Category Archives: epiphanies

We See Through the Glass Darkly: We Need One Another

Human beings, even in the same families, are born with unbelievably different ways of being in the world. It seems like God really complicated life on earth by making us this diverse. Yet, the mystics of all the world’s religions insist that the spiritual reality is that we are all one.

And even the Apostle Paul tells Christians, that we, the person next to us in the pew, and presumably the Christians worshiping God across the street and around the corner, are the Body of Christ. Every single one of us is an indispensable part that needs all the other parts to function as Jesus Christ’s visible presence in the world today. When the smallest, least important part is ignored or neglected, the whole body suffers.

Some years ago, when reflecting on this scripture while preparing a sermon for a group of Directors of Christian Education from diverse denominations, a very disturbing image suddenly filled my mind. I saw a person with their arms flailing in different directions, their head twisting side to side, and their out of sync legs struggling to stumble forward even a little with each step.

I felt like I had been hit in the stomach as I grasped the reality that this is the Body of Christ now. I literally cried aloud, “God, what can I do?” And immediately into my mind came the answer, “Admit what you can’t do.”
Well, that took me several decades. 

But I have finally realized that neither I, nor any of us, can discern God’s will unless we recognize with Paul that we see through the glass darkly. No matter what our natural gifts or spiritual ministries are, we need to be humble enough to consider other visions, so we don’t block what the Spirit is saying to the Body of Christ at any particular moment in time. Our vision may be valid, but just not in God’s timing for a particular part of His motley crew of Christians.

And like Paul, I have finally come to see that the most important gift really is love. That no matter how wonderful our own gifts are, unless we do the work of God with hearts open to all, with gentleness, sensitivity, patience and above all, humility, we become a noisy clanging cymbal that cripples the Body of Christ and blocks our broken hurting world from hearing the love of God expressed in Jesus.

The Broken Body

Reflecting on the Body,
you the hand, I the foot,
Christ the head, perhaps the heart,
all at times the hidden part,
I let the Scriptures
flood my mind with images,
with suddenly one image,
a moving picture
so harshly real
I gasp aloud.
A person staggers
stumbles forward,
arms flailing, head jerking
back and forth in spasms,
body parts all pulling
different ways.
This then, reality,
Christ’s earthly body now.

God, forgive us.

The prayer of my heart:
“Jesus, I want so much to use the gifts God gave me and the gifts of your Spirit to bring your love to our broken world and hurting people. Give me both the courage to let God use me and the humility to accept God’s timing. But most of all teach me how to love humbly, so that I do not become a clanging gong or clashing cymbals blocking others from knowing your love.”

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Living Only in the Present Moment: the Downside

