Thursday, February 25, 2010

John Roberts, Priest

Deuteronomy 31:30–32:4, 6b-12a
John 7:37-41a

Today we honor the memory of John Roberts.
Who was he? What is his story?

John Roberts was an adventurous soul.
He was born on a farm in Wales in 1853.
He was educated at a college that was affiliated with Oxford,
and left Wales for the Bahamas in 1878.
He was ordained to the priesthood there.

Roberts was chaplain of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Nassau,
and he also worked in leper colonies.

After two years in the Bahamas, Roberts sailed to the US.
He asked the bishop of Wyoming and Colorado for
missionary work in his most difficult field.
Bishop James Spalding gave it to him,
at the Wind River Indian Reservation
in the mountains of Wyoming.

In February, 1883,
Roberts literally hitched a ride
from Colorado to Wyoming
on a jury-rigged mail wagon,
in a blizzard.

He served two tribes on the reservation:
the Eastern Shoshone people and the Arapaho.
He set about learning all he could about both tribes’ customs and beliefs,
believing that he could be more effective
if he knew and respected the people he wanted to minister to.
He also learned the Arapaho and Shoshone languages.
He eventually translated the gospel.

Roberts often said that his goal
was to help the Native Americans to be self supporting.
With this in mind,
he established two schools for Native children.
He earned the trust of the tribal leadership
and was often involved in their negotiations
with federal agents.
He dealt fairly with the people.
In turn, they called this white, European priest, “Elder Brother.”

A friend remarked this morning,
how odd it seemed to commemorate a man
for treating people fairly.
She was right.
But I’m struck by someone crossing the ocean
to purposely, consciously, and repeatedly
share God’s love and justice
with a forgotten and shoved-aside people.

Roberts lived into his call
as a priest of the high mountains,
the forgotten people,
the dry and desolate places.

We entered Lent with the image of Jesus in the wilderness.
He went there to fast, pray,
and be as transparent as he could to the will of God
speaking louder and louder,
to him and through him.

John Roberts went to the wilderness to seek and serve Christ in all people.

The compelling image running through both the Old Testament reading
and the Gospel for tonight
is the picture of water in the desert.

Moses prays,
“May my teaching drop like the rain,
my speech condense like the dew;
like gentle rain on grass,
like showers on new growth.
For I will proclaim the name of the Lord;
ascribe greatness to our God!”

He’s saying, My people, you are so thirsty.
Let my words transform and heal you.
God is your water. God is your rock.
There are no others.
There is no one else who can sustain you.

Jesus calls to the people,
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

God is your water.
The water of life flows within you,
and out from you,
and all around you.
Hear my words, and let them heal you.
Drink deeply.
Soothe your thirst.
Let the river flow from you,
for other thirsty people.

What is wilderness?
I think of the canoe camping trips in the Cascade Mountains
that I took as a kid in Girl Scouts.
Cold glacial rivers, high volcanic peaks.
Tying our food up in a tree, away from bears.
No people,
other than our own pack of sunburned teen-agers,
and the college students who supposedly
were responsible for us.
You might think of Yosemite,
or wherever else you go when you want to get away.

We go to the wilderness because it is beautiful.
We go, to get out of the city.
We go because it’s fun.

Jesus went to the wilderness to uncover himself.
John Roberts went there to serve disenfranchised people,
in Christ’s name.
Jesus became water in the desert.
John Roberts brought that water,
as respect, love, and justice for God’s children
that humankind wanted to forget.

The wilderness that Roberts crossed an ocean to find,
is never really out of our vision.
We may not literally go to a reservation.
We don’t have to.
But neither do you have to find it
among the homeless people in Friendship Park,
or in our own Great Hall on a night
when we are hosting Safe Ground.
(Though if you feel called to this ministry,
please come.)
The wilderness is everywhere that people are
forgotten, hurting, lonely, or afraid.
We all react more strongly than we should,
to a perceived attack that wasn’t.
We all sometimes want things to be different than they are.
There are wild places in each of us,
living next to the places that are healed and whole and strong.

When you go to the wilderness,
bring with you love and compassion.
Take with you the truth
that every human being is beloved of God.
Carry with you the water of life.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lent I

Luke 4:1-13

Who are you?
Do you know who you are?
You know your name.
You could tell me what you do all day.
Do you know why you’re in church today?
Do you know what you are doing on this earth?

