Monday, January 19, 2015

In lieu of words

I hold these words in sacred space today as I pore over them, slow and hungry. And I cringe on my insides, because I know they're not more sacred today than they were yesterday or will be tomorrow, and yet this is the first day in years since I've cracked open this book. In light of remembering the life and sacrifice behind these words and the power of the words themselves, and even more, in light of what is still painfully relevant in them, I return. 

I return to listen. I return to make room for them in my heart once more. I return to be changed.

And I resist the urge to mark them in highlighter or underline with pen strokes. For it's too easy, all these years later, to let them sound too beautiful in my ears. To let my eyes fall upon them for superficial comfort - the comfort of recognizing truth in them, radical and holy, only for it to penetrate deeply enough to nod my head, yes, and feel I've been touched enough by their message without requiring much from me.

The temptation to let them be only a colorful mural painted on the wall of the high school football field down the street. Eloquent words framed by Pinterest on my wall.  A facebook status.  

Aesthetics. I want to weep at this realization, as I stare at Martin Luther King Jr's face on the cover of this book and remember his dream was not to be encased on a shelf as inspirational quotes but to spread like wild seeds throughout this country, this world, taking root and changing the landscape from hatred to love, injustice to justice, war to peace.

To remember him as an icon, a symbol, a quotable orator, and not as the complex man fleshing out the nuances - the blood, sweat and tears behind the words of this book - is to reduce him to his words. But he lived and died by these words, to leave behind a legacy, a dream, a vision, for others to pick up and spread.

And I find this, too, is one of several reasons I struggle to return often to Jesus' words, to read them as letters on a page, so familiar, so beautiful, so enigmatic. When in truth, they are disturbing, the sharp side of a nonviolent coin, cutting flesh until it bleeds life. And isn't that both the danger and the power of words? That they can make us feel moved enough that we believe we are changed - or they can actually move us to change. I cannot read too much of Jesus' words, either, for fear they will become little more than quotes highlighted and underlined on a page, framed on my wall, when the real wonder and glory of these words is seeing them come to life outside the pages, not inside them - both inside and outside of me.  

The word made flesh.

Inside this house, inside of me. Outside these walls, inside of you. Across this city, this country, around the world. To read these words in living color, to feel them stirring me to life and dwelling with us, this is the wonder I seek. 

Joining Kelly (and Kelli) in this change of hands from Unforced Rhythms to Small Wonder.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

This beautiful, broken old road

As I've settled into my word for the year, resurgence, these first two weeks of January, I've noticed a dwindling desire to share in-the-moment stories from my journey in writing. It's as I suspected: resurgence in my life, at this moment in time, seems to be leading me to greater depths of privacy in my writing.

And this wraps around me with peace.

Even though I was just getting warmed up with practicing bravery in writing the story of this spiritual transformation I'm in the midst of. The end of the year came, baptizing me instead in the grace to begin a new year without needing to articulate the ins and outs of these changes publicly.

But I do have this to say, before I settle back into this world of privacy, with another deep breath for courage and a prayer for grace for each other - - - 

I've said goodbye to church, or church as I've known it recently, and am giving myself space to figure out where I fit. But not until more recently did I come to know, I'm really saying goodbye to the evangelical church and much of the culture that comes with it*.

I have many reasons for leaving.

Some of which can be communicated with long-reflected-upon, sought-and-prayed after words, readily available at the tip of my tongue, or if time allows for percolation in conversation. Others, I know in my gut and experience like a grating against the grain of who I am becoming. I know my reasons by how what was once as unnoticeable to me as the air I breathe now makes it harder for my soul to breathe freely. I am changing. I am accepting myself as changed.

But, as I said, I am not compelled to write these reasons one by one. For these words on my blog, I ascertain, are read mostly by evangelicals and I have no desire to alienate people, nor be dismissed as yet another voice droning among the masses of those airing church grievances.

That's not my heart. This kind of criticism is not what I'm about. 

I've felt some urgency at times, yes, to communicate my differences as they unfold, perhaps because there are more implied similarities within this specific Christian culture than I ever realized - until they no longer fit who I am. And I only want to be known as the person I am. Not the person I was, or the person I'm assumed to be, or the person who fits a certain profile of beliefs.

Maybe for me to articulate, even graciously, all the reasons why I'm leaving (as if I could) reduces me to nothing more than a non-evangelical image of the nit-picking I'm emerging from. I can produce no bulleted list, complete with scripture verses to support each point of change, nor do I want to. I'm going off the cuff of the Spirit stirring in my life, and I know, somehow, that even though I don't know what this will look like or what to call it - it's good.

Maybe the reasons why I'm leaving, in the end, are of less importance than the action itself, of one step and then another in the direction of the Spirit, repeated day after day after day.

