Miscellany

So it’s been seven weeks since I returned from Spain and the Camino.

And make that almost seven weeks since my last fearful post on here about how to incorporate what I learned/experienced on the Camino into my life here in Chicago.

I’ve realized I don’t have to know what it looks like. I don’t have to know how the story ends. I don’t have to know how the pieces fit in the puzzle. I don’t have to have it all figured out.

When I was walking across the meseta in central Spain, wheat fields meandering towards the horizons on both sides as I crawled under an azure dome pocked by clouds that were few and far between, I didn’t need to know where I was staying that night. I didn’t need to know where I would sleep tomorrow. I would be ok. Everything’s gonna be alright

—–

There are days I am nigh overwhelmed by the brokenness in the world.  There are refugee crises, and sickness, and violence.  The weight is huge.  And I am reminded of it daily as I sit in the pain and fear of the boys and girls who I work with have fled violence, destruction, and death.  I sit in it now.  And it is heavy.

We kick at the darkness, and hope that one day it will bleed daylight…  But we keep kicking.  One starfish at a time.  And we keep jumping, even if we’re not entirely sure how deep the water will be…

http://bmiller.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/bleeding-daylight/

—–

And sometimes when the darkness draws in close, it doesn’t take all that much to drive it back.  Sushi and an old Rasputin.  Friend talks and laughter.  Music and poetry.  And reminders of truth and beauty from Richard Capon as he plays with language and metaphor, meaning and mystery:

Might it not be, then, that it is by bearing for love the uncertainty of what we are to do that we come closest to his (God’s) deepest will for us?  In our fuss to succeed, to get a good grade on the series of tests we think he has proposed, we miss the main point of the affair: that we already are the beloved.  We long ago wound God’s clock for good…

It is our thirst for success and our fear of the freedom which he wills for us that keep us the poor lovers we are.  If the cross teaches us anything, it should be that the cup doesn’t pass from us, and that agony, bloody sweat, and the pain of being forsaken on a dark afternoon are the true marks of having said, Thy Will Be Done.  He is no less lost in this affair than we are.  What really matters for us both, though, is not the lostness, not the doubt, not the fragile, mortgaged substance of our house – only the love as strong as death which has set us as a seal upon each other’s hearts.

This is me learning to show up.  This is me, embracing love.  This is me, realizing that its ok to give up on my quest for certainty, for answers, for control.  What you find in the process is life – and life to the full.  This is me embracing the questions.

It feels good to be back…

Fair & lovely

Today marked day 13 of walking across Spain on pilgrimage to Santiago. We have walked close to 400 km (240 miles) since starting out in France. It seems like we just started yesterday… It seems like we’ve been walking forever…

A few things that were beautiful today:

– the sunrise over the meseta as we watched the blacks & grays fade into golds & greens as far as the eye could see.

– songs & prayers & conversations & silence & laughter & stories & generosity & love that are slowly turning strangers into family.

– a beautiful impromptu guitar concert performed by a professor of classical guitar in an 11th century church as the setting sun painted the white stone walls into every shade of gold imaginable.

– the local priest laying hands upon us and blessing us as we continued our journey.

– a warm shower, clean clothes, hot coffee, & a soft bed.

– other people.

– a friend who will bandage your bloody & blistered feet with care & tenderness & patience.

– going to sleep knowing that tomorrow we are sleeping in until 6am & only walking 19km. =)

There is much to be thankful for.

What are you thankful for today?

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Gratitude

It’s time to watch this again:

It seemed appropriate – not just because it is Thanksgiving – but because the last few weeks of school, papers and projects are piling up for me, work and internship are reminding me both how broken people are and how broken this world is, and I find myself losing sight of the beauty and wonder around me as I am drowning in books and journal articles and case notes and reports. So much in this culture and society is pulling us towards wanting more – desire – consumption. “If you just had this, you’d be happy. If only you weren’t so ____, people would love you more. If you could just own that new toy, that new pretty thing… All you need is just a little bit more – more stuff, more status, more accomplishment, more happiness… And you deserve it.”  And on Black Friday, the high holy days of capitalism, we see this message over and over again.