The iconic image of Lent
is Jesus fasting and being tempted in the desert.
Our own forty days mimic this passage.
What is it about?
Why did Jesus need to go there?
Why do we?

Here’s the set-up:
We have Luke’s version of the Christmas story,
and everything that surrounds the birth of Jesus.
The writer pulls out all the special effects;
Jesus is not just any newborn baby.
Before he is born, the angel calls him king.
A few years later,
he goes to Jerusalem with his parents,
gets separated from them,
and when they finally find him,
he’s in the Temple debating with the rabbis.
He’s twelve.
Mary and Joseph ask him why he ran off like that.
He answers like a perfect adolescent:
“Duh! Where did you think I’d be?”
He knows, already, where he’s going.

The boy grows up.
Jesus is baptized, and the sky breaks open.
A dove descends upon him,
and the voice of God speaks.
“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

We hear who he is.
Then we hear who he comes from.
The genealogy traces his ancestors paternally through Joseph,
Joseph’s father and grandfather,
all the way back to Adam,
created by God from the earth itself.

The story pivots where we heard today’s Gospel.
Jesus is tempted in the wilderness.
Jesus overcomes the adversary.
Only after that, does he start his ministry.

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.”

We’re not dealing with circumstances of birth anymore.
We’re beyond the foretold infant king,
the gifted child.
We’re not talking about what might potentially be.
This is the adult Jesus,
fully knowing that now is the time to embrace his destiny.
Fully prepared to test himself,
to listen to the voice that spoke to him in the river,
and to make himself ready for the life he’s being called to.

I grew up in the Northwest.
I grew up with seaweed tangled in my toes,
and mountains rising strong all around me.
I know the temperate rainforest.
I’ve never even been to the desert.
And I’ve been camping and hiking since I was a kid—
but I’ve never been in the wilderness alone
for longer than a day.
I can barely imagine what that must have been like.

He hadn’t eaten in a long, long time.
His body was weak and exhausted.
His mind was open for all kinds of visions.
It was hotter than fire during the day,
and freezing cold at night.
Insects crawled.
Birds screeched.
The wind howled, day and night.
Sometimes, that howl carried the voice of God.
Was it comforting, or terrifying?

This is what you do,
if you have the time to dedicate to it
and you want to be close to the Divine.
You go someplace alone.
You strip yourself down to nothing but the essentials.
You fast, you pray,
and you confront your own demons.
Even if it’s dawning on you,
that you are the incarnate Son of God.

Lent has been a season for fasting
since at least the second century.
It was increased from two or three days to 40
by the Council of Nicaea in the year 325.
We’ve been doing this for a long, long time.
In some places,
people fasted from all animal products excepting fish.
Others ate only one meal a day.
Roman Catholics still abstain from meat
on the Fridays of Lent, excepting fish.
Eastern Orthodox Christians still follow a vegan diet
throughout the season.
No animal products at all.

The early Christians connected the Lenten fast
with preparations for baptism.
They fasted, prayed, and studied the mysteries
that they would be allowed to enter into at the Easter vigil.
Penitents, those who were already baptized
but had committed some type of major sin
and been temporarily cut off from the sacraments,
fasted with them.
They also would be welcomed home at Easter.

We don’t have set rules for Lenten observance.
You might choose to give up something;
chocolate or alcohol or Facebook,
whatever it is that gets in the way
of your relationship with God.
You might choose to deepen that relationship intentionally
with a new practice:
journaling, walking, a new form of prayer.
I was on chemotherapy for a year;
I’ve recovered, but my body is not yet strong.
I’m doing physical things:
riding my bike for the first time in ages,
and doing lots of mindful breathing.
For me, it’s about claiming the Resurrection
in a body that was damaged to save itself.
Being grateful for life, and health.

The point is not deprivation for its own sake.
The point is to do what Jesus did,
in our own ways—
to dedicate ourselves to hearing and obeying
the voice of God in each of our lives.
This is the time to re-commit ourselves
to walking as closely with God
as our hearts and minds and bodies ever can.
This is the season to discipline ourselves,
to open our souls to the work of the Spirit.
This is the time to remember who we are
as Christians and as humans.
This is the time to build a shelter in the desert,
to watch and pray as the days grow longer,
to remember the sacrifice that came before the feast.

