Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
(Where charity and love are, God is there.)
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
(The love of Christ has gathered us together.)
Exsultemus et in ipso jucundemur.
(Let us rejoice and be glad in it.)
Timeamus et amenus Deum vivum.
(Let us revere and love the living God.)
Et ex corde amemus Deum vivum,
(And from a sincere heart let us love another.)
I can hear my Dad saying something like, “Latin is Greek to me.” (He was a funny guy) And I find that to be true for me as well. Having grown up singing in choirs, I’ve sung in languages that my tongue just couldn't master. Ubi caritas, is one of those I’m sad to say. But I love it and I'm in the choir, and we're singing it, so I'll do my best.
When singing a Latin piece, there’s a sense of mystery held in reverence. Singing is putting melody to longing or joy, to hope or deep despair, to love more often than not. And when I’m not familiar with another language, when I don’t understand the meaning or pronouncing of the words, then it feels as though the music has not yet found her true voice. It feels like hopping on one foot, hoping to keep up and make it to the finish line. Singing songs only in English, though would be like spending your whole life painting canvasses only in shades of white and calling them good. Languages bring depth and texture and beauty. Languages bring color to the piece.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Where charity (“generosity and helpfulness” according to Webster) and love abide, God is in the midst in its midst. At the borders, where immigrants are offered salve for their feet, offered food and drink for nourishment: Deus ibi est. At the bedside of loved ones who are sick or dying, where stories are told and songs sung: Deus ibi est. On the streets in the morning’s wee hours, where each is seen as God’s precious child: Deus ibi est. At the unemployment office, where people on the other side of the counter look each person in the eye and smile just a bit: Deus ibi est. God is found in the taking longer to finish, so no one is left behind. Love is found when a MARTA bus driver gets a hug. It takes open and generous spirits. It takes our best intentions, our brightest hope. It is what love looks like.
At the end of the day, at the end of this Lenten journey, at the end of our lives these will be the moments that matter most. These moments when we saw beyond what was immediately possible and lived into what was not yet. Moments when we gave our first best half of our sandwich to another who was hungry. Moments when we believed the impossible just might happen, and we didn’t give up until the impossible came to be. Moments when love wins for us all. Deus ibi est.
Come Unto Me
When the Journey gets too hard,
when we feel depleted,
when our compassion turns to complaining,
when our efforts toward justice and mercy
seem to get us nowhere,
it’s time to remember the humility part –
that it is God who has made us
and not we ourselves;
that saving of the world
or even one part of it
is not on our shoulders.
It is then
we can come unto him
and he will give us rest.
With rest we’ll remember
what it is we are about.
~ Kneeling in Jerusalem by Ann Weems
Dear loving, faithful, broken, determined, unrelenting, hopeful Pilgrims, blessed be. May we heed well these words from another Pilgrim who knows of roads that feel uphill both ways. Her words come to us on this Tuesday before Holy Week as we are nearing the end. We have made our way through March into April. We sense that there are a few more hills and then we will be able to see into Jerusalem.
It is God who has made us and not we ourselves, perhaps these are the words that can inspire and guide us up these last hills of this year's Lenten journey. Our Almighty and Loving God has made us. Each one. Our Eternal and Gracious God who created and is creating still is not yet done with us. In creating us, you and I, God blessed us and called us "good." Each one. In our complaining times, God is creating still. In our times of feeling aimless, God is creating still. In our moments of "I can almost see it," God is creating still. All along the way, God continues to bring light to the darkness, hope to despair.
It’s time to remember the humility part – how true these words are for us this day. May we be reminded again today that this work that we are called to do is loving and serving. As easy and as impossibly hard as that. To love and serve the one who calls us, each one by name. Loving and serving on these uphill roads. Loving and serving through these winter-into-spring days. Loving and serving in ways that seem small and fruitless…until…until we come to what can be seen cresting the next hill.
We can come unto him and he will give us rest. Rest from the pressing on. With that rest, we will find ourselves walking in a way that breathing comes easy. Rest from the hurrying and scurrying. In that rest, we will know what is best and do the next right thing. Rest from the burden of fulfilling all the expectations. Rest from feeling we must be in the lead. With that rest, we will trust that all along the way, we have been led.
As we near the end of our journey for this Lenten season, we are mindful of what we see now in our rear-view mirror. What was before. Just in these few days into weeks, we have come to a different place. We are mindful of what feels similar, but somehow has shifted, somehow feels different around us. Signs of change and transformation show themselves. When we began our journey back in early March, the branches of the trees were bare and stark. Now for many of us as we make our way along sidewalks and streets, we are beginning to see canopies of leaves overhead. Some of us have moved in and through illnesses in these past weeks. Some of us are not yet feeling better. Some of us have been injured and are now moving through the world with a limp...and still we keep moving.