This is the message we hear every day. And it is a lie. It will never be enough.

I know what is true. I see the things that push me towards life, towards abundance, towards joy: and among those things, three of the primary ones are contentment, gratitude, and wonder. So much in life is outside of our control. You can’t will yourself towards health when you’re sick. You can’t make someone love you. We all have limitations, barriers, and things that hinder us from accomplishing what we desire. And the tension that I wrestle with is how to balance that acceptance of my limitations and finiteness with the reality that there is much that I dream will come true – there are deep desires within me for beauty, for community, for redemption, for companionship, for love, for faithfulness, and those desires are there for a purpose. This battle between contentment and desire wages in my heart, but it is only be holding them in that tension that balance can be lived. Contentment reminds me that my desires are just that – desires. And while they point to something deeper, they should be held loosely. Yet those deep desires of my heart remind me that I was made for more, it keeps me moving God-ward, it guards me from complacency and passivity and laziness. Both are needed, in their appropriate place.

Gratitude and wonder work together to stop and remind me of how truly blessed I am – everything I have been given, and everything that gives color and laughter to my life. From the sun crawling up off the lake on my morning run, to the lights of the city as I drive home at night – the play of clouds, the sound of the breeze, the crisp cool air that burns and awakens and refreshes – these are gifts. The laughter of a friend’s daughter, the tears that spring from some unknown place when confronted by the beauty of friendship, of love, and of sacrifice – all are gifts. A glass of wine and a loaf of bread to welcome the Sabbath as an old friend, forgiveness growing slowly like a blade of grass in the sand, a heart that is melting, thawing, warming before the light of the son – this is gift and grace. When we truly stop and see, how can we not be grateful? When we truly stop and feel, how can our hearts not threaten to explode with wonder?

“Gratefulness can change our world in immensely important ways. If you’re grateful, you’re not fearful. If you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. The grateful act out of a sense of enough, not scarcity, so they are willing to share.  Being grateful does no less than change the power balance of life.  It’s a nonviolent revolution that even revolutionizes the concept of revolution.  Grateful people are joyful people; the more joyful people are, the more we’ll have a joyful world.” ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

And in the midst of the tragedy, the brokenness, the unmet desires and unfulfilled dreams, and all that we don’t understand, we see glimmers of hope – catch the faintest whiff of grace – hear the whisper of peace and presence: it’s enough to make anyone thankful, if just for a moment… And sometimes, that moment is all we need to keep on.

“Either life is holy with meaning, or life doesn’t mean a damn thing.  You pay your money and you take your choice.  Only never take your choice too easily, of course.  Never assume that because you have taken it one way today, you may not take it another way tomorrow.  One choice is this.  It is to choose to believe that the truth of our story is contained in Jesus’s story, which is a love story.  Jesus’s story is the truth about who we are and who the God is who Jesus says loves us.  It is the truth about where we are going and how we are going to get there, if we get there at all, and what we are going to find if we finally do.  Only for once let us not betray the richness and depth and mystery of that truth by trying to explain it…” ~ Frederick Buechner

(Reposted, because I needed to be reminded of this today…)

Water

The shattering weight of summer-light pressed down and through shadowed tree covered lanes as we walked home from the cafe. Turning a corner, we saw the girl in front of us dancing through, and around, and between rainbow streams of shimmering water, spraying and spinning and spiraling. There was beauty in the interplay of light and shadow, of sprinklers and water and scintillating rainbows that scattered shards of light profligately, without regard for whom might see, or appreciate this holy symphony of movement and color.

“…it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash…”

~ Marilynne Robinson – Gilead

This was one of those moments.

Leaving Neil’s house, biking down to the lake, I was struck once more by the extravagance on display – water in blues and greens, as far as the eye could see, shimmering and sparkling, evidence of grace.

