Jesus has left the building

After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God’s angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn’t move. The angel spoke to the women: “There is nothing to fear here. I know you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed. “Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ That’s the message.” The women, deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb.–One of the resurrection stories, as told by Matthew, interpreted by Eugene Peterson.

It is a sad truth that I tend to live in a tomb. There, in the damp darkness, encircled by death, I linger. My entombed thoughts are condemning, offering little grace to myself or those around me. My entombed thoughts are cynical, always expecting the worst.  My entombed thoughts are bitter, tallying up the sins and demons others have cast against me. My entombed thoughts are anxious, finding little security in God’s plan. My entombed thoughts are self-seeking, turning my attention away from Him…and you.

And today, I can’t help but hear the message inherent in the resurrection story: get out of the tomb. If God’s greatest good for me was to be caught in a web of cavernous toxic thoughts, Jesus never would have left the tomb. In His story, the tomb meant judgment, brokenness, guilt, weight. But by rolling the stone away, vacating the premises, and imprinting footsteps towards life away from death, His story calls for action in my own story: get out of the tomb.

 “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”–An angel, according to Luke

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seasons of nature. seasons of grief.

Spring is in the air, and with it all the glorious resurrections of the grass, the trees, the flowers. The apparent death of winter is losing its grip on the earth as new life emerges in laughing light. This revolving pattern of transitions is one of my favorite things about Creation.

Through the seasons, I am reminded that though today is blanketed in blistering, smothering heat, there will come a day when the gentle breeze will caress the golden strands of aspens. Though today the earth is cold and silent, buried beneath polluted ice, there will come a day when the white buds gather around a branch like a holy circle of angels’ wings, enfolding upon and guarding their own secrets.

This week would have been my Mom’s 74th birthday. It was a spring day, but the winter air gathered outside my door, ominous of that night’s impending snow. And so like a caterpillar, inherently knowledgeable of some sort of transition, some sort of breakthrough, I tucked myself into a cocoon of sorrowful remembering. I watched videos of her, I lingered on pictures, I looked back through her comments on Facebook as if they were droppings on a trail that led to a treasure; X marks the spot where she was but will never be again, but yet where she will always be found. And at the end of the day, I emerged from my encasing, tears tearing and blooming into the wings of butterflies.

In my cocoon of grief, all seasons merged and overlapped. I was with my Mom in the summer of joy, barbecues on her back-porch and lawn chairs positioned in the driveway, watching the local fireworks. I was with my Mom in the winter of quiet, long pensive conversations together about life and death–both to arrive too quickly. I was with my Mom in the spring, driving in the darkness to and from the casino, celebrating her birthday with the hopes of luck’s companionship. I was with my Mom in the fall, meandering through mountain roads, following the gilded ribbon of changing aspens on the sparkling slopes.

Grief is the bleeding harmony of all four seasons, moving in and out of each other, unbound by calendar dates or nature’s biology. Sometimes there is sunflower joy, which smiles across the face in a private moment. Sometimes there is blizzard pain, so raw it takes the breath away. Sometimes, the breath is stolen from that very moment in which the smile triumphs.

And even then, I try to remind my sad heart, this revolving pattern of transitions is one of my favorite things about Creation.

 

practicing presence

a8c696afb9c89ce8de14e2dd4e2e6c32My mind has lingered on this post from a dear friend, who devotes herself to the consistent practice of mindful presence–be it at school or home. In it, she comes to this epiphany:

I realized then that Linnea [daughter] was not the distracted one. Her comments on leaves, sticks and wanting to play were anything but distraction. was the distracted one. I get lost in my head while I run not paying enough attention…

I was the distracted one.

I am the distracted one.

I am shamed to admit how much I hear the following–or something like it–from my much-needier-than-high-schoolers class of middle-schoolers that I teach at the end of the day:

Miss, you don’t listen well.

Of course, this consistent criticism is a mere buzz in my ear, lost in the relentless reflection on the day’s lessons and conversations, the checking of my email, the taking and submitting of attendance, the wondering where the tardy students are, the last-minute grading, the plans for after school…

I am the distracted one.

