to reconcile the fullness of embodiment with the fear of nothingness. This pondering begs the question of temporality: Where have we been? Where are we going?

Ash Wednesday serves to remind us Christians that we enter this world with nothing and we leave this world with nothing. From dust to dust. And this makes me anxious.

I’m anxious because I don’t have the answers. I have no lived experience apart from this body. I don’t know what it feels like to be nothing, to have no consciousness. I don’t know how to meet God apart from what I know of this earthly existence. And this anxiety leads to fear and uncertainty about what happens next.

But I believe that God reveals God’s self and God’s will to us in Scripture, in our traditions, in our reason, and in our experience. And I believe that our bodies crave this revelation. We seek it out in ways we don’t even always understand, through ritual, praise, thanksgiving, prayer, devotion, and deep intellectual study. We seek to see God in the bodies of those we love, in our families, faith communities, and in our neighborhoods. And in all of these revelatory encounters, one thing continues to reassure those of us with proclivities towards existential fear and uncertainty: Resurrection.

The New Testament hinges completely upon the promise of the resurrection. The gospels presuppose and proclaim it. Paul tells us that Christ is but the firstfruits of a promise for new life for all Creation. We are told that we are in the middle of this renewal right now, in this one life, in this very moment. But we know that we are still waiting for this promise to be ultimately fulfilled, that the Kingdom of God is here but also coming. We look around and see poverty, hunger, and despair, and we know this can’t be the end. We have to hope in God’s promises even just to make it to another day.

We are in the in-between. It’s a hard place to rest. To wait. To hope. To lament. To expect with great joy. But the season of Lent teaches us how to live into this space faithfully, patiently, expectantly. Because we believe in the promise of resurrection.

Because I believe fully in the power and wonder and mystery of new life for all, I am embarking upon this Lenten journey with fear and trembling. From dust I became aware of myself. From myself I became aware of the love of those around me. From the love of those around me I became aware of the love of God. From the love of God I became aware of the particularity of infinity, and the infinity of particularity. And that’s as far as I can go right now. So I have to pause. And in this pause the whole world waits for healing.

Come, Lord Jesus. Kyrie eleison.

New month, new writing stuff!

Folks, we are officially one twelfth of the way through the year 2013.

25 update #1: I took a picture of an awesome place yesterday, so I didn’t miss my January deadline. Hooray!

It’s only a camera phone photo, so it’s nothing fancy. But I think it’s a great place to start documenting the many awe-inspiring places of my life.

ImageThis is the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

It’s a mouthful of a title. But a big place that does such big things deserves a big name.

I am currently serving as a chaplain intern at the Children’s hospital, and let me tell you, it has not always been sparkly and vibrant. In fact, it can be downright ugly and heart stopping. But Good God Almighty, it is a beautiful place.

It’s beautiful in the conventional sense in that someone (or more likely a very large committee of someones) put a great deal of time and effort into designing the building itself. The halls are swathed in “rivers of healing and ribbons of peace,” or some similar saying. It basically means that there are a lot of swirly, flowy, ribbony type elements that make you feel more like you are in a children’s art museum than a hospital. Plus actual patient art can be found on nearly every wall of every floor. There are bright colors, photos, artwork, child-friendly statues, blown glass light fixtures, butterflies, and animals everywhere you look. It is a truly stimulating and sensual experience to walk those halls every day, no matter how tough things may get physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

But it’s also beautiful in the quality of people that occupy the space. The medical staff, social workers, child life specialists, chaplains, receptionists, volunteers, and everyone else who gives their time and energy into making sick kids feel better each deserve a Nobel prize. Seriously. I sometimes look around at these people and think, “This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.”

But I think what has been the most amazing, most inspiring, most affirming thing in my personal experience working in this hospital is my work with the patients and families. I have been present for everything from broken bones to chemo, trauma, and life-support removal. These are real people in real pain, and it has taken me a while to realize that they really know God. I think I had expectations when I first started that I would be serving as more of a teacher, reading scripture and calming fears and anxiety with prayer. I am a master of divinity student, after all. I have deconstructed and reconstructed my theology every which way. I thought I was ready to provide pastoral care. (If you are wondering, you are never ready until you actually do it.)  I vainly thought I could help bring God to these families. I was so so wrong.

What a surprise, and yet how perfectly consistent with everything I believe, to find that God is always already there, and has been there long before I walk into a room. I don’t “bring” God anywhere. I walk in, I listen, and what unfolds before me is a powerful and miraculous story of pain and suffering, which is always infused with great amounts of faith and hope. It is a testament to the human spirit and God’s strong desire for relationship with us that faith can still be found in these places of deepest hurt. I am constantly amazed at the resurrection and new life I see all around me, every single day.

The Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital is a living and breathing miracle here on earth. Even when patients die (and they do die because we live in a world which is continually being redeemed, and we wait for the Kingdom of Heaven while we actively seek to build it), the glory of God and the redemptive work of Christ is still present. This is not to say we don’t hurt and cry and scream our hearts out to God. It’s just to say God can take it. And thank God for that.

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25 update #2: I think I can say that I successfully made a new friend in January. If we want to get technical, she’s been an acquaintance since last semester, and I didn’t really ask her to be my friend until today, Feb. 1st, at the end of our discussion class. It went like this:

Me: Hey, um, S?
S: Yeah?
Me: We should get coffee sometime. Or grab lunch or something.
S: Yeah, we should!
Me: Ok, Fridays usually work for me, but I have to finish a paper.
S: Well let’s do next Friday. Fridays are usually the best for me too!
Me: Ok!

I realize now that this would have been a good place to stop the conversation, smile politely, and say something like, “Have a good weekend!” Instead…

Me: Hey, do you mind if I put you in my blog? (Immediately horrified I even asked her this. What kind of weirdo am I? Ok, I can fix this.) I mean, I just need a new friend. Can you be my friend this month? (Not helping myself out at all. I am sooooo lame.)
S: (smiling), Haha, yeah, that’s fine, I’ll be famous! Let me know when you post it!
Me: (in my head: I KNEW I liked you for a reason! You don’t care that I’m weird!)

Thank you Lord, for S.

Anyway, even though it’s February, I’m going to count S as my January friend. Because I can.

The end.