Blessed by Ash and Dust: The Gift of Vulnerability and Limit

vulnerability 11

I continue to reflect on Psalm 103, where the Psalmist fleshes out the meaning of the name for God given to Moses at the burning bush: Yawheh or Jehovah, which is often rendered “Lord” in all caps but God explains in Exodus 3 by saying “I am Who I am”, “I will be who I will be”.  This name, I suggested, comes from the Hebrew word “to be” and seems to mean something like “the One who Exists”, “the One who Lives” as opposed to the empty images for God we invent in our various self-made religions.

In Psalm 103, the Psalmist fleshes out who this Living One is by celebrating each of the places in which we experience Them.

Last time I looked at the presence of God found in the grace, mercy, and lovingkindness that embraces all of our lives.

I feel a need to focus in again on part of the section of Psalm 103 we just explored:

“14 For They know how we were made;

remembering that we are dust.

15 As for mortals, their days are like grass;

they flourish like a flower of the field;

16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

and its place knows it no more.

17 But the steadfast love of the One Who Lives is from everlasting to everlasting

on those who fear Them,

Their righteousness to children’s children,

18 to those who keep Their covenant

remembering to walk in Their commandments.”

 

chaplain 1

One of the most moving experiences of my training to become a chaplain was working Ash Wednesday at UNC Hospital.   Each of us chaplain residents, paired with a chaplain intern, were given a container full of ashes and asked to go to every one of our patients and nurses in our assigned part of the hospital offering to leave a grayish smudge in the center of their forehead through extending the imposition of ashes to them,.

In a singular way, there was something to this act in such a place of sickness and healing, death and rebirth,.  Our taking this Biblical symbol of mortality and fragility and placing them on the heads of those in the in-between space on the edge of life and death, sickness and healing had profound resonance.    As the words “ashes to ashes, dust to dust; remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” echoed with each blessing, the way in which each life hung in the balance, dangling at a hair’s breadth, was tangible. Dust that was once living palm leaves which pictured Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, now burned down to dust & ash, revealed the tenuous situation not just of those laying in hospital beds but us all.

ash wednesday vulnerability

 

I wrote a poem during my year of chaplain residency which reflects much of this feeling:

 

Life Angel

ash wednesday 3

At night I hear your soft feet dancing

hummingbird wings aflutter beneath

the echoes of footfalls on tile floor,

sharp voices crying out “breathe”,

the snip of scissors cutting cord,

and husky words echoing “its a boy”

 

AngelI feel your wings overshadowing us

as I sit beside the bed-side

of a brown haired man,

tubed, wired, and worn beyond his years.

 

Your wings fall firm as a hand

joining mine on shoulders wet with tears

I see you dance O Sister Spirit

a-glitter with florescent hallway lights

twirling like flowers caught in spring wind

swirling in the many-hued patterns shining bright

upon monitors buzzing over patient bed sides

the dances which end where life begins

 

“Sister Death,” sweet Francis called you,

but I know your true name: Life Angel.

lady wisdom 2

 

What amazed me about this experience was not so much how tangible our nearness to death, disease, vulnerability felt, but instead how readily people embraced, even sought out, these ashes and this blessing, while at this point.  When I began the task, I felt self-conscious.   How could it be good pastoral care to remind very sick people that they were but a stone’s throw from their life ending?  Surely, they did not need to even more fully feel how on the brink each of their lives were, did they?

 

ash vulnerability wednesdayYet the reminder that they are mortal, limited, with no more strength than dust or permanence than ash, was embraced as a gift and comfort by so many people.  Receiving these ashes acted as  a reminder, perhaps, that they did not need to believe in such moments it was all up to them.  No, rather, they could like a child rest in the care of a grace and life wider and deeper than their own wisdom, sturdier than their own strength which they could feel faltering as they lay in their beds.  The ways in which their eyes would brighten or tear up at this reminder was a lesson to me.   There is a gift in accepting our vulnerability and our limits.

