Into your hands I commit my spirit: Erin Ware [Retrieve Lament 2019]

Holy or Silent Saturday may be the most important day in the church calendar to help us recognize what it means to live in the already-but-not-yet kingdom of Jesus. Jesus has already conquered death, but we haven’t - not yet. We still die. Our dreams, our loved ones, our relationships all face the threat of death. We know that death does not have the last word, but until Jesus comes and calls us from our graves, death tramples our hearts and homes with a vengeance. Today, this Silent Saturday, I invite you into one last Lenten fast. Would you set aside some time to sit with the mourners hiding in Jerusalem after putting Jesus’ body into the grave?

It helps me to enter their story by entering the stories of those who’ve written lament here all week. The Jewish custom of sitting shiva to mourn a family member’s death could be instructive for us today. Will you sit with me and help retrieve the lament that’s been omitted?

My introduction (Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.)

Walter Wittwer (Today, you will be with Me in Paradise.)

Drake Dowsett (Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.)

Eva Chou (My God, why have you forsaken me?)

Kirstin Dowsett (I thirst.)

Marcie Walker (It is finished.)

Erin Ware (Into your hands I commit my spirit.)

Today’s guest is a friend I’ve met in person only once, several years ago. We enjoyed a brief but meaningful introduction, and have stayed in contact ever since, connected by our mutual appreciation for art, theology, and spiritual formation. I also love Erin’s instinct to gather people around beauty.The artwork you see throughout this post shows the power of Erin’s substantive reckoning with grief. I’m grateful for her generosity in sharing it with us this Holy Week.

Would you read Erin’s story with me, and listen with an open heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you?

 
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
— Luke 23:43-49 (ESV)
 

Retrieving Lament

by Erin Ware

Even before my mom died in May 2015, I already felt as if I’d been shipwrecked and washed up on an unfamiliar shore. I had been through an immense amount of change—some very good, like marriage, but some that was disorienting and, honestly, devastating. In the months leading up to our wedding in April 2014, Nathan and I went through things that are too sensitive and private to share on the internet, but just take my word for it: it was heartbreaking and scary stuff. As if the statement “When it rains, it pours” needs to assert itself every time something goes wrong, we also found ourselves without a church, therefore without much of our community. At the same time, I was laid off from my job, and I had my car stolen. And on top of it all, my mom’s brain tumor came back, with all the accompanying and scary symptoms, and she had to have her second brain surgery. Nathan wasn’t even able to come and sit with me in the waiting room because of an intestinal parasite he had picked up from drinking bad water. Seriously?! It is no joke that I began to laugh when I received bad news—I had begun to look for it.

The signs came as early as January 2015. If I had been paying better attention, maybe I would have noticed them earlier. The doctors found another tumor in my mom’s brain, and this time the prognosis was… hopeless. I moved home to help care for her and almost every morning found a fresh assailant—a succession of symptoms arriving more quickly than we could muster ourselves to fight them. She lost use of her left arm, all feeling on her left side, use of her left leg, ability to see on her left side, cognitive clarity, speech… the list goes on.

I had hoped—we all did—that a miracle would occur, or maybe that’s called denial. I don’t know. I will tell you this—I am a person of hope, always have been. I’m buoyant, and not easily pulled into despair, but this was too much, and I was drowning.

The morning I came to terms with the reality of my mother’s impending death, I went for a walk. I walked like she did—fast, purposeful, worship music blaring in my headphones. I didn’t care if the neighbors thought that I looked strange, pounding the pavement, arms raised high in abandon, last-ditch prayers and broken pieces of song pouring out to heaven. I held nothing back, and yet I felt that my prayers were as likely to reach heaven as a handful of paper airplanes.

I was wallowing in self-pity, I admit, when God suddenly broke through and gave me a vision: a massive golden eagle swooping down, grasping my paper-airplane prayers in its talons, and with one powerful thrust of its wings, carrying them up to heaven. I stopped right there in the road and wept, and I walked back home feeling a bit lighter, feeling—at the very least—heard.

My mom died a few days later, on May 3rd, 2015, surrounded by family and in her own bed. It was eight o’clock on a Sunday morning, and we sang her out. We like to think that she left this life to make it to the “early service” in the next. It was a good death, and she was at peace.

This was just the beginning of my grief over her death, but somehow all the events leading up to it helped me to move through it. I don’t mean that it was easy (not at all), but that I was at least equipped.

I kid you not, there was a time, not long before all of this happened, that I thought that “the worst thing that could happen” would be my car breaking down, because I was very financially vulnerable. Then, almost like a joke, my car was stolen, and I couldn’t replace it. (Spoiler alert: I got through it.) The truth is, for most of my life, losing my mom would have been the worst thing that I could imagine—and then that happened too. I don’t want to think about what my “worst thing” would be now. All I know is, through it all, I have come to realize that there is life after death in more ways than one.

Holy Week.Erin Ware1.jpg

The other thing that I have learned, though it took me a while, is that when God seems far away, or maybe even completely absent, he is actually closer than ever. About a year after my mom died, I put away my “mourning clothes.” I knew that I would always miss her, but I gave myself permission to live the way she would want me to. I suppose I thought, rather naively, that I would begin to “feel” the way I had felt before all these things had changed me. I thought that I would find God where I used to find him. But I did not. Luckily, I was in school studying theology and art, and it was my job at the time to find God in this new landscape. That search became my final project for graduation—a paper and gallery show, entitled “The Presence of Absence.” It began as a series on mourning and ended with a theophany of praise.

In the last conversation I had with my mom, the last time that she was able to feebly acknowledge that she heard and understood what I was saying, I told her that I would remember the faithfulness of God. That was her life’s message and what she wanted everybody to know: God is faithful. So I promised her that, after she was gone, I would remember his faithfulness to me and to our family, even in this dark hour.

I have not only remembered it, I have lived to see it.

 
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,

that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
— Psalm 30:11-12 (ESV)
 

Pray:

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Holy Saturday

Holy Week. Erin Ware bio.jpg

Erin is a mixed media painter and textile artist. Her interests lie in the intersection of art, faith, and daily practices, subjects about which writes about on yetuntold.com. She and her husband, Nathan, and their two-year-old boy, Felix, are happy to call Savannah, GA home after recently moving from Vancouver, B.C. She completed a Master of Arts in Theological Studies at Regent College, with a concentration in Christianity and the Arts in 2018. Her portfolio can be found at erinware.com.



Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. / Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned. /

That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted.
— Ranier Maria Rilke, "Requiem For A Friend"

(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from this year here.)

It is finished: Marcie Walker [Retrieve Lament 2019]

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know each one of these writers. Their lives walk the path of celebration and also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, the death of loved ones, and the death of dearly-held dreams. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. 