It is good for us to pay attention to what we have picked up along the way through this Lenten season. What things have come to us as gifts and graces? What things have we intentionally sought? What things are new discoveries? What things feel like re-discovered old friends? Conversely, it’s important for us to think about what we have put down and let go of. What things were too heavy, too cumbersome? What brought us life at one time and now don't seem to anymore? What things (habits, practices, ways of being in the world) just don't fit anymore?
Soon we will move into our final days, but not yet. Soon we will be entering into the Lenten story that many of us have heard so many times before. But not yet. Not today. Today, we still have a ways to go. Still we journey on. It matters that we continue to participate. This is not the season to switch anything on auto pilot. Our eyes and ears, our minds and hearts are to stay open as we continue in these pilgrim days. For us, this journey is our time to continue to practice and pay attention to what is bringing us life. To participate in these days and to pay attention to what brings life to others, and then to do something about that.
My friend, Ann Gerondelis has created a beautiful Lenten book, Open Our Hearts. A reading for this week is entitled, "Unfolding." she writes, "So this morning, I sketch my dreams for a glorious day into reality. And I pray: God, fill us with the hope of the day unfolding and all the potential you know that it holds. What gifts you give to all your people. Extraordinary gifts indeed."
Amen and amen. May it be so.
Praying is a close as our next breath. It is a living place, never far away. It inspires and leads us on. Prayer finds us and bring us home. Praying fills our hearts and empties our minds. In these many or few words, and even saying nothing at all – there is a sensing of time slowing down, sometimes appearing to stop, and a feeling of being held in love.
Almost every day I am praying for someone. Friends and family members. Folks on Facebook. Listening and watching the news. It can be daunting. It can feel overwhelming. Everyone has her own prayer-practice. Mine is to try to stop as soon as I feel the need or when I am asked and say a prayer. Prayers can be words for healing, for strength, for courage. Sometimes I speak a person’s name and say, “Precious child” over and over and over again. Yesterday when Betsey went for her post-surgery follow-up, I said the mantra prayer: “God bless Betsey. Surround her in your love and enfold her in your arms. Surround her in your love and enfold her in your arms. Surround her in your love and enfold her in your arms. And bring her your peace.” When Sam and Daddy John toured Emory, I found myself softly singing, “Open My Eyes That I May See” for this amazing son who is beginning to be on his way to what is his next chapter.
For me, there’s no boilerplate prayer. More importantly there’s no “right, best prayer.” Praying is connecting and re-connecting with our loving, Almighty God.
A few months after Mom died, I clearly heard her voice say, “Time is different here.” And I believe that it is. This place we seek of peace and healing. This Holy One we call to for reassure and relief. This holy time we yearn for where something will change or stay the same. Time is different here speaks to our connections with God being as regular and familiar as our next breath. That close. That easy. Always bringing us life, always as near as that.
(Inhaling) Lord in your mercy (exhaling) hear my prayer. Amen, may it be so.
Angels come to us in the most unexpected places.
One recent visit was in a Y locker room. We had all just finished a pretty demanding water aerobics class, and I was getting dressed to head home. It had been a long Monday and I was beat. "Put a fork in me" kind of day, when all I could think about was catching the last half of the Braves-Cubs game. I said something like, "Please tell me it's Friday," to the woman next to me and she started chuckling. Then she told me these words and why she said them:
"Life is a precious thing. I feel so blessed to have been able to do that class. I feel so blessed to be able to tie my own shoes right now. We aren't promised a day. We aren't promised our next breath. But we are given them. And I want to live each day I've got and not rush through one of them. Not one. So, honey, don't wish your way on to Friday. Who knows what gifts you will be given, or what gifts you will give to somebody else between now and then."
She finished tying her shoes, grabbed her pool bag, patted me lovingly on the shoulder and left. She was smiling. And so was I.
Blessings on you this Friday. It's a good Spiritual Practice to not miss a miracle when she's standing right beside you.
Ours is not
the task of fixing the entire world
all at once,
but of stretching out
to mend the part of the world
that is within our reach.
Any small, calm thing
that one soul can do to help another soul
will help immensely.
What’s needed for dramatic change
is an accumulation of acts.
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
It's so dang easy to fall into the age-old trap: "Let me help. What can I do? Maybe I can help fix it.” Whatever the "it" is, many of us knowingly or unknowingly walk into the quicksand or hop on the merry-go-round in an attempt to help. To fix it. To do a good thing. To try to….