 

One of my favorite quotes, written by spiritual writer Marianne Williamson, perhaps captures this well:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (Return to Love).

dying child 2Williamson intends her words as a reminder of our own power which so much in our lives teaches us to deny.  I think there is a sense in which some of us need this reminder.  Some of us, whether through abuse or through others dismissing us, or a culture that minimizes the ability or voice of people like us, walk away feeling powerless over our lives.  We do feel the need to shrink, to be less than we are in all our fullness.  When this is us, we might fear believing we have God-given beauty, power, and strengths.

Yet what I experienced on those hospital floors was the flip side of this cosmic coin.   I witnessed people who were facing deeply into situations beyond their own power and ability.  They felt all alone, overwhelmed by the enormity of pain, illness, and loss.  In such situations the thought that it is up to us, of our own inner immense power, can also be negative.  More than that, it can be downright overwhelming.

In her book The Intimacy Factor, counselor Pia Melody talks about the many ways in which we can become damaged in our ability to relate in life-giving ways to ourselves and others.   She speaks at length of ways in which as children we can get the message Williamson’s quote is meant to address: that we are powerless, worthless, unable and undeserving.   Yet she also talks about how we can also get the message while vulnerable children that we are far too powerful than we need to be.

Children, for instance, who learn that it is their job to take care of the adults in their lives, meeting the emotional needs of hurting and depressed mothers and fathers, or looking out for alcoholic or drug-addicted adults to make sure they are safe, can deal with this by overcompensating.   Such a messaging in our upbringing can make us feel it is all up to us.  We stand alone, and if negative things happen, it is clearly our fault.  We can beat ourselves up, blaming ourselves for the difficult situations we face.  Alternately, we can feel responsible.  We must know the answers all the time.  We must do all the work on our own.   It is up to us.  And most of all, we must never need or seek help, for that is weakness.

mother helping child find way

I see this in my work with the sick, the dying, and their families.   People feel somehow it must be their fault they or someone they love has gotten sick.  If only they had caught the disease’s symptoms.  If only they had been more healthy or pushed the one they loved to make healthier choices earlier.    If only…

Actually, this deep guilt, grief, and shame flows from a part of ourselves that has been taught we are so responsible, we must also stand in a place reserved in Christian spirituality for God alone.  For what we are saying is “I ought to have known everything”, “I ought to have been all-powerful”, “I ought to need no saving”.    When such feelings arise, being reminded of our limitedness, our vulnerability, can be a pure gift.    Through that act of ash being placed on people’s foreheads, the promise of this text in Psalm 103 is made tangible, felt on our very skin:  God knows that how we are made, God knows that we are dust.  God knows we are limited, impermanent, with only so much time, energy, and capacity. It is not despite our vulnerability we are embraced, loved, supported, by God, but with full knowledge of it on God’s end.

God calls us too to embrace our limits, our vulnerability.  To know it is ok if we get exhausted, ok if we get overwhelmed, ok if some days it is all just too much.

To know that it is ok that, when we face the weight of the world’s problems, we only have so much we can do.   To know it is ok, too, to reach out for help.

Facing into our vulnerability allows us to accept and embrace life and, ironically, to find our own power to be a support to others, and to be ones who bring beauty and healing to our world, even more deeply.  It is not through ignoring our vulnerability, limits, and pain that we can become these vessels of beauty and healing but rather through facing them and accepting them as a part of the gift of who we are.

I want to spend the next few posts sharing a bit about what embracing our own vulnerability looks like and how this embrace of our vulnerability can be an experience of the living presence of God.

Please join me on this journey and share your own experience as well.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

 

What if Jesus Comes Back Like That?

As follow up to my previous post, looking at the fact that in the face of the immigrant, the migrant, the refugee, and the displaced person we are called to see the face of God, I thought I would share a kind of dated country song which emphasizes the call of Matthew 25:

A great song not as much from the south, but from British song-writer Sydney Carter, is this hymn, which emphasizes that this call of God transcends our creeds and is to people of all faith and even, of no faith, yet people of good will:

Let’s embrace this call particularly in our embrace of immigrants and refugees, but also with all pushed to the fringes in our communities.

 

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Song of a Border Crossing Saint

As we reflect on the example of the border-crossing saints, I thought it would be appropriate to share a poem I wrote some years ago about the ultimate border-crossing saint, Abram, and how his story connected with my own sense of calling.  At the time it was about puzzling through my own calling to new places that were border-crossing for me.  Now in this time I am drawn in this example to reflect on my need to see myself and faith through the eyes of displaced people like Abram.