I haven’t met today’s guest in real life (yet), but I’ve been following her online and respect her deeply. Marcie (Black Coffee with White Friends) approaches theology, history, lament, protest, and her own story with an exquisite attention to beauty, wisdom, and connection. Her prose moves me, and the artifacts she curates accomplish a kind of prophetic work similar to the affect of poetry. In additions to adding beauty to my week, Marcie’s work has been instrumental in helping me to recognize and repent of the places I’ve compromised with systemic prejudice in my own heart. I’m grateful to Marcie for sharing some of her story here with us on this Good Friday.

Would you read Marcie’s story with me, and listen with an open heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you?

Greta Leśko   Source

Greta Leśko

Source

Heaven and Earth were finished, down to the very last detail. Genesis 2:1

When Jesus received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And, He bowed His head and voluntarily gave up His spirit. John 19:30

It Is Finished.

By Marcie Walker, Black Coffee with White Friends

When my mother was sentenced to serve 8-25 years in prison on the charge of involuntary manslaughter, we all said, “This is it,” which in our hearts translated to, “So, this is how it all ends.” She was nearly 60 and all of us, her children, were grown but still asking ourselves,”What kind of woman is this? Troubles ride on the wind and land at her feet.”

I can’t remember a time when my mother wasn’t a deeply disturbed woman. I can remember throughout my childhood more of her absences due to her extended stays in various mental care facilities than I can remember her presence at birthdays and school meetings, recitals and assemblies.

Every time I read scriptures that capture the disciples constant state of perplexed wonder, questioning if Jesus was indeed who He claimed He was, I am entirely sympathetic to their longing to simply know once and for all: Are you the One who was sent?

This is exactly how it felt to be my mother’s daughter. Who was this mother? Like Thomas, so many times I wanted to straight up explain to her, “Woman, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?” (John 14:5)

Reading ancient and sacred things often leaves us feeling a bit too highly of our own intellect. We wonder, “How could they not know that Jesus was obviously The Messiah? He walked on water!!! He changed the water to wine!” We forget that we can only be so cocksure because each of these doubting disciples left us their stories.

Besides, don’t we see miracles every day and still struggle to believe? We carry time machines in our pockets and have cups of coffee while suspended in the sky—but we scoff at the very idea of a God who can see us, hear us, and is very much a part of all of us.

I had a black mother who gave birth to five perfectly healthy babies and lived to tell the tale. Given the disproportionately high maternal mortality rate of black American women that still plagues us today, I am nothing short of a miracle. My daughter is a miracle. Therefore, it shouldn’t be hard at all to believe that Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross given the extraordinarily high rate of crucifixions in His day. However, when I read that He cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” do I believe Him? Is this it? Is this how it all ends? What kind of man is this?

John, the one Jesus loved, tells us: In the beginning, before all time, was the Word, Christ. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. He was continually existing in the beginning, co-eternally with God. All things were made and came into existence through Him. Without Him nothing made came into being. In Him was life and the power to bestow life, and the life was the Light of all. This Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it. So it could not overpower it, or change it, or swallow it whole. It could not put the Light out.

For six days, God spoke the Word and the Spirit moved:

And there was Light.

Then there was Sky…

then Dry Land,

then Sun, Moon and Stars,

then Fish and Flight,

and then Beasts and People.

Until finally, “God looked at all of this creation, and proclaimed that this was good, very good.  On the seventh day, God finished all the work of creation, and so on that day, God rested.” (Genesis 1:31; 2:2). Our kingdom here on earth is made.

As to the beginning of this kingdom right here and now, Jesus sets into motion His eternal Kingdom in heaven:

First, He comes as the Light of the World.

Then the Sky opens to speak, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.”

Then He tames the desert land…

and, His face shines as bright as the sun,

and He multiplies the fish,

Then He rides an ass and a colt into His Kingdom

And laments His people.

Until finally, “It is finished!” And He bows His head, voluntarily surrendering His spirit to rest for three days.

At my mother’s trial, when the gavel struck, we heard, “It’s finished. Done.” We knew this would be the finality of my mother’s arduous existence. “It’s finished,” we said. “It’s all over.”

Little did we know that her story was only beginning. From a cell, much the size of a tomb, our mother would earn a GED and an Associate’s Degree and miraculously get remarried and released from prison 8 years later. She would be back home for the births of her first great-grandchildren. More miracles.  

And little did Thomas or any of the disciples know that when all seemed finished, it would only be the beginning of finally understanding just who is this man who calms the storms, walks on water, makes the blind to see, who speaks to demons with authority, who leaves the tomb to meet them along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and who did so many more things that if they were all written down, each of them, one by one, the whole world would not be big enough to hold such a library of books. (John 21:25)

My Lord and My God,

You cried, “Telelestai, it is finished! It is complete! It is fulfilled and continues to be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven!” You are the One who was sent and the One who will come again.

This I believe.

Selah.

Pray:

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Good Friday

Holy+Week.Marcia+Alvis-Walker.jpg

Marcie Alvis-Walker is the writer behind Black Coffee with White Friends, a blog that chronicles her experiences as a black woman navigating white-dominant spaces. Through the use of memoir, letters, and devotionals, she hopes to narrate the legacy of our life and times today,mostly for her daughter but also for future generations.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/blackcoffeewithwhitefriends/?hl=en
Blog: blackcoffeewithwhitefriends.com 


Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. / Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned. /

That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted.
— Ranier Maria Rilke, "Requiem For A Friend"

(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from this year here.)

Why have you forsaken me?: Eva Chou [Retrieve Lament 2019]

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in a small part -- the writers of the mourning stories I'll be sharing here during Holy Week. Their lives walk the path of celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, the death of loved ones, and the death of dearly-held dreams. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. 

Our friend, Eva, contributed today’s lament. She is another friend we met in Austin and is now living in the north(ish)-east. Eva’s the friend you want to meet and fall in love with and marry your other dear friend because together they make up such a beautiful story of God’s goodness. She’s the kind of person who is smarter and stronger than most anyone in the room, but won’t be standing around talking about it because she’ll be in the kitchen slicing pears or gourmet cheese or some other interesting, delicious food she’s brought to the party. I’m grateful I was able to meet Eva’s dad at her wedding a few years ago, and mourn his loss. Eva is a good daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and wife. I’m delighted you get to meet her here today.

Would you read Eva's story with me, and listen with an open heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you?

Arcabas   Source

Arcabas

Source

 
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
— Matthew 27:45-46 (ESV)
 

Do not lose heart

by Eva Chou

At the age of 42, I became an orphan. I had lost my mother in September 2010, and in October 2018, I lost my father to an unexpected, precipitated progression of his illness. Several months ago, I found out that my father was critically ill between surgical cases. My phone rang incessantly with messages during surgery: “Your dad is in the ICU and on the verge of death.” As most physicians are taught to do, I put a barrier between my personal and professional life and finished the task at hand. After completing my last surgery, I received permission for emergency travel from my command (as all military members must), handed-off of my patients to my colleagues, and hopped on a plane with Jeff the next morning to Taiwan, where my parents had moved back to after I went off to college. In the states, I am comfortable navigating the medical system and have the inside advantage of being embedded within; in Taiwan, I am just a family member who speaks broken Chinese without any insight into their medical system. And here I was, put in charge of making medical decisions with the help of Google Translate.

