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To the Field of Stars

…if you have no interest in adventures of the spirit, or if you have no desire to ramble on foot across a fair piece of this earth’s lovely skin, then the story I am about to tell you will not matter to you. If, on the other hand, the very thought of seeing stars dance piques your curiosity at some deep level of your soul, then pay attention to what follows….

Thin places, they have been called. Geographic points on the earth where the space between God and man lessens, and the Presence is a breathable, touchable reality. Often these bear some connection to a holy person or persons who lived there once, or whose bones lie there still.

And so, the pilgrimage. One walks across one’s threshold and keeps walking…for weeks, even months…until he comes to the sacred place. Here he prays. But not here only. For every step along the way becomes prayer. And the journey is a shaping of the soul. A readying for the Presence. And perhaps, if there were no journey, the Presence would be indiscernible. It is the journey, the trouble and pain, the giving of oneself to others along the way, that prepares the soul to pray. To receive. Without demand. With only gladness. And humility. And joy.

In July 2003, Father Kevin Codd begins his own pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He tells the story of this journey artfully and vulnerably in To the Field of Stars. I am captivated from the first page. And I sob my way through the last couple of chapters, feeling almost as though I, myself, am entering Compostela with these dear friends who have loved well and shared so much of themselves along the way.

I leave you to discover the story of Compostela, the third most traversed pilgrimage in all Christendom (after only Jerusalem and Rome). Herein I propose, instead, to give you a taste of this marvelous story and why you want to read it. My choices are strictly subjective.

Of the commencement of a pilgrimage: The author confesses the motivation only reveals itself clearly along the way. However, most begin as a longing for something other. Something transcendent and bigger. Something that matters.

We want to see there one little sign that there is more to us than just us…We want to see there an extravagant God who does not count or measure but just pours and pours and pours, grace upon grace, stars upon stars, into our sky, into us.

Of walking as prayer and the earth as sanctuary: Father Codd begins the day with morning prayers. The rhythm of the prayer becomes the rhythm of his feet and he finds that walking becomes prayer. And the slowness, the earthiness of feet against soil makes him a citizen of earth, keenly aware of its mysteries. And God is there.

Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. Bidden or unbidden, God is present…

The heat of the morning makes the pitch in those pine trees give off a strong scent; this is the stuff of which incense is made. I inhale its aroma and remember as I did the day before that out here, too, I am in church.

Of his journey with the Church: Not the least of Father Codd’s wrestlings along the way have to do with the Church. He answers the questions of intelligent young people who feel the Church has lost touch with them. He winces at liturgies perfunctorily performed in some of the tiny towns through which they pass. He also sits in the sweet coolness of a Romanesque chapel and contemplates the Savior. He meets hospitality poured out in Jesus’ name. He watches an old priest drop his briefcase to dance with young people around the zero kilometer marker in Compostela. He sees the Bride of Christ as she is…

…grace made flesh, but flesh it still is: soft and hard, young and old, new and worn, all at the same time. It is so close to God, yet so far from God, yet so close to God.

To the Field of Stars is a pilgrim story, told honestly, with humble grace and great good humor, and a fair measure of poetry. It is laughter. And silence. It is community. And solitude. It is invocation. Contemplation. And invitation….to a life that is…more.

Shine

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves,
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us;
it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

~Marianne Williamson

How Inarticulate the Longings of My Soul…

How inarticulate are the longings of my soul, O God,
yet how acute are its pangs.
How incapable am I in understanding those longings,
let alone, in tending them.
Feed me with food, O God, that will best nourish my soul,
food that will intensify rather than satisfy
my love for You
and my longing to be with You.
Awaken every eternal seed You have planted in my soul
so while I am yet rooted in this earth
something of heaven may blossom in my life…

~Ken Gire, Windows of the Soul

In Deep Nights…

In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet….

My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.

Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.

What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
softly,
like a spring rain?

~Rainer Maria Rilke

There has never been a time in my life when God was not a principle character in the story of me. I have spent much of my life attempting to apprehend Him. To know Him.

And He has eluded me.

