When I can’t hold on

           Peter said, “Though all become deserters
           because of you, I will never desert you.”
           Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you,
           this very night, before the cock crows,
           you will deny me three times.”

                           —Matthew 26. 33-34

Oh, Jesus, sometimes I will act as if I do not know you.
I’ll act as if I am in need, alone, unaccompanied.
I will fail to share, to forgive, to bless, to risk, to speak out.
I’ll choose not to trust God, but be selfish.
In an argument I will be sure to win and forget to love.
You will be carted off, and I will slip away.
You will be shot in the street and I will turn the page.
And still you will claim me… forgive me…
seat me beside you, in a place of honor
and give me your body.
Still you love, and will always love.
Still you hold me close
with the faithfulness I writhe against.
Give me the weakness to allow myself
to be so outrageously loved,
so taken, that it’s at least a little harder to desert you.
Even in my unfaithfulness
give me your faithfulness.
When I can’t hold on, hold me.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
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           By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
                           —Isaiah 53.8

God did not send Jesus to die.
But I confess that in a musty place in my heart
the lie that Jesus was meant to die suits me fine.
Oh, I abhor the theology: God does not need more gore.
But in my heart I confess
I’m comfortable with others suffering for my sake.
I rail against the idea that God needs a blood payment,
that God planned a tragedy—
a payoff instead of true forgiveness—
and I say with my lips the cross is a lynching,
a nazi gas chamber, another police shooting.
But secretly, I confess, I like my place of ease and safety.
I’m addicted to my privilege.
I let others suffer instead of me.
Even as I protest I participate.
I know God demands otherwise.
But I live as if God meant for me to survive
at the cost of others’ lives.
I confess: I am saved from the virus of evil;
I also carry the virus.
I stand at the foot of the cross with tears in my eyes
and a hammer in my hand.

May I die, forgiven, and be raised, changed.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
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           Mary took a pound of costly perfume
           made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet,
           and wiped them with her hair.
           The house was filled
           with the fragrance of the perfume.

                           —John 12.3

Mary Christ, you who have met me before
in the valley of the shadow of death,
you kneel in perfect compassion,
join me in my sorrow
and soothe me in my pain.
These feet soon pierced you heal
with balm before the wound;
you bless, and teach the Teacher
how to bless his dear ones’ feet.
The house is filled like costly incense
with the fragrance of your love.
Christ Mary, your heart broken
like a jar, poured out like oil,
drying my feet, soon lashed,
with your hair,
my suffering now borne in your flesh,
I die in your arms and
am reborn, new, and washed.
Mary Christ,
with the laying on
of hands and hair, your bittersweet
baptismal flood of tears,
with your holy spirit of love
you bless me now
to go to my cross,
to bear love and its heartbreaking cost,
and send me forth, your Beloved,
and finally now your
Anointed One.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
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Lent discipline: Humility

           Christ Jesus, though of God,
                      did not cling to equality with God,
           but in complete self-emptying
                      took the place of a slave,
                      born a human.
           And as a human, in profound humility,
                      Christ became obedient to the point of death—
                      even death on a cross.
           Therefore God also highly exalted Christ
                      with the name that is above every name….

                           —Philippians 2.6-9

           Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
                             —Matthew 19.30

Jesus invites us to a Lenten discipline of humility.
Humility is not thinking poorly of ourselves,
ranking others higher, or mere self-abasement.
Humility is knowing the whole.
We are all a circle, where the first is last and the last is first.
Each of us is equally important.
Each is gifted, beautiful, wounded, and indispensable.
And none is more vital, honored or deserving than another.
We each sing our note. Humility is blending in perfect harmony.
Humility enables us to take the lowest place,
or the highest, and serve as a vessel of God’s grace.
It is usually the lowest place,
free of privilege, power or prestige,
where grace is most clear.

           God, give me the humility,
           trusting in your grace,
           to take the lowest place
           and find your glory there.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
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Breath and bone

           You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit.
                           —Romans 8.9

The flesh is not bad, of course:
it’s how the Spirit sings.
It’s only bad when we forget the singing,
when we think flesh is all we are:
a separate little sack of self
(whose selfishness is bound to get reckless).

In truth, we are all one splendid body,
visible in many bodies,
alive in one Spirit,
all of us fingers of one hand,
complete in each other.
We are both the body and its belonging.

You are the necessary syllable
of the infinite song,
the flute and the music.
Dust and wind, breath and bone.

It happens in the singing.
Alone, your single note is merely noise,
your body merely flesh.
But in the harmony of the whole great chorus
the note of love you offer with your body
is beautiful and becomes more than you.

You love your neighbor as your flesh
and are made whole,
and more than flesh.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
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For Lazarus to rise

When Lazarus heard his name
he took a sudden breath.
With visceral trembling blood resurged.
But then, as when awakening some days,
he lay a moment, mired,
reluctant to rise from the familiar
swaddling of his death.
Rising, even more than dying,
there could be no return:
for if he chose to stand,
all he knew would then be lost

And still now every morning,
each momentary wish for healing
is a risk, a wakening call
to change, to choose,
to be again made new,
and leave so much behind.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
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Weep for the world

           Out of the depths
                   I cry to you, O God.