The reasons themselves turn out to be no more than the puffs of exhaust fumes that linger in the air after the car has already sped down the road. They are not to be clung to, for they, too, will dissolve soon enough - and it's the road that remains. This beautiful, broken old road we travel centuries and centuries behind other seekers and followers, in different shoes, different vehicles, but that leads us home to Christ all the same.

When our paths cross on this road, if they do, I would wish you to look in my eyes and see love, more than any other thing, and hear these words in the offering of my hand to you:

Peace be with you. 

* * * * *

*By saying this, I am in no way trying to attack evangelical culture or generalize it singularly as negative, only recognizing that much of it no longer fits my faith.

Linking up with Unforced Rhythms

Monday, January 5, 2015

In which I jump on the bandwagon (OneWord 2015)

I confess: I couldn't let go.

I've never had a single word to frame my year, through participation with OneWord365, though I've tried. I've chosen words that quickly deflated, that I wrote once or twice about and forgot after that. More than anything, I think the trying was half-hearted. I didn't really care all that much, but I thought the idea was cool. 

And even though I wrote last week how I didn't have a word for this year, only an image of where I was, that could have been enough. I do love how images speak. But I held on, because I felt it stirring, right there, at the tip of my tongue. I suspected there was a word waiting at the edge if I only persisted.

And there was.

* * * * *

My word came to me, not through God, per se, or a flash of insight, but through a thesaurus. That, and listening to where my life is already moving. Maybe it's just that I know, in general, this is how God speaks to me. He makes me think and ponder and search, and often in the end, listen and choose for myself. So I brainstormed a list of words and mulled them over these past several weeks, with reflection, openness, prayerfulness. And in the end, I still wasn't quite satisfied with the list, so I thumbed through my thesaurus and scavenged for synonyms near the words that felt so close but not close enough, until one made my heart beat a little harder than the rest.

For some time, I've treasured the symbol of a Phoenix. The beauty of this mythical bird dying and rising from the ashes, again and again, ushering healing through this process of loss and rebirth, rumbles in the deep of me. It sings of identification, for this has been my life, too. A series of deaths, of ashes, of life smoldering and bursting into flame, of rising to start again. 

I'm beginning to wonder if all of life wasn't meant to be this.

This is why resurgence caught my attention. The origin of this word dates back to 1808, where it first indicated, to rise again

Rebirth. Comeback. Rejuvenation. Resurrection. Renewal. Return. Reawakening. Triumph. 


* * * * *

On new year's eve, I walked a labyrinth for the first time. I felt, somehow, I needed to ready myself for it before stepping inside, but I didn't know how. So I just stepped in. With one way in and one way out, the cream colored path framed in a dark counterpart twisted back and forth in switchbacks like cloth intestines, heading toward the same center for all who walked. And we all walked it different, solitary, some times getting in each others' way or slowing one another down. And we all walked it communally, in this dance of giving each other space to be as we shared the same space of our journey. 

And I saw, as I walked, there is no readying for this exercise. The walking is the readying. The living, the praying, the meditation, the keen attending to a moment. It was the most meditative prayer I've offered, I think, and for the forty minutes or so I took to walk this path, scenes from the year replayed in my thoughts. My walk through the labyrinth mirrored my year in a symbolic, yet very physical way, and I had the sense I was walking this into the new year as an extension of the old, more than a fresh beginning. Carrying on with the momentum already set into motion through 2014, rather than clearing the slate and starting fresh.

I finally reached the center and settled in a space on the floor, staring ahead at a wooden cross on the back wall. I sat and drank this moment until full, stood up on knees that croaked into the quiet space about us, and headed back the way I came. The same path, but a slightly different view this time around. I reveled in the expansiveness of the path, at the same time, the comfort of having edges hemming us in.

I looked over at Ricardo, peacefully reclining in his seat along the side of the labyrinth and felt my cheeks warm with joy.

I’m glowing, I think. 

* * * * *

A few minutes before midnight, we all huddled in a half circle around a table now set in the center of the labyrinth. The priest, in normal clothes, led us through the liturgy of the Eucharist. He broke a loaf of bread in two and poured champagne into two chalices, extending an invitation for all to come who were hungry, no matter where we were on our journeys of faith.

“Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us," he spoke to us.

"Therefore let us keep the feast.  Alleluia," we answered, all our voices together.

My eyes burned hot around the corners with these words. The wonder and scandalous grace and generosity of it all. Church and I have had a strained relationship for much of this year, and honestly still do, and yet this night it hit with the force of a flock of geese stirring up the wind with their wings as they descend on water: I’m a little closer to what my soul craves here in this moment.  As I walk this solitary path in the company of others, granting each other the space to be as we are, I sense somehow I am heading toward home.

Ricardo grasped my hand and we edged forward to receive the first feast of our new year together. In past years, we’ve ushered in the new year dancing. We are dancing this year, too, a quieter dance, in the company of strangers who are also, mysteriously, family.

Joining my words with the Unforced Rhythms community, for the first link up of 2015.