Time and again, my sin is taking too big a slice from the pie. Time and again, I find myself in over my head only wanting to help. And what happens next? I grow weary and discouraged and somewhere along the line all I know to do is quit. And all I wanted to do was to help.
Estes' words are profound and graceful lifelines. Words of encouragement of hope. They speak to our small, specific possibilities for change. They speak to the ableness of communities, and the greatness of never being alone.
If in these early days of April, we look around and see something that pulls at our hearts, can we then seek and find something that is small, doable, possible? Are we able to look around and see all the things our sisters and brothers are also doing? Perhaps they appear to be small on the surface, but when we put them together, they become remarkable. Magnificent. Living miracles. The helping we can do is brick by brick, stone by stone. With these appearing to be small tasks, together we will mend fences and build bridges. Together doing just what we can - from here to there, reaching out beyond ourselves. Individually, we would have no idea. Together, we can begin to see it happening. All around us. After all: “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”
Lift every voice and sing till earth and Heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise,
high as the list'ning skies, let it resound loud as the Rolling sea
Sing a song full of faith that the Dark past has taught us,
sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought Us;
facing the rising sun of our new day Begun,
let us march on till victory is Won.
Stony the road we trod, bitter the Chast'ning rod,
felt in the day that hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady Beat, have not our weary feet,
come to the Place on which our fathers sighed?
We have Come over a way that with tears has been Watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from The gloomy past, till now we stand at Last
where the white gleam of our star is Cast.
God of our weary years, God of Our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by thy Might, Led us into the light,
keep us Forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Least our hearts, drunk with the wine of The world, we forget thee,
Shadowed beneath the Hand, may we forever stand,
true to our God, true to our native land
~ Songwriters: J. ROSAMOND JOHNSON, JAMES JOHNSON
Songs are living things. Rarely are they "one and done." Mysteriously somehow, songs are both rooted in time and place, and also floating free waiting for the time your spirit can catch up. Songs are life companions. We find them or they find us. Somehow, sometime there is a joining that finds a home in a shared story.
"Lift every Voice and Sing," found me when I was in seminary. Her melody is both trudging and marching. Her words tell the story of heartbreak and rejoicing. When this song found me in seminary, I was going through the joyful, painful, impossibly graceful time of coming out. God of my weary years, God of my silent tears. God, you have brought me thus far on the way. To this day, I cannot sing this song without tears rolling down my face. My tears speak to the truth of this song's story and my own. This anthem has proclaimed the story of triumph over oppression for our African American brothers and sisters for generations. It proclaims it for us all today.
Songs bring continual gifts our whole lives long. They companion us, they nudge us, they carry us through and carry us along. They inspire and remind us. They live in us and we in them. This song met me almost 30 years ago at Candler. I can only imagine where these words will find me 30 years from now.
So keep still,
and let God
do some work.
~ Thomas Merton
For only nine words, these surely serve as a beacon on the hill. Enough to pray over, really. Plenty and then some….
The first three, we all ought to be wearing on our 2019 Lenten t-shirts, right? One size fits all. This is what Lent asks of us. What Lent welcomes us into. This is to be our spiritual practice. Keeping still serves as our spiritual guide. Pointing us on from where we have been and toward where we can next go. So. Keep. Still. Just these three words. Not much and somehow everything. For this season, for this time – keep still. Cease the busy-work. Put an end to the hustling and bustling. So. Keep. Still. Breathe. Listen. Watch. Wait. Breathe.
And then Merton adds the kicker: “and let God do some work.” One of my life challenges is getting out of the way. Out of the my way, out of the way of others, out of the way of God. (Yes, even as I was typing it, I was mindful of the goofiness of the last one).
Our God created and is creating still. Our God has loved us and is loving us still. Our God, Alpha and Omega, is always with us.
These words come at a good time on this journey. We have been traveling for a while and it is easy to become distracted, to misstep. Here, Merton brings us back to center and brings everything back into focus. It is our work to be still. We were not created to frantically run in circles, nor were we made to pace the hallways until the soles of our shoes are worn thin. We are certainly not here in this world to spend our days howling at the moon. Keep still.
Keep still and let. Four words here at the heart of his sentence to remind us that there is an intentional turning over/letting go of what we think needs to be done. Can we instead, adopt the posture of the river? Shift from grasping, desperately holding on, and instead move to the thought of floating on downstream, down the river. No longer pushing against the current. Floating. Leaning into a power that is greater than our own. Trusting that what will happen, will happen with God’s loving care and kindness. Trusting to let God do.