Almost exactly eight years before, I received a similar message from my father who relayed that my mother was losing her battle with cancer. That day, I hopped on a plane from DC to Taiwan to help transition her to hospice. Hers was an honorable and long fight with a cancer that almost nobody wins. On Halloween day 2017, in the midst of my residency, I found out about her diagnosis in the midst of a busy clinic day: “Call me. Mom has pancreatic cancer.” In the years to follow, I made the trip from Boston to Taiwan every three months to spend time with my mother during each vacation week. We spoke on the phone twice a day, typically on the way to and from work. We read the Bible together, prayed for each other, and many times sat in stillness together. Through these ordinary times, I knew with certainty that God’s hand was guiding her journey of life and illness. I have to admit that, although she and many in my family had faith that she would be completely healed, as a physician I was unable to fully embrace this belief. However, the fact that she survived for three years (vs. the 4-6 month prognosis that she was initially given) was an absolute gift from the Lord. Although it was heartbreaking to see her suffer, I would not give back the richness of those years for decades of a lesser relationship.

Holy Week. Eva Chou1.jpg

With my dad, the situation was certainly different. In the past several years, he had been diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune condition which typically starts with drooping of the eyelids (ironically, my surgical specialty). In 50% of people, the disease progresses to generalized muscle weakness, and, in its most advanced state, affects the ability to swallow and breathe. Often times the treatment is as bad as the disease. As a stereotypical stubborn, old, pain-adverse, male doctor, he chose not to take the medication that could have prevented the progression of his condition and extend his life. While he was hospitalized in the ICU, Jeff and I started to clean and organize his house, which was mostly unchanged since my mother passed. When we were cleaning out his medicine cabinet, we found months of unused medication. I was angry because I felt that he didn’t have to experience the very advanced stages of his disease or to suffer in the way he did. And yet, in hindsight, I realize that this was in God’s perfect plan. My dad would not have tolerated years of debilitation and non-independent living; for him, death was the kinder option.

As I was reflecting on this post, I re-read many of the blogs I wrote during my mother’s illness. My mother was the first person in the family to become a Christian. She became a believer before marrying my father, who came from generations of Christian faith. Her faith grew remarkably as her body was tested by disease. After her initial surgery, she spent 40 days without any food or water – we saw in this the similarity of Jesus’ journey in the wilderness. As Jesus exited the wilderness, he was primed for his three years of ministry – those years were by no means easy and proceeded with an end goal of crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

We were reminded to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (Romans 12.12). Our prayers often mirrored those in the Psalms: “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 17.6-8) Days before my mother’s death, I wrote: “Please pray that we will not lose heart.” One often loses heart in the grief of dying parents. I still continue to grieve and know that this will be a lifelong process. Photographs, memories, the lament of my nephew not having grandparents around for most of his life – these are all losses that I weep over. I am thankful for this long grieving period as well. It means that my parents meant so much to me that I will continue to grieve them for the rest of my own days. As our last several years of church community have been transitory, I find that I have found the most solace in the least expected of places, from my own patients. Many have reached out to me and loved me as one of their own. They have prayed for me, written letters and emails, and sat and listened as they asked and I shared about these experiences. They have been a balm to my soul.

 

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you… So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For in this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

- 2 Corinthians 4.7-11,16-18

 

Pray:

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Wednesday of Holy Week

Holy+Week.+Eva+Chou+bio.jpg

Eva is the younger of two sisters raised by immigrant parents in Southern California. Her childhood home was always full of guests, food, and activity. When she left the nest for college in Berkeley, her parents permanently relocated back to Taiwan, although the family remained close with the help of long-distance phone calls and transcontinental flights. She moved to Boston after college to work and ended up staying for 13 years, becoming a de facto Red Sox and Patriots fan. Her first job as a Navy ophthalmologist took her to the DC area. An opportunity for fellowship followed in Austin, TX, where she met and married Jeff, her nicer half. They settled back to the DC area where she continues her work at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.


Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. / Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned. /

That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted.
— Ranier Maria Rilke, "Requiem For A Friend"

(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from this year here.)

Bearing the Weight of Love: Week 2 Preview

SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

Scroll to the bottom of this post to find today’s lectionary reading and collect. You can see all the previous Lent daybook 2019 posts here.

In February 2018 I was honored to speak at a couple events for Christ Church in Austin on how the discipline of Lent forms us to love. I led the group of artists and art-appreciators in an exploration of how the rhythms and disciplines of lament, confession, forgiveness, healing, prayer, hospitality, and generosity can form us as artists and people. Through the five Sundays of Lent that lead up to Holy Week, II’ll be sharing on the blog the background notes I used to prepare that Austin talk.. It’ll also give me the opportunity I haven’t taken before to share, in real time, some background to the images and music I select for the daily devotional posts.

Embodied agape versus artificial postures of love

Last Sunday I introduced the difference between artificial postures of love and the true cruciform movement of agape we find in 1 Corinthians 13. We can’t virtue signal cruciform love; we can only practice it daily with attention to a Christ-formed posture. What we embody will be formed by what we meditate - out of the heart the mouth speaks and so forth. For the first five Sundays in Lent, leading up to Holy Week, we’ll look more closely at 1 Corinthians 13, with special attention to verses 7 and 8, in order to consider the artificial postures of love. May what we meditate and practice this Lent help us to choose, instead, an embodied, cruciform movement of agape.

Tenebrae , Erica L. Grimm   source

Tenebrae, Erica L. Grimm

source

There are no short cuts to agape. It must be embodied with the sustainable, life-giving postures given us by our Creator, exemplified by Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Humans are plagued with the tendency toward artificial poses of love, which in the end deplete us and those we encounter. The only manner of movement for true agape is made up of a cruciform posture. In the greatest paradox of all, love is shaped by the cross.

If we use the poetic summary of agape in 1 Corinthians 13:7-8 - love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things - as our paradigm for embodied agape, we can consider the contrasting, artificial postures of love as a range of options, with the most extreme responses at the ends of a spectrum. In order to develop into the movement of agape, we can counter the attitudes and actions of un-love with specific spiritual disciplines that train us toward cruciform, life-giving love.


Love Bears All Things: it bears up anything and everything that comes

Artificial Postures: Range between numbness and sentimentality

True Embodiment: We learn to bear the weight of love through practices of lament and amazement.

