Trinity Sunday…the day after…a new start

Yesterday was the day on the Christian liturgical calendar known as “Trinity Sunday.” The Sunday following Pentecost (the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit)…early June and the beginning of summer.

I have had several memorable Trinity Sundays.  One was in 1978, in Washington DC, when I was visiting Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown.  I was interviewing for a position as a Jesuit volunteer, a job as the coordinator of Zacchaeus Medical Clinic, an inner city free clinic.  The local Jesuit volunteers took me to church at Holy Trinity and during the liturgy, members of the Community for Creative Non-Violence remained standing as a sign of their commitment to social justice.  I had never seen anyone stand throughout a worship service, much less as a protest or a witness.  Little did I know that seeds were planted that Trinity Sunday that would indeed lead me to become a Jesuit Volunteer, work at the free clinic, and later enter medical school.

Many years later, on Trinity Sunday in 2001, I was received into the Episcopal church, along with my husband.  My spiritual path had meandered from being baptized as an infant by my Methodist minister grandfather, through a Presbyterian childhood and adolescence, into a young adult conversion to Roman Catholicism, and now to the Episcopal church that seemed to be the synthesis of all three earlier traditions..the Episcopal church that made room for my Quaker leanings, my Zen curiosity, my love of movies and books and enjoying friends.  This was the commitment that we made in the spirit of wanting our daughter to grown up in a community of inclusion.  This was the commitment that we made that led to my husband’s re-entering active ministry as an Episcopal priest (having been a former Roman Catholic priest). This was the commitment that led me to spiritual direction for the third time in my life and this time to becoming a spiritual director myself.

Yesterday, Trinity Sunday rolled around again.  The day that we celebrate the community that is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.  Three persons in one God.  The theology eludes me as the mystery enfolds me like fog or like clouds on a hilltop.  What I love most is the community, the connectedness of these three Persons in one God.  I am reminded, this Trinity Sunday of 2012, that it is never too late to start again.  To live in community within myself, with those around me, with those I love and with those with whom I struggle.  To live in the connectedness and in the blessing of hope and grace and peace. To commit again, to living in love…in the Holy One who lives in and loves each of us.

Beginning again, this day after Trinity Sunday, thankful as ever for apparent grace.

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Let every heart prepare Him room


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This Moment

This moment
When the world is
Jingling with carols
Sparkling with tinsel
Shining with ribbons
Overflowing with anticipation

This moment
When our
Hearts long for loved ones
Souls ache for our wounded world
Minds spin with frustration
Bodies throb with exhaustion

This moment
Let us pray for all who are

This moment
Breathe again

This moment
Close your eyes
Breathe one more time

This moment
May our hearts open to Light
To the Love for which we wait
May the Holy One abide with us all

This moment

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Kissing Lepers

Today is October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.  We often celebrate this day by blessing animals in our churches as we remember the St. Francis who loved the birds and other creatures…and that may be all some of us know of Francis. Yet this one man, born hundreds of years ago, lived a life that inverted all expectation, transformed the church and religious life, and continues today to inspire men and women who long for something more, who yearn for God.

I have been married for almost nineteen years to a follower of Francis.  It has been a journey filled with wonder and love. While in medical school, I met my future husband and his fellow Franciscans in Galveston, and all were friends on my journey.  A Franciscan priest was my spiritual director while I was a Jesuit volunteer in Washington, DC before medical school had even crossed my mind.  There have been lovers of Francis befriending me for years and years now in an almost mystical procession of serendipity.

I first saw the movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” as a college student in Austin in the 1970’s.  The film captured my heart and my spirit and never really let go. It is a beautifully filmed story of the life of Francis with a soundtrack sung by Donovan. One scene that has stayed with me is an image of Francis washing the limbs of people with leprosy (Hansen’s disease) while Donovan’s melody sings of mercy and joy. That mercy, that joy, has followed me through years of seeking and searching and wandering and ultimately, finding love and faithful companionship with others who love Francis.

St. Francis did love animals. He also loved God, and watched and listened to the Spirit.  He knew fear and loneliness and pain.  In embracing all of life, he found grace and blessing.  In Francis’ time, persons who suffered from leprosy were exiled to remote and isolated geography, and although the story is that Francis was frightened by leprosy…the story is also that Francis kissed a leper and in doing so, found freedom and peace.  Nothing was denied, all was welcomed. This life of Francis of Assisi has much to teach us about truth, about the holy, about our own hearts.

So, as we honor the memory of St. Francis today, I wonder how our lives can teach us and lead us more and more toward grace, toward loving kindness, toward justice. The world we live in cries out for mercy, cries out for joy.  I give thanks for the life of Francis, and for all the love that has flowed from his friends and continues to grace our world today.  May we too embrace all of life, casting nothing away, and know the holiness and grace that only love can bring.

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Recently I have been listening to a number of conversations in and around our church about inclusivity…and I have found myself thinking about inclusivity as a spiritual practice.  Many who endorse the title of “progressive Christian” also endorse the virtue of inclusivity and endeavor to be a haven for those who may have experienced discomfort or injury in the context of religion.  And, almost everyone who aspires to inclusivity sooner or later runs into a brick wall where she or he might think “I can include everyone except…” It is almost as though the intentional practice of inclusivity involves encountering Russian nested dolls–until one appears that we can’t “un-nest.” One that we can’t include.

