Saturday, April 26, 2014

Resurrection realized--layer on layer: praying with those two on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-35)

An interrupted journey. They had a plan, were going somewhere. Maybe headed home, back to life before Jesus. They were “discussing” events. “Discussing” resonates with trying to explain, to analyze, to make it all make sense somehow. What were they saying to one another? "But we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel." He was a prophet, of that they were certain.
And now reports His body was gone. Visions of angels who said He is alive—whatever that might mean. Rumors, impossible stories, all coming on the heels of trauma.
As they walked their darkening path, this stranger came alongside them to join their journey and their conversation. And despite the danger in being identified with Jesus, they found themselves pouring it out: the events, the grief, the terror, the confusion. They just told it, one tripping over the words of the other as it spilled. They watched it flow, experiencing it all over again as they let go every pretense of understanding or explanation.
"How foolish you are!" said the stranger. What was Your voice like, Lord Jesus? I hear gentle scoffing, but offered with a smile and warm acceptance in Your eyes. Because You then opened Your eternal Word and made everything plain. You opened their eyes, it says, and their hearts burned.
"They recognized Him, and he disappeared from their sight." Their own journey plans like a passing vapor, they grabbed cloaks of homespun brown and ran out into the night to chase the glorious mystery of You. 

Layer on layer-- 
An empty tomb 
An angelic vision 
given first to women and then to Peter and John 
Mary meets the Gardener Who is not a gardener 
Peter meets power, love, and forgiveness in a private place 
These two burn with the words of a Stranger on the open road
Layer on layer 
Peeling away 
Until world-changing glory gleams 
Shekinah bright to any given the gift of sight
Hearts burn 
Hearts open 
Hearts receive 
Layer on layer

The dare is to hope, but for what? Reports, dribbles of truth spill. To evaporate in the day's light and heat?  Or to accumulate until frail human vessels overflow with indestructible life?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Holy Saturday: Tattered Vows

Peter. So brave. So sure. He has never loved anyone or anything like he loves Jesus. Confusing, mysterious, undependably dependable, Shekinah-radiant Jesus. As others backed away from call too hard, path too strange, Peter whispered, "Where else would I go?"

Betray Jesus? Peter is ready to fight for Jesus, to stand in front and shield Him even if the sword should pierce Peter's own body. In his mind he can see himself wielding his sword as they come.

He does it, too, later that same night. His sword flashes, blood flows, an ear hangs floppy as a young man screams. 

And Jesus rebukes this bravest stand, heals the ear, lets them take Him. Even then Peter trails behind into that courtyard he can enter only on the word of another. Courtyard of authority. Courtyard of the enemy. 

Nosy questions from a nobody. At a time and place when no brave act could rescue Jesus. She'll bring the crowd down on him, too. Shut her up with the lie that makes him vomit. The lie uttered just as they drag Jesus into earshot.

Then Jesus is gone. Dead. Laid on cold stone and covered over, sealed in. 

Jagged-knife words, the last words Jesus heard fall from him. 

Peter's brave words, his best love, his fierce commitment lie there in the dirt at his feet. Wilted, shriveled, dirty. No unsaying. No undoing. No Jesus to gaze into his deepest self and love him still. All shattered and broken, and him with them. Fraud. Fake. Loving Jesus still. 

It is a tattered love. Pitiful, trampled, and beautiful with all its cracks and tears. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lenten Pilgrimage--a journey of moving on by staying still

Joseph’s flight with his little family to Egypt raises aspects of pilgrimage such as finding our way forward step by step, holding loosely to our understanding of plan and road, ever listening to the Lord and attentive to His best path.
As the week closed, I felt both graced and challenged to walk for a season by remaining still. To wait and watch from the threshold, where a great deal of movement is happening. To sit quiet, with awareness antenna stretched. To listen, to feel, and to intercede. Both in my own journey where permission to rest and wait is a gift, and in the journey alongside retreatants who pray their way through hard situations where the call is to move but the way is only slowly emerging. To hold them safe and give them space to make their two steps forward, two back, one more forward, sometimes tentative, sometimes too sure and pushing too hard, sometimes in fear, yet ever moving toward faith and rest.
I am grateful that my own weariness has become less desperate, as well as for this time to be where I am, at rest yet active in the threshold.
The photos capture images that illustrate for me the pilgrimage of this third week. Sunday I needed to give time to just sit in the beginning stages of a new room off our kitchen, a beginning that had awaited us when we had returned from Albania the night before. I needed to plop down, put my feet up, and stay awhile in that construction site; to feel it and re-imagine it, knowing what was in my original drawing, and asking whether and how that should change.

As the week proceeded, I determined to leave the woodstove as originally planned, to make the upper level a foot wider and inset the step, to leave out the stone step to outside in favor of a wood platform which will support cushions for a locally-traditional maglis style conversation space (instead of the two easy chairs in front of the stove that was my first plan). I also invited the stone mason to complete a whole other project, a new terrace at the main door of the house. Which now is finished and so right. As I wrote this, Suleyman had the doors to the house down and was laying a travertine threshold and shortening the doors to clear the new stone.
Through the week craftsmen and I tussled around over chimney height, floor level, need for a drain, and the shape of the platform for the woodstove. I encouraged, praised, corrected, sought opinions, asked for changes, and provided refreshment. And enjoyed those dear men.
That next Sunday I sat down and rested again in the new space. As if I had never moved. Yet much had unfolded. In the new room, in my life, and in lives of others who sheltered with us for that season.

Ever surprising, so still, yet always in motion, this God who loves us and leads us, eh?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lenten Pilgrimage--sometimes it is good and right to flee

"When the Magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.'

"So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'" Matthew 2:13-15

In the third week of Lent we were invited to listen and pray this piece of Jesus’ story, to walk with the young family as they fled in the dark to Egypt after an angel came to Joseph in a dream. It was an unexpected and scary journey. Nothing they would have planned. God’s journey to protect them from dangers they could not have fully known, a journey resourced by gifts from contemplative men who responded to a sense of invitation to find a baby in a foreign land and to lay riches by his crib, and we can’t imagine that that those unusual men knew why they were drawn to do as they did either.  What follows is my own wakeful night prayer with this passage that I had read and read again in prayer the morning before.

“angel… dream… escape… stay until I tell you… left during the night… and so was fulfilled….”

I wake in the dark and find myself praying over a story that unfolded not long ago around our dinner table. Dear guests had come to Spa for the Soul from a place where they find their lives in danger. They came to shelter in a safe place for a season, to listen for God’s voice, and to gather strength to follow Him. Sort of like Elijah in the cave, it seemed to me. They arrived with drawn faces and weary eyes, exuding edgy fear and the fragility of long endurance in the presence of enemies. Conversation stayed surface and they dodged the warmth of vulnerability and friendship in their first few days.

But that evening they found themselves ready to bring it out. They were moving to the slow conclusion that, yes, flight is necessary. Flight from a place of long investment, important work, sacrifice. A beloved people and place. I can still see clearly how their pain vibrated in the glow of the candles. The “how” and the “for how long” of it remained murky. Their unity tattered as they shared and wept and tried, now with us as witnesses, to bring each other to the place of understanding the differences in the heart-burdens they carried. Something sacred, holy, unfolding in our presence, inviting our prayerful listening and quiet questions, questions asked not to satisfy curiosity but to help them move deeper into their experience and understanding.  

Warm and safe in my bed, I hear the angel whisper to me, “For some there comes a time to flee. No place for guilt. Lay down what others expect, what they may whisper among themselves. Lay down the question whether they should be able to handle this. Lay down gritted courage determined to trust and stand firm. Take up courage to flee, to chase the still small voice that whispers the unthinkable. How much courage is displayed in the choice to admit that flight is necessary for sanity, and perhaps for life.”

There in the dark, it also comes to me that more than once in recent months we have sheltered dear ones burned and torn through living long in places where there are enemies that would beat, rape, even kill them. Faces set like flint, for a long season all of them believed God’s grace and power would shelter them. They stood firm and carried on pouring themselves out, pouring and leaking out the love of Jesus on their world, on their enemies.

And God listened and preserved them. Until their cracked old vessels of fallen mind and body began to give way and a season of escape became a lifeline to finding themselves again. Yet again I remember Elijah’s flight after all his brave dependence, and I remember that God met him and nourished him and gave him rest, and then God gave Elijah more of Himself, and a human successor who would carry on after he was finished. And then God sent Elijah back. For some we’ve sheltered, the season was temporary, for these others, the open question whether they will ever return forms part of their pain.

