Life is short and uncertain. We all know that. And then we get the whop aside the head that really sends that message home. A good friend of mine died last week. 52 years old. Ovarian cancer with additional complications due to something called paraneoplastic syndrome. Mary was smart, independent, quirky, quick-witted, and fun-loving. She had lots she still wanted to do – places to go, people to love, food to eat, work to accomplish, wine to drink, adventures to seek.
I’m grateful that I shared a piece of Mary’s walk here. And, I’m reminded that we don’t know how much time we have and to make the most of every moment. Smile. Laugh. Love. Pray. Be. Do.
When we were little, some of my friends and I started saying this when we’d get out of the car of whomever was bringing us home:Thanks for the good time. We’ll see you. Buh-bye.
Thanks for the good time, Mary. We’ll see you. Buh-bye.
March 15. How many of you remember “beware the ides of March” from Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar? I don’t know why that line uttered by the Soothsayer has long struck with me, but it has. And now, as we sit on the precipice of Spring (forever an optimist), I’m wondering about the warnings, or as an optimist might too blithely rephrase – the helpful tips, that take a people walking in the midst of Lent to the mountain top experiences of Easter and beyond.
What do you hear in your life that sounds like a warning? Do you listen? Do you allow yourself to be ruled by fear? Do you bury your head in the sand? Do you adjust, midstream, and move on? How do you know when it’s a warning and when it’s a sign – and what’s the difference?
I am a big fan of Eva Cassidy – and her version of People Get Ready gives us a few things to think about when pondering what to do…
People get ready
There’s a train a-coming
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear diesels humming
You don’t need no ticket
You just thank the Lord
People get ready
For the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers
From coast to coast
Faith is the key
Open the doors and board them
There’s room for all
Among the loved and lost
Now there ain’t no room
For the hopeless sinner
Who’s hard on mankind
Just to save his own
Have pity on those
Whose chances are thinner
Cause there’s no hiding place
From the Kingdom’s Throne
Here I am, Lord. I will go, if you need me.
It’s such a strong, simple statement – and so hard to do sometimes. Go? Where? I don’t understand all the details. I’m too young, too old, too tired, too inexperienced, too over-qualified, too tall, too small, too….
The key in answering anything – be it a simple question or a major life decision – is to listen. And to remember that we need to listen with more than just our head – we listen with our heart, our senses, our very soul. That kind of listening demands much of us – and the work to do in this world requires our deepest listening AND responding.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.
As we head into Lent, I invite you to heed the words of of a great American poet:
“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
― Mary Oliver
There’s a video that has been going viral of late that fits that sage advice. The challenge/invitation is not to think of this as being quid pro quo, don’t worry about what’s “coming back to you.” Instead, imagine a world where we really paid attention – were truly astonished – astonished enough to act – all because we acknowledged another person’s existence and noticed there was a need to be filled. Sometimes it’s as simple as opening a door, or letting someone in front of you in traffic. Start simple and keep paying attention. There’s a lot of astonishment out there – and lots to tell – and do.
Give a Little Love by Noah and the Whale
I’m not sure whether to say the slip of Christmas Cactus blooming in my office is too late or too early. All I know is that it’s a little symbol of hope – one little stem living in a glass of water having survived the grand haircut of its mother plant, scrawny but diligent, pushing out a little pink blossom in the midst of the frigid winter weather outdoors.
Yes, we can say that it missed its namesake holiday and yes, we can definitely say it’s a little early for what we might expect to see in terms of how far off the tulips and daffodils and jonquils and hyacinths are from their appearance. But there it is in all its glory. And I’m not going to worry about whether it’s late or early – it’s here now.
Where have you seen beauty today? Was it unexpected? Have you added to the beauty today?
I’ve never been one for making resolutions in a new year. Maybe it’s because I hope that I don’t have to trick myself into living the way I know I should. No, that’s not quite fair – makes me sound just a little bit too sanctimonious. Or maybe it’s because I’m too practical and I know I’ll just fail and then feel bad about myself. No, that’s probably not quite my reason either – my glass is a little too much more than half full for that explanation.