A cautionary tale of our religious ancestors:
First we have Esau, an outdoors, physical kind of guy who lives in the present moment. And in this story he is so focused on his physical hunger in the moment that he’s oblivious to the long term consequences of his choice. Seriously, sell your whole future for the quick fix of a bowl of stew? (Jelly doughnuts maybe, but not stew.) Esau might have skipped lunch, but he isn’t starving. And then there is his twin brother, Jacob, a guy who not only thinks about the future, but wants the security of being number one so badly he robs the person closest to him of his birthright while he’s feeling weak. Obviously, there’s nothing new about dysfunctional families.
Like Esau and Jacob, we also have hungers that we justify as needs, because they dull the pain of being imperfect and vulnerable in a scary world.
I don’t know about you, but I’m often a bottomless pit of needs and wants.  Which makes me inclined to addictions, the need to control, and often being judgmental in my heart. And those are just the things I’m willing to tell you about.
But, thanks be, Jesus himself tells us that God’s love for all of us, not just for the goody two shoes, is like the tender love of a mother and father for their own tiny new baby. I’ve experienced that awesome unconditional love of God through Jesus. And though I believe the title ‘chosen’ leads to hubris and the word ‘saved’ can delude us that we are finished, I do know heart, mind, and soul without any doubt, that I (and all of you) are tenderly and totally loved by the God that created us.
Then why is life, even with its beauty, pleasures, love, and joy, so darn hard? Perhaps, the problem is that humanity is still childishly frozen in the terrible twos’ stage, where like Esau, we want what we want when we want it, no matter the consequences.
Whatever Jesus being one with God means, the human Jesus took on our frailty and struggled just as we do. Like us, he often learned the hard way by trial and error. Think of Mary and Joseph- frantic when their twelve year old stays behind in Jerusalem without telling them. Finally, only after his mom makes him realize how unkind that was, Jesus goes home and by obeying them, ‘grows in wisdom and goodness.’ He didn’t come into the world finished. At the wedding in Cana, we see the thirty year old Jesus reluctantly start his public ministry when he is again nagged by his mom to be kind. Later, the now amazing miracle working Jesus, not only gets totally exhausted, but sometimes is so overwhelmed by the huge crowds of needy people, that he tries to escape them. Then we hear him venting his frustration with his followers for always missing the point. And near the end, he gets so upset and angry that he calls his best friend Peter, ‘Satan,’ for tempting him to deny the suffering ahead. NOT kind! He even breaks down and weeps from the heartbreak of failing to reach his own people. This is a Jesus we can identify with. After first resisting what were then heretical challenges, he shocks everyone by allowing women, unbelievers, and even an enemy Roman to convince him to include everyone in his ministry to the ‘people of God’. That’s a BIGGIE.
But his most important example for us is that over and over, he needs one on one time with God. Because God is his number one source of wisdom, power, strength to persevere, and most of all – love. And he knows that the Spirit of God is within, so he goes to the mountain top to get away from the clamor of daily life so he can hear that quiet voice. If he needed that, how much more do we need to take that time to listen.
In the garden when he faces all that he must lose and suffer, in an absolute agony of fear, he sweats blood. He even begs God to spare him, but then his first-hand experience of God’s love frees him to trust God’s will. Still, at the very end, rejected and betrayed by his friends, he cries out in desperation when he feels like even God has abandoned him. But, even in the depths of that terrible loneliness, he chooses to commit his spirit to God.
Jesus living in the limits of humanity is able only because of His always deepening relationship with God to survive the failure of his best efforts, rejection by his own people, betrayal by those closest to him, and even death, all without becoming embittered or unforgiving. From the cross he prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Ultimately he shows us, that from a close relationship with God, all loss, even death, can become a doorway, not an ending. To me, without the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, life obviously not only doesn’t have a happy ending, but wouldn’t seem to have any lasting purpose, never-the-less a reason to keep on struggling to learn how to forgive and love unconditionally.

Be Humble or Be Humbled

Since my experience of the total love of God through Jesus when I was thirty after several years of rather hedonistic agnosticism and then several more years spent searching for spiritual meaning and purpose, my heart’s desire has been to somehow communicate that love to others.

God’s love didn’t make me perfect, but it brought meaning and purpose, an acceptance of the reality of my human weakness, and hope for growth and change through grace. Change for the better has been slow and spotty, but is still part of my journey at “almost’ eighty. ( I have a couple of hours left till the eighty.)

My most natural gift is speaking. And a Spiritual gift of seeing the connection between Scriptures and daily life came with my conversion. For a long time I just did whatever needed doing, like teaching, making soup for the sick and poor, smiling at people, organizing my husband and children into a work crew for church and school events, recruiting and getting training for religion teachers, and and at that time a new ministry for laity and particularly women, reading the Scriptures aloud for worship services.

Some of the more obvious experiences of God curtailing my tendency to hubris seem worth sharing, if only to give others a chuckle.

