We built a temple

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

We built a church of wood
         and they burned it to dust.

We built a shrine of gold
         and they stole it all.

We built a cathedral of stone
         and they toppled it with ease.

We walked out into a field of love
         and they can’t even find it.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

But now I see

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

         God, help me see your glory.
         Open my eyes to your grace.

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
         May I see by your light.
         May I do the works of light.

He spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
         Help me let go of old ways of seeing.
         Give me a new consciousness.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”
         Give me courage to see others as they truly are,
         not as I want to see them.

Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.”
         I confess that I sometimes care more
         about defending my world view
         than about others and their well being.

They did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called his parents and asked them.
         Give me grace to honor what is in my heart
         without having to ask others what I know to be true.

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”
         Help me to see your grace in those whom I judge,
         to see your truth in what I resist
         to see your presence where I have refused to see.

He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

         Once I judged, and I was blind,
         but by your grace I see grace
         and my eyes are opened.
         You have set me free
         from the fear of seeing.
         You give me courage to see what is,
         and behold what is before me.
         I look with my soul, not only my eyes,
         and I watch what others do not notice.
         I look to the heart, and attend to the soul,
         and so I see the unseen, by your grace.

They said, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”
         I confess the preconceptions that blind me,
         the blinders of what I want to be true,
         and how I want to be right.

The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
         Give me courage to see grace and and mercy,
         to notice injustice and demeaning,
         even when others want me not to see,
         when I would be at ease being oblivious.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

         God, help me to see with your eyes,
         with your compassion,
         with your grace,
         for otherwise I am blind.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
         God, be my seeing.
         Create me anew as your eyes.
         Look upon this world with love
         from within me.

—from John 9
         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

No such thing as deserving

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

         — John 9.1-3

Biblical cultures believed that all disease and misfortune is God’s punishment. We come close. One problem is that our little ego-self has a hard time being fully in the present moment. We stay chained to the past: we believe that what we’ve done in the past somehow determines what we “deserve” in the present. But God is not in the past, and God is not determined by the past. God is not obligated to match a punishment or a reward with some past deed, and we are not obligated to compensate for the past. Resurrection means that God is free of the past, and sets us free as well. This is what forgiveness is, and the grace of God.

In this story, people assume that a man born blind has to stay that way. Jesus will show them otherwise.

Another problem is that we really do think that, having eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we can judge—and just because our little egoic selves think we can, we think that judging is what needs to be done, and what God does. We think that one’s actions can be so simplistically labeled as good or evil as to warrant a single particular fate that one “deserves.” But our actions have a thousand aspects, causes and consequences, and good and evil are not so easily separated out. Many of the “bad” things we do are ways of coping we learned as children that kept us sane and alive. Is that bad? Maybe what God judges is not our past but our present: how present we are to God right now, in this moment.

In this story, people assume that if there has been sin, someone ”deserves” punishment. Jesus will show them otherwise.

Neither the man nor his parents sinned (in the past). He was born blind so that God’s glory might be revealed in him (in the present). There is no such thing as deserving. There is only God’s grace.

You think that for your acts, good or bad, there is deserving. Let God show you otherwise. Be present to God in the present moment. Let God free you of the past. Learn from it, yes; receive from it, let it shape and guide you. But it does not control you, or God. You live with the consequences of what you have done, but God does not attach reward or punishment to that. God only grants you grace. Allow God to bring you gently into the present moment, freeing you from the past, and from all “deserving.” No one owes anyone anything. You are free. You are loved. You are free to love God as perfectly as you can. Come into God’s presence—God’s presence for us, God’s present— with thanksgiving.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Mud season

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”
         —John 4.17-18

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.
         —John 20. 15-17

In between winter and spring is mud season. The beautiful snow disappears, burned down to icy, grimy crusts. Yards expose a season’s filth, matted and ugly. The ground is wet, sloppy and spongy. Brown mud covers everything. Green and flowering growth will come, but this comes first.

There is a season between repentance and rebirth, between the old life and the new. There is a kind of mud season in which we have become newly honest about our faults, wounds and struggles. We are exposed and vulnerable, and not yet comfortable with a new way of living. We are unrecognizable as our old selves, but not yet fully formed as new ones. The clay is still wet and fragile, too tender to cling to.