For me, the turning of the calendar really just changes a number – and my job as a child of God is to pay less attention to time marching on and more attention to the work I’ve been called to do – to be a loving partner, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, colleague, mentor. I can’t quantify those resolves into year spans – they’re my lifetime work, my lifetime call. I want to worry less about pledging to be better at the turn of a new calendar year and more about promising to just be. Be the best me that God made me to be – every day.
So, if I were to make a resolution, I guess it would be to remember to pray at the start and end of each day – and thank God for being today. I’ll try it.
Happy New Year
Another chance to catch a glimpse of what is coming true
The God who made everything
Is remaking everything
The God who made everything
He says I’m making all things new
There are so few words to convey the disbelief, the horror, the profound disappointment in our humanity, when we find ourselves in the moment and the aftermath of violence. We are often simply numb to it, which is its own tragedy. But when 20 children are shot in their school, we feel it. We feel anger, betrayal, a loss of innocence, a shattering of hope – and that scares us. As it should.
I offer the following song as a prayer for you. It was written in response to Kurt Bestor’s experience in war-torn Yugoslavia in the late 1970′s. And we still need to ask these questions today.
Can you hear the prayer of the children on bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room?
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry, turning heavenward toward the light.
Crying, “Who will help me to see the morning light of one more day?
But if I should die before I wake, I pray my soul to take?”
Can you feel the hearts of the children aching for home, for something of their very own?
Reaching hands with nothing to hold on to, but hope for a better day.
Crying, “Who will help me to feel the love again in my own land?
But if unknown roads lead away from home, give me loving arms, away from harm.”
Can you hear the voice of the children softly pleading for silence in their shattered world?
Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate, blood of the innocent on their hands.
Crying, “Jesus, help me to feel the sun again upon my face.
For when darkness clears I know you’re near, bringing peace again.”
Dali cuje te sve djecje molitve?
Can you hear the prayer of the children?
Prayer of the Children, by Kurt Bestor, sung by Nordic Choir, Luther College
In this first week of Advent, I offer this beautiful setting of e.e. cumming’s poem little tree as set to music by the wonderful Eric Whitacre. As you cherish your own tree, whether it’s already up and decorated or yet to do between now and Christmas Eve, I encourage you to read this poem and listen to this thoughtful setting of it. (link at end of poem)
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and right
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud
and my little sister and I will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
E.E. Cummings, 1894 – 1962
little tree, arranged by Eric Whitacre
If in your heart you make a manger for his birth then God will once again become a child on earth.
Is that not the ultimate Advent theme? My friend, and so many musicians’ friend, Ana Hernandez, recorded this song on a lovely cd called An Unexpected Christmas with the Virginia Girls Choir.
While there has been much gnashing of teeth of late about the secular world invoking Christmas prematurely all around us (as has been happening for many years), what if we relaxed just a bit about that and instead worked on readying our hearts, making a space, creating a manger to welcome God – once again. If we don’t make the space in our own hearts, who will? How will God work through us? That’s what Advent is about. I invite you to pray this song…If in your heart.
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me. Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.
What if we really believed that? I mean really believed.
At this time of Thanksgiving, I offer my gratitude for the person who checks out my groceries at the store, the homeless man standing at the corner of Hiawatha & 62 who is asking for money, the young woman who gives me a pedicure, the guy who let me merge in front of him on the highway, the little girl who smiled at me when I was walking, my great-nephew who only has to smile to charm the entire world, the person who beeped their car horn at me, the friend who was disappointed that I didn’t call back, the gentleman who held the door open for me, and the neighbor who is selling her house…and…and…
Christ with me. Christ before me. Christ behind me. Christ in me.
Christ beneath me. Christ above me. Christ on my right. Christ on my left.