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For those of you who don’t know, I just published my first novel called Sister Jane, which is available at all online bookstores (shameless promotion). This was a huge week for me and I’m still over the moon. It’s funny, though, as I began talking about my book, many of my acquaintances and even long-time friends were surprised to find my first published work to be fiction. Truthfully, I have been writing stories all along as well as blogging and writing essays. The wonder is that I managed to get it published. Yay, me.

About two years ago (pre-Covid), I went through a rather lengthy discernment practice to determine where my energies needed to be directed. I have a history of spreading myself too thin and found myself becoming the “Jill of all trades and mistress of none.” But now, as I enter the last quarter of my life (or less), I have sensed an urgency to focus and listen and act out of a newfound co-creative space with God.

My first narrowing came in the letting go of my photography hobby. I still love the wonder of photography and I certainly have my camera and enjoy shooting moments here and there, but I recognized that I was at the cusp of my learning and if I wanted to become really “good” then I would have to devote more time to it. I had to choose.

My second shift happened during the pandemic itself as we all hunkered down into our homes and smaller spaces. I was at least two years into receiving personal spiritual direction; I had completed a year-long spiritual practices series of retreats; and, I was even asked if I wanted to consider becoming a Deacon in the Episcopal Church or study to become a Spiritual Director. So many wonderful choices, but again, I searched my heart and God’s heart within my heart and found that I didn’t need a formal title to grow within and deepen my relationship with God. Instead, I wanted to write about it and not just regurgitate what I had been taught, but to integrate the process and weave the discoveries into my writing.

Here’s what fiction gives me that other formats do not. Multiple characters can see and experience circumstances, faith, God, relationships, pain, disappointment, betrayal, love and many other aspects in a variety of ways that don’t always fit into a traditional Christian box. I don’t fit into that box either. Fiction gives me the most freedom.

At my launch party, someone asked me if any of my characters were based on real people I knew, and the crowd laughed when I said, “everyone.” But most of all, my characters are also based on parts of me, both light and dark, as well as good and “evil.” Fiction may be a story, but what lies beneath it can be deep Truth.

Our Father . . .

As I journey on my current path into the heart of God, I am learning and seeing afresh. Many of the books I’ve read and the people with whom I have shared conversations, worship, and silence, have lit the way and it is wondrous, like new wine in a new wineskin. For some of my previous “brothers and sisters,” undoubtedly, they may believe I have actually lost my way. As soon as I use unfamiliar terms like the Divine Feminine, or toss out the discovery that the early church (pre-written Bible) actually referred to the Holy Spirit as “she” and not “he,” or, if I suggest we consider the term, “Universal Christ” and where will that lead the conversation?

When my grandson doesn’t want me to tell him something or believes I may be about to chastise him or correct him for some ill-considered misdemeanor, he covers his ears with his hands. This is what I imagine some of my dear readers may be doing right now. Or, the other gesture I’ve even done myself, I hold my hands over my ears and start repeating, “blah, blah, blah” very loudly to drown out the secret or revelation I don’t want to hear.

So, yes, my journey of the last five years has introduced me to the concepts of God as neither father nor mother, or perhaps more accurately, father AND mother. Of course, both of these are titles humans have created to understand and have a friendlier relationship to an almighty Creator of heaven and earth who, nonetheless, loves all living things.

Here’s my confession for my progressive friends today. I don’t mind referring to God as Father. When I first encountered God over forty years ago and I lay down for the first time at the feet of Christ, in surrender, I “heard” God say that He would be my father, faithfully, and be a comfort to the child within me who lost her human father at age nine. And all this time, Father God has indeed been true. My youth was plagued, instead, by mother issues and challenges and abuse. Is it any wonder that I don’t easily gravitate to the Divine Feminine? Don’t misunderstand me, I’m all on board, really, but for my inner home, it is still the Father who speaks.