I came to a place where I very nearly hated Him. I felt He had made a promise to me. To all of creation, for that matter. That we might know Him. Intimately. As close as breathing. Yet, I had nearly killed myself trying to be good enough. Trying to prove my worth to Him. Volunteering for everything. Practically living at the church.

Somehow, He remained untouchable. So very far away. And I had these cavernous empty places. Since He would not fill them, I began to grasp at other things. Trying to make it not hurt.

And sometimes they helped.

For a while.

But the empty did not go away. And now there was guilt and regret piled on top of the empty. And I was angry. Angry at God. Angry at all the people in my life who did not love me well enough. I needed someone to blame. Someone to be responsible for my pain.

Then God gave me a gift. Unexpected. Unwanted. He taught me to die. It was a bloody, excruciating experience. I had to let go of all the things that I thought made me me. Everything I was proud of. My gifts. The service I provided others. My striving and digging.

And stand before Him.

Empty.

Naked.

Alone.

It was terrifying. I felt as though I were melting. Like the wicked witch, you know. In The Wizard of Oz.

It was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

It was the beginning of healing.

Once I stopped blaming others, and defending myself…once I was willing to be nothing…then…we could begin.

And grace became that soft rain, falling. And I had to do nothing, but receive.

I am done hating, and blaming. Mostly. I am learning to revel in being nothing. Because in this place…where I bring none of my striving, or digging, or proving myself, or being right…God is. And all I must do is fall into Him. Receive the rain of grace He pours freely over me.

He is still far away. Above me. Outside me.

AND

He is as close as breathing. A reality I taste when I approach the Cup. I breathe Him in the incense. I hear Him in baby girl’s laughter. I feel Him, soft, in the wind.

And the empty places are not so empty any more.

I am wordy. It is too much. Rilke said it best. And Job. We are, the three of us, of the same cloth. We have known the death…that yields life.

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.  ~Job 42:5

Ghosts Upon the Earth

Sometimes it seems like the most real thing is what we can see and experience with our senses around us – this life, the tangible…Ideas like love, like God, these things sometimes feel more disconnected and ethereal, like that’s the ghostly real. This is turning it on its head, recognizing that God is real, love is real, and we are the ghosts walking upon the earth, wanting to become more real. 
~Michael Gungor

A tone poem, of sorts. An illumination…in sound…of the beauty and fragility of life. A musical experience you can stand inside. A fusion of lyric and sound that will crawl inside you. An artistically exquisite exploration of all that matters…..

Ghosts Upon the Earth, the new album by Gungor, drops one week from today. It is one of the most intriguing, provocative, and artful works I have encountered in a while. I can’t stop listening to it. These are my distinctly personal listening notes. I do not presume to voice their intent in crafting the music, only my reaction to it.

Let There Be  Ever since reading The Magician’s Nephew, I have always imagined God singing the world into being. Now I know what it sounds like… Atonal meanderings drift, meterless. A voice wandering, lost. Then a gentle summons: Let there be… Echoed. Joined by other ethereal voices. Beats push and pull against one another, as cosmos is wrested from chaos. Building to a glorious crescendo, Let there be light!!! The energy, the rightness of this moment throbbing, exultant, ecstatic!

Brother Moon  and Crags and Clay  Both are celebrations of the One who makes all things beautiful. The first is a playful nod to St. Francis; a frolic. The second is a meditation..quiet at first…growing in intensity. Lovely.

The Fall  A tender lament of innocence lost. Voices rise and fall together in a plea…winsome, persistent. How long will You wait? Make things right, O God. Turn your face to us.

When Death Dies  A dream without bounds…of a world made right. Barely a whisper at first. Then a riotous celebration of possibility. Hope. When death dies, ALL things live.

Church Bells  One of my very favorites. Very like a Venetian barcarolle. A gentle invitation to surrender cynicism, and remember joy. Unadulterated. Without agenda. Clean.

Let church bells ring. Let children sing.
Even if they don’t know why, let them sing.
Why drown their joy…stifle their voice
Just because you’ve lost yours?

May our jaded hearts be healed. Amen.