Hope it blesses you — and please share in what ways you are finding yourself able to enter into the world of displaced people, reconsidering how your faith looks from that perspective.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

 

I wonder about you, old Abram,

while I sit here, watching you

with your pretty wife and flocks

waiting outside Ur’s dark gate.

What will it be for you, old Abram,

when you see this now familiar sky,

cool as some watery nest,

burst aflame with Yahweh’s outstretched wings?

Will you, too, feel that deep chill

which spreads over men’s flesh

making most to turn and flee?

Or will a fire light in your breast

when you hear him say,

“So you seed shall be.

Go! Go! Go!”

I hear it too, oh Abram,

here on Appalachia’s high hills

as I wait for one dear

who lies sick,

on the brink of life.

He comes to me,

live as lighting,

falling as drops of liquid flame

across the horizon of my mind.

I hear his voice,

as tumultuous as mountains

turned avalanche

yet quiet as the crash

of feather on pavement,

crying out to me

but one word,

“Go!”

Image

Border Crossing Saints

ice-raidSome few weeks ago I heard news that ICE agents were rounding up a large group of our neighbors without papers just a county or two over.  This news sent definite ripples in the church I attend, where we have a number of members who are refugees and immigrants, some of whom either are undocumented or  have those close to them who are undocumented.   As I reflect on the difficult situations being faced by such immigrants and displaced people in our country with our tightened restrictions and increased deportations becoming the policy in America, I realize how very much in many people’s minds, these are a pack of “sinners”.

In fact we see this in our rhetoric about immigration, don’t we?  While on the campaign trail, our current president described undocumented immigrants this way: as “people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”.   The impression is that these folks are necessarily immoral.   For many pushing for a wall on our southern border and mass deportation, the logic appears to be: crossing the border without papers is against the law.   That’s necessarily bad.  Immoral.  It is like someone breaking into our house.   This means they are all in league with thieves, murderers, the worst of society who would break into your home.

trump-hate-immigrants

If, like me, you know personally folks who are immigrants who came here without proper papers, you know this is not close to who they are at all.

Similar concerns come up with displaced people in our country, even who are here illegally.   Though we should be concerned about hatred arising against undocumented immigrants, the fact is that it is easy for distrust and loathing of one group of immigrants to trickle down toward others.

Here, in my home state of North Carolina, in a recent meeting by a conservative group concerned about immigration and refugees, a number of speakers began to paint all Muslims as if they are members of terror cells.   A few speakers even went so far as to ask why we can’t just kill all the Muslims in our area.  This conclusion was leapt toward, even though Muslims are not any more likely to become violent terrorists than average Christians are to become Klansmen or members of armed Christian terrorist militias like we saw break out with violence in the 1990s in the Oklahoma City bombing and the violence at the Branch Davidian compound.  Most Muslims, like most Christians, are law-abiding, respectful, compassionate people.

quran532

This extreme example is not reflective of all people who are uncomfortable with looser approaches to immigration, but it shows the slippery slope this approach of fear and distrust can bring.   We paint a whole group of people as if they are evil, without looking at how they engage the world around them.

richar rohr

In his book Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount Richard Rohr reminds us that, ultimately, Jesus developed a reputation for supporting and advocating those groups in his day known as “sinners”, welcoming them into table fellowship as equals with those society considered holy, acceptable, and good and through baptism announcing people’s acceptance by God into community is as available as water.   This approach to those ostracized as “sinner” in Jesus’ name got him the name “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34).    As Rohr continues to explore this, he makes the point that the system in place in Jesus’ day so defined sin and holiness that whole classes of people, for economic and class reasons, could never fulfill holiness requirements enough to not be called “sinner”.   Jesus’ life and ministry was  aimed at disrupting approaches to holiness that categorize people as sinner for reasons of class, life situation, or qualities other than their heart.

Ultimately, that alone ought to lead us to question society’s willingness to be so quick to list a whole class of people – immigrants – as necessarily sinners.

bible_study_groupBut I think it is also important to bear in mind the Bible’s rich history of border-crossing saints.  These folks did cross legal barriers of their day in some way and that is part of why they are remembered not as sinners but as saints, bearers of the Sacred, in our Scriptures.