Where is the place for limits, for boundaries? And where is the place for unconditional inclusion? Is there ever a place for unconditional inclusion? If we proclaim “all are welcome” in our churches (and in our hearts), where is the place when we say “except”? How do we find balance in this place–can we? Is this the place where we might ask (along with our evangelical friends) “What Would Jesus Do?”

It seems to me that communal spiritual practice might be best supported by individual spiritual practice.  If we proclaim an inclusive community, are we also each called to be inclusive persons? If so, how do we practice inclusivity, not just at church but at work, in our neighborhoods, in our families?

Reflecting on inclusivity, it occurs to me that:

  • It is a longitudinal organic and dynamic process–hearts change in relationships over time. We change each other and are changed in our connectedness.  Our experience of each other today will not be our experience of each other tomorrow.
  • Our particular contexts of inclusivity are always imbedded in a larger (sometimes much larger) context where Spirit is active and alive. We are not likely to be aware or conscious of all the implications of our decisions in the larger web of our communal life.
  • Many spiritual teachers (in A Course in Miracles and other resources) have suggested that all our experiences come down in the end to allowing ourselves to choose to respond in any moment from love or from fear.  The question arises whether those of us who name ourselves followers of Jesus are called to exercise a preferential option for love.

In chronos time, we are faced with our perceptions of reality and we bump into obstacles to the practice of inclusivity, many of which can be described as reasoned and reasonable.

In kairos time, we remember to consider the Kingdom of Heaven, the one that is right here, right now. The kingdom that is wild with apparent grace.

When we reach our limits of inclusivity–and being human, we will–instead of standing in critical judgment of another, perhaps we can humbly acknowledge, in a context of grace, that we ourselves fall short in our capacity to love, and that it  is our own lack of wholeness that keeps us from reaching out to our brothers and sisters. Perhaps we can pray that our own hearts be changed, that we ourselves can be healed and forgiven in our very humanity.

In the end…maybe we can seek wisdom as we remember that hearts change in relationship over time, that our context is always embedded in a greater context beyond our knowing, and that if we listen, we are quietly beckoned and invited to choose love over fear, every time that we can. May we know the blessings of open hearts and open minds and joyfully accept the challenges of being human, in the knowledge of grace that abounds–apparent grace.

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La Luna

I drove home tonight in the glow of a full moon, like a pearl shining, like a marble with a rough place where the man in the moon peeks out.  The moon teaches us that things aren’t always what they seem–if they ever are at all.

Last week I dreamed about my father.  He was alive again (although the seventh anniversary of his death will soon pass).  Strong, walking around, talkative, cheerful.  I woke up smiling.

Some years ago a poet I knew in Austin fell and hit his head and hours later, died.  Beauty silenced.  His words have lived in my head for years.

So kiss your husband, hug your child, feed your dog.  Cross yourself when the next ambulance passes.

How are we to understand?

Just this:  Only because of the greater light of the sun can we see the beautiful moon at all.

And this:  Only an infinitely more tender love and mercy, beyond all our knowing, releases us to touch each other, in hope, with unforgettable joy.

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Resurrection,Redemption: Beyond All Reason

So much is stirring in our world these past days…  A fairy tale royal wedding in London.  Two days later the death of Osama bin Laden with avalanche outpouring of relief, celebration by some and confusion by others.  Tornadoes and flooding in the Midwest and the Southeast areas of the United States.  Meanwhile, a record drought in Houston and the high school tennis court ground near our house looks like this:

Dry cracked earth that is supposed to have grass growing.  And summer, the hot hot hot Texas summer, is just around the corner.  Three weeks ago in Pennsylvania I saw this, and this, and this:

Green and growing, prayers flags blowing in the wind…so different from the cracked dry earth.  As different as the fairy tale wedding is from the death of a terrorist.  If we believe that God is everywhere and that the Spirit is moving, then we can know that the events of our lives, the death and resurrection and ultimately redemption, are sacred texts for us to read, to ponder, to unpack, unravel, maybe even understand. 

Like reading tea leaves, we listen to all around us…  Will we see the holy?  Will we hear the call?  Beyond all reason lies all we are and all we have been and all we will ever be: resurrection and redemption and apparent grace in our lives.

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Today is Easter Sunday, the Christian tradition’s celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.  Churches all over the world  proclaim “Alleluia, He is risen!” This day, more than any other, is the cornerstone of faith for many…the very existence of Easter speaks to the human soul’s experience of surprise, of amazement, of miracle–and of new life.  The gospel of Matthew tells of Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” going early in the morning to visit the tomb where Jesus was buried. They found that Jesus’ body was not there.  We read that an angel appeared and told them “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here…”  As the women run to tell their friends, they meet Jesus, who also tells them “Do not be afraid…” 

Some days ago, I attended a workshop at the Quaker retreat center Pendle Hill ( that was led by Carrie Newcomer ( and Faith Hawkins.  The workshop focused on the practice of Midrash, or asking questions of sacred texts.  As our gathered community broke open holy writings and shared questions and retold sacred stories, we saw how holiness appears when we bear witness to each other’s lives, to each other’s stories, to each other’s sorrows and joys and hopes and dreams.  We talked about how the act of witnessing, hearing, seeing each other brought awareness of the holiness that is all around us all the time.  I left Pendle Hill with a heart filled with yearning to carry the holy, to share the sacred.

