Monday, February 22, 2010

Remember That You are Dust

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. . .

All I can think about is Nancy.

Nancy. So brash. So confident. So fragile and vulnerable all at the same time. All the things that make the female so appealing to me.

It was a crowded flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. I scanned the seats and looked for someone who might fit the description of yogi, spiritually-centered, freedom, older chick—Nancy. We accosted several innocent travelers with no success until she finally found me.

She enthusiastically hugged me and handed me a cloth bound journal she hand-made just for our team headed to Africa--a team of women traveling to learn about the conditions of life for other women who struggle with the realities of extreme poverty, disease, and inequality in the developing world. We were working with World Vision and World Bicycle Relief.

I had not met Nancy before our trip and she quickly became a foundational member of the team. Asking real and penetrating questions and always ready with a smile, a joke, an opinion, or an argument. She won my heart and the hearts of all the women on the team and 10 days of traveling in Africa with her gave us a special glimpse into her soul. A sweet lady. A funny lady. A hurting and searching lady. A wise women with a desire for harmony, peace and light.

One of the last nights in Africa we all sat outside and spontaneously began to sing praise songs to God. Nancy stayed for a bit listening to our concert to the bush elephants, the baboons and antelopes but at some point excused herself and retired.

Yet, I was aware of her curled up in her safari bed listening to us sing and I can’t stop thinking of Nancy... And that night... And the echoing sound of our song as it carried over the the wild wilderness of Africa and over Nancy’s sweet soul. Every word sincere to the God of Creation. Every praise a recognition of His mercy and love.

A few weeks after returning from Africa Nancy suffered a massive stroke and a terminal brain tumor was discovered.

And I can’t stop thinking of Nancy. So full of life. So gloriously imperfect, yet striving. And suddenly her time is done.

I love you, Nancy. I respect your journey, your life and your searching. May you find what your heart desires. You called several times to tell me you did not feel well. I thought it was jet lag not a terminal brain tumor. Forgive my hurried existence. Know that you are loved. That the Creator of the Universe knows you intimately; you are dust and to dust you shall return. Believe in Him. Believe in you as His Creation.

This Lent I am intensly struck by the reality that we are dust yet eternal. Nancy, your spark in the world is not in vain and it will not be forgotten.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Give God your Forty Days

Seasons come and go.

Today I find myself in a season which is requiring trust and acceptance. I was not raised in a church which recognized the church calendar. As a child we recognized Palm Sunday, Easter and Christmas—with communion thrown in every six weeks.

As an adult I have found comfort, nourishment and grounding in the Episcopal Church. The ritual, the repetition, and the seasons of the year ring true in my inner spiritual self.

I do not believe in coincidence nor do I think my challenging season of trust and acceptance coinciding with Lent is by chance. Lent is the period of 40 days which begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes on Easter. It is a time of personal examination and collective transformation through spiritual practices such as prayer, self-examination, study, personal retreat, and fasting. Lent is a contemplative time built in to the church calendar. A season of reflection designed for personal change. On Ash Wednesday I received a Lenten Journal. This week’s reflections remind me:

“It rained for forty days and forty nights as Noah waited out the flood, trusting in Gods’ word.

Moses was on the mountain with God for forty days, returning with the Law and the reminder of gratitude for all that God provided.

Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness, and facing Satan with faith and knowledge to worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.

As we enter this season of Lent, our forty days, we have the opportunity to intentionally choose to stand against that to which we are tempted, against that to which we place our false faith, against that to which distracts us from our efforts to serve God.

Consider devoting this Lenten season, your forty days, not to resisting temptations created by denial, but to trusting and thanking God. Trust God and thank God by serving Him as he serves you: unannounced and unconditionally.”

This Lenten season I hope to keep walking forward--head up, eyes open, heart receiving. I hope to choose gratitude over pity, kindness over spite, and trust over cynicism. I hope to fast from negative thoughts which do not serve me, others, or God and hold every thought captive to Christ. I hope to give Him my forty days.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mercy is in the Rite, the Symbol, the Friend

It was three years ago today I entered the Labyrinth. While deeply lost in self-made angst and depression I walked the spiraling path unconvinced but hopeful.

They say the devil is the author of confusion. I was certainly confused in my soul and my heart the day I wandered in circles within the Labyrinth. I was weary and carrying a heavy load of self-doubt, self-pity, and wounds. They say the devil is the author of confusion, but I am sure I gave him plenty of help back then.

Three years ago I had a friend along for the journey. She called me the morning of Ash Wednesday and casually asked if we were going to find a church and receive ashes. My friend and I did not grow up in a church which recognized Ash Wednesday but ever since college she and I have found a comfort and a transformational grounding in attending this solemn service.

That morning she picked me up, drove me to St. Mark’s, and sat next to me on the hundred year old church pew. A sparsely attended noon service gave us our own row. We recited the Collect. Our voices melded together as we chanted the Psalm and said the Lord’s Prayer. Three years ago it was Juleen who hugged me to offer the Peace of the Lord. A peace I did not have nor did I believe any was out there for me.

After the service, it was Juleen who followed me through the Labyrinth. Sometimes the path took us to opposite ridges of the circle, but I could see her or sense her out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes the path had us pass so close shoulders brushed, eyes met, and a kind and knowing smile just for me whispered past.

Juleen knelt with me in the center as I put my forehead on the ground and wept. She silently prayed with her head bowed and it all dumped out. Right there. In the center. I felt it and so did she. We both saw it, experienced it, and we left it there. Right there. In the center. I walked out of the Labyrinth lighter. With each step I felt the burdens physically lifting from my being. It was my healing, my deliverance, if you will.

Today is Ash Wednesday—a day to recognize our weaknesses and God’s compassion and mercy for His creation--a day to offer sincere hearts to the Lord.

This morning Juleen and I casually agreed to go to the noon service at St. Mark’s to receive ashes. We chit chatted about surface life in the car on the way. She apologized for being so sluggish--a bad night’s sleep and commented how she liked my hair. It was the familiar, intimate conversation of close friends. But when we entered the church we both knew there was nothing casual about this day or us being together.

Today when Juleen hugged me to offer the Peace it was real and true. The God of all mercy expresses Himself in many ways but one of my favorites is through the soul of a friend.