The nights when I sleepily answer the thoughts that knock loudly on the door of my slumber, it is mere minutes before I find myself lost in my head and wide awake. I cannot fall asleep, because that requires presence in the present, sweet stillness. Instead, I replay reminders of yesterday, or yesteryear. Instead, questions and dreams from the future drag me from the past to the time of tomorrow.

I am the distracted one.

In yoga, I cannot turn off my mind. I find myself irritated by the disrespectful chatter of those lying around me, ruining my external Zen which, damn it, should be internal. I go back to what that student said, or how my colleague looked when I said something, or memories of my Mom on her death-bed, or fears for my family. Like the good yogi, eventually, I return to my breath: Breathing in, I am here. Breathing out, I am here. But then, I’m thinking about my breath, thinking about how I’m counting it, looking at my girth in the mirror, regretting what I overindulged in last night, and then me and my mental partner are off to the races. Though which of us is the jockey, I do not know.

I am the distracted one.

Since my husband and I carpool, our commute together is our time to decompress, debrief, and discuss the daily happenings in our lives. I value this time deeply. Yet, so many times, I find myself having to say: “I’m sorry Babe, can you repeat that?” I need the repetition, because as my students point out, I’m not a good listener. How can I be, when I am simultaneously checking Facebook, playing Words with Friends, perusing pictures on Instagram, and checking the weather?

I am the distracted one.

What a contrast to two delicious moments of presence I experienced this weekend.

Saturday night I managed the gumption to get out the door for a dusk run through the neighborhood and mountain trails. Spooner was very grateful for a chance to escape the house. Eventually we arrived at where he runs off leash, alternating between checking in with me and running over the land in adventurous glee. As we reached the top of trail, sun bowing before the treed horizon, we turned the corner to head off the road onto the forest-canopied trail. And he was gone. Lightning speed, in and out of trees, off and on the trail, dipping into and beyond the thawing creek, chasing the beauty of the now. If his racing feet could make a sound, it would be the song of angels’ laughter. He was lost in the present of the present moment.

That morning, one of my friends, in the sluggish awakening after a sleepover, gathered her son in her arms and flopped him over in unabashed play on top of disheveled blankets. I will never forget the brief moment I saw him, upside down, little legs running along the ceiling, his eyes closed in pure, delicious delight. His giggle gathered in his gut and erupted and nourished all in the room, as well as the blooming beings outside. He was not in any moments from last night, nor was he in any moments from the next hour. He was in that one moment, purely there, bathed in the present of the present.

I find comfort in the words I often hear from my yoga instructors: Yoga is a practice.

Mindfulness, too, is a practice. Though a practice connotes the inability to fail, I find myself lost in a world where I constantly condemn myself for not being more present, especially for the lack of control over my thoughts in the moment when I am trying to be present. What a vicious cycle.

But, in honoring my practice of mindfulness, I anchor myself in the following whispers of home:

aafab58bc437cf3e39a982384ae283eaPracticing presence is watching thoughts come and go, without judgment.

Practicing presence is a life-long pursuit.

Practicing presence is not a goal for which to strive or apologize, since all that matters is this moment.

Practicing presence is the greatest gift I can give to God, to myself, and to those around me.

Practicing presence is the persistent restarting of thought cycles.

Practicing presence is awkward, but sustaining deep inhales and exhales, both despite and due to my surroundings.

Practicing presence is the intentional rejection of technology so that I can focus on who and what is physically present with me–and thus most important.

Practicing presence is constant intimacy with the Holy Spirit, who is always in this moment alone, the perpetual I AM.

The Kingdom of God is not a mere notion. It is a reality that can be touched in everyday life. The Kingdom of God is now or never, and we all have the ability to touch it–not only with our minds, but with our feet. The energy of mindfulness helps you in this. With one mindful step, you touch the Kingdom of God. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

 

 

 

let us meet in the borderlands

(This post is a contribution to the April Synchroblog “Bridging The Divide.” This month bloggers are encouraged to offer ideas on ways to heal divisions in the church.)

