Thursday, February 18, 2010


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Function: adjective
Date: 14th century
1 a : treated, affected, or crusted over by freezing b : subject to long and severe cold
2 a : incapable of being changed, moved, or undone : b : not available for present use c (1) : drained or incapable of emotion (2) : expressing or characterized by cold unfriendliness

(adapted from Ash Wednesday homily)

As I drive through the countryside of Northeast Missouri, it is hard to imagine springtime – hard to imagine that anything will be green again. It is hard to imagine that anything will grow – that anything might be hearty enough to push through the frozen ground and up through the snow. Everything is frozen.
Tonight (Ash Wednesday), our liturgy will ask us to consider what it is that freezes our souls. What are those things we do that keep us frozen with fear? What keeps us from living fully in God’s presence? What keeps us from being more fully aware of God’s love for us?
What are the habits, both big and small that diminish our souls? What are those things that keep our souls buried? What is it we use to medicate ourselves – to make ourselves feel better in times of anxiety?
Those things are different for every one of us – for some it is alcohol or food or the need to buy one more new thing or the inability to spend any significant time away from technology. For some it holding on to fear that keeps them immobile. For some it is the constant need for the approval of others; for some it the desire to be in control. For some it is the temptation to project their own fears onto others No matter who we are, we have those places in our souls that we manage to keep frozen. Those places we try to hide away in hopes that no one sees.
It is those places that our liturgy will invite us to examine tonight and for the next 6 weeks – to be brave enough to take an honest look at what keeps us frozen –frozen to ourselves, to each other and to God.
Lent is about repenting, and for most of us it is about slowing down enough to know where those frozen places are for us – to recognize those habits that keep the ground of our own souls so frozen that nothing can grow, to name them, to let ourselves feel the sadness that they cause in our lives – recognizing that they keep us from being fully present to God and to each other.
The liturgy asks us to repent which simply means to turn, to turn from whatever it is that stands between us and God – to turn from the cold to the warmth, from the dark to the light – to move close enough to God to let those frozen places thaw so that they become less hard and brittle.
Observing the season of Lent is about opening ourselves up to the spaciousness of God – to let ourselves imagine what there might be trying to push its way out of the darkness and into the light.
And so, during this Lenten season, we take on new disciplines that open us up to God. Some might set aside more time for prayer or meditation or to read devotional materials that draw our attention to the spiritual life. Some of us will fast from food and other things we are to use mindlessly.
When we allow those hard and frozen places to give way to God’s love and grace in our own lives, we are more able be loving and extend grace to those around us. So that when we let go of those things that keep us frozen, and when we turn our attention to God, we are turning our attention to those things God cares about – letting our concerns be shifted to God’s concerns.
The Biblical witness to our faith is clear about what those concerns are – the prophet says it this way: “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them?” And he goes on to say, when you have done this “The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;”
My hope for us all is that we might have observe Lent in such a way that when Easter comes we can celebrate that God can bring life from death, that frozen places can become fertile ground – places where lovely things grow and flourish, and that our own lives will be evidence of it. Amen

Sunday, February 14, 2010


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Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English derk, from Old English deorc; akin to Old High German tarchannen to hide
Date: before 12th century
1 a : devoid or partially devoid of light : not receiving, reflecting, transmitting, or radiating light b : transmitting only a portion of light
2 a : wholly or partially black b of a color : of low or very low lightness c : being less light in color than other substances of the same kind
3 a : arising from or showing evil traits; b : relating to grim or depressing circumstances

It is still long before daybreak when I awaken in the morning. The house is dark, but I don’t have any trouble finding my way from the bedroom to the coffee pot in the kitchen. There are landmarks along the way. I stop at the thermostat on the wall and turn the heat up a little. I know just where it is – it is in the same place as yesterday and the day before. Then I make my way around the coffee table and between the sofa and chair into the kitchen. I know where everything is – the furniture is where it has always been, so the darkness is easily navigated.

We all have interior landmarks we count on to help us navigate our inner lives. We give ourselves to vocations and jobs that shape our identity. We find companions to walk through life with us. We give birth to children who need us to walk with them. We find faith communities that sustain us. Eventually, these landmarks shift in some way – we lose our jobs to a failing economy or we have given enough years to it that we retire. Companions die, children move out, faith communities change. Spiritual practices that helped us feel connected to God seem flat, and we don’t know how to connect anymore.

What we counted on yesterday to help us navigate is gone or changed enough that we no longer recognize it.

My workday is flooded with people who are groping around in the darkness for something to grab, something that will steady them. The only way I can do my job well is to know what steadies me when my own landmarks have shifted.

On my office wall hangs a print with these words.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown!”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."

These words remind me that there will be times in my life when I will walk in darkness. It is inescapable. So I try to remember to put my hand into God’s and know that I am safe there.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


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Function: preposition
Etymology: Middle English betwene, preposition & adverb, from Old English betwēonum, from be- + -twēonum (dative plural) (akin to Gothic tweihnai two each); akin to Old English twā two
Date: before 12th century
1: by the common action of : jointly engaging
4: in preference for one or the other of
5: in confidence restricted to

Twice in the last couple of weeks, I have sat in the room of a patient actively dying. Both times family and friends have filled the room watching attentively for signs of life and then for none. Breathing patterns change when someone is close to death; when they are hanging between this world and the next. Patients begin to experience periods of apnea, and there are long spaces between each breath. The space between those breathes becomes longer and longer, and the expectation and dread that fills that space becomes palpable. We all watch and both long for and dread the last breath. With each exhalation, I find myself counting the seconds between 1,2,3,4,5…20 inhale. Families are both relieved and saddened at the inhalation, and the question is always “How long do you think this will take?” Sometimes it is hours and sometimes days.
I find when I allow myself to fully enter that place with families, my own breathing becomes shallow and when I leave I have to remind myself to breathe deeply. Time becomes marked by the inhalation and exhalation and the time between is just that, the space that is separated by the inhale and the exhale. I have to remind myself that most of life is lived in the between spaces. The danger in working with the dying is that I am always waiting for the next death, and sometimes I forget to use the time between. I forget to write and take pictures. I take for granted my soul mate who shares life with me. I forget to say “thanks be to God” for the little things – for meals shared with others, for laughter and tears, for good books and music – for all the things that fill the between spaces.