So hard to admit, to face that frailty of body and soul.  Long nights wondering if this is a failure of faith. Long days when the tears won’t stop. Lethargy that refuses to venture out the door. Constant watchfulness. Heavy fear that leaders and supporters will see all of it as weak and unworthy, and that those they serve will wither without them. Over it all is the fear that they might never reach the place of return. The heart longing to hear clear direction, to know for certain that this is God’s way for the journey for now.

Yes, Lord, you could have protected Jesus and his family in Israel, without the escape to Egypt. Oh, so many ways that you could have done it. But sometimes, it seems, You call Your people to flee, to run away and hide, to wait Your time and Your fresh word to return—or not, in Your sovereign choice.

Lord, that Your word will be clear for all of Your people who dwell in such places, that You will resource their way with treasures of gold, incense, and myrrh, that You will bring them back—or not--in Your perfect time.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Lenten pilgrimage--we discover the way forward step by wondering step

Discovering the way forward step by wondering step,

Only in the looking back do I discover where I was going….

Is it another of those tensions? One of those contrary juxtapositions in which things that seem paradoxical are both true? A mystery of God? God is One, yet Three. We dwell in the already/not yet of Christ’s first and second coming. We die, yet we live. Do we who belong to Jesus also dwell in the make-plans-set-goals-pursue-dreams/let-it-unfold? 

Or is it simpler than that? More counter the culture of this world? Is it that all our plans, dreams and understandings of call need ever to be held loosely, open to the unexpected journey?

When to hold fast to the plan and stay the course, to persevere, to see all else as distraction and diffusion? When to mold our lives around the interruptions and the unexpected, to see them as God’s surprising illumination of a way our hearts and minds are too small to dream? So that we live to the full in God's better ideas? 

I auditioned to dance and then go on to graduate school, then married Curt Bidinger and moved to Saudi Arabia.

I married a school teacher, then lived for thirty years now with a petroleum engineer.

I planned a career in public relations in San Francisco, then worked in a law office in Alaska.

I assumed I would bear three children, then was named infertile.

I studied real estate, then found myself in law school.

I made commitments of a childless life, then bore two children.

I bought materials for homeschooling, then moved to Scotland where Caitlin thrived in great schools.

I took up ministry to young adults, then, transferred to a new country, discovered peers, working poor, and elderly.

I prodded and poked towards ministry doing legal aid, then was called to teach the Bible.

I looked to live the rest of life in our beloved Alaska, then moved to Abu Dhabi and later to Turkey to welcome the world.

Every threshold an opportunity I could not have dreamed. An unexpected turn that interrupted my best, prayed-much-about efforts to follow Jesus. Several I would not have chosen, but the choice was made for me. Every one a holy portal to joy, growth, and fruitful living.  I sit in our garden on this rocky hillside overlooking the Mediterranean and marvel that I live in an adventurously renovated contemplative prayer house surrounded by olive trees and enveloped in sounds of bird call, grazing sheep and goats and milkcows, and children at play down in the village square.

I don’t plan much anymore. Other than to love, welcome, serve, listen, and do the next thing that appears along the path of invitation. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lenten Pilgrimage -- called to BE a threshold

Seven or eight years ago I took part in a silent day of prayer that became one of those key markers in my understanding of life with Jesus. Sometime late in the day I found myself watching, from the window of our Abu Dhabi skyscraper, the final leveling of a piece of land two or three properties further up the coastline. It had long been "The Tourist Club," a pay-by-the-day beach leisure spot well loved and well used by the city's inhabitants for rest, play, community, and exercise. But Abu Dhabi had grown so that The Tourist Club was surrounded and dwarfed by shiny big buildings.
The view from our Abu Dhabi living room. That flat piece of land just in front of the large storage tanks became a metaphor for my last 10 years.