But I have another confession. You see, the real conundrum is in the word, “our.” That’s right. Not unlike the Jewish lawyer in Luke 10 who asks “who is my neighbor?” I am secretly asking who is included in the “our” of the Lord’s Prayer? Our: my family? Our: my neighborhood? Our: my town, my state, my country, my continent? Damn, the whole world? You gotta be kidding me. I’m praying for everybody? It feels weighty like the discovery Jim Carrey makes in Bruce Almighty. This is heady stuff. And what about all those “our” people who could care less? What about that atheist guy who smugly says he isn’t afraid to burn in hell?

I think I’d be happier if, let’s say, I changed it to “our Creator.” Right? But then I’d be throwing out the part I like the best to make the “our” work better. Lazy solution.

The easiest time to say “our” is in church. Everybody is doing it, so we’re kind of a gang who believes in the same leader. We’re devoted. In those moments, I don’t think anyone is worried about the “non-ours.” I figure the church folks are probably including ALL church folks into the first word of this prayer. That’s comfortable, until we start discussing details on the front lawn, like who is saved and who isn’t, or, is the cup filled with juice or wine, or, did that guy actually put his lips on that thing? Stuff like that. The “our” seems to fly out the window then.

Since I include liturgy in my private practice, the Lord’s Prayer appears, at minimum, twice a day in the morning and at night. If I’m feeling flush with devotion, I might throw in a Vespers office. That would make three “ours” a day. And what about the Psalms? I’m always grateful for the personal pronouns there.

God brought this knot to my mind and won’t let go. Here’s plan A to begin to untangle it. Perhaps I will need to write about a Plan B, but I’ll have to see how things go. Watch this space.

Since next week is Holy Week, I will fast again, Monday through Saturday. If for no other reason, to ponder you: that is, you, the nameless unknown person to me and embrace “you” in “our” prayer together. I will look into the eyes of the most hapless and the famous, the politician (even that one I won’t name) and the excavator man who dug out my neighbor’s sewer pipe. I will watch people walking their dogs or sitting alone in front of the St. Johns Towers. I will give attribute to images on television and voices on the radio. I will find a connection that confirms and affirms, that we are in this together, this life on earth, with the breath of God sealing us in love.

Our Father, who is in heaven. . .

Father James, our priest at St. John’s Episcopal, was delighted that the diocese announced we could do socially distanced, in-person services this month, as long as our infection rate was below 5% in the county. Hurrah!

Today’s lectionary highlighted Exodus 20 and the ten commandments and Father’s message compared the timing of the Israelites released from Egypt toward the Promised Land to our “release” from the confines of Covid to gathering together once more. In essence, from death to a type of resurrection, but with some boundaries. The ten commandments were boundaries and best practices for the Israelites. We, too, must remain conscientious about our new freedoms. It’s not over yet.

But for me, I decided to have some fun with this idea and take it one step further.

The Post Covid Ten Commandments.

  1. God is sovereign and whether that is hard to accept in the midst of much suffering, it is still true. If we can acknowledge that God is still God, there will always be hope.
  2. We should take care not to shift our focus away from God and onto less reliable idols. Yes, the vaccine is a good thing, but it still has limitations. Be wise and continue to mask up, wash our hands, and social distance–for now.
  3. We cannot place blame on God for evil in the world or use God as a scapegoat. No name calling.
  4. Remember, now that we have more freedom, we should not go hog wild. We still need days of rest. Try for one out of seven, at least.
  5. Take care of our parents and grandparents and anyone else who is elderly. Their wisdom should be protected as well as their bodies.
  6. Don’t kill hopefulness; people need to hold onto something positive right now.
  7. Don’t betray our friends by exposing them unnecessarily. Be faithful.
  8. Don’t cheat the line if we don’t need to. Be patient while waiting for our turns to get the vaccine.
  9. Don’t lie. Speak our truth in love. Not everyone will agree with us, but be authentic.
  10. Don’t begrudge others’ health. Respect our neighbors. Rejoice with those who are rejoicing. Weep with those who weep.

