Curious

United Methodist clergy appointments usually begin July 1, so this Sunday a lot of people will be hearing from a new preacher. Some folks are retiring, with varying degrees of regret or anticipation. In a couple of months students will enter a new world at college. When we face a new situation our temptation is often to ask, “What do I like?” Do I like this new pastor? Do I like preaching to these people? Do I like this set-up?

Sometimes that’s a helpful question to ask, but usually it just gets us all tangled up in our judgments. It’s always good to ask, ”What can I learn?” From this new pastor, in this new life situation, on this new day—what can I learn? In this moment, like it or not, life is giving me the opportunity to learn more about the universe and about myself, and more of God. I am being given the chance to grow, to deepen my practice of forgiveness, say, or attentiveness, gratitude, litheness or compassion.

Everything is a teaching, a chance to learn and practice. It’s a gift. But only if I stay open and curious. Even if it’s a rotten situation, nine times out of ten curiosity beats misery. Compassion always covers the rest.

Stay curious.             

A sword

         Do not think that I have come
         to bring peace to the earth;
         I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
         I have come to set a man against his father,
         and a daughter against her mother.
                  —Matthew 10.34-35

It’s not a sword of conflict or violence. It’s the cutting edge of making choices, splitting what you choose from what you don’t choose. And making your choices will set you apart from others, even friends and family. This is the work of becoming your own self.

When your choices upset those around you it may be because you’re being foolish. But it may be because you’re making your choices instead of letting them. It will be like this. Abandon that owned self, and find your own self.

Listen deeply to God. Let God alone lead you. Make yourself available to God as an instrument of righteousness, and know that even as you let go of your life you receive life.

Servant

      Don’t sell yourself out to be used as a weapon of injustice,
         but—mindful that you have been brought from death to life—
         make yourself available to God as an instrument of justice.

                  —Romans 6.2

Holy One, you see through
my pretense of independence,
my illusion of control.
It’s my human nature to be a slave:
bound up by my desires,
controlled by my fears, my habitual wound.
I will be a slave.
So let me be a slave to you.

May I be free of the illusion of control,
possessed by your love,
an instrument in your hand,
a tool of compassion,
a servant of your peace,
present and available for you,
and so utterly free
of the world’s anxiety.

May my freedom be in you,
in the choice to serve you,
to belong to you,
to work for justice;
by your grace in me,
your presence for me,
and this—your astounding devotion
to be my servant.

Psalm 13

God, have you forgotten me forever?
         Do I even matter to you?
Why are you so hard to find?
How long will I argue with myself about you,
         this dark pit in my heart all day long?
How long will this dark adversary
         loom over me?

Give me an answer, God—any answer.
         Let there be light in my eyes,
         not this sleep, this death.
I can hear my adversary now: ” I win.”
         I can see them gloat over my lifeless soul.

But I trust your kindness like the earth itself.
         You rescue me, and I rejoice.
I will sing to you, Beloved,
         because you always so lovingly pick me up.

 

Abraham and Isaac

After these things God tested Abraham. God said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”                   —Genesis 22.1-2

God didn’t actually tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. But Abraham (that is, the community) thought so. They carried on the tradition of their ancient religion, like so many around the world, sacrificing what was most precious, even their children, in the belief that God willed it. (We still do that; that’s what war is.) But the moment came, the knife poised in the air, when Abraham actually saw Isaac, saw him as a person, not as an object to be used. And Abraham realized that he’d gotten his religion all wrong. God didn’t want child sacrifice.

This is a story about how religions evolve.

We get our religion wrong all the time. We’re sure God wills a certain thing, and then we see more clearly that we were wrong—and we were blaming our error on God. A couple thousand years after Abraham our religion evolved some more and we realized God doesn’t want burnt offerings at all, of any kind. The early church had to change its ways regarding the inclusion of Gentiles. For centuries we sacrificed the ordination of women and gays in the name of what we were sure God willed. And then we see them as persons, and our religion changes.