Let old men dance, lift up their hands.
Even if they are naive, let them dance.
You’ve seen it all. You’ve watched them fall.
Wash off your face and dance.

May our weary hearts be filled with hope. Amen.

Amen.

Wake Up Sleeper  Discombobulation. Unconventional harmonies. Mixed meter, including an unsettling passage in 7/8. Instruments leaping back and forth between speakers. The world is being turned upside down. Or…then again…right side up. As it should be. The poor, the sick, the despised, inherit the Kingdom. And corrupt manipulators, users, exploiters, are exposed.  What a ride! Brilliant!

Ezekiel  This one is intensely personal for me. Excruciating. I have been so often faithless, selling myself to anyone who would promise to fill my empty places. I have broken the heart of my Lover. Over and over. He sings to me here. Of relentless love. Of eyes that see who I am. Inside. Beneath my horrible choices. And He calls me back….

Vous Etes Mon Coure (You Are My Heart)  Une chanson d’amour. Très beau. Avec la mandoline. Délicieux.

This is Not the End  Faith is, above all, a journey. The Way. This is not the end of this. We will open our eyes wide, wider...

You Are the Beauty  A rollicking celebration of the One who has made all things beautiful. Who did not abandon us, even when we abandoned Him. Who is turning the world upside down to redeem us and put all things right. And who pursues us relentlessly. Selah.

Every Breath  Finally, a love song back to Him. He who has loved extravagantly. A giving of myself. The very words I am looking for. Perhaps, the words you are looking for, too…

Buy the album. Then give yourself the gift of undivided attention for a listen all the way through. Take a walk in the woods. Sit on your porch in the moonlight. Light a candle. Pour a glass of wine. And let it wash over you. It is unlike anything you have experienced. Yet.

P.S. If you are lucky enough to live in (or near) Atlanta or Nashville, you can be part of an album release show next week. Click your city for more info. I will be at the Nashville show with my guys. Perhaps I’ll see you there. 🙂

Praying

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

~Mary Oliver

 

Off paying attention…

…See you in a few days.

 

*Artwork at top of post by Andy Goldsworthy

Bless My Enemies, O Lord


It seems that, as recently as the 1950’s, the tiny island of Guam was home to a number of native birds who were to be found nowhere else in the world. Today, most of these species are extinct. Why?

Guam became an important stop for trading ships plying the Pacific. Some of these ships came from Australia and New Guinea. Hidden inside their holds was a dangerous predator. The brown tree snake. He was offloaded with some of the cargo. With no natural predators, the snake thrived on this unsuspecting island. His principle source of nourishment?

Eggs.

These birds were not victims of a malicious attack. They fell prey to ignorance. A villain that was unseen could not be thwarted.

I am very like these ships. Inside me lurk villains, capable of hurting those I love. Anger, bitterness, regret. I am unaware of them. Until I’m injured. Then, they come festering to the surface. And must be dealt with.

In his remarkable book, Giver of Life, Father John Oliver says I should be thankful for people who bump up against me. Who hurt me. And provoke me. Because they help the toxic sludge find a way out. And I can be made right. If I am willing.

He’s right, of course. But I have really struggled with this over the last couple of days. So I return to this prayer. I am ashamed to admit how often I need it. It is not who I am. But, it is who I would be. Perhaps, if you find yourself in a similar place, it will be helpful to you…

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into Thy embrace more than friends have.
Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Thy tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Thy garment.

 Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
so that my fleeing to Thee may have no return
;
so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger
;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;
ah,
so that I may for once be freed from self deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand.
But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Amen

~St. Nicolai of Zica

 

*The story at the top of the post is also excerpted (and abbreviated) from Father John Oliver’s book, Giver of Life. I highly commend it to you.

**The beautiful bird in the photo is the Mariana fruit-dove, one of the species who no longer breathes upon this earth. Lord, may Your Kingdom come. Make all things right. Amen.

Postcards from Atlanta…

Words, phrases, stories and songs keep playing in my mind and heart. Every time I try to describe it to a friend, I feel like English needs more words.