On Being Unusual

“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that?” [Matthew 5:44-48a, NAB]

For years, what I wanted more than anything else was to be normal. I wanted to fit in. As a family of immigrants, our family was odd. We didn’t have a car, my mother was the breadwinner, my father looked like my grandfather (28 years older than my mother), and we lived in the inner city with boarders upstairs. As a child and teen, none of these realities helped me fit in. I began a systematic cover up.

By adulthood, I had created a coat of many colors. And I appeared to have buried most of those old concerns as a good adult should, but they lurked close to the surface all the same. Don’t be weird. Don’t rock the boat. Pick up the correct fork. Watch carefully, mimic as needed. And then I surprised myself in my late twenties and made an uncharacteristic leap into Christ. I dumped myself into another world, a Christian world, with its own set of rules and expectations. I spent years figuring out what this identity needed to look like and sound like. I became more adept than ever: a chameleon. Not that I was a fake. I loved Christ and my initial conversion was true: “Dear Jesus, I believe you are who you say your are and I want to follow you.” But I got caught up in a lot of different flavors (denominations) along the way.

Forty years later, I have finally begun to shed my acrobatic machinations with a greater desire to simply expose my authentic self. Lo and behold, who is evolving there? Someone unusual. That’s funny and ironic. But isn’t that the point? Because it is the unusual person who can “love an enemy,” or “pray for the mean girls,” or “love the unlovable,” or, in general, work outside one’s comfort zone. It is the unusual person who can live inside a paradox, a both/and world. It is an unusual person that can accept who a person actually is instead of who I have wanted that person to be.

Light Switch Faith

When Jesus was giving a hard lesson on forgiveness, the disciples paled (so I imagine).

“Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” [Luke 17:4-5]

And then he gave the now-famous (or infamous) line about mustard seed faith. For the first time, as I reread this passage, I heard a smile in Jesus’ voice, almost like a little tease. I had a startling discovery. Faith is a lot more like a light switch than a thermometer. We aren’t really supposed to be in the business of “heating up” our faith. The amount of faith is not measurable in that way. How many years have I sat under teaching in which believers were chastised for not having enough faith to experience God, either in healing or miracles or whatever? But now, I’m thinking otherwise. Faith is or faith isn’t. (Another kind of Yoda phrase indeed.)

Certainly, I can gain more understanding and I can enrich my relationship to the Holy, but does that mean my faith is more or just includes something else? If I go back to my first days as a believer, I can remember the glories of my conviction about Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. Real. All real. I was in a whirlwind of gratitude and love. I turned on the light. But as I continued my journey of faith, I don’t believe the light got brighter, I just opened more doors. I surrendered.

I feel a great relief really. I don’t have to collect mustard seeds. I’m gonna plant the one I have so that it can die and transform into a living, breathing me/God union.

Of course, we all know, there are hundreds of references in scripture about fear and more than a hundred that specifically tell us to “fear not” or “do not be afraid.” But I think the repetition is for good reason. How many of us really turn off the fear button? Can we stop our thumping heart or self-talk our way out of the moment? Flight or fight is the normal reaction.

Perhaps I have become more aware of this inability to handle emotions while taking care of my 5-year-old grandson. His biggest issue is not usually fear, but sadness. When things don’t go his way, he tells me how sad he is. And what is my immediate response? “Don’t be sad.” Really, how’s that working? It doesn’t.

Can anyone really act on a “not” command? How many times have parents discovered that telling their kids “not” to do something usually has the opposite effect? Is it better to say, “fear not” or “take courage?”

Changing our feelings is not easy, no matter how we go about it. But we do have to admit the feeling is there, don’t we?

Then again, maybe the “fear not” scriptures are saying, “I see you are afraid of this situation (or person), but I can assure you, it’s under God’s control and you are safe.” In other words, maybe God is trying to help me identify the feeling. Unfortunately, at least for me, it usually takes a few rounds of comfort words, logic, examples, and proof, before I can even think about moving out of fear. I mean, honestly, I can grovel around in fear for a long time and never identify it.

OK, but let’s say I finally get it. I admit it: I’m afraid. Don’t I need to know why I’m afraid?