Water is not only for the deserving.

Water does not only quench the thirst of the pure.

Water gives life to all, evenhandedly, without condition, without restraint.

I stopped my bike on the shore, captivated by the joyous call of the water.

Finally, unable to resist, I gave in to its siren song, leaping into the blue-green womb with abandon and laughter, over and over and over again…

Thankful.

Humbled.

Blessed.

Made new.

“…water was made primarily for blessing…”

lake michigan

Merry Christmas

nativity

 

Celebrating the birth of Jesus – the gift of newness, the unexpected “thrill of hope” that shoots through us when new possibilities are revealed, new opportunities are before us, and new life springs up where before there was only death, and barrenness, and emptiness, and loss. Because of this, we have hope – and we are reminded once more that “He is making all things new…

Walter Brueggemann reminds us of what it means to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and what that can mean for us:

There is a time to be born, and it is now

There is a time to be born and a time to die.
And this is a time to be born.
So we turn to you, God of our life,
                   God of our years
                   God of our beginning.
      Our times are in your hand.

Hear us as we pray:
     For those of us too much into obedience,
          birth us to the freedom of the gospel.
     For those of us too much into self-indulgence,
          birth us to discipleship in your ministry.
     For those too much into cynicism,
          birth us to the innocence of the Christ child.
     For those of us too much into cowardice,
          birth us to the courage to stand before
               principalities and powers.
     For those of us too much into guilt,
          birth us into forgiveness worked in your generosity.
     For those of us too much into despair,
          birth us into the promises you make to your people.
     For those of us too much into control,
          birth us into the vulnerability of the cross.
     For those of us too much into victimization,
          birth us into the power of Easter.
     For those of us too much into fatigue,
          birth us into the energy of Pentecost.

We dare pray that you will do for us and among us and through us
     what is needful for newness.

Give us the power to be receptive,
     to take the newness you give,
     to move from womb warmth to real life.

We make this prayer not only for ourselves, but
     for our school at the brink of birth,
     for the church at the edge of life,
     for our city waiting for newness,
     for your whole creation, with which we yearn
          in eager longing.

There is a time to be born, and it is now.
    We sense the pangs and groans of your newness.
    Come here now in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

From Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth Prayers of Walter Brueggemann

For birth is not easy. It is painful. Frightening. Unsettling. But it is worth it.

May we have the eyes to see that which longs to be birthed in our hearts and in our lives in this coming year, the courage to welcome it, and the grace to persevere…

 

 

Pushing the limits

“Crepis, crepis, crepis, crepis…”

The balding Ukrainian pacing behind us kept muttering this word as we sat on the broken fortress wall overlooking the wasteland below while eating our pita, yogurt, and pickles. I don’t really remember who it was the finally engaged him in conversation – probably Dan – and discovered that far from being a crazy person who was planning on shoving us over the edge, he was a passionate student of history who was so excited to be at Masada that he couldn’t contain himself.

“Crepis is… how do you say… fortress…?”

And like that, we started to understand each other – the balding Ukrainian on his vacation in Israel, and the six American college students preparing to hike down the snake path to the Dead Sea for a night of camping in the desert.

—–

A couple of weeks later, we found ourselves at Masada again. This time we were dropped off by our tour bus with the rest of our classmates on the old rubble strewn siege way created by the Romans in the siege of 72 AD. And while the history was as intriguing as always and the stories compelling, the moment that crystallized in my memory was towards the end of the day as we were preparing to leave.

As most of our classmates lined up to wait for the cable car that would take them from the fortress top down to desert floor, a couple of us decided we didn’t feel like waiting and would race the cable car down to the bottom via the snake path. I assume it’s called the snake path because of the switch backs, the way it curves and winds and makes a path out of the nearly vertical crumbly rock and shale (with a little Cenomanian limestone for good measure), dropping down over 1,300 ft. to the shores of the Dead Sea.