Among the most central figures who are such border-crossing saints are the patriarchs  – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph – to whom Jews, Christians, and Muslims all look to as forefathers in their faith.  Each of these repeatedly are described in Genesis as crossing the borders from the lands of which they once were a part to enter new ones.  In fact, the founding story of their people, which is the foundation of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim spiritual visions of faith, is that of Abraham hearing the voice of God calling him to leave his homeland of Ur, to travel across various national boundaries as a nomad, into a new land God would find him.  There is no talk in these stories of getting travel visas, passports, or green cards for Abraham and his family.

In fact, repeatedly Genesis pictures conflict by the locals asking how he and his family have right to live in this land which was historically someone else’s.    This holds true for his descendants Isaac, Jacob and his 12 sons.   In fact in an experience that carries deep echoes today in the experience of many an undocumented migrant or refugee, multiple times Abraham and his heirs in Genesis are depicted as hiding their identity and that of their families for safety.

Ultimately in the Genesis narrative about the patriarchs, those who receive and welcome the wandering migrant followers of this dream of land as welcome guests are those who are blessed.  Those who do not welcome them experience judgment and curses – from the small judgment of illness and struggle by some local rulers who mistreat Abraham and Sarai, to the many plagues that afflict the Pharoah and people of Egypt who forget the importance of welcoming the refugee people of Israel which leads to the Exodus and Passover story, to the total destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah which, in the Biblical story, has nothing to do with sexual ethics and everything to do with how nations at war respond to those who arrive without papers at their doors.

It is these migrant saints – traveling without papers across national boundaries – who are the founding figures of three faiths.

This theme continues in the story of our faiths.  The people of Israel in their wilderness wanderings continue to cross national borders, with at times rulers objecting.  Those who are hospitable to this wandering band experience some share of their blessing and those who are not experience judgment.

Perhaps most amazing in such examples is Rahab of Jericho.   She becomes the patron saint of the Sanctuary movement through the ages.  When the people of Israel in Jericho’s rahab-immigrantwalls arrive without legal permission from Jericho not to nonthreateningly find work or safety there as many displaced people do in our land, but to actually plot the overthrow of the city, she harbors them.  Her home and place of business as a sex worker becomes perhaps the first sanctuary, as she lies to protect the lives of those she has welcomed.   Ultimately she is saved from the fall of Jericho, becoming a part of the wandering people of blessing herself, even becoming ancestor to King David and Jesus of Nazareth, key figures in the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths.

Her example is one that inspires Quaker and Congregationalist Christians on both sides of underground-railroad-immigrationthe Mason-Dixon lines to organize safe houses in which were harbored the fleeing runaway slaves heading north to lands where they would not be treated as property.  These slaves did not get documents legalizing their move across states.  Even the attempt would have brought them back into the slavery they sought to flee or worse!       Her example also inspired the small number of Christians like Corrie Ten Boon who hid Jews, gypsies, gay people, and people with disabilities when the NAZI government in Germany sought to gather them up into concentration camps.     This example seems to also have inspired the largely Muslim leaders of the Turkish government in the same period to shield people from NAZI death camps, as is recounted in the book Last Train to Istanbul.

In the story pf Jonah, Jonah is turned by God into an undocumented displaced person for, certainly, the sea monster who vomits him up onto Ninevah’s land did not get a passport, green card, or legal status for Jonah before swallowing him from the sea.   In that role, again, Jonah could be received as he thought he would – as a threat, a foreigner to be wiped out, by Ninevah’s citizens.  The Ninevites receive him instead as the face of God and his words as God’s message.  His example is later followed by the early apostles and missionaries of the Christian movement like Paul, Timothy, and Silas; and later missionaries like St. Patrick and St. Francis who travel across national boundaries often without clear documentation.