Oh wait. I know this answer: No trust. Sigh.

I have been a believer for more than forty years. You would think I’d have this trust thing down. Theoretically, I know, the only way to truly face fear (that is walk into it) is to trust God is in the midst of the circumstances. We have stories to make this point. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fire [don’t tell me they weren’t afraid], but a fourth person was in the flames with them and when Nebuchadnezzar called them out of the flames, their bodies were untouched [Daniel 3:8-30]. We are not told that they saw God in the flames ahead of time; they didn’t really know how this could turn out well, but they went anyway.

Perhaps that’s the real clue. It’s not that we don’t fear, but we move forward anyway with one hand holding the hand of Jesus.

In Russia, Alexei Navalny, after being poisoned by players in the Putin administration, recovered out of country, but then turned around and returned to his homeland. He knew he would be arrested. He walked into the flames (again). Nelson Mandela of South Africa spent twenty-seven years in prison before he was released. Four years later, he became the country’s first black president. He walked into the flames.

My flames are nothing much compared to many others who have sacrificed their lives, on the battle fields both real and political. But the principal is the same.

Julian of Norwich was a medieval anchoress who suffered through the ravages of the Bubonic Plague that devastated her city three times, killing over half its residents. She knew suffering and hardship, and yet she is best known for her radical optimism and absolute faith in the God of love who told her, unequivocally, that “all will be well; all will be well; all manner of thing will be well.”

Our country has suffered much in the last four years (and beyond), from racial strife and poverty to political corruption and the undermining of our democracy to the ravages of a global pandemic and to the devastating effects of climate change. It is easy to be afraid; at any point, one of these things could touch me or my family directly. What if? What if?

Some say the new administration (inaugurated on January 20, 2021) will make a difference. Perhaps. But until fear is faced and conquered in the hearts of the people, distrust will rule.

I don’t know about you, but I can only lean heavily now on my faith in a good God who summons me to be a light in the darkness, and to speak with radical optimism that God is in the flames and we will be well: all will be well. So it’s not just “fear not,” but “be of good courage, I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33]

Our country is still in mayhem after the assault on the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. What aftereffects will occur, it’s difficult to say at this time. But, as a woman of faith, this juncture cannot be ignored.

Naturally, we can all pray: for peace, for wisdom, for understanding, for renewal, for justice, for explanations. And yet, despite our prayers, the question of “why” dominates my mind. How has violence become the only avenue for expressing frustration and inequity?

Today, I was meditating on “Psalms for Praying” by Nan C. Merrill and in Psalm 1 (her interpretation) presumably the last verse, she writes, “. . . Love’s penetrating Light breaks through hearts filled with illusions: forgiveness is the way.”

Another scripture says, “A good man [person] brings good things out of the good stored up in his [or her] heart, and an evil man [person] brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his [or her] heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” [Luke 6:45, NIV]

An illusion misleads intellectually and its intent is to cause misinterpretation of its actual nature (see Webster’s dictionary). This is where we are now. We can tell that illusions exist because of the words spoken and quite honestly, the actions (the violence). Illusions have found root in many hearts and, in my mind, the only way to break such illusions is by an act of God, or literally, the pure Light of the Christ.

People are regularly captivated by clever magicians who can transform what we believe to be truth into something else. And that something else becomes the replacement reality. I cannot dissuade someone who has fully engaged an illusion as real.

I suppose I may be steeped in illusion as well, but of another kind certainly, where love guides. My faith in God keeps me in the “Way,” but what about the people who read the same Bible I read, pray to the same God I do, and yet justify behaviors and words far outside my understanding of the verse, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself” [Matthew 22:37].

According to cult de-programmers, it can take up to five years to bring a loved one out of the deep influence of a charismatic leader or group. This process is about unconditional love, questions, and patience. Illusions do not fall like a curtain, but in pieces and cracks. Hostility, name-calling, disgust, and chips on the shoulder are no help. Let us instead, look for points of concurrence. This is my prayer.

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