Apparent Grace is standing before us on this Easter day.  The Holy Is.  The paradox of Easter is that we are invited to “see” not only what “is”, but today what “is not.”  We see holiness and we see absence of death; we see resurrection and we run to tell those we love. 

Our world is filled with those who are waiting for hope, waiting for healing, waiting to be seen and heard into holiness.  When we proclaim “Alleluia” today, let us remember to carry Grace within our hearts to the world in which we live. Let us dare to be fearless and to tell others “Do not be afraid…”  Let us proclaim new life, in our own hearts and to others…may we live and breathe this day and all our days in the knowledge of our holy connectedness, to each other and to Spirit and to life itself.

Happy Easter…may you know joy and peace in this holy time of new life!

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It’s Not Over Until It’s Over: Lent and the Home Stretch

My friend and teacher Jennifer Louden (see her amazing work at often tells retreatants that they may feel tempted to begin to “check out” toward the end of a retreat experience. I have experienced this myself many times in different contexts: beginning to mentally move into the “next thing” while an event is still unfolding, thinking of what to say next in a conversation rather than listening to who is speaking, thinking about my grocery list near the end of a TV program… Jennifer counsels her retreatants to “not leave themselves” and to stay with their experience of being on retreat until the retreat is over. This is important counsel and helpful encouragement at this stage in the season of Lent for many of us.

A week from tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday. In many Christian traditions, this begins the most sacred time of the liturgical year, the Triduum. Three liturgical experiences–Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Great Vigil of Easter–all connect as one service, one worship experience. Those of us who are drawn to practice being pilgrims will follow the thread of the Triduum, being present to the events in the final days of Jesus’ life before and during his death and resurrection. There is great power in these experiences and we are given the opportunity to ponder and pray through the meanings of death and rebirth in our own lives and in our world.

But today, and all the next seven days, it is still Lent. Only a few more days until the celebration of the solemn and sacred Triduum mysteries in the Christian tradition–but the time is not here yet. Especially for clergy or clergy families or church leaders, it can be very tempting to leap ahead a week and give up this last week of Lent in exchange for anticipating or planning Easter and its celebration. Yet, isn’t there something important about being patient and seeing this season of Lent through till its end? How many times have I learned that the most surprising things I discover arrive at the very end, or almost at the very end, of any experience? Missing these surprises is the risk we take when we lean too far into the future.

I would like to suggest that, over these next few days, maybe we can breathe a little more deeply into the desert space that is the season of Lent. Maybe we can sit still in the silence of our own hearts and listen for the Holy One. Whether we have “given up” something for Lent or have practiced “prayer, fasting, and almsgiving” or have just done our best to keep our boat afloat, there are still a few more days to visit the deep corners of our heart and to keep company with our spirit.

If we can find time and space to be still over the next few days, even for a little while, we can know the grace of being present to what is. We can find our way back to the moment that is now (which is of course the only moment that we have).

Let us wait with patience and tenderness; let us not forget to visit our own hearts during these last days of this gift we have been given, the season of Lent. Let us continue to hold our world and those we love in our prayer and let us continue to await resurrection in hope.

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An Acceptable Time–Ash Wednesday and All the Rest

I found this post right after I published the last one tonight…this one was a draft that I thought had been eaten by gremlins at my hotel in Fort Worth that week of Ash Wednesday. So, I am backpedaling to the beginning of Lent to weave this into the middle of the season. Wishing you all peace as I do so…

“As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” 2 Corinthians 6: 1-2

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. I was out of town and went to a noon Mass at a cathedral near my hotel. It was a big church and as I walked in, only five minutes before the start of the service, there were just a few people in the pews.

Then, it seemed like all at once, hundreds of people were streaming in. They filled all the pews, stood in the aisle, and waited in the back of the church. In only five minutes’ time, I was surrounded by men and women and children and babies and very old people. I remembered hearing once that while Christmas and Easter are thought to be the busiest “church days,” actually Ash Wednesday often has the largest crowds in attendance. I heard someone say that this is because everyone can receive ashes on their forehead and no one is turned away.

With all these people, I prayed. With all these people, I waited in line to have ashes rubbed on my forehead in the sign of a cross. With all these people, I heard “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”. And the words were proclaimed, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”

It was kind of like coming home for the holidays to a very large family. Standing there among all these strangers, young and old, I felt blessed just to be on the journey. I also felt not-separate but that we all really are traveling together.

As this holy time of Lent begins, I hope for time to center down…to rest…to pray…to wait for God. I will carry the grace of my sisters and brothers (strangers skin-deep only) in my heart along the way. May we all know the holy truth of our oneness as we enter this season and may we await resurrection with hope and joy.

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