In just one tiny deed that before me unfurled,
It felt Christmas had come once again to the world.
This Christmas there was no receiver or giver
Just people loving enough to deliver…
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In just one tiny deed that before me unfurled,
It felt Christmas had come once again to the world.
This Christmas there was no receiver or giver
Just people loving enough to deliver…
Becca’s 2018 Advent Reflection: Stop & Wait
This is my speech for the commencement at the Seminary of the Southwest.
While it was still dark, I walked into St. Augustine’s Chapel Ash Wednesday. “A Peace that Passes Understanding” was the communal reflection for the Lenten season, and so I wanted to begin Ash Wednesday in silence before the first folks arrived for ashes at 7. All of a sudden I was jolted as I heard yelling in the fellowship hall. Two young men who participate in the overnight young adult homeless program at our chapel were in an argument that was escalating quickly. Within seconds, one of the young men picked up a big baptismal bowl sitting on the altar and hurled it into the wall smashing it. Tables were overturned and chairs were launched. In the few minutes it took to separate them and regain peace, everyone in the chapel was visibly shaken. a small glimpse into what must be experienced by groups following the wake of sudden violence was opened up a crack.
That disturbing outburst was a reminder of how fragile peace can be. It was a powerful lesson in how the violence of poverty, racism, trauma, mental health, and fear are poised to tear through any of the false walls we believe peace builds to shield us from the truth. Peace does pass our understanding. Our fragile and finite minds cannot grasp the depth and hope of peace that keeps our hearts in the knowledge and love of God. The peace that passes our understanding isn’t an idealistic quiet mountaintop setting; it is the peace in the midst of a wilderness of tables overturned in the temple, of disciples bearing crosses, and in the midst of loving in the face of violence and oppression. The peace that passes our understanding is a proclamation of faith as we strive for justice grounded in love. The peace that passes our understanding is what carries us through the wilderness with courage, humility, and direction.
The only writing I have from my father, who was an episcopal priest and died when I was five, speaks powerfully about such a peace. The writing is simply a tiny slip of paper that fell out of his prayer book that my mom gave me at my ordination. On that piece of paper are written the words, “In the shadow of his cross may your soul find rest.” In other words, while in the midst of our struggle, may you find peace. My father’s words remind me that the great peace of Easter begins on Good Friday—in the shadow of the cross.
It was in the shadow of the cross where the disciples witness Jesus’s faith and forgiveness. There must have been a deep peace that surpassed her understanding that grounded Mary Magdalene and John to face the uncertainty, fear, and potential violence. While she was still living in the shadow of the cross that Easter morning, she was steady enough to gather the herbs and begin the journey. She headed out prepared to anoint a dead body, not because she thought he was risen. But in the face of injustice, oppression, violence, she was willing to confront the soldiers with her meager offering to anoint the body.
The story of the Resurrection begins with the words, “While it was still dark….” The shadows of the cross were long as the sun was just rising on Jerusalem that Sabbath as Mary heads out with grief guiding her to the body. And that single act of faithfulness is enough to carry her with a peace that passes understanding to the source of love.
The peace that passes understanding leads her through despair, leads her to brush aside fear, and to hold onto love. The shadows of the Crucifixion became the grounding of a deep peace that changed the world. And that story is powerful enough to unravel all the upheaval, violence, and fear that keep us from experiencing peace.
It sustains Mary through meeting angels and feeling the earth shake. It catches her when she falls at the feet of love resurrected. That peace is strong enough for all of that--to lead her to be the first preacher and to offer generations to proclaim peace in our own times of struggle.
During this season, I have glimpsed at such peace that underlies the story of Easter—that peace is our deepest truth. A couple of weeks ago I spoke at a large healthcare company conference about resiliency and women’s leadership. When I finished speaking, I invited two of the powerful women graduates of Thistle Farms to join me on stage and talk about what gives them strength and how they experience healing. We were sitting on three, big oversized chairs with individual mikes like a living room. As the first graduate spoke, tears began to pour down her face. I did not know it at the time, but she was going through a difficult personal tragedy.
To the executives and overachieving workforce, she said, “I have no words right now, but I know I need to show up and keep the faith.” She described how in the midst of the chaos she was in, she could trust herself and the community and keep going. Her strength, her tears, her faithfulness were the living embodiment of how we can live into this deep and abiding peace. She was the truth that when we can walk and live in peace, we can have a clearer memory, more strength, and the freedom to weep. There was such grace and truth in her witness, that the executives sitting in that room wept with her. They recognized themselves in her, and she showed them how in the midst of life that can be unfair, hard, and frightening, peace can give us courage. She, like Magdalene herself, invites us to the truth of peace, the strength of peace, and the freedom of peace, even if we don’t understand it.
Today is the day to proclaim peace as a statement of faith. We don’t have to wait for the mountaintop. We can proclaim it in the valley. We don’t have to wait to proclaim it in the courtroom. We can proclaim it on the streets. We don’t have to wait until the paths are straight. We can proclaim meandering it in the desert.