                                      —Psalm 130.1

It is necessary to weep for the world,
that has not learned to weep for itself.
So much to mourn!: lost loves and dreams,
hopes and possibilities,
memories of futures denied,
all of us bearing pieces of our hearts around
like sacks of stones.
And if we don’t grieve—don’t dare to,
or don’t know how—
we try to offload those stones onto others,
sometimes throw them, especially at strangers,
especially at loved ones.
All war and murder, all tyranny and greed
is only grief unwept, spilling out,
thrown upon the world in desperation.
Be tender with your grief,
let it flow in tears and songs, that it not become a stone.
And be tender with this grieving world
that still has yet to learn
how to make of broken stones and broken glass
a cathedral of hope and beauty.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
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           Jesus wept.
                           —John 11.35

The loss of someone dear
is a sudden thing that happens over a long time.
Grief is not a feeling or a phase,
it’s a landscape we enter
as unwilling refugees,
and learn to find our way anew.

             •     •     

Grief is a visitor from the realm
where we are all one,
who gives us the gift of sorrow
which is divine,
for in it our hearts bear the torn pieces
of the fabric of all things,
and by holding, mend.

             •     •     

Grief is a wild animal that moves into your house.
It will never be tamed.
You learn to live with it,
its moods and hungers,
its sudden movements.
You learn to regard it with tenderness.

             •     •     

You never learn its language,
but sometimes, for the sake of the animal,
you go out on the back stoop,
overcome with love, and sit beside it
and howl.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
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Lent discipline: Weeping

           Jesus wept.
                           —John 11.35

For Lazarus, for Mary and Martha,
for Jerusalem, for us—Jesus weeps,
and invites us into the spiritual discipline of weeping:
to cede control, to be, after all, a body, baby-weak,
subject to the sting of love,
the pangs of our connectedness.
The rend in the fabric of Oneness
is made real in the rend in your eyes,
the crack in the wall, the opening of your flesh.
You surrender to a current,
like a river pulled into the ocean,
deep within you, flowing out,
a holy out-flowing.
Tears come when you have gone beyond yourself,
embodying a divine bond, severed yet still holding.

Weep; for even if you have not suffered
you have loved a suffering world.
Break the seal.
Feel the aliveness of a good cry.
For if you can weep you can hope.
If you can weep you have loved, and will love again.
You flow with God, who weeps for us in grief,
and weeps with joy.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
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Praying with Psalm 23

 [Download this document, with visual reflections, here.]

                    Not want

          The Lord is my shepherd;
          I shall not want.
                    —Psalm 23.1

Lead me, shepherd,
through the cluttered junkyard of my desires,
through the noisy bazaar of all the stuff I think I need,
to the quiet meadow of your love,
where I have everything I need.

Breath prayer:
                              Enough … at peace.

                              Green pastures

          You make me lie down in green pastures.
                    —Psalm 23.2

God, I am trying so hard—
to keep up, to maintain,
to produce, to perform.
Give me energy; and give me rest.
For there is no need,
no such thing as good enough,
there is only my belovedness.
You are my resting place.
Lead me aside from the hustle,
to a quiet place in you
to find my rest.

Breath prayer:
                              Rest … in you


          You restore my soul.
                    —Psalm 23.3

O Love,
sometimes I am under pressure,
sometimes I am in grief,
and my heart falters,
my breath goes shallow.
Revive me.
Be my heartbeat,
be my breath
and restore me deep within.
I breathe you, deep and easy.

Breath prayer:
                              Breathing … God

                              Good path

          You lead me in good paths for your name’s sake.
                    —Psalm 23.3

Lead me, gentle one.
Lead me in a way of grace and forgiveness,
a path of beauty and kindness.
Lead me toward justice and mercy.
May each step be a step of love and courage.
Give me clarity to discern your way for me,
and faith to follow it,
one step at a time.

Breath prayer:
                              Love … lead me

                              Dark valley

          Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
          I fear no evil; for you are with me;
          your rod and your staff— they comfort me.

                    —Psalm 23.4

The way to love and light
leads through pain and loss,
and the darkness of not seeing.
And you, my Love, my Faithful One,
you go there with me.
Through the unknowing,
through the powerlessness,
through the grief,
there you are,
until we reach
another green meadow. Thank you.
Lead me.

Breath prayer:
                    Unseen … presence


          You prepare a table before me
          in the presence of my enemies.

                    —Psalm 23.5

O Holy Mystery,
in the face of all I fear
you spread a feast
of sustenance and beauty.
Though I flee from hurtful conflicts
sometimes you invite me to your table
where I share with my enemies
and we are reconciled.
For provision and safety,
for abundance overflowing, I thank you.

Breath prayer:
                              Despite all … abundance


          Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
          all the days of my life,
          and I shall dwell in the house of the Beloved
          my whole life long.
                              —Psalm 23.6

Ah, Beloved, wherever I am,
I am at home in you.
Every moment I am in your presence,
surrounded by your goodness.
Your gentle mercy shadows me,
clings to me, belongs to me.
Unseen, unfelt, your spirit hovers.
Your grace enfolds me.
Your mystery breathes in me.
Your love abides.
I thank you.
I give myself to you.

Breath prayer:
                              At home … in you

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