I’m away at a clergy day, at the Morton Arboretum. It is beyond beautiful. Like those Christmas Card images of snow on trees and vast amounts of space. A winter wonderland, untouched by the city stains that turn snow to sludge to mush to gross. We spent the morning singing and in prayer, and, ever the skeptic, I expected to be annoyed by the singing. To my shock and delight, it was actually pretty great. And moments of stillness filtered in and space opened and coffee made its way to me and all was right with the world.

When I saw my mother had left a voice mail on my cellphone, my heart instantly leapt to my grandmother. Lent seems to be her dying season. This time last year we got the “she’s dying tomorrow, get your ass home” rally cry. Not only did she not die, but she got, if not better, she got stable. She has remained under hospice care.

The hospice nurse called my mom, who is understandably in shock. She thinks my grandmother has maybe a day or two left. I am looking at plane fares. Debating between church responsibilities and questions of the needs of my soul, my heart to see that face just once more.

She has let go of me, in her memory. But I have not let go of her. Bloated and changed, helpless and different as she looks in a hospital bed, she is still the face that showed me what joy looks like, that etched on me my belovedness. Hers is still the face of heartbreak and wondering what could’ve been done differently, of wondering how to fix a person who is broken. Hers is the face of love, of patience, of despair and of hope. Hers is the face of a grandmother.

Spiritual Exercises for the 40 Days (Part III)

Day Twenty Six: Remember your baptism. Remember the promises you made in baptism, or the promises made on your behalf. Write them down. Carry them in your pocket. Figure out which ones you struggle with and which ones give you life. Remember who you are.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I will, with God’s help.

Day Twenty-Seven: Write a prayer. One relatively easy was is to write a collect, which follows pretty simple formula: 1. Address to God with an attribute (Blessed are you, all Holy God, source of Life and giver of good thing). 2. Name your need or thanksgiving (Grant to your people peace in a time of war, joy in a time of sorrow, comfort in the midst of struggle) 3. A statement of intention or result of the need or thanksgiving (that we might show forth your glory in all the world) 4. Closing (All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ, the light of the world and the hope of our salvation Amen).

N.B.: I write this having spent a good part of the day crafting a liturgy and adapting post-communion prayer from the St.Basil (which now looks remarkably un-like St. Basil’s original intent!). Anyway…this exercise, at least for me, helps me get in touch with my own deeper needs.

Day Twenty-Eight: Watch a movie in your PJs. Or something like this. The point is Sabbath. It’s a huge part of the Jewish tradition and theoretically of the Christian faith as well, but somehow we seem to miss the mark. So take make dinner the night before in the crock pot, turn off your cell phone, pour a glass of wine and snuggle up with your honey. Rest and be restored.

Day Twenty-Nine: Read. I’m reading Brian McClaren’s Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices.  It’s all about returning to the ancient practices that have been part of our faith since the time of Abraham and discovering how they can still shape and form us.

Day Thirty: Light a candle. Watch the flame. For those of us who move a lot and find it hard to meditate, focusing on the flame is a wonderful way to slow down and be still.

Day Thirty-One: Give. Stewardship is one of the most basic parts of the Christian life but the church has lost sight of the transformative power of true stewardship. What do you give? Why do you give? How has your giving changed you and the way you look at the world? Do you live in the fear of scarcity or the joy of abundance? More from me on stewardship later, because it’s a topic near and dear to my heart, but for now, from the 26th chapter of Deuteronomy: The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.

Oh, and this: TENS, the Episcopal Network for Stewardship. Their conference changed my life and the way I see giving.

Day Thirty-Two:  Engage in body prayer–yoga or swimming or simply walking. Create sacred space in yourself.

Day Thirty-Three: Read the psalms. They contain so much of the human experience, from rejoicing to lamenting. Ever wonder if it’s okay to get mad with God? Look no further than the psalms. I love the first part of psalm 139. I’m working towards memorizing it by Easter. What psalm speaks to your heart?

Day Thirty-Four: Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Or, plan for the future and get your affairs in order. I was sitting in a hospital room with a woman on life support. They expected her to be dead by 10:00 AM. At 4:00 in the afternoon, she was still alive, but only because her daughter had no idea what to do. She was a vegetable, for all intensive purposes, breathing only by machine, growing more bloated by the minute as her organs shut down. I’ve seen it now more times than I’d like.

This week, my father sent me a request to be listed as one of the people who will make decisions about his health care if he or his beloved are unable to do so. He gave me about 25 ways to say “no I don’t want to do this.” And the truth is, I don’t want to do it, but I am grateful that I have the option to oversee his care, to ensure that, if that time comes, he will be treated compassionately and in accordance to his wishes, which are clearly spelled out.

Likewise, I laugh at my mom every time she comes to visit. She brings addendums to this HUGE notebook. But in that notebook, which sits nicely on my bookshelf, is every last thing I could ever need to know about how to care for her, should she be unable to care for herself, and what kind of burial she wants. Codes to the safe, keys to the safety deposit box, health records for the dogs and hymns to be sung–all are listed.