I remember the feeling of freedom as we tore down the cliff side, running and sliding, skidding around corners, dropping a hand to stabilize and keep from shooting too far down the sandy slope, and back up to full speed. I remember jumping from rock to rock, teetering on the verge of falling, almost overbalancing time and time again but somehow managing to remain mostly vertical. There was whooping and hollering and joy as we tore down the mountainside, glancing up from time to time to note the progress of the cable car, forcing us to put on a burst of speed, and then the bottom. I don’t think we beat the cable car, but that moment is one of beauty and life that I treasure and am so thankful for.

—–

The other day I saw this clip, and while our jaunt down the snake path doesn’t compare to this: it was what immediately came to mind – running for the sheer joy through beauty, wildness, and danger, revelling in movement and physicality and the body that we have been given that is so much more capable than I give it credit for.

And I wonder what it would take to bring this level of joy and enthusiasm and adventure into my daily runs through the streets of Chicago. How can I find the same joy in dodging cars and bicyclists, skipping over potholes and broken glass, and dancing across boulevards and through parks? Maybe that first step is just in my head. After all, beauty is all around us.  We’re practically drowning in it.  We just need the eyes to see it.

Anticipation and celebration


On Sunday afternoon, my younger sister married a lucky, lucky man. Four months after their engagement, a year since they had started dating, almost two years after they first met, their friends and family gathered from all over the world. People came from Germany, Korea, Australia, Hawaii, North Carolina, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, Virginia, Nevada, Washington, New York, Arizona, and all parts of California (among others) to celebrate their love – their commitment – their choosing of each other for the rest of their lives – and to do so in a way that pointed others to God, to life, and to deeper love.

The rehearsal on Saturday afternoon was a celebratory reunion, full of laughter and excitement as we practiced and watched the bride-to-be walk through the grassy field, surrounded by flowers and nature and green growing things. The rehearsal dinner that afternoon was again celebratory and full of anticipation – as we were served by Kait and Adam, were filled with good things, tables crowded with laughter and movement, with stories remembered and adventures relived, and people tried to capture the essence of the two who we’d gathered to celebrate. That night everyone – wedding party, family, friends, out of town guests – gathered at a nearby bowling alley for a night of play, laughter, music, dancing, a little friendly competition, visiting, and connecting, all covered in a deep blanket of gratitude and thanksgiving.

Sunday morning was full – family and friends running to the reception site to decorate, set tables, place the manzanita trees, hang candles, prepare the dance floor, arranging the room in a way that invited people to celebrate and rejoice while drawing their eyes to the joy Adam and Kait were feeling. So many people pitched in to help – so many gave of their time and energy out of love for the bride and groom.

At the gardens the chairs were arranged close together, inviting the guests to step in close and be a part of the ceremony. The wedding itself was gorgeous and simple – cello, oboe, and violin, communion on bended knee, worship, laughter, and the little touches that were so in keeping with who they are and what they want their shared life together to be about. And they said their vows, reaffirmed their choice, and stood joyful and radiant, together.

From a certain point of view, the reception was fairly normal.  It had all the right ingredients: food and wine, cake and champagne, toasts and speeches, pictures and well-wishing, dancing and laughter. But this was different – special – more – because it was THEIRS. The way the ingredients came together and the love and joy of the people who had gathered there to celebrate with the couple left me speechless at times – the only response was to move, to laugh, to dance. The love and joy were almost palpable. It was enchanting to watch people throw themselves into the celebration, to embrace looking ridiculous and throw propriety to the wind, faces glowing with laughter (or in some cases, the glow-sticks that had been liberally distributed to the dancers). People didn’t want to leave, but the night had to end as all things must.

As we gathered to send them off, bubbles filling the air, they high-fived their way down the receiving line, stopping for hugs and kisses and thanks and heartfelt congratulations and “one-more-things…” And then they were gone.