It’s hard to change our lives. It’s a long process, and it does not come all at once. We need to be humble and patient, and gentle with ourselves. And we ought to be so tender with others, in case they, too, have entered into their own mud season. We need to not cling to the way they are, so that they are free to become what they will be. New life will surely come, but only if we respect it. Be gentle with yourself and others, and be patient with the mud seasons. The little green shoots will appear soon enough.
         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Thirst

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

—Matthew 4.2

         Fasting, I confront my desires.
         I follow them and they lead me
         inward into my wilderness.

The people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”
—Exodus 17.3

         Too often it is only through suffering,
         through struggle and want,
         that I find what I seek,
         and who I am.

God opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river.

—Psalm 105.41
         
         You provide what I need,
         not what I crave,
         and not where I expect it.

God humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
—Deuteronomy 8.3

         A deeper thirst yearns beneath my wants.
         I befriend my temptations,
         without surrendering to them,
         until they show me what they are hiding.

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

—Psalm 42.1-2

         This holy thirst is not a weakness;
         it is my salvation. It never fails me.
         It is You, drawing me nearer.

“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

—John 4.15

         May my soul’s thirst flood my body’s;
         May I never lose my overwhelming
         craving for you.

When Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”

—John 19.28

         My thirst for You takes me
         to places of compassion:
         when others thirst
         my mouth is dry.

The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

—John 4.14

         One thirsty gulp of Your grace
         lasts me forever,
         gushing up from within me
         for life.

         God, today I am happy
         to be hungry and thirsty
         for you.
         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

The woman at the well

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say….”

         —John 4.15-20
         

Women did not have the power to marry or to divorce. That was the discretion of the man. So she has been used five times, and is being used now again. But Jesus neither judges her past nor dwells on her situation. He names her pain, but allows her to set the agenda for their conversation. She doesn’t want to talk about the men in her life. She wants to talk about God. So they do.

For yeas she has been ignored, belittled, and treated as if she had no worthy ideas or valid perspective. She has been treated as if she is not worthy of another’s attention or fidelity. She is ostracized by her community (she can’t go to the well ’till noon, at the bottom of the village pecking order for morning water). But now, at last, here is someone—a man, no less, and a Jewish rabbi!—who listens to her, who attends, not to what he thinks of her, but to what she is actually saying. He doesn’t just tolerate her. He truly, deeply and wholly accepts her, and all of who she is. I imagine at some point that mingled with the water from the well and the living stream in her heart that Jesus promises are her tears of joy and gratitude.

We all have our secret burdens of pain, shame or despair. We all have our secret struggles, our failures, our wandering journeys. We have been misunderstood, judged, labeled. Aren’t we all hungry for acceptance, in which we can just be ourselves without either pretending we’re perfect or dwelling on our wounds? The one single most remarkable thing about the church I serve, that which I am most proud of them for, is that they are a safe place for people whose lives are broken.

This is not just lovely; it’s holy. This willingness to embrace people is an embodiment of God’s grace. God receives us without labels, without judgment, without distraction, and attends to our hearts. We get self-conscious before God and start listing our strengths and weaknesses and God says, “Yeah, so? I love you.”

What we are all most thirsty for is to belong. Pray that you might offer a safe place for all others, for those whom even you judge harshly. May they find in your presence the warm, gentle embrace of God. Listen to them.
         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

The weaver of heaven

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

The weaver of heaven looks out
upon her world and wants
to walk among her dear humans unnoticed
for she knows how alarmed they can be

So she weaves a beautiful garment for herself
and when she is finished
naked and eager she puts you on
and you fit perfectly

And you walk out into the world
and hardly anyone
not even you yourself
recognizes

But every movement is actually her
every breath is really her
and even when you stumble
she is beautiful in you

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Abram

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” …. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
         —Genesis 12.1-2, 4

God grants us lives that are more interesting than predictable. I’m only 57, not 75, but these days I feel like Abram: every United Methodist pastor serves under the appointment of their Bishop, and this summer my Bishop is appointing me to another church (in Acton, Massachusetts.) This will be our sixth move, so we’re used to this business of stepping off into the unknown. The temptation, of course, is to pretend that it’s not unknown: to imagine that I can just be the same and do more of the same, that I don’t have to learn or be anything new. That would be too bad.