Existence mirrors God the best it can, though how arrogant for any image in that mirror, for any human being, to think they know His will. (St. Thomas Aquinas)

When I was young and impressionable, I was told my relationship with God wasn’t good enough. I believed it; there were many Scriptures and credible sources telling me that I wasn’t part of the one true church, therefore what I had with God up until that point wasn’t worthy. And thus began the first of many clear divisions in my life: before I was saved versus after I was saved.

On my high and mighty white horse, I rode into the town of my prior church, which shame-on-them, hadn’t done the job apparently. There, my fourteen year old fiery self argued with youth ministers about the need for baptism. They retorted, salvation by faith alone, not acts. I dug my heels in and stood my ground–after all, my new found interpretation of the Scriptures was the only one that mattered, so take that! God, and the mere but mighty 100,000 other true disciples of Jesus who had the keys to heaven, must have been so proud of me. In this contentious and arrogant conversation, another clear divide cracked in my life: THEeeee truth versus their truth.

Since I was one of so few of the saved on an earth so expansive, I was quite busy in high school, what with all the judging and proselytizing of the sinners–yes, the sexually active, the druggies, the ditchers, the cheaters; but, gasp, also the non-Christian (according to us) Christians (according to them). Sadly, they were misled and needed saving, thus ripping open another chasm in my life: me versus you, us versus them.

Early in college, despite my father’s failing health, I was told by various leaders that I could not go home to see my parents, because I would miss a meeting of THE Body. Deep within, I felt the whispers of a voice, a Voice?, urging me to use my own my mind, with which I loved God deeply. But, not wanting to be shunned, or considered prideful, I remained “humble” and open to the “advice.” Here, again, another boundary emerged: the voice of God through men and women versus His private stirrings in my soul.


 

The places in between places / They are like little countries / Themselves

287949cf29fdadef2bc9aa6828a7364aLater in college, I met a man who taught me how to play in the borderlands between all the binaries to which I held so tightly. His name was Richard Guzman, and I took his course Sacred Texts as Literature. He was a professor, but as I look back and realize his redemptive role in my life, he was much more like a soul whisperer. What I realized in that class was that there is an overwhelming and underaddressed gap between the signifier and the signified (to borrow the language of the deconstructionist Derrida). In other words, when my name is used, Mary, it does and and could not ever capture all the essence and wonder and chaos and disaster that I am. When someone says “I love you,” what does love mean? Does that one word do it justice? Isn’t my Western idea of love very different from the Eastern idea of love, though they are the same word with similar intents? Thus the signifier (the language) can never fully do the signified (the truth, the reality, the essence) justice. Therein lies the invitation to play, again to borrow Derrida’s language, in the gap between the two, to explore and embrace and savor the borderlands between.


All language has taken an oath to fail to describe Him; any attempt to do so is the height of arrogance and will always declare some kind of war: the inner ones that undermine our strength and the other conflicts that maim red.

"Lousy at Math" by Hafiz

“Lousy at Math” by Hafiz

It is hard to not notice the war, to use Meister Eckhart’s language, erupting from the many opposing sides of religion. As I scroll through my Facebook news feed, the left is attacking the right, the liberals versus the conservatives, the micro-leaders versus the mega-leaders, the traditionalists versus the post-modernists, the over-haters versus the over-lovers, the church-goers versus the church-refugees, all using God and the Bible to prooftext and and perform and persuade. I suppose in some ways, even the beginning of this post was my echo from across a certain crevice. Each of them claims, all of them, claim their language is THEeeee language to describe God, their interpretation of the Scriptures THEeeee only one, their perception of righteousness and holiness THEeeee only lifestyle. And again, the earth splinters, fissures in the heart of God.