Sometimes we’re convinced that to “test us” God wants us to sacrifice what is dear to us, like our gifts or our well being, or to repress certain movements of our spirit, or squelch certain experiences, or undergo certain suffering. But it might be otherwise. Are there “children” in your soul you have believed God wants you to sacrifice, to do without, to kill or cut off? Are they your Isaac, your “laughter,” God’s beloved, that God does not want you to sacrifice but to honor?

Lay aside the knife. Unbind the child. God will bless you, not in doing away with what is not yours to kill, but in loving that which you’ve been given to love.         

Go

         God said, “Go from your country
         and your people and your family home
         to a land I will show you…
         and you will be a blessing.

                  —Genesis 12.1-2

These days many of my United Methodist clergy colleagues are preaching their last sermons in their churches and packing up to go to a new appointment, or retiring. Students are graduating and heading off into new chapters in their lives. Some of us are staying put, but invisibly all of us are moving on, even if it is simply to a new way of living, a new depth of forgiveness, a new place of awareness or openness or compassion. God calls us to go, to leave behind the familiar and to venture into the mystery, because that’s where we meet God. We meet God in the place of not knowing, not being in control. Our unknowing opens our hearts to the presence of the One who is beyond all comprehension.

In the strange place, God is with you. In the awkward, hesitant moment, the Beloved accompanies you. In the tricky passage you have never encountered before, where you don’t quite know what to do, you are a gift, not because of your expertise, but because the Holy One is in you, radiant with blessing. Someone needs you to be right there, even if they haven’t been born yet.

Let go of what you must. Grieve what you leave behind. Do not seek self-confidence but God-confidence. Go into the mystery, where you will meet God. You will be blessed to be a blessing. And know that you are held in prayer, in gratitude and in solidarity as you go.        

An undivided heart

         Teach me your way, O Lord,
                  that I may walk in your truth;
         give me an undivided heart
                  to revere your name.

                           —Psalm 86.11

Gather my heart, O Loving One:
         a heart undivided, not dispersed,

all of my fear and clinging
         absorbed into love,

all of my desires and distractions
         taken up in reverence,

my many motives aligned
         with the pure will to be a blessing,

not scattered to defend my little Self
         in all its various weaknesses

but one in trust and wonder
         and compassion.

All my bits and pieces I give you;
         make me one in your one heart,

to bear your love with grace,
         only to bear your love.

 

Newness

        We have been buried with him by baptism into death,
         so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
         by the glory of God,
         so we too might live brand new lives.

                  —Romans 6.4

Glorious Love,
I let it all go now,
I let myself go.

An old tree disappearing
into the forest floor.
A whole closet cleared out.

All that I cling to,
what I wanted to do and to be,
the very who of me

I let fall into your hands,
die into your glory,
breathe out.

All day long I will wait
for the life you will give me,
for the I you will have me become

to rise at your touch,
to emerge from your breathing in me,
created in the moment,

not by my choosing,
not the old way, but a new life,
Christ raised, whole, in me.

I breathe out.
I wait.
I breathe in.

 

Sparrow

In the grass along the road
the body of a sparrow.

This road I walk, this mystery,
do I imagine myself unseen, unaccompanied?

Hagar and Ishmael in the desert,
watched over by angels.

A road seems good, but narrows,
becomes a mere path, fades into weeds.

Still, I am not alone. This is still
only the middle of the story.

I sit a little way from myself, a bowshot,
and get some perspective.

Even the silence is the voice of God,
this path a line on God’s palm.

Not a sparrow falls to the earth
apart from the Loving One.

 

Roots

                  
I walk on the wrinkled knuckles of roots
that reach far beyond my knowing
into blackness and life. They find water.

I eat the blossoms of the purple vetch.
I want their surrender to come inside me.
The meadow is its own kind of wisdom.

So many unseen creatures, so many
forms of life thriving, glorifying.
The woods know so much more than I do.

I sit still as my root hairs
feel their way among the stones
and memories to a river of stars.

A wolf appears and waits,
the earth meditates, breathing,
the trees sing their ancient hymn in me.