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.

 

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Thanksgiving Prayer for Standing Rock

God of the oppressed, God of the opposed, God of the losing side,

To the God who chooses the side of the lonely, the God who takes up the hopeless cause,

To the God who reveals yourself in the face of the neighbor,

To you we pray.

When your people say no to profit and yes to people, you are there. (We are your people, not your profit)

When your people say no to oil and yes to clean water, you are there. (We were born in water, not oil)

When your people say no to empire and yes to community, you are there. (We are neighbors, not subjects)

When your people dance and pray for transformation while rubber bullets rain down upon their skin, you are there. When arrests are made and people removed, and more begin to show up, like the multiplying fish and loaves, like the properly invested talents, like the pruned vine, you are there.When the dogs come snarling and biting, when the buffalo come stampeding, when the wind rises and the sun sets, you are there. When it is freezing and your people shiver in the face of the water cannon and stand firm, you are there.

When it seems hopeless you are there.

God, on this Thanksgiving Day, as millions gather around tables and symbolically proclaim unity and mutual respect with those unlike us, we pray you would make those symbolic gestures reality. When we celebrate the false historical narrative of Euro-Native relations around our Thanksgiving tables, remind us of the genocide perpetrated against Native peoples and connect that with what is happening in Standing Rock. Call us to action, to send prayers and aid, to call representatives and join the movement in voice and solidarity.

We ask that you would continue to strengthen those protecting their life’s water. Send your Spirit to dwell on Standing Rock. Transform the hearts of those more interested in profit than in human life and dignity. Only you can.

With gratitude and thanksgiving we pray to you now God, and we celebrate your miracles and blessings. We are thankful that you remain steadfast in your love of your people.

Amen.

Anxiety Ocean

I mostly swim in Anxiety Ocean. Often I have a life vest, a privilege I’ve earned after years of constructing such a tool for myself. Sometimes I float. Other times I freestyle. On rare occasions I even get to ride in a boat. But sometimes I find myself treading water, out of breath and exhausted, just trying to keep my head above the crashing waves.

Yesterday was one of those days. It started when I opened my eyes for the day. I could spend hours contemplating the triggers for this particular instance, analyzing every detail of the night and day before: Was I too tired? Did I have an overly emotional response to something? Did I forget to take care of myself in some way? Did I drink enough water? Am I internalizing some tragedy from work? Am I maintaining boundaries? On and on and on. But it doesn’t really matter what triggered it, if anything. I have to keep reminding myself to stop actively trying to blame myself for swimming in this ocean, as if I there was ever another option and I just didn’t take it.

There is no other option. This ocean is my life. And it’s not always fighting its way into my lungs, but it’s always there. In fact, when I finally started to admit it was always there, the less it tried to fight its way into my lungs. The more I could float.

But not always.

Yesterday I was fighting for breath. I was fighting to remember my coping skills. I was fighting to hold on to my self-worth. I was fighting the voices in my head telling me what a failure I was.

I was leading worship in the role I’ve played dozens of times before, but this time my heart was beating out of my chest and my stomach was roiling with snakes. My breath came in short gasps and my palms wouldn’t stop sweating. I was so cold, cold all over, cold all morning. The body’s response to trauma: send the blood-flow to the vital organs. Anxiety is traumatic.

I stood in front of hundreds of people, feeling naked and stupid. “No one likes you. You sound incompetent. What are you doing trying to be a pastor? You can’t do this. These people don’t believe in you. They don’t trust you. They think you’re a fake, a fraud. They think you’re vain. They don’t think you’re funny. You’ve only been here a year and have too many failures to count. What difference have you made? They won’t even remember you when you’re gone, except how thankful they are you left.” The anxiety attacks me because I can’t hear these voices and say, “Yeah right, thanks but no thanks, take your lies and leave.” I say instead, “Is it true? Are you right? Am I that blind? Have I been this way all along?”

Self-doubt and insecurity are the constant companions of social anxiety. They are the sea monsters pulling at my kicking legs as I fight for my life in the ocean. “You’re messing everything up. Things were better before you got here.”

And the worst part of it all is I know, logically, that of course none of it’s true, at least no more than is true for any other flawed and imperfect human. I’m not universally hated. I am a good pastor. I have skills and gifts and talents and God has called me to this work. I have family and friends that love me. I am fun. I’m a good friend and a good person. I know, intellectually, that these truths are evident and contradictory to the sea monsters’ lies. But the knowing doesn’t help. It’s like a person having a heart attack knowing they’re having a heart attack. Knowing it won’t stop it.

But it does provide an opportunity to address it. Take an aspirin. Call the doctor. So yesterday I had to implement my safety nets, something I haven’t had to do in a while. Call my husband. Breathe. Cry on the phone. Lock myself in my office for a few minutes. Breathe. Take the rest of the day off. Watch the West Wing. Snuggle my baby. Drink water. Breathe. Eat cereal in bed. Watch the Olympics. Go to bed early. Breathe.

