Maybe it’s the right and good practice of venturing out away from the familiar that makes home so precious.
Home is that place where meaning making gets thrashed out. It’s familiar and most times beloved and the place where real happens.
This was so real to me last night as I marked Ash Wednesday away from home. I got myself to a church that has almost five times the people in worship each Sunday. So many times we are made to imagine that bigger is better. It wasn’t.
I was longing for a good soak in silence and contemplation. I was longing to feel connected to the teachings of my faith that ground me no matter where I find myself. I was longing for… home.
I didn’t find it there. The shimmer of the Spirit that I feel every time I walk into the sanctuary at home was missing. I struggled to stay open to it, even as I inwardly winced at the jovial chit chat going on around me during the prelude (on Ash Wednesday, my judging critic gasped!), and at the seeming inability to go through worship to the place of one of our most soul quaking realities – our own finitude and the expanse of Holy holding.
The most powerful internal conversation – and it was holy in its teaching – had to do with an appreciation of the profound love for the heart that leads people to gather in the name of the Christ to hold to themselves the promises and challenges of the gospel. I was in someone else’s home. In family speak, they didn’t mash the potatoes the way I do at home (communion wafers! Oh, the sterile wrong of it!), but they set the table. And I, who was hungry, came to dine.
I walked from worship longing for home. My church home isn’t perfect. The family fights and squabbles over the goofiest things. But in the church community I call home, we learn in our sharing and in our squabbling and in our seeking of the sacred. We learn that doing the work of making faith home matters. With our warts and our quirks and our bungles and our glories, we are doing the work of Jesus together. And somewhere along the way we forget about our own terror in the night and focus on the whisper and sometimes trumpet of assurance of Holy tending and care.
And people come. People who know a hunger for home. People willing to claim kin. And please God, they are taken in and unwrapped in the way that only home can hold: unwrapped into the real of their own good and the gentle of their place in it and the nudge of their own power. That’s home.
On this morning’s beach walk my Minnesota heart knew these things:
Seagulls here have wild and crazy hair-dos.
My feet are happiest bare naked.
Watching a big billed pelican swoop in and dine in the company of a seagull hoping to share the action made for great reflections on the principles of economics.
Wandering without agenda or time crunch stretches the heart.
God has a great sense of creativity. I met bodies of all kinds – lumpy and lean and old and young and held proudly and schlumped. We were all there taking in creation’s show.
People in paradise greet each other. It was good to be happy in the company of others who look up, see another and make connection.
Missing my church community is real on this day when for years I have looked into the eyes of kin in faith and rehearsed with them what we all know: we will die someday and be enfolded into the mystery of ongoing life. Ash Wednesday is a rich time of marking the presence of the Holy within and around us. I will worship tonight in a new place where I will not lead. I will be among the marked. I will take my place in the procession and know blessing and within me I will carry the faces and presence of the community of the faithfilled at RUMC.
I am full. I am wind blown. I am sun kissed and space filled and alive.
Never are we alone.
This I know well even as I am lodging in a place I have never been before. Outside my window are palm trees and growing things. The Gulf is close at hand on one side, and the promise of a dolphin sighting on the other side and I am alone in this place. Except I am not alone.
I am in the heart place of a huge hearted clan. For decades, these walls have held laughter, celebration, and the good of time spent with no agenda beyond pleasure seeking. It has been a pilgrimage site for a family that has welcomed in new members with amazing grace and they too have come to know holding in this place. And so I am here, marvelling at how it is family matters.
We give our hearts to relationships. We say “yes” each day to the challenge and wonder of claiming kin – blood and heart, both. We weave life with people and we make life with people and we widen the net to include others and the glory that is loving and living is made shining because we have the courage to take what we have and offer it in the hopes that it will bless another. We have the audacity and courage to offer ourselves. And we are taken up.
Never are we alone. The cloud of witnesses that make for our lives travels with and blesses us. And that cloud of grace wraps sojourners and kin alike. Sacred trust savored with gratitude. I like it here.
It took a group of sixty Catholic women and thirty Protestant clergy women to unwrap the wonder of grace in my life.
Battered and scarred and scared, I began a Lilly endowment program entitled “Women Touched by Grace”. The advertisement promised learning and the carrot of travel to Rome. I applied to the program through the nudging of the Holy. The dwindling capacity of my God-kissed heart to know its own washing in grace was real. The logo of the program: two women’s fingers reaching toward each other, ala the Sistine Chapel’s depiction of God reaching out life to Adam, was foreshadowing of the life I would receive. Life. Reached out to me. Through the Christ alive in women touched by grace.
The strange of worship soaked in silence. The odd of raising voices in the sort of chant that frowns on the trumpet of any one but rather pursues the communal weave of all. The sharing of conviction that thoughts, those convictions of my own badness and inadequacies that thronged my sensibilities and created trudge in my soul; those thoughts are in fact affront to the Holy and impediment to grace. The sharing of community with shining and human monastic women who chose as vocation worship and prayer. The telling of hurts and the holding of love and the safety of being known and the wonder of being unwrapped and bathed and held and claimed by the very God who brought me to the waters of this life.