As I watched that final leveling, the Lord impressed on me that this was what He was doing in my life. The move to Abu Dhabi had taken so much--work that I loved, community, fruitful ministry, memories of 26 good years and the birth and growth of two fine young adult children who did not come with us. The new landscape of "what will I do here" was interesting and varied, and fruitful. But it did not seem to be life-giving for me. I struggled with a sense of having lost myself.
Mesmerized by those bulldozers, I sensed God whispering, "What you see down there, that is what I am doing in your life. Flattening you. On purpose. To make you ready for something new. The old was good, and will be remembered. But We're done with that. Things have changed in and around you. I have different uses for you now."
As I opened my heart to receive this gift, I found comfort in knowing the land I watched was high value, treasured. I knew that the deconstruction was not about failure or uselessness, but about a maturing of many things. I had no idea what was to be built, but could imagine a shiny skyscraper with a resort hotel, fine restaurants, premium office space, and luxury flats.
Three or four years later the land remained vacant. The area was (and is yet today) still known as The Tourist Club area though The Tourist Club was long gone. I, too, still wandered the wilderness flattening of my life. A full life, but a time of letting many things go, and taking up quieter, less structured ways.
Then I saw a master development model for the city of Abu Dhabi.
No fancy building. That land was reserved to be the foundation of a bridge to an island offshore, a place that had been bare ground when The Tourist Club was taken apart. By then, Reem Island was fast becoming shiny skyscrapers, a marina, shopping, and all manner of upscale development where many thousands would move to live and work and play. Access to the island was some way south of us, and I’d never considered that more than one bridge would be necessary for the huge population to come and go.
A bridge footing. A launching place. A stable place. A needed place people would pass over without ever noticing the valuable ground. A place from which they would fly to new and better.
Ah, the joy, the relief, and the humor of it!
And so here is what emerged from my week of Lenten prayer with Moses and Miriam at the threshold of the promised land:
Called to BE a threshold 
Exodus 15:19-21
Unnoticed beneath their feet 

A crack in the wall, a portal of shekinah glory 
High value property becomes foundation for a bridge to a better place

Willing to live unnoticed, to be that narrow way 

To stand quiet, waiting their resistance until they are ready to journey. …Or not. 
To be trod upon 
To feel the breath of their passage, they who will barely remember I was there 
To watch, to stay firm, to pray as they take flight to freedom

“He must become greater; I must become less.” John the Baptist (John 3:30) 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lenten pilgrimage -- living in the threshold, right on the edge

The week in our Lenten pilgrimage when we walked with Moses and Miriam to the threshold of life after Egypt, I explored my own places where I've stood in a threshold, or on an edge or precipice, in recent years. Hard places, challenging places, places of joy. All places of passage and change and so much expense of energy--the energy of love. There are a lot of them, and for some time now I have been reeling with the weariness of my aging body and mind, my overstretched resilience. This week's prayer was nourishing. 

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; ... struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. ... Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. ... So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Cor 4:7-18.

Yes, we live on the edge. So many thresholds crossed in recent years. Both parents walked to the threshold of death and I held their hands as they passed. So much elder-care lead up to those journeys, all while I lived half a world away. Our children courted and married and departed, and a grandchild was born. Our family of four scattered to four continents, Curt and I at work and more apart than together for 10 years. A year ago we crossed the threshold into retirement. I studied and enter a new ministry of spiritual direction. I spearheaded three international moves, three major house renovation projects, and the beginnings of a new ministry. We have a new language to learn. We live in a place where we alone are believers. And last May I went through a life-threatening health crisis that robbed my strength and even more of my resilience. 

I keep repeating it. Perhaps because I myself need to acknowledge and embrace it. I am oh-so-weary. Something I find difficult to own, or to be hospitable toward. Today (I wrote this two weeks ago), three contemplative guests dwell with us and more inquire about coming; workers build walls and stone floors of an addition to our house, a local "grandchild" of five years comes and we will make cheesecake together--in Turkish. Paperwork falls behind, meals need preparing, guests need our holy listening, builders need my attention and affirmation and humor. While my body longs for bed.

Yet as I've prayed this week, I find myself more able to embrace the many thresholds of recent years, perhaps more able to receive that they have cracked and bruised me more than I've wanted to credit. Immense grace to acknowledge this and to embrace the weariness with growing equanimity. Even with a measure of joy. To be willing, even, to BE the threshold in this Spa for the Soul, as well as to rest in my personal borderlands.