One of my grandmother’s used to say this to me when I was growing up: “Be kind, honey. Everyone’s doing the best they can.” Can’t imagine what might have precipitated her comment. Maybe someone was being rude. Or mean. Or angry. I don’t really remember. And it’s funny to me that I don’t remember which grandmother. My money is on my maternal, Midwestern one (as opposed to my paternal, New Englander) but I can’t tell you for sure. What I know is that I have carried those words with me most of my life.
These are important words for me, for us in these days. All you have to say to an Atlantan is “Man, this morning on the perimeter there was this guy that…” and we will all be blowing our collective tops on behalf of the storyteller. It’s common place to lose our reason, our patience, sometimes lose all rhyme and reason in a split second. Somebody cuts us off in traffic. Someone cuts in line at the grocery. Some young (human being) kid whizzes by us on a scooter – and that’s enough to tip the scales. Katie, bar the door…
Is it possible to take a deep breath? Is it possible to not be so invested in…whatever it is that seems to be so “top-blowable?” Is it possible to show lovingkindness in these improbable days?
“Everyone’s doing the best they can.” These are hard and tender days. Both. These are very preciously short and painfully long days. Both. These (for many) are the best of times and the worst of times. Both.
What would it take for us to be intentional about actually seeing one another as we journey on? In these intentional Lenten days as we make our way toward Jerusalem, can see one another as God’s precious child? Sisters and brothers also on the journey? Sisters and brothers making their way through each day, carrying burdens we can’t see? Can we see one another as sisters and brothers making their way in the same way - left foot, then right foot?
Everybody's "best" might not be quite enough. Their "best" might take me 3 minutes longer at the cash register or cause me to lose my stride for just a beat on my walk. It probably would. What would change for this Jerusalem-bound journey that we are on, if instead of saying a few precious words at them, we say a few precious words for them? What if instead of getting in a good word, we speak a prayer on their behalf? Not in a shaking-our-heads, I'm-righteous condemnation, but in a prayer more like "I have no idea what your days are like, but I hope things get easier for you"? Not because we must but because we may. Maybe this is where the `turn the other cheek,' `walk the extra mile' got their starts...
Come now O God of second chances; open our lives to heal.
Remove our hate and melt our rage. Save us from ourselves.
Come now O God, release our demons; open our eyes to see
the shame within, our guilt and pain. Mend us, make us whole.
Come now O God and still our anger; open our minds to peace
Embrace our fear and hold us close. Calm the storm within.
Come now, O come now O God, shake our resentment;
open our way to choose the way of love ever revenge.
Show us a new way.
Come now, O come now O God, and grant compassion; open our hearts to love.
May we let go of all our hurt. Help us to move on.
Come now, O come now O God of second chances; may we forgive ourselves.
May we become your living sign; children of God’s love.
~ David Haas
This morning’s lectionary text from Luke 15 is the well cherished story of the prodigal son. “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So the father divided his property between them.”
Many of us have grown up hearing this story. There are many characters, but three central ones. The father who loves his children. The older brother who works faithfully and hard, doing all what is asked of him. The younger son who is restless and wants more than he can see around him.
Why do you suppose the story is thrown into the middle of our Lenten journey? What is it about this story, that matters to us today? What is it about the story that invites us in? I struggle with stories and jokes I’ve heard before. I race to the punchline. I quit listening. I know how this one turns out. Today’s story offers that same temptation.
But today is a new day. When I’ve heard this in the past, I’ve taken the side of the hard-working one who does what is expected. The one who doesn’t seem to be appreciated or get his do. As I hear it today, though my heart resonates with the one who turns and returns.
For me as I hear it again, the heart of the story is the young son’s turning and returning home. For me today, the heart of the story is the moment when the young son learns that being away from his family, being away from what is his work to do, being away brings him no life. For me the heart of the story, is when he stands up and turns back towards his family. There, the father opens his arms and celebrates his wandering son’s return. It is the turning into returning that speaks to the story, it is this message that speaks to Lent. It is when he receives his second chance.
This story does a beautiful job of reminding us of left foot, right foot. This story does a beautiful job of reminding us of the ordering of things. For us to return to a place that we love, comes after we have first turned from another direction.
In this turning, there is an immediate shift. We see things a little differently. We come at things from a different angle. We are not the same, we are not on the same journey as we were just before. Perhaps that’s one of the gifts of the story: not being on the journey that we were before.
This season is filled with places of turning and returning. What will happen if we shift just a little? What will happen if we turn in just a little? What will change, and at the same time, with love… What will always be the same?
This morning our choir is singing this anthem by David Haas. It is a hauntingly beautiful tune, with power words. Ours is a God of second chances. The turning is up to us, the love has always been there and will be there when we return home.