Choose your own disciplines.
What you do doesn’t matter—
it matters what you do through them.
Try new ones out, as you’re going.
Do what you need to do,
to reconnect with the purpose that God gives you.
Don’t go through this alone.
Share your practices,
so we can pray for each other.
We have to make it through Holy Week,
before we can get to Easter.
We will have the joy of the Resurrection.
We only walked into the desert last Wednesday.
Forty days is a long time.

Can you hear what God is whispering to you?
Do you feel the wind, on your skin?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thinking about penitence

I did something that inconvenienced a friend, about a week ago. It wasn’t a huge deal, not hurtful or intentional. But it bothered him enough to tell me about it.

I apologized. His response stopped me in my tracks. He said, “I will always forgive you.”

Today is the second day of Lent. Yesterday, we had ashes rubbed on our foreheads, to remind us just how finite we human creatures are. We read the Litany of Penitence, confessing our own personal sins and those of our species. We were absolved, and assured of God’s gracious help and love. And because we know that we were loved and forgiven before the world began, we celebrated the Eucharist, the feast which proclaims our reconciliation with the Love that creates, redeems, and feeds us all.

I know that my friend loves me, wherever and however I am. That depth of forgiveness was one of the clues. I didn’t feel painfully guilty about the mistake I had made, and I wasn’t beating myself up for it. My apology was along the lines of, oops, sorry, this is how it happened, forgive me. The generosity in his response struck me silent.

“I will always forgive you.” Always. Whatever it is you might ever have done. I love you. This relationship cannot be broken.

I know that he meant it. And I know that humans are fragile. We say things we haven’t thought through. We forget things. We break promises, all the time.

God does not. I don’t think of my relationship with God in terms of penitence. I say the Confession, raising my voice with everyone around me. I mean it, but I don’t wail and gnash my teeth. I ask God for forgiveness, when I know where and how I’ve come up short. I don’t beg for it. Reconciliation is a part of this relationship. I celebrate the gift of this love. Day to day, I’m probably not mindful enough of the weight of it.

God loves us all more than we can ever imagine. Witness: we are alive. My recovery from cancer teaches me all I know about love. Christ’s resurrection means what it means to me, because my own bones vibrate. The work I do in faith is all for justice, inclusion, loving the most forgotten. The core of my relationship with God is in the pulse of my own blood through my veins. All I know about joy, liberation, and power lives here.

But we are in Lent. This is the season for thoughtfulness. This is the time to re-commit ourselves to walking as closely with God as our hearts and minds and bodies ever can. This is the season to discipline ourselves, to open our souls to the work of the Spirit. This is the time to remember who we are as Christians and as humans. This is the time to say out loud, “I can’t do this on my own; please help me.” This is the time to build a shelter in the desert, to remember the sacrifice that came before the feast.

I thank my friend for showing me a glimpse of the God who loves and forgives us always, who holds us close in relationship and who will not let us go. And I thank God for love itself, for life and every blessing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

I’m diving into Lent with resurrection in my bones. Physically, spiritually... so very grateful.

A friend asked me on Sunday to help her with a project.  I wouldn't have immediately thought of myself, though I’m more than honored that she asked me and I’m glad to do it. I asked her why on earth she thought of me. Her first two answers made sense: she knows me and trusts me, and it would be good to get me seen around the diocese. Then she said, “You seem like you could do just about anything.”

I’m getting a lot of that. And I’m getting a lot of it at the cathedral. It’s almost like rock-star treatment; both gratifying and a little unnerving. People see a power in me that I’m just not used to. And I’m doing things here, that I’ve never done.

I know where the power, and the perception, come from. Part of it is the intersection of me with this community, at this point in our lives. People are ripe to take part in the outreach I’m doing. And I’m so ready to do it, and to stretch these leadership skills.

The source is as deep as my being. I’m a cancer survivor. The experience of diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy—terror, hope, physical and emotional exhaustion, illness and recovery—is still so very fresh. I know about death and rebirth. Resurrection is the filter through which everything flows through me.