Of course the ultimate example of the migrant saints is the holy family itself.   The Gospel of Matthew pictures Joseph and Mary carrying the baby Jesus across political lines into Egypt when King Herod seeks the slaughter of young children.   Clearly, they did not ask Herod’s permission to flee death.   For Christians especially this ought to be important, for we view Jesus not just as a rabbi or prophet among many as Jews and Muslims do, but as the Incarnation of God, making the God of Christian tradition necessarily a displaced person, a border-crossing God.

These many examples suggest that, far from it being that displaced people are necessarily “sinners”, instead those we encounter among us who are displaced people need to be received by us as the face of God.

As Jesus is remembered to have said in Matthew 25, in words that are mirrored in the later words of the prophet Muhammad in the Muslim Qu’ran*:

secondcoming31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g]you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Ultimately, in the displaced people who come to live among us, documented or not, we are called to see the face of God.  They are neither more sinful nor more righteous than we are.   But all three faith traditions that look to the Biblical story as their base, including my own Christianity, suggests ultimately as individuals, as communities, as a nation, we have to answer to God for how we treat those immigrants and refugees as if how we treated them if how we treated God.

May we answer this call.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

*(Note the parallel in the Qu’ran: “Allah the Exalted will say on the Day of Resurrection: O son of Adam, I was sick but you did not visit Me. He will say: O my Lord, how can I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds? Allah will say: Did you not know that such-and-such servant of Mine was sick and you did not visit him, and had you visited him you would have found Me with him? O son of Adam, I asked you for food but you did not feed me. He will say: My Lord, how can I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds? Allah will say: Did you not know that such-and-such servant of Mine asked you for food but you did not feed him, and had you fed him you would have found Me with him? O son of Adam, I asked you for drink but you did not provide for Me. He will say: My Lord, how can I give You when You are the Lord of the worlds? Allah will say: Such-and-such servant of Mine asked you for a drink but you did not provide for him, and had you given it to him you would have found Me with him.”

 

The Trinity as the Mother of All Living

Continuing to reflect on Psalm 103’s depiction of God’s compassion in terms of the Sacred Feminine, as a womb-kindness or womb-love, I want to re-share some reflections from this summer which talk about Julian of Norwich’s understanding of the Trinity as a Sacred Mother to us all.

What images for God’s feminine energy or side, called by mystics “the Sacred Feminine”, stand out to you?  What do they teach you?

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

Surrounded and Filled with the Life of the Cosmic Christ

black sacred heart of jesusI continue to talk about us and our stories, as well as the stories of others, as ways to encounter Christ.
Colossians 1:27 identifies our hope in glory as “Christ in us”. This points to the presence of Christ not just as under the stones or within the log we cleave with an axe, as St Thomas is said to have remembered Jesus saying in his Gospel, but within ourselves.
Just as the Cosmic Christ is present in every creature from the tiniest atom to the largest alligator, the squirming worm to the splashing whale, so in our lives Christ is present, living and active.
In its own this is what Psalm 139 recognizes, as it beautifully suggests to us our whole lives are lived within God:
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
A-Prayer-For-You4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.”

mother and foetusLike a fish is ever surrounded by the ocean, yet has its water ever flowing through its body, so our lives are lived within Christ as Christ is present in all creation. As Jurgen Moltmann suggests in his books God in Creation and The Source of Life, one can legitimately picture God in Christ in these verses as being depicted like a mother in whose womb we exist like children. While in our earthly mother’s womb, we are surrounded by her, yet she also fills us. For it is her air, her nourishment, her body’s strength that fills our own while we dwell within her. Likewise the Psalmist pictures God as so near us in Christ that w we live in, with, and surrounded by Christ in every place, with Christ being the life, strength, and nourishment flowing through us. Is it any wonder St. Julian of Norwich pictured Jesus as the Cosmic Christ as existing as our Mother when she wrote,

“It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good. Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him ­ and this is where His Maternity starts ­ And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us. Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother. And He showed me this truth in all things, but especially in those sweet words when He says: “It is I”.

“As if to say, I am the power and the Goodness of the Father, I am the Wisdom of the Mother, I am the Light and the Grace which is blessed love, I am the Trinity, I am the Unity, I am the supreme Goodness of all kind of things, I am the One who makes you love, I am the One who makes you desire, I am the never-ending fulfilment of all true desires. (…) Our highest Father, God Almighty, who is ‘Being’, has always known us and loved us: because of this knowledge, through his marvellous and deep charity and with the unanimous consent of the Blessed Trinity, He wanted the Second Person to become our Mother, our Brother, our Saviour.