We resist change and the unknown, partly because we fear loss. I’ll miss some friends, and my dear New Hampshire woods. But mostly we fear the loss of control, knowing what to do. Since we identify so deeply with our control, it feels like we’re losing ourselves. Well, in fact that is true, since we really are invited to become new people. Abram became Abraham.

But in all our travels and travails, in consolations and desolations, no matter what treasures are taken, or trophies given to us, through all our changes, even as we leave who we are behind and become new people, two things are constant. One is our soul, the holy core, the divine nucleus of who we are that cannot be taken away or changed. All God’s transformations faithfully honor our deepest self; they do not destroy it. Let all that is new and unknown strip away what is external and reveal your soul.

The second: God did not say to Abram, “Go find it.” God said, “I will show you.” This also is constant: the Holy Presence who abides, who lives so intimately with us that it is not above or beside us but within. When things about us are busy and changing, it takes time to sit still and go within to meet that Presence. But the Beloved is there. In all your changes, seek that holy seed of who you are, your eternal soul, and seek the One who abides within. And you will find that they are one, that your soul is of God, and yearns for God, and leans toward God. This mystery will accompany you through all changes and illumine the unknown. Go from Abram to Abraham. Go from merely having a soul to being one; let go of everything else—and no changes will trouble you.

No matter how far the lands where you roam,
your journey is always coming home.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

A psalm of spring

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

O Greening God, Spring be your praise!
         Praise be these warming, gentle days,

the evening light that lingers more
         each day beside her lover’s door,

the silent, ice-bound brook’s release
         to sing its melody of peace,

and snow-bowed limbs, now free, that lift
         their hands to thank you for the gift.

The lines of geese, mile after mile,
         are monks processing up the aisle

toward the altar of their nest
         while chanting psalms that we are blessed.

Your praise be sap in buds and roots,
         the courage of the small green shoots,

the breeze from warmer bosoms drawn,
         the songs of birds that thread the dawn.

O God of budding, birthing things,
         all rising up your glory sings—

all bugs that hatch, all smells that waft,
         all thawing, swelling, turning soft:

this is your praise, and may it be
         as in the woods, so clear in me.

Emerge in me, O Lord, like spring,
         that I may be the hymn you sing.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Born again

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Realm of God without being reborn from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can you enter a second time into your mother’s womb and be born?”

         — John 3.3-4

OK, class, settle down. After you all finish tittering about Nick’s silly question here—listen, it’s the same question you have, isn’t it? He gets our panic: in this being born again thing—I get to bring my old self along, right? He’s made the absurdity of it clear by using a biological image of climbing back into the womb and trying again, but the reality is spiritual: not just your body but your whole self, what you think is “you”— you can’t take it with you. When you are born again you don’t go back to some earlier point, you go onward. You die. You leave your self behind. You’re not just birthed again, you’re conceived again. You’re created. You’re a wholly new person.

Nicodemus’ question points out our deep attachment to our “self.” That attachment is what we call sin. Sin is living in the illusion that I can create myself, and that I do create myself, and that this self I create is worth defending. We assume that our self is contained in our body, and spend our lives wrestling with its limitations. We identify with our feelings and thoughts and beliefs, with our memories and personalities and accomplishments, as if that’s who we are. But who we are is an image, a little bit, a handful of God.

When we really, truly, madly, deeply love God, we love God even more than our own “self”—and we give that self over to God, along with the illusion that we are God, that we get to create and control our own self. In so doing we return to our true self, our soul. We allow God to create us, over and over again, in God’s good and beautiful grace, trusting, as she said the first time in Genesis, that is is “very good.” We are re-born, not by human will, but from God. “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of human doing, but of God” (John 1.12-13).

To “believe” doesn’t mean to think. It means to give your heart to the One who creates you new, every morning you awake, every breath. So, Nick, the answer to your question is yes. Enter again into your Heavenly Mother’s womb, and be born again, and again, and again. The hard part is letting go of who you think you are, so that you are ready to receive it from God. (That’s what Lent is about.) Every moment we choose, we can let go of the person we have been trying to be, let the Beloved conceive us anew, and allow her to birth us into this world as newborns, beautiful babies, full of wonder, and swaddled in love for the Mother who gives us birth and life.
         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net