I say all this because it’s helpful to know not only what you want, but to make sure those who love you know what you want. Because we are dust and to dust we shall return.

Day Thirty Five: Find the sacred in the secular. It’s all around us. Anyone who knows me or has heard me preach knows that I think Buffy has some of the best theology as well as imagery of the divine in our ordinary lives. But there are a million other places too. At the risk of sounding like a religious nut, there are times when I’ve turned on the radio and I could swear it was the voice of God singing to me (usually through Michael Stipe). Music, books, television, movies. Find the places where God hides in our world and recognize those places for who they really are.

Day Thirty Six: Tell stories. We are a people of the Book, which is to say, we are a people of stories. Long before The Bible was tucked away in cheap motels as a gift from the Gideons, long before St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, long before it was written down, it was told. Stories passed from generation to generation. Tell stories. Stories of who you are. Listen to stories, stories of where you came from.

Day Thirty-Seven: Blessed are those whose strength is in You. They have set their hearts on pilgrimage (Psalm 84:5). Make a pilgrimage.  More than a trip, a pilgrimage is a journey, one with significance, one that informs our faith. There are pilgrimages that are about exploring the destination, like Jerusalem or Rome. And there are pilgrimages that are more about the journey itself, like the Camino de Santiago. Pilgrimage is both internal and external and somewhere in that mix, God steps in and moves us in a unexpected ways.

Day Thirty-Eight: Find Jesus at the Wal-Greens. Or at Starbucks. Or sitting alone on the steps of the church. All these people, created in the image of God, walking past us, noticed and unnoticed, day in, day out. Can you see the light of Christ radiating from them?

Day Thirty- Nine: Recycle. Save water. Carpool. Walk to work. Take care of God’s creation and remember those who will live come after us.

Day Forty: Look for resurrection. We are a resurrection people. All that we do, especially in this season of Lent, can really only be understood through the lens of resurrection. So look for it. And dance with joy when it is found.

Spiritual Exercises for the 40 Days (part II)

Well day one into Lent and I’ve already fallen down on the whole write every day thing. Sigh. In fairness to me, I had a couple of things happen, one of which included a minor pastoral emergency and the second is that when I sat down to truly write, my internet was down.

So…on to the list.

Day Sixteen: Be still. The Psalmist calls us to “Be still, and know that I am God!” and yet stillness is so hard to come by. A day without the internet or television, a day with space to listen. A day may be too much, so maybe a morning or a few hours will do, to get the space open.

Day Seventeen: Hang out in God’s handiwork.  Try the Botanical Gardens or the mountain you want to hike. I realize this may be challenging for those of us who live in colder climates. Sneak a peek at the newborns at your local hospital or better yet, take dinner to friends with a new baby and hold the baby while they eat (I did this on Valentine’s Day–a great way to celebrate!).

Day Eighteen: Say grace or give thanks before you eat. Here are a few out of the Book of Common Prayer (1979), but there are plenty of others out there. And of course, you can always make up your own.
Give us grateful hearts, our Father, for all thy mercies, and make us mindful of the needs of others; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

or this

Bless, O Lord, thy gifts to our use and us to thy service; for Christ’s sake. Amen.

or this

Blessed are you, O Lord God, King of the Universe, for you give us food to sustain our lives and make our hearts glad; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

or this

For these and all his mercies, God’s holy Name be blessed and praised; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Day Nineteen: Pray in the shower. It’s short and sweet and to the point. If you need extra time, condition your hair twice.

Day Twenty: Try a new posture at church. Do you always stand during the Eucharistic prayer? Try kneeling. Do you always kneel? Try standing. Sing louder than you normally would, or, if you’re like me, sing more quietly. We approach God, through our worship, with all that we are, body, mind, spirit and voice. Sometimes moving in a new way helps us free ourselves up to hear and be with God in a new way.

Day Twenty-one: I can hear people who know me laughing at this one, but try to grow something. A small plant or seedlings that can sprout. I may be going with a Chia pet. The idea is pretty simple–watch how God can use dirt and time and little tiny seeds and make something pretty amazing. If God can do that with seeds, what can God do with us?

Day Twenty-two: Get involved. Is there a local community group that cares for the needs of the neighborhood? In my neck of the woods, it’s the Lakeview Action Coalition. Go to a meeting or just call and ask–what are the concerns in your part of the world? Through the eyes of Lakeview Action Coalition, I am more aware of the needs of homeless youth. In the entire city of Chicago, there are only 37 beds available for homeless youth. What is the Gospel response?

Day Twenty-three: Say or walk the Stations of the Cross. You can do it online, or at a church, or search for the hidden and not-so-hidden modern day realities that make up the Stations in your neighborhood.

Day Twenty-four: Spend your day looking for places of grace. When you find one, write it down.

Day Twenty-five: Spend time with someone you love, someone you haven’t seen for awhile. How better do we experience the extravagant love of God than by being with those around us, those people who remind us of our belovedness, those people who reflect the love of God back to us. And we, hopefully, in turn, do the same for them. 