And today, though the ocean is always with me, today I get to float calmly in my life vest. Today I get to appreciate the beauty of my life and all those who love me.

Today I am a survivor.

 

 

Pulse

Hot tears flowing freely through well worn trails of mascara.
I could no more command an end to this pouring
than I could bring back the dead.

Is this the worst?

Numbness sought flees to the wings
so I’m standing here naked in the spotlight again
but no one’s watching.

Is this the worst?

White hot ice surges through me
tearing at the flesh, ripping the heart.
rat a tat tat again and again and again and again and a

Is this the worst?

gain and again and again and a

Every burning shot buried in bone, lodged for life,
each accompanying me to death

Is this the worst?

Faces smiling from the computer screen
lovers and dancers and sons and daughters
dead dead dead dead dead times 10.

Weeping. Mourning. Grieving. Praying.
Acts doing nothing so much as highlighting my powerlessness
My complicitness
My failure.

I’M SORRY. To the mothers and the fathers and the lovers
and the friends, I’m sorry. To the empty rooms and lonely pets,
to the words left unsaid and the bucket lists unfilled, I’m sorry.

To the history books I’m sorry.

Is this the worst?

Don’t try to cover my nakedness with your holy oil
I’ve no place for hollow hope
Look at the pain, mine and yours
Do not avert your eyes.

LISTEN! Too long you’ve heard the pulse of your own righteousness
beating in your ears.
Today you hear a different beat
the thrum of blood pooling on the dance floor,
the depreciating hum of life ebbing into darkness.

Is this the worst?

Hear the cries of the mothers!
Hear the cries of the lovers!
Hear the cries of the prophets!
Hear the cries of the dead!

What have we done? Their blood cries out to us from the ground.

And I am ashamed.

A Prayer for Nepal

Great God of Creation, the one who created all things and is creating, the one who breathes life into being and calls it by name, and the one who mourns when your children suffer,

You hear the great cries of suffering calling out to you now from Nepal. More than 2300 dead. Countless injured. Crying. Afraid. Alone.

But you are there. In the midst of the rubble and the great sadness settling over Kathmandu and elsewhere, reveal your presence. Guide the hands of the rescue workers working diligently to save lives. Be at work in the relief aid personnel as they seek out immeasurable need. Create relationships of hope and trust in these moments of hopelessness and fear.

In the coming days, weeks, months, and years, steady the hearts of those affected by this tragedy. Be with them in their grief and mourning. And be with them in the rebuilding, in the shaping of new identities and new lives.

You promise life. And you promise new life. Thank you for the gift of your presence. Thank you for loving us and for teaching us how to love each other.

In your holy name we lift up our deepest grief to you,

Amen.

Earth Day 2015

I stand in a prairie field, waves of rolling yellow grass rippling beyond my vision.

A mountain stands in the distance, joyfully humming.

The trees of this field reach out their limbs to clap above the swimming grass.

The sky here dances to the tune, watercolors of vibrant reds, oranges, and purples, swirling together but resisting muddiness, maintaining vibrancy and individuality.

I start singing softly, joining the rhythm of my heart to the melody.

Slowly our voices strengthen, swelling.

Me. The mountain. The trees. The sky. And the grass. The rippling chorus.

Now we are belting our praise to God:

Thank you for this life!
For this eternal moment!
For color and song and breath.

Amen.

Lessons from Buechner

We have a new devotional text in our pastoral care office here at the hospital. It’s Frederick Buechner’s Listening to Your Life (Harper Collins, 1992). To start the day off with some centering and prayer, I read his words of wisdom for today, February 15th. He writes,

Because the word that God speaks to us is always an incarnate word – a word spelled out to us not alphabetically, in syllables, but enigmatically, in events, even in the books we read and the movies we see – the chances are we will never get it just right. We are so used to hearing what we want to hear and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard to break the habit. But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear him, he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, his word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling. In that sense autobiography becomes a way of praying, and a book like this, if it matters at all, matters mostly as a call to prayer.

God’s word is such a tremendous thing to hear. It whispers in the sound of snow drifting silently to the earth (in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow). It floats on Debussy’s piano notes that lift my heart as I write these words. It shouts in the thunder, in the clanging of cymbals, in the yells of delight of friends gathered around a table recounting stories from our past. I hear it in the new growth of the grass in my yard as we prepare for spring. I hear it in my husband’s voice when he tells me how much he loves me before I leave for work in the morning. I hear it in the hands of nurses who softly pat the arm of their patients. And I hear it in my own story, as I listen to my life, God speaking to me and through me.

I hope you listen to your life. Listen for the word of God, that voice that called you forth into being from nothingness, the voice that creates and recreates continually. You know the voice, just as it knows you. We don’t always understand it but, as Buechner says, it is precious.

Amen. Let it be.