John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us. But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

All of these divides and boundaries draw me to the borderland, to see Jesus. In many ways, Jesus is the personification of the borderland. He is not the wrathful, violent God of the Old Testament. But neither is he the misogynistic, doctrine-obsessed God of the epistles. He is not here OR there; he is here AND there. No where, in my language which fails, do I see this more than in the story of the attempted stoning of the adulterer. If Jesus were the Old Testament God only, he would have stoned her himself. If Jesus were the New Testament God only, he would have taken the opportunity to preach a lesson and establish the procedures for handling an adulterer in the church. But, playing in the borderland, Jesus is quiet, an act of reserve. He bends down, an act of humility, and writes in the sand (don’t you want to know what he wrote!?). Jesus then calls the people to be self-reflective, rather than other-condemning, an act of grace. He does not condone her life choices, rather he connects with her (once all the religious imbeciles have left). His conversation with her is private, dignified, honorable, built from love not righteousness. Clearly Jesus understood no one ever wins a debate with loquacious assurance, even the Son of God.


 

2a87f6298fc48ceb94d62e9615eb0526I cannot help but hope that those engaging in the conversations happening across the crevasses in our religious landscape accept the invitation to play in the borderlands, to dissolve in God.

There, in the borderlands, are no stones–only insight into the weakness of the self; therefore mercy and humility breed.

There, in the borderlands, are not facts and concrete, proven points of knowledge–only faith; thus mystery and hope multiply.

There, in the borderlands, are not camps of isolation–only connections and conversations; hence compassion and love bloom.

There, in the borderlands, are not delineations created by versus, or, between–only with, and, too; thereby unity and harmony flourish.

There, in the borderlands, is not me against you, us opposed to them–only me with you, us alongside them; ergo trust and grace thrive.

There, in the borderlands, is not sufficient language which articulates His edges accurately and neatly–only words and questions grasping for the Infinite, the Undefinable, the More, the All; and so together, we wonder and adventure and play in His Beautiful Mystery.


 

I end with Nichole Nordeman’s song “Please Come,” which reminds us that God has the most generous, welcoming heart of all; his play in the borderlands is glorious and wondrous and majestic and unfathomable. Let us meet Him there in the borderlands.


This blog was inspired by Synchroblog’s topic of “Healing the Divides.” For other playful voices and healing hearts in the borderlands, check out these posts:

 

restoration-makers, hummingbird-hunters, heart-match-makers, and fragment-gluer silk worms

Today, I return to work after a refreshing Spring break. And I am reminded of the glorious weight inherit in my job–a job I feel more to be a ministry than a career, an honor rather than a burden (on most days, that is). As Anne Lamott says in her book Stitches, teachers are in the very important work of restoration-makers, hummingbird-hunters, heart-match-makers, and fragment-gluers:

This is all that restoration requires most of the time, that one person not give up. For instance, when I was in school, there were a few teachers along the way who must have seen in me a hummingbird of charming achievement, all eyes, bird bones, frizzly hair and a desperation to please and impress. They knew that there was power and beauty deep inside me, but that I was afraid of this and I was in fragments. Men and women alike, old and new at teaching, were like aunties or grandparents in their firm patience with me, in their conviction of my worth. They had a divine curiosity about me– “Hey, who’s in there? Are you willing to talk straight and find who you are actually are, if I keep you company? Do you want to make friends with your heart? Here–start with this poem.”

And it is an emotional roller coaster through the end of the year. I am preparing to introduce my students to the witches and ambition and the exquisite female heroine/demon of Lady Macbeth, and in doing so, I hope they fall in literate love with and out of fearful dread of Shakespeare. The big, bad, and scary AP Lit exam looms over our heads. Senioritis is in full swing. The pressures and pleasures of graduation and prom consume the minds of my kiddos, in addition to the holy-shit-what-am-I-going-to-do-in-the-real-world wide-eyed anxiety.

In all this, I remain. In all this, I focus. In all this, I love. This is the glorious weight on the shoulders of teachers.

Many years ago I read a poem by Rumi, which has remained in steady rhythm with my teaching heartbeat.