This icon of the Trinity draws on the feminine images used in Scripture for the Holy Spirit, as a reminder that women as well as men can bear the image of God.“It is thus logical that God, being our Father, be also our Mother. Our Father desires, our Mother operates and our good Lord the Holy Ghost confirms; we are thus well advised to love our God through whom we have our being, to thank him reverently and to praise him for having created us and to pray fervently to our Mother, so as to obtain mercy and compassion, and to pray to our Lord, the Holy Ghost, to obtain help and grace. I then saw with complete certainty that God, before creating us, loved us, and His love never lessened and never will. In this love he accomplished all his works, and in this love he oriented all things to our good and in this love our life is eternal. With creation we started but the love with which he created us was in Him from the very beginning and in this love is our beginning. And all this we shall see it in God eternally.”
(From Revelations of Divine Love by Juliana of Norwich (1342-1416), (LIX, LXXXVI)).

I often picture this all-embracing presence of Christ around us and within us, like an all-surrounding womb to an unborn child or like an ocean to a fish, through the following prayer, in my work as a minister and chaplain:

“Oh Lord, who is nearer to us than the air that we bring, or the cool breezes that refresh us in summer heat, your word to us is always love. It is your love that births us into this world, and to your love we all shall return. Your love is what gives us strength to stand on all of our days – from days of overwhelming wonder and joy which nearly floor us with delight to days of crushing pain and heartache which make our knees knock and legs tremble, to every kind of day between. And when we cannot stand, it is your love that lifts us up like a child in their mother or father’s arms to carry us on”.

This all embracing presence of love, compassion, and grace that ever surrounds us, strengthens us, and guides us is the presence of the living Christ. Because we are both surrounded and filled by this loving presence, we can know wherever we go, whatever we face, Christ is always, ever around us and with us.
This all-surrounding presence is so beautifully pictured by the prayer of St. Patrick :


“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”Amen.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

Song of the South: Found

Continuing our reflection on the Sacred Feminine, out of Psalm 103’s language of compassion as “womb kindness” or “womb love” in the original Hebrew, I wanted to share this poem I wrote some time ago celebrating Proverb’s imagery of the Sacred Feminine in Lady Wisdom going out into the streets, seeking wayward souls in need of help & teaching.

What images for the Sacred Feminine resonate to you?  What do they teach you?

 

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

 

Found

Voiceless from the pain

a choked whisper catches in my throat

one word: “Save!”

 

I have fallen upon gravel road

night dark about me

body aching

knees bloodied

alone

blanketed by frigid shadows

 

lady wisdom 3Howling voices cry out

“Failure! Liar! Cheat! Scum!”

from eyes aglow dripping crimson

and glistening teeth

hot air on my neck

wind like wolves panting for blood.

 

My eyes shut, terrified

Muscles stiffen, jaw clenches

body and soul ready for the final blow.

 

lady wisdomThen a voice, like the fall of rose petals

afloat in spring breezes

whispers melodic in my ears

“Child, you are safe”

 

A gentle grip lifts me

eyes flickering in shock

glimpses of luminescent limbs holding me tight

relax my rigid frame.

I know no more.

 

My eyes open in my father’s house

safe and secure,

the rosy fingers of morning caressing me awake

the din of night now long forgotten.

 

Looking down, I am bandaged,

still broken but healing.

Safe by her caring hands.

 

lady wisdom 2“Sister Spirit, who are you?”

I cry, as tears of joy drip

thick as summer storm.

Over the tumult of my cries

a sound like silence echoes

those gilded halls,

and in the whispering winter winds

I could almost swear I hear a name:

“Wisdom”.

A Week in the Word: We Cannot Stand Down

One of the most important gatherings of southern folks who identify as progressive and people of faith is the Moral March, or Historical Thousands on Jones St (HKONJ), every February in Raleigh, NC.

Each year, Rev. Dr. William Barber gives a talk calling us to the heart of our faith and our values.   I hope sharing his talk this year helps you root and ground you in these trying times.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah