alone together

I went to church every Sunday while I was growing up.

Rarely did I get to sit with my parents during worship. My dad was up in the pulpit preaching and leading worship and my mom was in the choir lending the gift of her voice to the mix. Often I was in the pew company of my siblings. My older siblings tolerated the presence of my younger sister and me. We were preacher’s kids: watched and alone together.

When I did get to sit by my mom for worship, it was a treat. She smelled good. She sang harmony on the hymns. She did more than tolerate me. I could mold myself to her side and play with the rings on her fingers and when it was time for offering, she gave me a dime to put in the plate. I was no spectator. I was a contributor.

My mother’s birthday is this Sunday. She will be 85. What I came to realize is that more than anything else I wanted to sit by her side during worship. I never get to do that, since I am now the one in the pulpit and she lives four and a half hours away. On her birthday I wanted to be next to her in worship savoring her good smell, her fine harmony, and the unnameable gift that is her presence in this world.

I took Sunday off. I will be by my mother’s side as we share a pew and our gratitude to God for the brambles and beauties of life.

And maybe, just maybe, she will give me a dime to put in the offering plate.

light

Outside the sanctuary a bitter wind was howling. On this first Sunday of the new year the intrepid gathered to celebrate the power of light to guide us to new life. It was Epiphany Sunday.

We heard the story of how it was three wise men followed the star.

Most enchantingly, we heard the scripture read by young people. Both the prophet Isaiah and the writer of Matthew’s gospel were given voice by children and youth who call our church home. Their moms and dads had cell phones at the handy to record their young wonders and every person in the place leaned in and leant their breath and energy in order that the story might be told. Through the hearts and sounds of our very own beloveds the story was told.

The woman who directs the Little Angels children’s choirs – preschoolers who sing open-hearted beauty – shared a solo. Witnessing her singers watch their teacher bear witness with shine and beauty broke my heart open with wonder.

What is this glory that we share? What is this light we seek to follow?

On a wretchedly cold Minnesota morning the light of Christ drew us near and we bowed and offered our gifts. We offered the gifts of our presence and our intentions and our longings and our shine and we were warmed in the doing of it.

And the winter did not overcome it.

so much

Gratitude takes up space.

Gratitude swells and transforms and it is alive alive.

The kindnesses of my life sprung from the heart of human grace are tender mercy. Love lives in my home and it visits in the form of children who share life and laughter as well as questions and ache. The tender goodness of thick coffee and attentive hearts are ground for the stretch into the unknown of each day.

The artistry of the Holy pounds in the power of the Great Lake outside my window and it spangles in the still of night and the need to stop and pay homage lives in every “thank you” breathed on every day. Two bald eagles dipped blessing over our heads yesterday. Two.

Where is the space for so much gratitude?

oh

Folding clothes my heart was pierced.

On the radio the strains of Serenade to Music by Ralph Vaughan Williams transported me to another lifetime.

Suddenly I was eighteen and under the direction of Dr. John Hunter at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. My only previous experience with choral singing was with a mighty fine church choir but I was little prepared for singing in the select choir at UW-Whitewater. I will never forget the first rehearsal when fifty voices joined as one. It changed my life forever.

The man who wove the strands was a Texan by birth. He was huge of heart, exacting and had a laugh we sang for. His conducting was fluid poetry and his soul desirous of communion and he got that from his singers.

I fell in love. I fell in love with heart given soar through music. I fell in love with friends who are life companions yet. I fell in love with choral literature diverse and resonant. And of course I fell in love with Doc Hunter.

I wonder. Did he have any notion that years after his death one of his singers would gasp upon hearing music previously shaped by his hands?

Oh, to be eighteen again, broken open by amazement.

Oh, to be fifty-six, broken open by gratitude.

invisible

“When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing. Yet you know you exist and others like you, that this is a game done with mirrors. It takes some strength of soul – and not just individual strength but collective understanding – to resist this void…and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard. Adrienne Rich

I have been blessed with powerful teachers in my life. One is a seminary professor who has written extensively and agitated consistently about the issue of language, particularly language used for the Holy. She is a part of the church community I serve. Amazing grace, that.

Her wisdom is with me as I write worship week after week because I know so very well the psychic disequilibrium that has been perpetrated against women through the ways we name God as male male male. The United Methodist hymnal – all three iterations currently in use – has perhaps a handful of hymns that name the sacred using feminine imagery or pronouns. This from a denomination that proclaims a desire to welcome all into transformational relationship with the Holy.

Parker Palmer maintains that “the soul is shy. It won’t show up unless it feels safe.” How can soul show up in a culture that asks it to participate in “a game done with mirrors”?

Every week this tension of finding hymnody capable of inviting embodied praise. Every week the realization that the soul crush of non inclusion is perpetrated in uncounted sanctuaries.

According to Adrienne Rich, it takes individual strength and communal understanding. As community, will we welcome those who stand up and demand to be heard? Can we unpack the depth of woman-demean that provokes disgust at the very notion of feminine divine?

I’m tired of psychic disequilibrium. I’m tired of trying to choose the least offensive hymns when song is meant to sing – not silence – the soul.

Words matter. Mirrors contort.

This is no game.

Instrument

The Prayer of St. Francis invites us to ask God to use us as instruments.

I am feeling like I have been well played.

Today my eldest marks her last birthday in her twenties. Twenty nine years ago I was little prepared for the heart-stretch wonder of being a mother. I so savored carrying her life within my body. Certainly I loved her unfolding and promise as she grew and claimed her space within me.

But nothing prepared me for the stunning miracle of the way her eyes and heart and hands are so fully open to life and love. Nothing prepared me for the sheer terror of responsibility and the deep sense of completion found in being her mother.

The shine of her eyes during night feedings and the song of her morning salutations live in a place in my soul where I am pregnant yet with life.

There are many words that describe my being in the world.

Leah’s birth gave me the name of my most resonant calling. I am Leah’s mother, blessed with bearing witness to the song that is her life.

Well played.

Hey hey!

Last night was a pastor’s dream.

I went to church to be present for the conclusion of a week long Vacation Bible School program.

There were kids everywhere: Smiling kids and proud kids and happy kids and their glowing parents and all of this accompanied by hot dogs and song.

“Hey hey! We’re living in God’s back yard” (the VBS theme) was proclamation and reality.

Part of the evening treat was seeing a slide show of pictures taken throughout the week. Each child was shown living the joy of back yard fun. The adults who led the program were captured in discipleship action.

Such beauty is almost too much to behold.

I’m peeled back from child sickness and life. As I watched the slide show and experienced the kids sharing the song they had learned (complete with motions like the twist) gratitude leaked out of my eyes and would not be stoppered.

Hey hey! We’re living in God’s back yard.

Hey hey! We’re not alone as we raise children and share the wonder and snargle of life.

Hey hey! There are life songs yet to teach.

Hey hey!