To all the restoration-makers, hummingbird-hunters, heart-match-makers, and fragment-gluer silk worms who read my blog, “here–start with this poem.”

photo (1)

“The Silk Worm” by Rumi

and so it goes in life

march 2014 047We spent the past weekend camping in the desert of Utah, tucked into a sandstone labyrinth, beneath the watchful gaze of crimson-colored, ancient, rock-people. After arriving and setting up camp, we sat and listened to the buzzing echo in the near distance of our own ears. It was that. quiet. That buzz reflected the pervasive noise of our busy lives and the challenge of transitioning into the foreign land of stillness.

And so it goes in life. The constant chatter of social media, demanding schedules, endless tasks, and false relaxation haunts our hearing… until it doesn’t. But the transition takes time, patience, endurance. But the reward is a glorious quiet, a quiet glory.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

Friday night around the fire brought moments of comfortable silence and sincere comments. But it wasn’t long until our eyes traveled upward to the delightful night sky. We left the glow of the fire and walked out to the vacant desert floor. We snuggled into each other. We debated constellations. After leaving the intrusive light of the fire, it was amazing how the little lights came out in droves, surprising us around every black-blanket crease.

And so it goes in life. Sometimes the darkness is so scary and falsely perceived to be the lack of light. Insecure and fighting for control, we struggle to stay in the happy and comfortable light. But if we never look away, if we never embrace the night sky, if we never give time for our eye’s transition to the deceptive void, we will miss the breath-taking, liquid beauty of a night sky blanketed in so many stars it is more bright than it is dark.

Of course, all this wonder didn’t come without tension. Our first campsite was near the road and beneath the giggly gaze of climbing, high, young, loud neighbors who were there not to settle into stillness, but to perpetuate a petty party. Something in me sunk. Dave, annoyingly, noticed. Both in my heart and out of my mouth I reflected: “I think I need to plan ahead next time where we stay, so that I’m not disappointed.” Dave’s eye roll replied: “Just enjoy the adventure.”march 2014 071

And so it goes in life. There should be an order that avoids chaos, a structure which reduces messiness, a mask which hides the ugliness (shouldn’t there be?!). When that is not the case, we futilely dwell not in the present, but in the past (shoulda’s and coulda’s) and in the future (what if’s). And in doing so, we miss this moment, in all its ugly, chaotic, messy didn’t-happen-before-will-never-happen-again uniqueness.

march 2014 060Saturday morning, we climbed and sat in the laps of rocks nearby. We gazed westward and watched the shifting light dance on the rusted walls of the horizon. We were just a bit chilled with the night crispiness still in the air. But as the sun crested behind our backs, bursting up from behind the barriers, we warmed. We reveled in the firey fingers of the dawn sun. We took mental pictures and Iphone snapshots of our shadow. I was grateful; the sun, forever faithful, appeared for a new day. march 2014 137

And so it goes in life. Sometimes the sun is hidden–in the canyons of catastrophe, the storms of sorrow, the nights of soul-neglect or regret, the haze of heartbreak–but always it is there, always it rises.  Secret, but steady. Eclipsed, but eternal. Concealed, but constant.

march 2014 115Saturday we hiked Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyon, slot canyons carved by the erstwhile eroding hands of water and wind. Sometimes we had to turn to the side to make it through a narrow crevice, sometimes we had to use hands and feet and each other to hop up or down dry waterfalls of rocks taller than us, sometimes we had to skip across slippery rocks in puddles of stagnant, muddy-brown water, sometimes we tripped because we were too consumed looking up and down and all around. But onward we journeyed.

Our dog was off-leash and on-life, running unabashedly this way and that, greeting other groups of hikers, photobombing every one. And many times, he could not make it by himself from point A to point B. And so Dave or I, or Dave and I, carried him in our arms, from height to depth, always to safety and tail-wagging, trust-building freedom.

march 2014 157And so it goes in life. We want to journey forward, but darn it, that barrier-monster, standing stubbornly in the middle of our path, arms folded and eyes glaring. And let’s face it, it’s been there longer, stronger, grounded. But always, there are friends, carrying us down it, or up it, or around it, or through it. And just like Spooner, it’s easier to be carried when we relax in the arms of our rescuer. And just like Dave and I, sometimes we do the carrying, passing the helped from him to me to them…to you.

 

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