Grateful Day 5

Today’s three things I’m thankful for:

1) Advil Cold and Sinus. Woke up this morning with a head full of snot and leaking facial orifices. For those of you really interested, my snot is green, and I don’t think that’s a very normal color for snot. If it weren’t for this miracle pill, I would not be at work today. I still can’t hear well, so my “solo piano” Pandora station is perhaps a touch too loud, but I’m alone in the office today, so I’m cool with it.

2) Family-in-law. I married into an incredible family! They are kind and generous and affectionate. They make me feel loved and included. They offer support when Stephan and I feel like we might be drowning as we try to figure out weird adult marriage stuff that we’ve never had to worry about, like combined debt, and taxes, and refinancing. BLARG. I’m glad we have them to help us figure it all out.

3) Beautiful weather in January. Yesterday was mid-fifties and gorgeous. Stephan and I went for a walk around the neighborhood with the dogs, who desperately needed exercise (and to be fair, so did we). To breathe in clean air, and to stretch our winter-logged legs, and to hold hands as we navigated the hills together was a beautiful taste of kingdom life.

A good memory from the past 24 hours comes from this morning’s pillow talk as I snuggled ever closer to S for warmth in my daily attempt to stay in bed forever. I leaned into him and said, “I want to get married again.” He replied, “Why on earth do you want to do that?” And I said, “Because I just love you so much and I can’t think of how else to express it to you but to marry you again!” And he said the following: “Shelby, you are the most beautiful and amazing woman in the world. You are so smart, and funny, and compassionate, and kind and I love you more than anyone. You are my favorite. Even when you are dibbling me, you’re my favorite. Even when I’m mad at you, you are my favorite. And I say this with love, but get out of bed.”

I want to cherish that speech for the rest of my life.

On a related side-note, Stephan discovered that I have clinomania, or an obsession with bedrest. It’s a real thing. It’s in the dictionary. So in addition to my misophonia, I now have clinomania. The list of my weird (but charming?) character flaws grows ever longer.

Happy Sunday.

The Wish

Your wish has been granted.

Of course, you don’t know that your wish has been granted because that was the condition of the wish. You got your wish but you don’t get to know you got your wish.

This is because your wish has not been wished for yet.

Let me explain. You were old. You were coming to the end of your life. And you had many regrets. So many things you would have done differently, if only you had known. You were full of so much remorse.

In 2014, you had so many chances to take a stand. You could have lifted your voice against violence and oppression against women. Or you could have rallied and marched for economic justice. Or you could have said no to the death penalty by making calls and writing letters. Or you could have worked for marriage equality, challenging and defeating the exclusivist wrongs of your beloved Church.

So many causes that now seem like the stuff of legend. Your children and their children and their children read about the history you lived like you once read about slavery, Vietnam, and the Civil Rights Movement.

You wish you could tell them you were a part of it. You wish you had made history.

But you didn’t. You stayed quiet. You followed the rules of the oppressor. You kept your nose clean.

Did you know what was happening? Maybe. Maybe not.

Now, everyone looks back on that time and thinks of those who did not act, “How could they not have known? How could they not have done something?”

And today you realized you have failed. You have failed to be obedient to God. You have failed to be the model you wanted your children to follow. You have said nothing, done nothing. You didn’t know it then, but those issues were reshaping your world. Maybe you were scared. Maybe you were just apathetic, or too concerned with your own private sphere of consumption to notice the changes the bravest men and women were ushering in with the dawning of the age of peace.

And now you are so damn old. Too damn old to do anything about your shame.

But I’m here to tell you that your wish has been granted! My sole purpose is to let you know that you have been given a second chance! It is the spring 2014 and you are here. You are challenged by your wish granter to be bolder and braver than the last time. You have been given the opportunity to live your life for justice and peace, so that you may tell your children and their children the stories that make the legends that fill us all with hope that things might one day be better.

Your wish has been granted.

Will you take advantage of it?

 

 

A Prayer for the Earth in Honor of Earth Day

God of all things, out of a bush you called to Moses. Out of an ordinary plant made sacred to bear your image, you called him. And he was startled.

God, we remember the story of how you called your people forth from slavery in Egypt. But they were not yet free from the sin of the world. Many hardships were endured as they wandered in the wilderness. And when they found a land that was kind to them, that land soon became smeared with blood. We repent.

But you are still calling. Mother God, creator of all life, fierce and strong are you. You made the heavens and the earth to be your home. You made all creatures so that we may share in your abundance and live in peace and harmony with one another. You call to us out of the plants, the animals, and each other. You call to us out of Scripture, reminding us of our past and promising us good things for our future.

Maker, Redeemer, on this Earth Day we ask that you continue to guide us in this wild, fierce and beautiful world. Remind us to be kind to the land as it is what sustains us and continues to give us life. It is our home. Help us to heed your calling out of the ordinary made sacred.

It is in Jesus’ holy name, the one who came to bring us your message of victory over sin and death for all of Creation, that we pray these things.

Amen.