That peace, offered by the Prince of Peace, even in the face of trauma, broken hearts, and shattered baptismal bowls, is enough to keep us going. We are sons and daughters of peace. Peace has been etched on prayer cloths for centuries across the world and in our hearts. We are surrounded by peace and given it as the first sign of the Holy Spirit who breathes it into us. That is the ancient hope that carries us to love. The Easter story preaches to each of us that when we keep believing in peace, it carries us beyond grief. The stone has rolled, the shroud has fallen and we are free. We can proclaim peace with all those we love who have died and live on in love and the memory of God. Peace carries us through the wilderness to the garden. All we grieve is still a part of us and all our hopes are not in vain. It’s not hard to imagine Magdalene, graduates of Thistle Farms, you, me, or a young man that smashes a primal element in the sanctuary—searching for peace with such longing that we search for life in a tomb. With just a glimpse of love’s fragile truth we can proclaim peace in the shadow of our crosses and live into the hope fashioned on the first morning of creation. We can be at peace in the truth that love lives. Such deep peace allows us to make our song at our own Easter morning, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”
Transfiguration Sunday 2018
We hear the story of the Transfiguration twice a year in church. The first is the last Sunday of Epiphany and then again at the feast of the transfiguration on August 6th. I have been ordained 26 years, and it is always so humbling to try to preach the Transfiguration on the 6th of August. As you remember, it is also the anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The dichotomy of thinking of this cloud in the sky offering life and transformation and this horrible, horrible image and reality of death and violence--I always think about that. This is a beautifully strange Sunday, a beautifully strange celebration, that happens in season that is mostly about unrequited longing and fulfillment. And yet, that we get these moments of pure vision...
I also think of this as “Baby Ruth Sunday" because this is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. I always gave up Baby Ruths for Lent when I was a kid. So every time I hear this Gospel, I have a Pavlovian Response and want to eat Baby Ruths because Lent is coming. This is the week we get to think about what we want for our Lenten season: what we want to take on, what we want to give up, how we want to be clear. This is the moment before, the moment that hangs in the balance between the divine light of Epiphany and the beautiful season of reckoning in Lent.
This simple, but powerful, Gospel has so much to teach us about the journey. We remember it is not what we are looking at, but what we see. It’s all about this idea that the Transfiguration of Jesus is actually about transfiguring us. The Gospel writer tells us that the moment before the Transfiguration, the disciples are wandering around hurriedly, wondering what this ministry means; but soon as there is the moment of Transfiguration, their eyes are set on Jerusalem.
Transfiguration gives us hawk eyes: clarity, vision, freedom from distractions. The needs of the world did not change before the Transfiguration or afterwards, but the destination became more urgent and poignant. So, for us. in our lives as we seek transfiguration and moments of clarity, we cannot be distracted. (Remember this passage was written before social media...) We know the goal. We know the destination. On the spiritual path, the destination is important, not the just the journey. We’re headed toward love, so don’t be distracted by all things that will call you away in your life. It's a a time for hawk eyes.
The second lesson of this Transfiguration is about embodiment. This was not just a head trip. This was a “body” trip where there was glowing and fear. There was physical change. They get there, not out of the blue, but out of a lot of hard work and giving up so much. That’s how they get to the mountain. They get there at the cost of a lot in their lives, and they walk up there together in a community. So, then I ask how are we transformed and transfigured in these bodies?
The third and final point of this passage, along with the reminder of how important hawk eyes are and the connection between physical and spiritual transformation, is that transfiguration is always the aftermath. You get these moments of insight, a glimpsing at glory and the beauty of the heavens touching the earth. And there’s a cost, and the cost is the change in us.
Don’t be mistaken. The disciples are changing more radically than any white garments that Jesus displayed. They are tearful and fearful and excited and inspired; their lives are different forever. If you long for transfiguration, be prepared to change.
And that sucks. It’s hard to change. It’s hard for me to change. It’s hard for me to say, “I need to let go. Or I need to take on. Or I need to feel different in this world. Or I need to understand the world differently. Or I need to pray differently. Or I need to act differently.” Those are true for all of us. We need to change if we long for transfiguration. If we want to love and glimpse at this wondrous gift, we have to change.
This weekend, I was preaching at the Diocesan Ministry Convention in Northern Indiana, and they were talking about transformation. They were asking how do we as a diocese hope in community, learn from each other, how do we make changes in this world?
The bishop was upfront, a beautiful, kind man, and they invited us to begin that transformation with the hundred of us all gathered in a circle at that moment. Jennifer, one of the Thistle Farms’ Survivor Leaders was in the back. She lit the the candle and offered the words that we use to begin the weekly meditation circle at Thistle Farms saying, “We light this candle for the women on the streets, and we light this candle for the women trying to find their way home.” In my head, I was thinking, "Isn’t that the way it is?" She has the Simeon viewpoint in the back. She is going to have to speak in a loud voice because the mics are all up front.