This weekend I was nourished, wrecked, provoked, refreshed, and inspired at Women of Faith: Imagine. I took my husband, who loved it too. I wish I had taken everyone I know.

A few reasons why I implore you to find a Women of Faith event near you, and do whatever it takes to get there:

Mary Graham Mary is the person who makes sure this operation runs like a well-oiled machine. And baby it does! Every detail is flawlessly executed: decoration, production, creative introductions, and the friendliest please take your seats/silence your cell phone messages I have ever encountered. Sessions begin and end ON TIME. Lunch is provided for your convenience. And Mary’s gentle, winsome presence holds all together.

Luci Swindoll When I grow up, I want to be Luci Swindoll. 🙂 Apparently I am not alone in this. These words from Hermann Hesse, which she shared with us, could be her own. This is the life she leads. Adventurous, creative, and fully present in the NOW. She challenged and inspired us to do the same.

Life passes like a flash of lighting
Whose blaze barely lasts long enough to see.
While the earth and the sky stand still forever
How swiftly changing time flies across man’s face.
O you who sit over your full cup and do not drink,
Tell me, for whom are you still waiting?

Sheila Walsh In her first session, she spoke to us of the relentless love of God in such evocative terms I felt I could almost taste it. This session crescendoed into the most moving rendition of Amazing Grace I have ever experienced. Because it grew out of the beautiful truths she had given us. She is a funny, transparent, and enthralling storyteller. I will never forget about the Shepherd who knows where to find us and Who invites us to come as we are.

Angie Smith Cute as a button and disarmingly self-deprecating, with a delivery so intimate I sometimes forgot there were several thousand other people in the room. This precious young woman has been called to walk on water through a devastating storm. And she knows the terror of waves slamming against you, threatening to destroy you. She also knows the ONLY way to keep from drowning.

“On those dark days when you can’t catch your breath, remember who you’re swimming towards. Kyrios: the Lord; the One to whom you belong.”

Nicole Johnson I’ve seen Nicole Johnson before. She has this way of making you laugh, and somewhere in the middle of the laughter you realize that important life-giving truths have wiggled their way into your heart. She did this again with one of my favorite of her sketches, The Invisible Woman. But, she also took the stage in a different role this time. This time she poured her heart out like water before us. Her own story of beauty from ashes. Glorious.

Lisa Harper Funny, honest, gutsy. I like this woman. She and I share a passion for mountain trails and for Thomas Merton. I loved this quote she used from him as she spoke to us about worth:

“God is asking me, the unworthy, to forget my unworthiness and that of my brothers, and dare to advance in the love which has redeemed and renewed us all in God’s likeness. And to laugh, after all, at the preposterous ideas of ‘worthiness.”

Amen.

Steve Aterburn Yes. You are right. Steve is, in fact, not a woman. And, I’ll admit, I was skeptical. But he had so many good, good things to say. He talked to us about walls that separate us from the life God has for us. Walls like stubborn resistance, arrogant entitlement (ouch!), justifiable resentment and others. And he helped us see how choices like acceptance and gratitude can help us make a door through the wall.  P.S. Steve is actually the founder of Women of Faith. For that alone, I am deeply grateful.

Mary Mary Oh, Baby!! These grammy award winning artists know how to rock the gospel. Songs filled with truth will have you on your feet and the joy of the Lord will throb from the top of your head to the souls of your feet. *Incidentally, try to position yourself to see Lisa Harper and Sheila Walsh do their white girl interpretations of the choreography. Trust me on this. 😉

Laura Story Laura was a surprise guest. A hometown girl. I predict you will be seeing more of her. You probably know her song Indescribable even if you don’t know her name. But, her song that keeps singing itself in my head is Blessings. It beautifully articulates what I have come to understand about “mercies in disguise”. And after hearing Laura’s story, I know from whence the questions come.

Natalie Grant One of the sweetest moments of the weekend was when, at the end of her Friday evening set, Natalie Grant sang the old hymn, It Is Well. The whole hall was silent, except for her powerful voice. No instruments. Clean. Uncluttered. And when it was over, no one wanted to go anywhere. We just wanted to let the notes, the words, hang over and around us for a few moments longer.