Sentimentality: 5 quotations, 1 excerpt, & 1 poem

The Judas Kiss , Peter Koenig   source

The Judas Kiss, Peter Koenig

source

Sentimentality is the air I’ve breathed much of my church life. Frankly, sentimentality is the mother tongue of the United States. In Luci Shaw’s words below, this is a “conservatism that responds only to 'kitsch'. I’d like to point out that conservatism in this usage doesn’t necessarily mean a political or theological party, but the more technical definition of preserving an predetermined, established viewpoint with a resistance to changing that viewpoint for any reason. In this definition, we’re all guilty of our entrenched perspectives. We rely on symbols and ideologies in place of the more complicated work of learning new ways of understanding God, ourselves, and others. Sentimentality, as I understand it in this context, is a manufactured response without the labor of true emotional investment.

  1. “Sentimentality is only emotion you haven’t proven to the reader—emotion without vivid evidence.” ― Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir

  2. “The little everyday neglect of imagining other people well can add up to a lifetime of flawed, perverted vision, an expenditure of soul in a waste of emotionalism.” — David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything

  3. “Feeling sorry for the victims of injustice is not a prophetic act. We live in a culture that has replaced compassion with sentiment. Sentiment is mere feeling, disconnected from relationship. Sentiment is spilled compassion. It looks like concern; it could develop into compassion, but it seldom does” - Eugene Peterson in forward for Zealous Love: A Practical Guide to Social Justice

  4. “When I teach poetry, especially poems I love, I go to great lengths to warn against the falsehoods of sentimentality. Legitimate emotion takes its form from intimate, intelligent, intentional engagement. Part of the training is to allow oneself to be touched deeply but not too easily, to learn to be both demanding and yielding, like a dancer with a skilled partner both equally committed to dancing well.” - Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

  5. “Most people’s intuitions are drowned out by folk sayings. We have a moment of real feeling or insight, and then we come up with a folk saying that captures the insight in a kind of wash. The intuition may be real and ripe, fresh with possibilities, but the folk saying is guaranteed to be a cliche, stale and self-contained.” - Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

  6. "Stripped of religious and moral values, many contemporary artists who are self-conscious and creative, knowing that they are, but not knowing the why, see themselves as results of a cosmic accident. Much postmodern art, fiction, poetry, music, drama, and film represents the result of this unknowing and the fragmentation, cynicism, and personal chaos that result from it.

    The tragedy is that so many Christians , in their revulsion at the perverse aspects of such art, shun all art, even that which may spring from a God-honoring imagination or a Christocentric consciousness. The other 'Christian' alternative is a conservatism that responds only to 'kitsch', a sentimental art of the Hallmark greeting card variety that cheapens true sentiment, turning it into sweetness and light or mere moralistic propaganda -- no teeth, no guts, no muscle, no reality. No real Christianity either, if we consider the Creator's work a our powerful, radical model.

    But 'kitsch' is easy. It is as accessible as a Thomas Kinkade painting, and as stereotypical. It is manipulative and narcotic, and by contrast it makes true art seem difficult or complicated. For true art is not all sweet reasonableness. It may project outrage, or make a creative statement as hyperbolic as Jesus' 'if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; if your right hand causes you to sin, hack it off and throw it away.' Such an image is meant to jolt, to shock, to sting, to push truth into our awareness in ways that show the freshness, originality, and surprise of the Creator." --Luci Shaw, Beauty and the Creative Impulse

Perform impossibilities
or perish. Thrust out now
the unseasonal ripe figs
among your leaves. Expect
the mountain to be moved.
Hate parents, friends, and all
materiality. Love every enemy.
Forgive more times than seventy-
seven. Camel-like, squeeze by
into the kingdom through
the needle’s eye. All fear quell.
Hack off your hand, or else,
unbloodied, go to hell.
Thus the divine unreason.
Despairing you may cry,
with earthy logic - How?
And I, your God, reply:
Leap from your weedy shallows.
Dive into the moving water.
Eye-less, learn to see
truly. Find in my folly your
true sanity. Then, Spirit-driven,
run on my narrow way, sure
as a child. Probe, hold
my unhealed hand, and
bloody, enter heaven.
— Luci Shaw, "The Foolishness of God", Polishing the Petoskey Stone
Women With and Without Children , Caitlin Connolly   Source

Women With and Without Children, Caitlin Connolly

Source

Numbness: 1 outstanding chapter title + 4 quotations from the prophetic imagination of Walter Brueggemann

The word “numbness” as a posture feels a bit awkward, but makes up for that with clarity. I’d considered replacing it with apathy, which would be true, but maybe easier to avoid detection. Living in a state of numbness is a temptation that, I suspect, most of us can understand. We fill our lives with things that limit our capacity to feel uncomfortable emotions. We reject stimuli that will heighten our awareness to the realities we’d like to avoid.

I’m using the term “numbness” because it’s the term Walter Brueggemann uses in Prophetic Imagination, and who am I to deviate? The contrast between numbness and sentimentality is tricky to separate. On some levels sentimentality can be used as a tool to remain numb to true emotion. I see the two terms as a contrast on the premise that sentimentality is a posture of emotionalism and numbness a posture of remaining emotionless, stoic. Both are artificial postures of true love that rob, as Brueggemann insists, us of our “capability for humanity”. I’m especially fond of the simple term of “amazement” Brueggemann uses as an antidote to numbness. Imagine a church community engaging in the loving response of amazement!

Guy Half Asleep , Lucian Freud   Source

Guy Half Asleep, Lucian Freud

Source

  1. A chapter title from Walter Brueggemann’s book, The Prophetic Imagination: “Prophetic Energizing and the Emergence of Amazement”

  2. “Jesus knew what we numb ones must always learn again: (a) that weeping must be real because endings are real; and (b) that weeping permits newness. His weeping permits the kingdom to come. Such weeping is a radical criticism, a fearful dismantling because it means the end of all machismo; weeping is something kings rarely do without losing their thrones. Yet the loss of thrones is precisely what is called for in radical criticism.” ― Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination: Revised Edition

  3. “When we think “prophetic” we need not always think grandly about public tasks. The prophetic task needs to be done wherever there are men and women who will yield to the managed prose future offered them by the king. So, we may ask, if we are to do that alternative constructive task of imagination, if we are to reach more than the most surface group prepared to be “religious,” where do we begin? What I propose is this: The royal consciousness leads people to numbness, especially to numbness about death. It is the task of prophetic ministry and imagination to bring people to engage their experiences of suffering to death.” ― Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination: Revised Edition

  4. “Clearly, human transformative activity depends upon a transformed imagination. Numbness does not hurt like torture, but in a quite parallel way, numbness robs us of our capability for humanity.” ― Walter Brueggemann, Prophetic Imagination: Revised Edition

  5. “Numb people do not discern or fear death. Conversely, despairing people do not anticipate or receive newness. ... The language of amazement is against the despair just as the language of grief is against the numbness.” ― Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination

A violinist plays in the rubble of Jonah’s tomb,  Muhammad Hamed   AMEEN MUKDAD, A VIOLINIST WHO LIVED UNDER SO-CALLED ISLAMIC STATE FOR TWO-AND-A-HALF YEARS, PERFORMS AT NABI YUNUS, A SHRINE IN EASTERN MOSUL, IRAQ, FOLLOWING LIBERATION, 2017. MUHAMMAD HAMED / REUTERS ( SOURCE )