Jennifer who is such a powerful, powerful witness on the road said, “I’m the person that you feared when I was on the streets, when you walked by me. I was the person in prison that you may have prayed for, but didn’t come visit, I represent the hundreds of women who are still trying to find their way home. And now I have become the light.” When she lit the candle, I looked back up and realized in very back of this cathedral was a beautiful stained glass window of St. Andrew. St Andrew was raising his hand in a blessing, and the sun was hitting it just right so the glowing in the stained glass was falling on Jennifer, the light that was lighting the candle for everyone else.
Just for a minute, I got to see it, the light that changes everything it touches.
I wish we could live like that all the time. We see this light shining down on each other and the face of God. Everything else goes away, and you do want to stay there. You do want to say, “Can we just stay a little while longer in this beautiful peace and love, where all our judgements get passed aside and where all our fears about our own place in this world get left behind and we just feel love?” I want to live like that so bad, and I am so grateful to Jennifer for the light that she brought. Thank God for when we get to see it and when we get to live in it.
May we have those hawk eyes to experience it and take it in. May we have the journey and the destination clearly in our mind. May we embody it with everything we have, and may we be humble and courageous enough to live it out.
I know it’s important to know when to be quiet. One time when one of my kids was little and had done something horrible, I was explaining in detail why he was in trouble. He finally turned and said to me, “Be quiet so I can hear.” It is true for all of us who have had the gift of parenting that kids are really the best teachers in the world. He was saying, “Be silent. I want to hear what is going on in me. I want to know how to grow and how to do what I need to do.”
The lesson from Deuteronomy is to learn to be silent. The lesson from Mark is that in the midst of a busy Sabbath day in Capernaum the vortex of chaos is thriving. Everything starts spinning out of control. There is so much noise and someone in the front of the temple is spouting nonsense. People must have been thinking—be quiet so we can hear. Jesus knows it is both the demons within and without in this world and it is not of God.
He does his healing work by saying, “Be silent.” For the love of God, be silent. And with those simple words, healing began. Jesus spends the rest of his day healing anyone he can through both words and deeds—Peter’s mom, people coming through the door in the evening. Then he goes to a lonely place to be quiet. This busy day ends with his going to a lonely, deserted place.
Why? So, he can hear again.
And so, it is that preachers have been trying to figure out how to preach on silence. St Francis preached that the best deeds, the best preaching of love, is done not in words, but in the way we are together.
I want to share two vignettes about how I have been preached to—not in words:
Several years ago, one of the women from Thistle Farms went with me to Texas to share her story of healing and hope in the community of Thistle Farms. She, like most of the women, was abused early on and hit the streets at a young age. One of the joys of getting to do this work is being on a woman’s first trip, the first time a woman sees the top side of the clouds, the first time she goes into a community and says, “Guess what? Women heal and women recover. It works.” It is exciting and wonderful. This particular woman started on the plane ha getting knots in her stomach, thinking her words are not going to be sufficient. She started editing. She missed dinner that night at the hotel. I think I heard her read her version of her story three or four times.
The next morning, she got up and said, “I rewrote it and I want you to hear it again.” I was like, “Dear God. It’s beautiful, you’re amazing, it’s perfect, you’re great. The words are awesome.” But she became more nervous. When we arrived at the community where she was to speak, I got up and I said, “This is making me nervous. I think it will go much better for her and for us if we just go ahead, cut to the chase, and give her a standing ovation now.”
She stood up, then everyone stood up with her and started applauding. She started weeping, we all started crying, and it was a big love fest without any words. The words were so much less important than her witness, standing up there being able to say, “Here I am.” And that people could love her.
Two weeks ago, my husband and I had the privilege of being theologians-in-residence at Episcopal High School. Whenever I go to a high school, specifically part of the story I tell is my own story of sexual abuse that started in the church, and I think it’s an important story. I don’t go into detail. I talk about there is healing and that part of the power of sexual assault has to do with silence.
As communities, we need to hear the stories well. We need to be there for each other. When people are little, they don’t have those words, but as they get into high school, they learn those words for their own bodies and their own lives and how to begin to speak that with power. So, I told my story and that night one of the chaplains said, “It was really powerful what you did today and what you said was beautiful. How did you heal from all that?” I said healing was a process, and that I had a lot of sickness still in me when I started Thistle Farms/Magdalene, and it was kind of hard. That I would get triggered a lot and I knew I had to go back to confront my abuser and to go to a therapist. He asked, “What was that like?” And I told the story of going back to my abuser.
I looked over and my husband, to whom I have been married for 30 years, was crying. I don’t know if you know what that is like. To know that you have been with someone for 30 years and they can weep for you, but it is very humbling. He could not have preached love more powerfully.
Think about all the times in your life when someone finally said, “Be silent” and you were able to find the gift of silence. Stop all the noise, the senseless demons within and without us in this world and feel feelings –whether someone clapped for you or somebody wept with you, or maybe it was that you finally just took a breath and allowed the spirit to speak. This is a busy day. There is a lot of noise in our world, and there are a lot of people chattering away.
So, if you take anything away from this—take this: speak the words of God when you need to. Preach through your deeds. And every now and then, for the love of God, be silent.