These people did not know me before I was diagnosed. Only one of them—the friend who asked me to help her—knew me throughout my chemotherapy year. We were in a colleague group together. She saw me every week, when I was doing well to get out of bed. She knew how much I loved the work I was doing, how deeply it formed me, and how I struggled to have the physical energy to do it.

Everyone else met me at the end of summer, when I missed street ministry like oxygen and was strong enough to start coming up here. (I live 45 minutes away.) They see me now, when I'm alive and awake and my body is well. They don’t know where I came from.

But I do. And I know the gifts that cancer gave me. I remember the fearfulness I lived in, before fear for my life kicked that cage to the curb. I was so unsure of myself, so tentative about everything. So caught up in unhealed wounds; so unbelieving. Then I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. I had to be strong. I had to feel real fear, and walk through it. I had to ally my whole self with my body. I had to trust in my community’s prayers, and in God from the very beginning. I chose to go where cancer took me; to let the crucible forge me into what I have become. But I knew all along that I had no real choice.  I had to be open to it.  Giving in to the panic would have killed me.  To walk through the experience with my eyes open, feeling the fear and the hope and the love and letting them transform me, was to choose life.

Living through all of that, and emerging whole and healthy, gives me a sense that I can only articulate as, "I am alive now."

It’s not urgency. It is incarnate possibility.

My wings are still wet. But they are no longer broken. In this season, I’m going to stretch them as far as I can. And learn to believe in the power God has given me, in this life that is mine.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I'm starting Lent early.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you’, and, ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

--Luke 4:1-13

All kinds of things are waking up, vocationally. I’m doing work I love, with the cathedral and the homeless community. The call has gotten louder: all I want to do is go be a priest to them. I haven’t been here long enough to start a formal process, but the feedback I’m getting is completely positive, and my clergy supports me. We’re talking about things that I’m incredibly excited about, both for right now and in the future.

And I’m going internally bananas. For over a year, no one told me I spoke too fast. I couldn’t; I was either on interferon or healing from it. I was exhausted all the time. But I was talking to one of my priests the other night, and I caught myself stuttering. Then I went to the Catechumenate after dinner. I organize Thursday night dinners (we feed homeless people as well as parishioners), so I stayed late to help clean up. I walked in, in the middle of lectio. The passage was the above quotation, for the first Sunday in Lent. The leader asked what God was telling us through this story. My answer couldn’t have been clearer:

Keep calm, stay grounded, pray, breathe, keep at it.

And so that’s what I’m going to do.

I suck at meditation. I’ve never understood the point of counting my breaths. And I’m no better at centering prayer. Attempting to hold one word or image just opens me up to associations. My brain lunges against every restraint, exactly because I’m trying to hold it still.

I can, however, breathe. And if I’m not legalistic about it—if I don’t label it something and then try to live up to that—I’ll feel free enough to let myself flow into it.

I love everything I’m doing—but I need to find my center. A friend taught me a visualization, years ago. Someone taught it to her, when she was learning to sing:

Imagine yourself as a tree. Stand, preferably barefoot on the earth (but in shoes on the floor, if you need to). Breathe up from your feet, through your legs, into your diaphragm, out. Draw water up from the earth, into your roots, through your body, out into the atmosphere and let go of it; let it fall again as rain. Keep breathing, until you are where you need to be.

I didn’t do it when I was sick; I didn’t have the balance to stand still alone. Now, just writing it out makes me breathe deeply, gives me space, gives me life.

Giving up chocolate is missing the point. Lent isn’t a punishment; it’s an invitation to remember who we are. I’ve kept prayer journals in previous seasons; more or less faithfully. Last year I tried to be mindful of the moment, to pay attention in conversations and not wander everywhere. I saw how distractible I was (and am); I’m not sure I learned how to solve it. What I need is to say to God with my breath, my intention, my body,

I exist, because of you. I am yours. Do with me, what you will.

What needs to happen, in me and for the world, can only happen in that place. And I can’t even imagine what will sprout there.

I’ve struggled with talking fast for... practically ever. But right now, I’m thankful that I have this physical cue. And I have experience when it wasn’t an issue. I remember centeredness. I know what it is to be grounded. I don’t need the fatigue that went with that. I can find the calm that will keep me in control of my body. I can trust God to hold the light where I am going.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010