More to come…

Spiritual Exercises for the 40 Days (part I)

Next week, for our Wednesday Night Forum at my church, we’re doing a class/workshop on exploring spiritual disciplines or exercises. So my head has been turning around the different ways that we can explore the who we are as beloved of God, and how we can go deeper in relationship with Christ. A fellow blogger, Melissa, over at Sacred Screaming did a list of 40 Spiritual Practices for Lent. I really liked her ideas! And I wanted to take a stab at making my own list.

I’ve really struggled, over the years, at keeping up a Spiritual Discipline or Practice during the season of Lent. When I’ve succeeded, it’s often been more like a “religious diet,” where I abstain from chocolate or sugar for the season, but then, as soon as the Easter Vigil is over go head first into a fountain filled with chocolate a la the Vicar of Dibley. So I wanted this list to be something that I can draw from (and maybe you can too!) that offers a way in rather than a cutting off of. The idea being that if these work, great, but if they don’t, that’s okay too. An invitation rather than a checklist, expansion rather than restriction. It’s now almost 11:30PM on Ash Wednesday and I need to go to bed, so the list is just a starter, getting through Day 15. If you’ve got ideas I should add in the coming days, give a shout out in the comments section! And away we go…

Day One: Be present. For the season, for the ashes, for worship. The season of Lent, like all of our liturgical year, can only begin to be understood through the lens that we are a resurrected people. We believe that new life comes forth from places of death. So be present to the places that are dying or need to die, and offer them up the season, to see how God may create new life.

Day Two: Pray the Daily Office. For Episcopalians, it is at the core of our liturgical life. Praying it, over time, is a wonderful way to be formed, to be shaped by the liturgy and by prayer. If you have a Book of Common Prayer and a Bible, you’re good to go. If you don’t, or prefer to pray online, you can do that too.

Day Three: Walk. Go for a walk around the block, to clear your head, to listen for God, to be present with God’s creation.

Day Four: Follow “Journey to the Cross” an online special devotional for Lent/Easter, sponsored in part by the Episcopal Church . Journey to the Cross features Scripture, music and a brief meditation.

Day Five: Practice the art of forgiveness. Easier said that done. And in my brief experience, it is best done over time. Forgive us our sins and we forgive those who sin against us, so the prayer goes. The best way I know to forgive is to pray for the people with whom we struggle. Someone I heard recently suggested that you imagine the person whom you need to forgive as a small helpless child, and make that part of the focus of your prayer, remembering the child, the innocence and innate goodness that is found in all people, especially as children.

Day Six: Let go. Give away some of your books. Clean out a closet. Get rid of some of that extra stuff that can weigh a life down. John the Baptist reminds us that if we have two coats to give one away (I have upwards of 7, but hey, I live in Chicago). Lord I am preaching to myself here.

Day Seven: Listen for God in the Scripture. An easy way to delve into the Scripture is using the technique of Lectio Divina, which is Latin for divine or spiritual reading or “holy reading.” Pick a passage. Read it the first time, asking yourself what word or phrase jumps out at you. Then do it again. After another reading, ask yourself what it may be saying to your life. There are a gazillion websites out there on Lectio Divina. And there’s not a right or wrong way to do this, just a way to begin.

Day Eight: Fast. Abstain from something for a season or for a day. Chocolate, alcohol or time-sucking websites come to mind. Spend the fasting time doing something life giving like reading or calling a friend.

Day Nine: Use what you already have. My cabinets are full to the brim with Trader Joe’s cans of black beans, diced tomatoes and cornbread mix. Make dinner out of what’s already in the pantry. Donate the money you would’ve spent to a charity like Episcopal Relief and Development, which is doing work in many parts of the world, like Haiti.

Day Ten: Read Matthew 4: 25-5:10, the Beatitudes.

Day Eleven: Journal. In Katherine Stockett’s book, The Help, one of the characters keeps a prayer journal, writing all her prayers to God. I love this idea. But prayer journal or just plain old journal, I think the act of writing allows us to get in touch with a deeper sense of self and God.

Day Twelve: Find a new ministry or volunteer somewhere–in the church, in the neighborhood, do something to be of service to the Body of Christ, or to people who may see Christ through your actions. For those of us who love Disney, there’s even a reward for serving!

Day Thirteen: In all honesty, I don’t know how good these meditations are, but a cyber pal says they are good. Inner Divine Spirit is a website by a Jungian analyst. You can read on the site or have her meditations on Scriptures from a Jungian viewpoint emailed directly to your mailbox (I signed up for them today).

Day Fourteen:
Put on your favorite music and sing and dance! (I recommend replacing the harp/lyre with the kazoo.)
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. (Psalm 98)

Day Fifteen: Watch Buffy, Season 5, the last episode, The Gift. A beautiful story of the power of self-sacrifice. I see Jesus on the cross every time I watch this. Seriously. I think of it, in many ways, as a modern version of the stations of the cross (it has been used in a pop-culture telling/showing of the Stations). If you don’t know the back story of Buffy or of Season 5, let me know–I’ll happily fill you in!

More to come…