A violinist plays in the rubble of Jonah’s tomb, Muhammad Hamed


AMEEN MUKDAD, A VIOLINIST WHO LIVED UNDER SO-CALLED ISLAMIC STATE FOR TWO-AND-A-HALF YEARS, PERFORMS AT NABI YUNUS, A SHRINE IN EASTERN MOSUL, IRAQ, FOLLOWING LIBERATION, 2017. MUHAMMAD HAMED / REUTERS (SOURCE)

What’s required for agape? Practice Amazement & Lament: 4 poems

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
— Gerard Manley Hopkins, "God's Grandeur"
i thank You God for most this amazing day
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky
and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
— e.e. cummings, "i thank you God for most this amazing day"
And so you died as women used to die, at home, in your own warm bedroom, the old-fashioned death death of women in labor, who try to close themselves again but can’t, because that ancient darkness which they have also given birth to returns for them, thrusts its way in, and enters. Once ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. Where can we find such customs now ? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned. That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted. Can you hear me ? I would like to fling my voice out like a cloth over the fragments of your death, and keep pulling at it until it is torn to pieces, and all my words would have to walk around shivering, in the tatters of that voice; if lament were enough.
— Ranier Maria Rilke, from "Requiem for a Friend"
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
— William Butler Yeats, "Second Coming"
Haji Rahila Jafarova and Lala Ismayilova are professional Yezidi mourners from Azerbaijan. Photo: Hugo Glendinning, courtesy Artangel and Taryn Simon Projects.   Source  [ H/T }

Haji Rahila Jafarova and Lala Ismayilova are professional Yezidi mourners from Azerbaijan. Photo: Hugo Glendinning, courtesy Artangel and Taryn Simon Projects.

Source [H/T}

Languages of Lament

If we are to “retrieve the lament that we omitted” as Rilke dramatically claims, how do we begin to relearn the language? Here’s what I’ve gathered as my own devoted response to that question.

Pietà,  Anto Carte   source

Pietà, Anto Carte

source

  1. Silence and Listening

  2. Affirm meaning and welcome wisdom

  3. Articulate your outrage

  4. Submit yourself to be present with pain and grief

Silence & Listening: 1 personal anecdote, 2 links from the blog archives, & 3 quotations

  1. “Grief is living in the suspended note of silence.” - my daughter-in-law’s beloved Aunt Laurel reflecting on the loss of her husband to cancer

  2. Suffering in Silence (From 2010, as we waited for God’s still, small whisper into the loud anxiety of our unemployment.)

  3. Fear of Silence (My first attempts at a discipline of silence which sound rather awkward to me now, but possibly helpful to remember.)

  4. “In reading a recent novel, I myself was convicted by a comment the mother makes to her adult daughter: ‘My dear, you’ve missed so many opportunities to say nothing.’ We do miss these opportunities, as well as opportunities to say less and say it more judiciously. And so we miss particular delights of finding words and speaking them into silences big enough to allow them to be heard.” - Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

  5. “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” - Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude

  6. “To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.

    Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.” - Henri Nouwen, Ministry and Spirituality

  7. “Being with a friend in great pain is not easy. It makes us uncomfortable. We do not know what to do or what to say, and we worry about how to respond to what we hear. Our temptation is to say things that come more out of our own fear than out of our care for the person in pain. Sometimes we say things like "Well, you're doing a lot better than yesterday," or "You will soon be your old self again," or "I'm sure you will get over this." But often we know that what we're saying is not true, and our friends know it too.

    We do not have to play games with each other. We can simply say: "I am your friend, I am happy to be with you." We can say that in words or with touch or with loving silence. Sometimes it is good to say: "You don't have to talk. Just close your eyes. I am here with you, thinking of you, praying for you, loving you." - Henri Nouwen, The Ministry of Caregiving

    Affirm meaning & welcome wisdom: 2 quotations, 1 excerpt, & 2 poems

  1. “The defense against shame, guilt, and mourning leads to emotional emptiness in the individual and, in consequence, to psychological and political immobility, to a lack of ideas and imagination in society.” - Margarete Mitscherlich-Neilson, The Problem of Loss and Mourning

  2. “ Walter Brueggemann sums it up well when he says, "Only grief permits newness." Those who do not want the new are afraid of grief -- they deny it to themselves and suppress it in others. But grief permits newness because grief, mourning and tears are not expressions of powerless acquiescence. No, it is the numbed-out sleepy old mumblers of "peace, peace" who have acquiesced and are powerless because history is closed for them. Rather, grief, mourning and tears function as radical critique of the present order, because such mourning refuses to cover-up and insists that we confront the brokenness, oppression, failed expectations and empty promises of the present.” - Brian Walsh, Subversive Christianity

  3. “But to serve any discipline of art, be it to chip a David out of an unwieldy piece of marble, to take oils and put a clown on canvas, to write a drama about a young man who kills his father and marries his mother and suffers for these actions, to hear a melody and set the notes down for a string quartet, is to affirm meaning, despite all the ambiguities and tragedies and misunderstanding which surround us.

    Aeschylus writes, “In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

    We see that wisdom and that awful grace in the silence of the Pieta, in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems; in Poulenc’s organ concerto, but we do not find it in many places where we would naturally expect to find it. This confusion comes about because much so-called religious art is in fact bad art, and therefore bad religion…. Some of those soppy pictures of Jesus, looking like a tubercular, fair-haired, blue-eyed goy, are far more secular than a Picasso mother and child. The Lord Jesus who rules my life is not a sentimental, self-pitying weakling. He was a Jew, a carpenter, and strong. He took into his own heart, for our sakes, that pain which brings ‘wisdom through the awful grace of God.’” - Madeleine L’Engle, Walking On Water

  4. I first read these poems in the [Kenyon Review: “We are pleased—as we are saddened—to present … Brett Foster’s final poems to our readers. Brett died on November 9, 2015, at the age of 42.”]

I most remember her saying, since it haunts
me practically every moment I’m awake,
that we’re hoping for years and not just months
when it comes to remission. For godssakes,
do you know how much my once self was affronted?
But in that present moment, “Whatever it takes,”
I said, becoming an utterly different person, stunted
by surgery, complicated recovery, and new stakes
now with this sudden diagnosis. And then, more:
she adds that, given my young age, and the aggressive
state of the spread cancer, I probably cannot expect
a natural span of life, although this outlook is born
of statistics, something but not everything when living’s
involved. I resolve to be fiercely alive, defiant object.
— Brett Foster, "First Meeting with the Oncologist"
The nurse practitioner who substitutes
for my regular doctor (thanks to a holiday)
amazed us with her free way of speaking.
We marveled at what she so freely revealed,
compared with my circumspect oncologist.

