Prayer Books, Barbed Wire and Creation in Chaos

Earlier this week, I taught a confirmation class at the prison where I volunteer. It was my second time teaching this class. My first session was on the Creeds and the Baptismal Covenant. This week’s session was on my favorite–the Eucharist–liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer and how it all comes together.

The funny thing about volunteering in a prision is you learn how little control you have over anything. A few weeks ago, my pal H and I stood in the rain, literally, for close to 45 minutes, waiting to get escorted from the up-at-the-top-of-the-hill gate to the bottom-of-the-hill gate. We stood and waited, wondering if the ladies would be there when we arrived or if they’d head back to their dorms after almost an hour of waiting. Turns out, they could see us, though we didn’t know it at the time, and so they waited. It was a gift to gather in the cold airconditioned building, sharing stories and laughing at how ridiculous we looked, with our hair and our copies of  The Book of Common Prayer soaking wet.

This week they were late. Not uncommon. And nothing they can control. They too, even more than we, are at the mercy of a schedule dicated for them. And so, when we finally gathered, there were stories shared, but we had precious little time and I found myself poorly pacing what time we did, spending entirely too much time on the daily office lectionary, of all things.

Later that night, we did an Instructed Eucharist, a service that helps explain the liturgy and invites questions in real time, interupting the normal flow to allow for learning and ideas. But this too started late, and I felt rushed. I realized, with complete frustration, how many churchy words are part of my venacular and how utterly unskilled I am at translation. I was clumsy with this book and liturgy I so love. I  felt as if I had fallen short of the honor that had been given me, when asked to teach and give this offering.

And yet, God still showed up, as God tends to do. I felt it, in these little moments of laughter and in the breaking and sharing of the bread. I felt it in the stories I heard, stories that soften my hard heart, stories that remind me of our connectedness to each other.

God is funny. And God has a wicked sense of humor, moving through imperfection and broken time-frames, dashed expectations and gates locked in pouring rain. God shows up, and in glimpses I can see, God working with this holy cachophy of chaos and imperfection. Because in the mess, and muck, and unknown, in the plans gone wrong and the schedule derailed, in the self-doubt and loss of control, there is space for something new, something that can never be controlled or contained by human will. In this strange and sometimes uncomfortable space, God creates. And what God creates, is always good. What God creates, always tranforms. What God creates, is often strange and holy and wonderful. Just like us.

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Jesus is coming. Look busy!

Jesus is coming Look busy

We’re at the beach this week. There is no place I’d rather be. The waves of the ocean, my feet standing in the waters of her shore, calms me like no other spot. Vacation is the plan, but the beloved and I are also writing papers. She is in year 4 and I am in year 1 of a Doctorate of Ministry (DMin) program. I’m quick to point out this is a professional degree, not a PhD program. But, there are still many projects and papers that need doing and it’s been a long time since I’ve written an academic paper. Rusty is an understatement.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on this space. Every time I’ve sat to write, my grief seemed overwhelming. All I could write was of loss, missing my father, surprised by the immense nature of my sorrow. I expected it to be big, but I did not anticipate how it would overwhelm my life and my world. Add to it the other realities of life– a new job for the beloved (and a crazy new work schedule), my mom’s thankfully good prognosis but diagnosis nonetheless of cancer (she is a rock star in full remission, but screw you, cancer) and other bits and pieces that make up a life and…I’ve had nothing. Nothing but grief. And I haven’t wanted to write about that. At least not here.

Yesterday, after a day of paper reading and writing, we walked on the beach. It was windy and dark and utterly beautiful. I stood in the same spot I had just a year ago. I remember last year feeling a desire to simply walk into the waves, to be consumed by the vastness of the ocean–not in a end my life sort of way, but also, not in a calgon-take-me-away sort of way either. The ocean seemed the only place able to contain all that I was holding.

Last night, standing in the same spot, I felt the relief of weightlessness. No longer carrying anticipatory grief, settling into a new rhythm of life, the ocean stood before me again as friend and companion. I was happy to be dancing in her waters. What a difference a year makes.

The paper I’m currently working on is about eschatology and the Eucharist. Most folks hear eschatology and think of that ridiculous and awful Left Behind series, or of a Bible thumping preacher threatening Hell and damnation if you don’t repent and get right with Jesus. As the old bumper sticker says “Jesus is coming–look busy!” That comes from the concept of eschata, plural, the end things. It anticipates a moment in linear time when Jesus will return and everything will shift.

Deeper and more true to what I think Jesus spoke of, is eschaton. Eschaton is about God, through Christ, who was and is and is to come, moving into our lives. Far less defined, eschaton leaves us to ask about how the coming of God affects us in this very moment, about how we are experiencing, as the old hymn and folk song Morning has Broken goes, “God’s re-creation of the new day.” Rather than seeing eschatology as a far off moment in the future, through the lens of eschaton, we see God intersecting with us in all moments of time, past, present and yet to come. I love this notion, because it imagines time as not linear, but circular. It imagines that we are all wholly connected through (in my Christian speak) the communion of saints–those who have come and those who have yet to arrive–all of us dancing together in the mystery of time and God and space.

Grief is a fucker. There’s just no way around it. And yet…there is this miraculous and holy thing that happens in the midst of it. Transformation is coming and comes and will come. Transformation, who looks a lot like the Holy Spirit, who hides and reveals herself in the most unlikely of places. Sometimes in the waves of the ocean, lapping on cautiously hopeful feet, standing at the shore.