Her musical benediction sums up the truths of the weekend about as well as anything. In this world we will have trouble, they all said to us. But there is a Shepherd, a Father, our Kyrios, Mender of that which is broken, Who has created all things for our enjoyment; and He will walk those hard places with us and lead us safely home.

As Much As They Could Bear

They were his closest friends.  True, he had been investing himself deeply in a group of men and women for three years.  But these three…they had gone deeper. And he wanted to share something with them.  Something very intimate.  An extraordinary moment.  A memory that would linger long after he was gone.  And he would be gone.  Soon.

Transfiguration-lewis-bowman

So they climbed a mountain.  Mount Tabor.  Funny how much of his story had been unfolded, would be unfolded, on mountains.  The three planted themselves, but he walked on a little farther.  Suddenly, he was not alone.  There were figures on either side of him.  Figures from beyond…from the other…

And he was changed.

The glory had simmered inside him for as long as they had known him.  Sometimes they caught glimpses of it in his eyes.  It had wrapped them round when he had calmed an angry sea.  It had filled their bellies with fish and bread and wine.  It had flowed from his fingers into people who were wounded and hurting and had made them well.  But now….now a visible glory radiated from him like fire.  His face shown like the sun and his garments were whiter “than any launderer could bleach them”.

The hymnody of the ancient church says Peter, James and John saw his glory that day, “as much as they could bear“.  It makes me think of the recurrent phrase that permeates the Gospel of John, “and his disciples believed in him”.  They believed…as much as they could.  And the next day, or the next week, they saw more of who he was, and they believed a little more.

He had been creating a space in them…for belief…for glory…

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. On this day I am reminded that God’s glory is all around me on a daily basis. I have only to walk with eyes open. And I pray that as I continue to look for His glory in humble places, that I will become able to bear more, and more of His glory. And that one day that I may see His Uncreated Light.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”  ~John 17:24

Lord, Make Me Humble. But Not Yet.

The Holy Fathers say that, unless we humble ourselves, the Lord will not stop humbling us…Until you have suffered much in your heart, you cannot learn humility.

I read these lines. I even underlined them. I talked about them with my friends. Then, promptly forgot them.

The line I remembered is this:

Our holy Father Symeon says that a person who has attained humility of the mind cannot be hurt by anything in the world.

Yes, please.

Both quotes are from Our Thoughts Determine our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica. It is a rather prickly book. The sort that gets all up in your business. Provoking, inspiring, humbling

I sit in Starbucks on Sunday afternoon with three lovely friends who are also reading the book. I say to them…out loud…that I want this. I want this humility that renders me invincible.

Then, on Monday, God obliges with a generous dose of humiliation…of suffering in my heart. How convenient! And I thank Him. Oh yes, I do! First I thank Him by being hurt. Grieved. Sad. The grief festers into bitterness. Indignity that wrongs committed years ago still cast a shadow across my life, despite the fact that I have repented and am striving to live honorably. I don’t deserve this! (See what I mean.) But the bitterness is short lived. It dissolves into despair. I will never move past this. No matter what I do. And this cloud hovers over everything. And nothing looks right. Nothing tastes right. My stomach hurts. And I cry myself to sleep…

Lord, make me humble.

But not yet.

The phrase is St. Augustine’s, though he prayed to be made chaste. Perhaps he and I both missed the point. To acquire either takes a great deal of practice. And the practice is very like the training runs I am currently doing for an ultra marathon. Painful. Dirty. Smelly. Exhausting. And, did I mention, painful. Very. Painful.

But, just like in marathon training, there is pain, then recovery. A chance to catch one’s breath before plunging back in. And, also like training, when the wounds have healed, I hopefully emerge stronger than before. A little bit closer to the goal.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from running is that you don’t quit just because something is really hard, or because it hurts. And sometimes it hurts like hell. So, I’m not quitting. Even though I have such a very long way to go. And sometimes it seems impossible. And I get angry at myself for not being better at this.

Lord, make me humble. But not

Lord, make me humble. But

Lord, make me humble.

 

*Bolds in the quotes mine.

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