John Wesley preached long and fiercely before his heart was “strangely warmed”. He didn’t come to know Christ as a loving grace-gift in his being until he was able to observe the faith grounding of another people – Moravians, in his case.
For me, a woman who has preached and believed and loved and grounded her life in the gospel provocation and gift of Christ Jesus, it was a group of women who reached out their fingers and hands and heart in the touch that has given me soul life.
I am whole. I believe the good news. I believe it not only for those with whom I share sermon and pastoring life. I believe it is so for me.
I unwrapped that gift in the community of saints both Protestant and Catholic at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove Indiana.
And my heart. My strangely warmed, unpacked, thirsty, and so profoundly grateful heart, will live its rebirth forever more.
This morning, the hugs were for my stepson who is off to Nicaragua to revisit a youth program he helped to establish.
Yesterday, the hugs welcomed my son who staggered off the train after an 18 hour trip. Pulled by the power of Cupid, he wanted to spend Valentine’s Day with his beloved. I’ll be hugging him goodbye tonight in order that he clack his way back to college.
My daughter is soon to arrive from Austin, Texas, where she was invited to participate in a conference hosted by Bill Clinton. She and other passionate souls will lift the vision of an earth well tended and reverenced. I will pick her up from the airport, provide a meal and an ear, and hug her on her way back to college.
They come and they go, they unfold and explore and the world is their parish, these loves of my life.
I marvel at it, even as I reflect on the teachings of Benedict and the dessert mothers and fathers about the power of place and stability.
My delight in their thirst for experiencing, learning, and giving is real. It is crucial classroom, the vastness of the world. They are enthusiastic students.
And my prayer is that they and the hug dispenser (that would be me) learn the power and honesty of finding a place in which to ground; a place that sustains, challenges, and holds them. A place where they are graced to learn the lessons of being.
Travelling mercies: In the whee of doing. In the sweet grace of being.
Well, I knew it would come to me during this three month renewal leave: The itch to work. It has me on this day when a long beloved program is coming to an end. We are saying good-byes that have to hold us for two years and usually at such a time I pack my bags and land back in the midst of my role as pastor of a church.
But not this time. Since I am on leave, I was able to tack on a few extra days of rest at the monastery. The spaces no longer inhabited by my clergy sisters is huge and my default setting when things get empty feeling is to launch myself into work and doing but not this time. This time I have time to pay attention to the silence. This time I have time to pay attention to what it feels like to be in this time.
I feel like a pressure cooker. I have so many ideas and so much energy and I am feeling strongly the desire to be back at work.
But instead I’ll breathe deeply and give thanks and pay attention and stow away this yen for work for a time when I have an equally compelling yen for rest.
Balance is hard to find, maybe not possible, and probably not worth chasing after. Instead I’ll pay attention to what is.
Sister Mary Cecile is home.
She was doing the work she had long done – tending her parish – when she died unexpectedly, with her boots on.
I know this because I am folded into the community of Our Lady of Grace monastery outside of Indianapolis. As guest of this house, I was here for Sister Mary Cecile’s homecoming.
For four services of worship – morning prayer and noonday prayer, a wake and her funeral, her casket was open for the prayers that washed over her. Prayers chanted, silence held, the gaze of her sisters who honored her with the caress of their eyes, stories told and tears shed. Sister Mary Cecile was held by her community even as she was held by the God she had served for eight decades.
As the group moved out of the chapel and to the cemetary on the monastery grounds, the names of the saints were chanted, followed by the names of each woman from the community of Our Lady of Grace who had gone before. The litany of the saints wove Sister Mary Cecile into the web of the community past, and it will weave her into the community future as her name is voiced with the passing of each sister who follows her home.
Ritual. It holds us. It reminds us of the huge of mystery and the power of what we can know: the love and witness of holy flesh in the being of our beloveds.
Some day my name will be voiced as one who has moved into a new way of being and I pray that my soul too will know the washing of prayer and the weaving of witness borne on the lips of my community.
May it be so for us each.
I’m in Indianapolis ensconced in a monastery that has become home for me. For almost six years I have joined thirty other Protestant clergy women to gather for learning: about Benedict, about communal spiritual life, and most of all, to learn what it is to be aware of how it is we are each immersed in grace.
This is our last gathering. I’m choosing not to think about that much as we greet each other after a year-plus of being apart. We know each other’s stories – the parts that are shared – and catch up on children and partners and dreams and defeats and we are in a place where we are known as women touched by grace. That common denominator is our core identity.
And there is this. My soul is bubbling with gratitude for these fine women and the Holy power that brought us together. But also my soul is celebrating because a dear compatriot in the ministry and in the world is “back” after a serious heart attack. I am so grateful.
We are touched by grace. All of us. Bubbles are good.