I remember most of all her description
of a CT scan when it’s bad or “dirty,” how spots
of white infiltrate the body’s imagized
inner spaces. “Sometimes there is so much
white that it just lights up the whole scan,”
she said. And so this visualized blizzard
covers the body’s fields and highways,
its needed and contained organic landscape.
A whiteout without an ounce of repose,
”snow-crash,” like a television’s blank face.

Where do we go, or what do we do,
when this is what we know or is thought
through? There’s nowhere to go, I suppose,
and one must wear the leaden heaviness
of that whiteness, must be willing to be led
to that particular nowhere and bearing.

This is just one of the million images
that besiege our lives, along with God-
made imago that frames us, in which we thrive
in our being and growing and going, yet sometimes
allowing our belittling. What do we consist of
finally? And what do we permit to represent
our depths? Eventually everyone must see,

must be, a complicated, compromising image,
all the more esteemed in complication, still glorious
in its gift existence, compromised and glorious.
— Brett Foster, "Whiteout"
CHRIST DRIVING THE MONEYCHANGERS FROM THE TEMPLE , REMBRANDT VAN RIJN   SOURCE

CHRIST DRIVING THE MONEYCHANGERS FROM THE TEMPLE, REMBRANDT VAN RIJN

SOURCE

Articulate your outrage (discerning a call to righteous anger): 1 Scripture, 1 excerpt, 4 quotations, 1 poem

  1. Amos 5:16-17:

    “Now again, my Master’s Message, God, God-of-the-Angel-Armies:

    “Go out into the streets and lament loudly!
    Fill the malls and shops with cries of doom!
    Weep loudly, ‘Not me! Not us, Not now!’
    Empty offices, stores, factories, workplaces.
    Enlist everyone in the general lament.
    I want to hear it loud and clear when I make my visit.”
    God’s Decree.”

  2. From Marilyn McEntyre “Strategies for the Word Wars”: (How to write prophetically without adding to polarization / subversive strategies):

    “… articulate your outrage. I want to just tell you a quick story here before I go on, which is that a few years ago I gave a course on poetry on prayer at a seminary, and I gave them the assignment when we did poetry and protest of going home and thinking about at least one public concern or issue that got them to a place of complete outrage, thinking to myself, I have a long list. But three of them came back and said this was really hard, I couldn't get there. I said why not? And one of them said well, it just seems like what we're trying to do is be nonjudgmental. So, we had a long conversation about neutrality is complicity and so on, but I do think it's really important to find the outrage and claim it.”

  3. “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.” - Elie Wiesel, "Nobel Acceptance Speech," Dec. 10, 1986

  4. “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.” - Toni Morrison, "No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear" in The Nation (March 23, 2015)

  5. “The hour has come for everybody, for all institutions of the public sector and the private sector to work to get rid of racism. And now if we are to do it we must honestly admit certain things and get rid of certain myths that have constantly been disseminated all over our nation. One is the myth of time. It is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice…. There is an answer to that myth. It is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I am sorry to say this morning that I am absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists of our nation—the people on the wrong side—have used time much more effectively than the forces of good will. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, "Wait on time." - Martin Luther King, Jr., "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution (March 31, 1968)" in A Testament of Hope

  6. “We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison

  7. “Wage Peace” by Judyth Hill

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.
Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.

Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.

Celebrate today.
— Judyth Hill, "Wage Peace," written on September 11, 2001
DAVID KIRBY AND HIS FAMILY, 1990  (THE PHOTO THAT CHANGED THE FACE OF AIDS)   BY THERESE FRARE   SOURCE

DAVID KIRBY AND HIS FAMILY, 1990 (THE PHOTO THAT CHANGED THE FACE OF AIDS) BY THERESE FRARE

SOURCE

Submit yourself to be present with pain & grief: 6 quotations

  1. “The fact that Jesus weeps and that he is moved in spirit and troubled contrasts remarkably with the dominant culture. That is not the way of power, and it is scarcely the way among those who intend to maintain firm social control. But in [John 11:33-35] Jesus is engaged not in social control but in dismantling the power of death, and he does so by submitting himself to the pain and grief present in the situation, the very pain and grief that the dominant society must deny.” ― Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination

  2. “Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable conditions for humanness. In the arrangement of “lawfulness” in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharaoh, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion. Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion.” - Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination

  3. “As Christians we are always in tension - in an anguish and at the same time in bliss. This is mad, ridiculous. But it is true - accepting the dark night just as we accept the brilliance of the day. We have to make an act of surrender - if I am in Christ, there are moments when I must share the cry of the Lord on the cross and the anguish in the garden of Gethsemane. There is a way of being defeated, even in our faith - and this is a way of sharing the anguish of the Lord. I don't believe that we should ever say, 'This cannot happen to you.' If we are Christians we should go through this life, accepting the life and the world, not trying to create a falsified world.” ― Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray

  4. “...one of our great spiritual guides, Theophan the Recluse [saint in the Russian Orthodox Church], says: 'The awareness of God shall be with you as clearly as a toothache.” ― Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray

  5. “This kind of prophetic criticism does not lightly offer alternatives, does not mouth assurances, and does not provide redemptive social policy. It knows that only those who mourn can be comforted, and so it first asks about how to mourn seriously and faithfully for the world passing away.” ― Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination

  6. “Jesus, the Blessed One, mourns. Jesus mourns when his friend Lazarus dies (see John 11:33-36); he mourns when he overlooks the city of Jerusalem, soon to be destroyed (see Luke 19:41-44). Jesus mourns over all losses and devastations that fill the human heart with pain. He grieves with those who grieve and sheds tears with those who cry.

    The violence, greed, lust, and so many other evils that have distorted the face of the earth and its people causes the Beloved Son of God to mourn. We too have to mourn if we hope to experience God's consolation.” - Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

Meditations and practices for the coming week

The daily office lectionary for the Book of Common Prayer will lead us into Jeremiah and Romans for the Old and New Testament readings while we remain in John for the Gospel readings. We’ll read along with the weeping prophet and the rational apostle as each offers words about the reality of God’s judgement and the provision of mercy He makes for us if we’ll receive it. Each day the Psalms offer a prayerful counterpoint to the responses we see to Jesus and his teaching from the people surrounding him on his way step by step to the Cross.

I’ve tried to suggest one practice a week that can fit along with whatever other fasts you may be undertaking this Lent. There’s merit in committing simply to one fast for the entire forty days. For example, we give up processed sugar and alcohol and then fast from one meal on Fridays. Traditionally, the Church sets aside Lenten Fridays, the weekday of Jesus’ crucifixion, to abstain from eating meat or to a partial (one meal) or whole fast (24 hours without solid food). You can read more about this tradition and its spiritual implications here, here, and here.

Sometimes we need a little help imagining what a fast can look like and how it might produce good fruit in our lives. Each week this Lent, I’ll share one specific suggestion for fasting one habit in order to feast on a corresponding practice. You might decide to stay with that fast for the entire forty days, or you might choose just one or two days to try what I’ve suggested.

Fast emojis & social media symbols.

Feast on the language of lament and amazement instead.

This week we’ll fast replacement symbols for language - emojis and social media “likes” - and feast on the language of lament and amazement instead.

Pay attention, in particular, to the Psalms in each day’s post. Gather words of lament and amazement to use throughout the day. Consider the characters in the other Scripture passages each day. Pay attention to the verbal and non-verbal responses they use. You can even keep a thesaurus handy throughout the week. Whenever you’re tempted to use an emoji or social media symbol, stop and ask yourself the following question:

  • Where does the need to do this come from?

  • If this conversation was happening face to face, what is it I most want to say to this person?

If you discover that finding language (including silence and physical presence) especially difficult try this exercise:

Divide a piece of paper into four columns headed with the words “I’m sad with you”, “I’m amazed with you”, “I love this about you”, “I’m celebrating with you”. In each column write all the ways you know to convey each truth. Put this list where you can see it and revisit it. Intentionally use these worlds and phrases throughout the week.*

  • What do you notice about yourself and yourself and the way you relate to others in their experiences?


*Exercise adapted from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s chapter “Controlling the Tongue”, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook

Screen Shot 2019-03-01 at 11.47.21 AM.png

On Saturday we’ll connect with An American Lent from The Repentance Project. It's God's kindness that leads us to repentance, and in His kindness and provision for reconciliation, He invites us to make confession and ask for forgiveness on behalf of not only ourselves but our forefathers and mothers.

I’ll highlight a few of the reflections that most caught my attention, but you can subscribe to receive daily reflections from An American Lent.

Lent 2019 on Spotify:


Second Sunday in Lent - Lament Over Jerusalem

Today’s lectionary readings & prayer: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Second Sunday in Lent
Mary, Comforter of the Afflicted II,  2016, Kehinde Wiley  See the entire Lamentation collection  here .   Source

Mary, Comforter of the Afflicted II, 2016, Kehinde Wiley

See the entire Lamentation collection here.

Source

Work Stories: Kim Akel's care-connecting calling

Welcome to the newest post in a brand new series of guest posts on the subject of our everyday work lives. For the remaining weeks of Ordinary Time, I’ve invited some friends to share a one-day snapshot into their work life that will help us see what they know to be true right now about who they are made to be.

Today’s guest is one of those people who became friend and neighbor in our relatively short, but life-changing season in Austin. She and her husband Mike and daughter Grace lived one street over from us for about two years, and on a few memorable occasions I’d meet her for an invigorating walk to our favorite coffee shop and back home again before most of our neighbors were awake yet. Kim is a fantastic story-teller with a unique skill of communicating both joy and sadness in life-giving ways. I’m pretty sure I laughed and cried every time we spoke, and I’m confident I always understood better what love means. In the short time we were neighbors, Kim and Mike made a life-changing impact on my family (including moving out of their house the weekend of our son’s wedding so my sister’s family could live in it).

Kim’s passion for her work is a force to be reckoned with, and may only be outmatched by her passion for her family and friends. I wish I could meet Kim’s mother, but feel that I probably would recognize her through Kim’s work and friendship. I’m struck by the statement she shares in today’s post about stewarding the pain of our lives. She has done this beautifully, and I hope that reading her work story will encourage each of us to do the same.

Kim Akel1.jpeg

I am a daughter of the most High God, I am the spouse of my husband Michael, and mother to our daughter Gracie. My occupation is to serve as a co-teacher to Gracie who attends a classical school. I also work in role that is based on relationships. I serve alongside local hospital systems and national leadership, hospital administrators, directors, managers, my counterparts on my team, physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses, and practice administrators to grow quality oncology programs.

I am always filled with both peace and a song when I am working in my sweet spot!

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Isaiah 55: 11-13

I wake up with songs on my heart, especially when I am steeped fully in relationship with Christ. Today at 3:00 a.m., my body jolted and I found myself marinating in Dana Dirksen’s version of the song, “Greater Is He That Is In Me, Than He Who Is In the World.” I took that moment to pray that song over my family - that they would know Who is greater, and have an open posture toward the One who is greater and Who is in them.

 Later as I packaged up our daughter for professional teacher school day, I played, “Lord, Establish the Work of Our Hands,” and prayed for our hands, feet, our hearts, and our minds to be established in solid foundation. That the Lord would go before us and prepare the hearts of those in our paths this day, and every day.

Today I have a 7:00 a.m. meeting, so I arrive before the sunrise. I recognize the people waiting in the hospitals aren’t there because they want to be there. Many are in the midst of tragedy or on the other extreme with celebration of new life. Regardless, I am always overcome by the sacred moments I capture… and therefore I am not able to photograph. Instead, this is what it looks like for me on most days, dark and empty as I walk ahead. In my heart I give thanks for each person I have the honor of passing.

 As I walked to my next meeting, my heart sang Audrey Assad’s “Joy of the Lord is my Strength.”   There is a local nonprofit group who focuses on registering marrow donors for patients facing a stem cell transplant. Because of the great need, the nurses and clinical staff invest in the community by volunteering at various events to support the registration of more donors on college campuses, employer groups, and within the area hospitals. I coordinated this meeting in an effort to bring all of the right people in the room to execute on the upcoming marrow donor drives. I make the connection, and then let everyone do their part to make this happen! Because of the partnership with multiple groups, in just three days, they registered nearly 500 people. There are people living today because someone decided to donate their marrow!

 I have worked since I was in junior high school. I babysat nieces and nephews, served nachos and popcorn at the concession stand during my younger brother’s baseball games, cleaned my dad’s house, poured yogurt with my siblings at a local frozen yogurt place, worked at a clothing store in the mall, was a telemarketer at a staffing agency; however, after my mom’s cancer diagnosis, I had a shift in the work I wanted to do with my hands. My heart. 

 Mom had both thyroid and metastatic breast cancer. She had various surgeries, chemotherapies, whole brain radiation, and a stem cell transplant. I have fond memories of her surgeon and her oncologist and even the hospitals in Pasadena and Houston, Texas. My mom worked for a world-renowned computer company and was fired for missing work due to her cancer diagnosis before there were laws to protect patients in that predicament. I found myself in detention at least once a week due to being tardy caused by taking my mom to/from her radiation treatments. 

My mom is my motivation to serve cancer patients and their caregivers, as is my daughter who never got to meet her. She went to be with the Lord twenty years ago in September, which means I am forty. Next year I will have been alive longer than I had known her.

My Mom

My Mom

I make it my job to have a general understanding of all aspects of oncology and serve as a liaison for physicians who screen, diagnose, and treat cancer and our local and national oncology administrators. I meet with physicians to uncover opportunities for new or enhanced programs for oncology patients and their caregivers, I sit alongside the oncology nurses, nurse navigators and support team who serve our community and always am looking for ways to enhance our community relations. I am the connector, and enjoy being linked to the entire team.

 Our system hosts multiple tumor conferences across the city. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, their physician will present patient’s case to a multidisciplinary team to discuss the standard of care treatment for that diagnosis, as well as what clinical trials are available to that patient. I have seen treatment plans change because of these discussions. This is good medicine!

Several times per day, I receive texts asking whether I am available for a quick chat. Sure! The first time, I spend ten minutes talking through an issue one of our physicians had recently, and we develop a plan on how we can bring the right people into the room to address the issue. The next is about an opportunity to meet with a new physician entering our market, another is a PR opportunity, a nurse navigator needing to talk through a hospital question. By gathering various sources of input, we are able to turn a lot of these short ten-minute talks into a best practice for our teams across the nation.

 Later on, I sit in a planning meeting with my counterparts to discuss an outreach strategy to promote an oncology program to a rural community our system serves. We recognize that many rural communities do not have oncology specialists, and in the coming weeks we bring our medical director out to three rural communities to meet with hospital leadership, emergency physicians, and the local physicians. We also bring our oncology nurse navigator, who shares her role as an educator and advocate. Later in the month, my colleague and I will follow up with those administrators and physicians to hear how the process is going, and hear feedback how we might better support their community.

 While in between meetings, I hear the news that one of my dear friends was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, stage 1 with an aggressive personality. I immediately socialized some of this with my gynecologic oncology nurse navigator, who helped me better understand the cancer and how I might support my friend. Through our conversation, she talked about the miracle that it was found at stage 1, and that is normally unheard of for ovarian cancer. We ended up talking colleges, and uncovered that both my navigator and I graduated at late stages in our lives, at 45 and 30 respectively. It led us to a fruitful discussion on the why behind our roles... She ended our talk by calling my friend "my patient" saying that all Gyn Onc patients are hers, and they are why she advocates for them every day. My daughter is the why behind what I do, and all daughters, so that they might have a mom to stand at their wedding, to watch their granddaughter grow up, to hold hands and talk about the tough times we face.

When I walk among the physicians who dedicate their careers to finding a cure for cancer, or sit with the administrators committed to providing the infrastructure for the need, I am filled with a humble pride that access to advanced treatments are in our community hospitals because of the work these folks do. They give me hope for the future in the world of cancer.

 While at Laity Lodge nearly ten years ago, I heard a speaker retell the story of H. E. Butt exclaiming to Frederick Buechner, "You have had a fair amount of pain in your life.... You have been a good steward of it." That has resonated with me since, in that by continuing to work in oncology I have stewarded one of my most painful experiences. And it actually brings me joy to serve in this way.

My mom’s mother, me, and my daughter, Grace

My mom’s mother, me, and my daughter, Grace


Every day, my siblings and I chat from sun up to sun down on ways we will care for the needs of our mom’s 104-year-old mom, “Granny.”

Last Thursday a family member of mine was diagnosed with tongue cancer, and we happened to be planning a trip to stay the weekend with them. Our time together was an investment both personally and spiritually, and our daughter brought sweet laughter into the home in which my husband was raised. I spent the weekend listening, pondering God’s redemptive plan for the world, and questioning our part in it. Coincidentally, yesterday while meeting with a local medical oncologist, she shared her passion for head and neck cancers, and her story on where this passion originated.

 This fall I became my daughter’s kindergarten co-teacher at a local classical school. For two hours on two days per week, I get to be a part of her education. Being with her in this way, as opposed to previously feeling like I was directing the meals-bath-book-bedtime routine, has somehow managed to multiply the space in my heart, mind, soul, and strength for the Lord, others, and my neighbors.

Kim Akel.Kim Grace.jpg

I don’t have a building or a title, rather the work of my heart and hands is my ministry. I live and breathe and live out each day as though my citizenship is in the kingdom of God. I don’t care for bumper stickers, wearing a company’s brand on, or align with divisors or denominators in the world today. I think the definition of inclusion is asking someone to a dance. And I hope to live a life asking people to dance, inviting them in to participate in relationship, to unplug from the device (our own and technological) and converse with those right in front of us. That is my occupation.

 At any given moment in crowds or alone I am praying in spirit, silently asking the Lord for the forgiveness of my sins that morning, and over the course of my life. I also thanking God for the forgiveness of the unspeakable grievances committed against me and also against all of my ancestors all the way up to Adam and Eve. I plead the saving, reconciling, restoring, redeeming blood of Jesus over me and my family.  And thank the Lord, that because of what He did before, during, and after the cross, the enemy has no rightful legal claim to me or my family. Randomly I am sometimes called to pray these same prayers over each person if I am in the room with them. Silently and in my heart, sometimes aloud. An interdimensional spiritual shift inevitably will happen in me and around me. Joy and freedom replace fear and bondage. One cannot make this stuff up!

 As I step back and observe my paid and non-paid occupations, the common theme I see as my role is to prayerfully offer care to others. I love making connections among people, gathering information and saving it in my brain Rolodex for a rainy day (for a future connection or resource), letting people be themselves while honing in on the beauty they bring into this dusty world, interceding on behalf of them, and as I lay my head on my pillow each night, I marinate in the humble awe at how grateful I am to be able to listen to the peaceful snores of those I love the most. I get to do this!

 May the capacity of our hearts be enlarged, especially to serve those whom God places right in front of us, in a sacrificial and sanctifying way without expectation of receiving anything in return. Giving care in ways that they need, caregiving with our time, our talents, our all.

Kim Akel is a daughter of the most High God, a spouse to husband, Michael, and mother to daughter, Gracie. She serves as a co-teacher to Gracie who attends a classical school, and alongside local hospital systems and national leadership, hospital administrators, directors, managers, my counterparts on my team, physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses, and practice administrators to grow quality oncology programs.


What about your calling?

What pain in your life might be God calling you to steward in your vocation?

A song and a prayer for all of us this week

O THOU WHO compasseth the whole earth with Thy most merciful favour and willest not that any of thy children should perish, I would call down Thy blessing to-day upon all who are striving towards the making of a better world.

I pray, O God especially —
for all who are valiant for truth
for all who are working for purer and juster laws:
for all who are working for peace between nations:
for all who are engaged in healing disease:
for all who are engaged in the relief of poverty:
for all who are engaged in the rescue of the fallen:
for all who are working towards the restoration of the broken unity of Thy Holy Church:
for all who preach the gospel:
for all who bear witness to Christ in foreign lands:
for all who suffer for righteousness’ sake.

Cast down, O Lord, all the forces of cruelty and wrong. Defeat all selfish and worldly-minded schemes, and prosper all that is conceived among us in the spirit of Christ and carried out to the honour of His blessed name.

Amen.
— John Baillie, "Prayer For the Making Of A Better World"
 

(You can read all of the Work Stories here.)