I think about this weekend, and I think about heaven – “the wedding supper of the Lamb.” I love the imagery associated with this – seeing heaven as a wedding and a feast, a beautiful meaningful ceremony followed by rich food and wine, deep connection, laughter ringing through the halls of heaven, dancing and music and stories flowing through eternity, the gathering of those we love and those we will come to love. I remember the anticipation Kait and Adam felt as they looked forward to the day they could be with each other, and could be united in a new and deeper way. And just as their anticipation melted into celebration, so our anticipation of eternity will flower into riotous, joyful, roof-shaking shouts of joy.

A number of friends who were at this wedding are feeling that anticipation deeply now, as they mourn the deaths of a mother, a wife, a husband, a father, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, a grandma, a grandpa… At times, I’m sure they were acutely aware of all those who couldn’t be at THIS wedding celebrating… But I am so thankful, and hopeful, and anticipating with great joy the wedding celebration at which we will ALL be in attendance, from the greatest to the least, where every tear will be wiped away, and death itself will be swallowed up forever. And even as we celebrate Kait and Adam, and their love for and committment to each other, we celebrate the God who gave them to each other, the God who is making all things new, the God who is constantly foreshadowing the good gifts that he has in store here and now, and the God who is preparing the party that will leave us breathless. We wait with hope, and as we wait, we celebrate.  We celebrate because we are all invited.  We celebrate because the table always has room for one more.  We celebrate because the arms of the Father are open wide.  Come on in. The music has started, and it’s time to start dancing…

Let the wild rumpus begin!!!

Tomorrow afternoon my little sister is getting married!!!

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(@ the rehearsal today – pic via Lindsay Long)

The last couple of weeks have been a tumultuous, crazy, roller-coaster: finals, job transitions, an intensive summer course, and a quick trip from Chicago out here to sunny California for the Miller-Derentz extravaganza.  After a week of sleep deprivation and intensive, exhaustive learning, it does my heart good to be out here, surrounded by family, laughter, crazy busy-ness, and the celebration of love.

We arrived at the botanical gardens to find Kait, Car, Adam, and all the rest of the wedding party – such a delight to see so many people who love her and have gathered to celebrate with her – and so much fun to spend time anticipating the adventure that begins tomorrow.

And now I’m falling asleep on the floor of Grandma Sally’s living room, incredibly thankful, and overflowing in all the messiness and abundance that implies.  Overflowing because of:

– Beauty, flowers, nature, and sunshine
– Hugs and laughter of friends reunited after years and years
– Delicious food, drink, stories, and reminiscing at the family lunch
– Time with brother and sisters as we ran around doing errands
– Swimming pools and sunshine and hot-tubs and laughter
– Bowling and dancing and people – beautiful, funny, joyous, loving friends and family

And it’s not over yet!  Can’t wait for the celebration of their love – a day full of work, worship, beauty, dance, and joy.  Love you Kait!!!

make it count…

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” ~ Annie Dillard

So how are you spending your days?


Make them count.

Do justice. Create beauty. Laugh. Forgive. Risk. Give thanks. Dance. Slow down. Pay attention. Smile. Pray. Work. Rest. Celebrate. Drink deeply of today…

(video via Josh Barkey)

Not the Kingdom of Death…

An Easter prayer:

Christ is risen!

We give thanks for the gift of Easter
that runs beyond our expectations,
beyond our categories of reason,
even more, beyond the sinking sense of our own lives.

We know about the powers of death,
powers that persist among us,
powers that drive us from you, and
from our neighbour, and
from our best selves.

We know about the powers of fear and greed and anxiety,
and brutality and certitude.
powers before which we are helpless.

And then you – you at dawn, unquenched,
you in the darkness,
you on Saturday,
you who breaks the world to joy.

Yours is the kingdom…not the kingdom of death,
Yours is the power…not the power of death,
Yours is the glory…not the glory of death.

Yours…You…and we give thanks
for the newness beyond our achieving.

Amen.

~ Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth

via Prayers and Creeds