One came to mind this morning as I was checking my old lady chin for whiskers. Forty years ago when teaching a fifth and sixth grade confirmation preparation class in a Catholic School, I was (I thought) waxing eloquent on the opportunity at confirmation to make their own choice of Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord and how wonderful that is. At the end, I asked if anyone had a question. One rather quiet boy raised his hand. My heart filled with joyous expectation as I said, “Yes, Jesse?” To which he replied quite seriously, “Mrs. Norman, Do you have a mustache?”

Making America Great Again?

This is priceless!

By Susan Keller

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it looks like Trump is actually making America great again. Just look at the progress made since the election:
1. Unprecedented levels of ongoing civic engagement.
2. Millions of Americans now know who their state and federal representatives are without having to google.
3. Millions of Americans are exercising more. They’re holding signs and marching every week.
4. Alec Baldwin is great again. Everyone’s forgotten he’s kind of a jerk.
5. The Postal Service is enjoying the influx cash due to stamps purchased by millions of people for letter and postcard campaigns.
6. Likewise, the pharmaceutical industry is enjoying record growth in sales of anti-depressants.
7. Millions of Americans now know how to call their elected officials and know exactly what to say to be effective.
8. Footage of town hall meetings is now entertaining.
9. Tens of millions of people are now correctly spelling words like emoluments, narcissist, fascist, misogynist, holocaust and cognitive dissonance.
10. Everyone knows more about the rise of Hitler than they did last year.
11. Everyone knows more about legislation, branches of power and how checks and balances work.
12. Marginalized groups are experiencing a surge in white allies.
13. White people in record numbers have just learned that racism is not dead. (See #6)
14. White people in record numbers also finally understand that Obamacare IS the Affordable Care Act.
15. Stephen Colbert’s “Late Night” finally gained the elusive #1 spot in late night talk shows, and Seth Meyers is finding his footing as today’s Jon Stewart.
16. “Mike Pence” has donated millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood since Nov. 9th.
17. Melissa FREAKING McCarthy.
18. Travel ban protesters put $24 million into ACLU coffers in just 48 hours, enabling them to hire 200 more attorneys. Lawyers are now heroes.
19. As people seek veracity in their news sources, respected news outlets are happily reporting a substantial increase in subscriptions, a boon to a struggling industry vital to our democracy.
20. Live streaming court cases and congressional sessions are now as popular as the Kardashians.
21. Massive cleanup of Facebook friend lists.
22. People are reading classic literature again. Sales of George Orwell’s “1984” increased by 10,000% after the inauguration. (Yes, that is true. 10,000%. 9th grade Lit teachers all over the country are now rock stars.)
23. More than ever before, Americans are aware that education is important. Like, super important.
24. Now, more than anytime in history, everyone believes that anyone can be President. Seriously, anyone.”
Susan Keller

I’m not familiar with Susan Keller, but she is right on with this. Love it.

Everyday Friends

Today, a cardinal flamed into my winter landscape,
igniting a small sparkler of joy within me.
But just as quickly it flurried off.
Perhaps I moved in my delight?
I felt bereft.
As if someone, a long lost friend
had merely waved and hurried out of sight.
I waited, watching hopefully,
so focused on the loss, that I almost missed
the quieter colored Titmice, with just their touch of blush,
fluttering in blue-grey swirls near-by.
An earnest squirrel chit-chided me
from a scarlet berried dogwood,
where silken vested doves were perched
like rows of mourners full of silent sympathy.
So, letting go of “might have been.”
I began to laugh at madcap chickadees
drag racing to the feeders.
And my heart was filled with the quiet joy of peace
to be surrounded by such friends.

A Place of Peace Where God Abides

For many years I sought
a place of peace where God abides.
Once I found it on a hilltop
under silent star filled skies.
And another time
in earth’s breathless silence
just before the dawn.
I found it sharing bread
with Christian sisters
outside of any church.
I’ve often found it in
the laughter of a child.
But with great chagrin years later
when I finally looked inside
I found my Doubting Thomas Twin.
But then, when I could finally
claim him as truly part of me
he taught me perseverance,
the key to everything.
And though it’s paradoxical,
he freed me from my fears
and became a place within me
where I can go for grace.
A place of peace where God abides.

This Life: Appetizers Only

During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.

Heartbreaks that have brought grace:

The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.

Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.

Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.

Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.

Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.

Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.

Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:

The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.

These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life. 

Let’s Pretend Our Own Christmas Story

Let’s pretend Jesus knocked on your door Christmas day to join you for his birthday celebration.
Can you picture him standing there when you open the door? Can you feel your dawning recognition and surprise. Can you sense your moment of doubt, then feel it washed away by sheer joy? Do his eyes have laughter lines as he smiles with just a hint of fun at surprising you. Does his simple kindness surround you like a comforter?
Picture you inviting him in, stammering as you start to reach out to shake his hand, only to be embraced in a warm hug that brings tears of happiness and wonder to your eyes.
Let’s imagine how he might like to celebrate his birthday with you. Do you think he’d be happy if you asked him to sit down, then hurried to get the best lotion in the house to gently rub his worn and callused feet? Would he want to do the same for you? Would you protest because you feel unworthy? Or would you let him help you feel so very tenderly loved?
Maybe he’d accept a cup of coffee and then want to tell you the stories his mom used to tell over and over about giving birth in a dirty drafty barn and about the terror of fleeing to Egypt in the middle of the night with only a few clothes and little food.
Do you think Jesus might just try to fit in by eating second helpings and then nodding off now and then in front of the TV set? Would he accept a glass of wine and grin and ask if you’d like an upgrade?
Or would he possibly suggest, “Why don’t we pack up some of this turkey and dressing and yes, definitely some pie, to take to the people living in those shabby back rooms at the Highland Motel?” Or even ask, “Would you drive me up and down the interstate to check the bridges for homeless people who may need food?”
Or perhaps he’d gently make a more discomforting suggestion that some presents could be returned and the money sent to help refugees from the war in Syria.
Or perhaps he would just look into your eyes all the way to what’s hidden in your heart and quietly say, “If there is someone you have hurt or anyone who has wounded you, will you make me happy by using your phone now to reconcile with them?”
And then you’d remember what he said at that last dinner with his closest friends, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Then you’d feel not guilt, but regret, that you hadn’t thought of celebrating his birthday by doing more for others, even strangers, as he did his whole life.
So, you’d get your coat and gather food, even your favorite fudge pie, to take to others. And you’d see that he was smiling at you as he waved goodbye.
You didn’t feel any condemnation, only his love and a stronger desire to love others as he loves you. Because you know that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn us, but in order that we might be saved by him.
And as you start out, you’d whisper, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” And you would know he heard.

Passiondeathresurrection: the Narrow Gate

Our human nature resists the whole concept of suffering. If there is a God worth calling God, why would the innocent and good have to suffer?
If this life is all there is, then there really doesn’t appear to be any reasonable answer to that.
And in my own experience, the more people I let myself care about, never-the-less love, the more I open myself to suffering. How much more would I suffer if I truly loved, or even just cared moderately about all humanity, all animals, perhaps even all creation?
Part of the mystery of suffering is that it seems to be part and parcel of loving. Loving involves being willing to suffer for another and others. Most of us have trouble loving even one person that we choose for a lifetime and  sure don’t want to even consider loving people that look or think very differently than we do.
The Jews longed for a Messiah, a Savior, for literally thousands of years. Have you ever wondered why a close friend, a follower who witnessed the miracles, the power, and the kindness of Jesus would betray him to the point of giving him over to suffer and die. What brought Judas to that kind of hatred?
The shattered expectation that the Messiah would save the Jews, God’s chosen people, from suffering.                                                         Judas witnessed the reality of the power Jesus had, but more and more he saw Jesus using it to save the enemy. And unlike optimistic Peter, he heard what Jesus was beginning to say about his own coming suffering, even dying, instead of freeing them from the tyranny of Rome , the impoverishment of Roman taxes, the constant threat of their children becoming random victims of a ruler’s whim. Judas wanted a triumphant King, not a suffering servant. Disillusionment turned hope into bitterness and hate.
What kind of love was choosing to die rather than to save God’s chosen people?
We still struggle with that question.
Without the resurrection, surely we would all endorse the survival of the fittest at the expense of the vulnerable. If we believed this life is all there is, would we respond to the call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus? We saw where that led Jesus. It led him through the acceptance of the refining of suffering, the acceptance of  humbling helplessness and the crushing feeling of abandonment, even finally through the gate of death itself and only then to resurrection.
The reality is that life is made up of cycles of struggling with suffering until we can accept the deaths of our idols and illusions, the things we cling to out of fear, and only then can we be reborn freer to love each time. Only then do we grow better at loving other imperfect people up close and personal and to care about even the lepers, the hostile, the foreign, the frightening, and the lost.
Life’s natural process includes loss, helplessness, letting go, experiencing the peace of acceptance, then the rebirth of gratitude and humility that leads to love, joy and fruitfulness.
Passion, death, and resurrection should be one process word.

We Are Up to this Moment by Anne Lamott

You can probably guess how I feel today, exhausted, in despair, and like hiding from it all. But my Good Dog Lady Bird and I are about to go hiking, and nature will heal us, sustain and renew us–for at least an hour. I’ll take it! Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” and the divine electrical field of love and beauty will all but leave my mouth hanging open in awe. I’ve said before that if birdsong were the only pooof that there is another, deeper, wider reality, it would be proof enough for me.
Then I’ll go hang out with some sober women, many of whom have had decades of sobriety and slow jerky-jerky resurrection; some of whom will only have a few weeks. All of them know exactly what the end of the world feels like, and maybe feel it in different form, but for every one of us, the end of the world was where new life began. Hitting bottom was the beginning of everything beautiful and true and full of integrity in our lives. We’ll stick together, get each other lovely cups of tea or bad coffee, eat our body weight in cookies, and get through another hour in gratitude. Someone will be sure to remind us that we thought we were hotshots when we first got sober, but we helped each work our way up to servants. And that is the path of joy.
Then I’ll go see the oldest woman in my galaxy, who is 93, and beginning to show it. I will sit with her and share the Grace of not not spouting platitudes or bumper sticker thoughts. I’ll just listen. I’ll tell her how much I love her. No one can make her laugh like I do. Ram Dass said that ultimately, we are all just walking each other home, and this is what she and and I do together. In two Sundays, she will become the newest member of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City. I will go crazy with happiness that day. You can come too!
Then I’ll pick up two short crazy banshees from school, and my house will become monkey island. For three hours, I will be under constant threat of severe Lego injury. We’ll over-eat, because God came by earlier and told me that this was Her will for me: “Strengthen me with raisin cakes, comfort me with apples. And M&M’s.”
Then my son and the man I love will arrive, and I’ll bet you hundreds of thousands of dollars that there will be delicious, nourishing food tonight. Wow. That is just not true for much of the world, so before they get here, I am going to send money to Oxfam, and Tyranny Watch, and Doctors Without Borders, designated for poor Americans. On my honor. This is the Drive Through ATM way to feel hope again, because you are providing it.
Molly Ivins said that freedom fighters don’t always win, but they’re always right. I’m going to write that on the mirror. It is written on my sad old heart. We don’t know what the future holds–we really, really don’t. During the Vietnam War, Zhou Enlai was asked what he thought about about the French Revolution, and after inhaling on his Gauloise said, “Too Soon to Tell.” We think we know what the future holds, but we are a tense and irritable people. However, we DO know who holds the future. So buckle up, practice radical self care, serve the poor, and rest up for what awaits us. We are up to this moment.