Enter or Shelve?

It’s a little over a week since Easter – the empty tomb, miraculous appearances, and disbelief transformed into abiding faith. Even Thomas finds his faith after touching the risen Jesus.

My faith starts in a stable, wades in the Jordan, hangs on a cross, and arrives by way of an empty tomb. Year after year, the same journey; every three years, even the same Bible passages. Why do I keep with it?

I don’t think faith can be solved, figured out, or understood enough to box up and store like off season clothes on a dusty closet shelf. It’s not a puzzle to solve or a formula to memorize. It’s not really an “it” at all, as far as I can tell. I can’t hold it in my hand or even see its edges because it holds me. I am living in it, held by it, defined by it. The seasons and scriptures aren’t pieces of a faith puzzle: they are what draws me into God’s embrace. There is no end to where they can take me in this Gospel world.

Faith is entering this God given world and knowing I belong here. Many and varied are the ways for me to find it. I just have to remember I seek to enter a holy world. It’s only when I try to make myself bigger than God’s world that my faith shrinks to something easily shelved with next winter’s clothes…

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What will I do with it?

A few years back, an acquaintance of mine dropped her kids at a friend’s house and hit the local bar. After a few hours and way too many drinks, she jumped behind the wheel of her SUV. Going way too fast, she drove straight into a huge oak tree. With no seat belt on, the impact sent her onto the steering column, puncturing an artery and compressing her lungs. Another driver saw the whole thing, called the ambulance, and waited outside the car. Certain she was dead, he didn’t even try to get her out of the car.

She should have died, but the car’s dashboard compressed her body enough to stop the bleeding. She was taken out of the car and flown to Boston. She awoke several days later, damaged, with a long road to recovery ahead, but still alive.

Some said she was lucky because she lived through it; others said she was unlucky to have the crash in the first place. I don’t think she was either because I don’t think it was really an accident. For whatever reason, she put herself in harm’s way – who knows whether she intended to hit the tree or just didn’t care enough about her life to call a cab rather than drive drunk. Either way, this was a desperate act.

But miracles happen. For whatever reason, she was given her life back, given a second chance to honor the grace and holiness of her life. She spent many months in the hospital, then returned to her life – home, children, worries, and blessings.

I’ve often wondered what she thought, waking up to a second chance. It was a very real opportunity to live an almost literally resurrected life. She must have seen it for the holy gift that it was because she never did such a thing again.

I’ve never had such an experience, but every morning I wake up I have the same question and the same choice: what will I do with this life that’s been handed to me once again? Will I see it for the holy gift it is? Mine is an ordinary life, but it’s also a living, breathing resurrection. So is everyone else’s.

Let’s hope I live a life worthy of such a blessing.

 

A New Beginning

Everything is new again – this world, this day, even this aging writer. What will the world do with this new beginning? Will peace overcome strife in our time? I pray for such a renewal.

But renewal starts with me, with the new beginning that each moment brings. I pray for a loving heart, a discerning mind, and a soul that seeks God. May the path I choose this day be a holy one.

May the path you choose this day be a holy and blessed one.

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A Closer Look

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It’s the second half of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday stand between me and Easter – the path through the dark woods of my soul. I didn’t grow up in churches that observed these dark days; we went from Palm Sunday to Easter, sometimes with a Wednesday Bible study of the crucifixion, sometimes not. The sanctuary and Sunday school room crosses were always empty: why would anyone put the risen Jesus back on the cross? The resurrection already happened and there was no going back.

I understand why my childhood churches had no crucifixes, and why they emphasized celebration and victory rather than the suffering of Jesus in the garden and the grisly way he died. I can’t say that the people in those churches were any more or less faithful, any kinder or colder – the path of faith runs through all neighborhoods. But I do think something of the human condition was skipped over rather than faced – not about Jesus, but about the rest of humanity. While I hate to admit it, I doubt I’d do any better than the flawed, fragile people who stood by while Jesus died. Most everyone ran away, avoiding the whole scene. A few women and John the beloved disciple managed to stay and hear the final few words from the cross. This reveals more about myself than I usually care to see or admit. I’m no better than anyone else, and I’m just as likely to run away as anyone else. Given the right circumstances, just enough fear for my life, I would betray Jesus, too.

Holy Week isn’t a time to indulge in self loathing: it’s a time to take a long, hard look at myself – faults, strengths, and the whole mixed bag I call my inner and outer life. If I’m honest about what I see, I’ll ask for God to hold my hand as I walk this world. If I’m not, I just might fool myself into thinking I can make the walk alone.

Take my hand, O Lord, and walk with me through these dark days and nights. I need you. Amen.

Why Worship?

A Holy Week offering from Bill Albritton

During this week, I ponder why we worship and what my faith is really about. In confirmation class, we are focusing on the two main creeds we use in our worship service. One, the Nicene Creed, is communal in that we use the plural We. The other is personal, using I as in I believe in God… What do I mean when I make such a declaration?

Saying We believe in God or I believe in God says we have a relationship with God. In other words, God’s existence doesn’t depend on my belief that God exists. It’s a whole different statement than I believe God exists.

I find this very meaningful as I prepare for Resurrection Sunday. In class, we ask ourselves: why worship? One of the answers stared us in the face – a chapter title from J. Gamber’s My Faith, My Life: A Teen’s guide to the Episcopal Church. Chapter Five is Worship: Responding to God’s Blessings. We are giving our hearts to God and declaring our thankfulness for our relationship with the most gracious One. And, as in many relationships, it grows stronger when we spend time together. Maybe that’s as good an answer as any.

For the Food We Eat

Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat,

Thank you for the birds that sing: thank you, God, for everything!

My husband and I went to Trader Joe’s yesterday to buy the usual items: meats, rice cakes, chili peppers, and oats. I’ll walk to Shaw’s for Cabot mozzarella and local free eggs tomorrow, and I’ll stop by the Market Basket near my son’s school for the 10 pound bag of King Arthur Flour. Sometime soon, I’ll order vanilla beans and put them in a bottle of rum to make vanilla extract. Seeds and plants will arrive at my door from John Scheeper’s and Burpee’s garden companies. I’ve noticed how much shopping it takes to put food on the table only because I decided to write about it. I didn’t realize how much shopping I do for life’s basics until I gave up buying life’s extras for Lent.

I can get everything I need at my local market and wheel it home in my metal basket. I can order any number of pantry staples and exotic spices with a click of my mouse. I have the means to put healthy food on my table, and I have the time to enjoy the whole process: creating menus, making grocery lists, shopping, cooking, and eating. All these daily blessings I take for granted.

Today I am thankful for the grocery shopping that I have to do. When the lines at the register are long, I will give thanks. When the grocery bags are heavy, I will rejoice. When I buy food for the community food pantry, I will be grateful.

I hope I remember that grocery shopping is a blessing when I start writing about something else…

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