birth announcement

Did you know that there is a new star being born? I just learned from this BBC News article that astronomers are watching carefully as a new stellar system is born to see how the process works and what they might learn about how our solar system was born.

Water vapor pouring down supersonically in vast quantities, matter spinning wildly, extreme hot and cold temperatures, extreme pressure – sounds like an awfully intense atmosphere in the stellar delivery room.

But births seem rarely to be quiet, passive, calm processes. There is uncertainty, there is pain, there is intensity, there is chaos; new life does not arrive quietly and unobtrusively. The image of a stellar birth seems closer to human birth than the image of a green plant slowly, quietly pushing it’s way through soil.

But possibly there is room for many birth metaphors, many images of new life. Sometimes in my life new birth arrives slowly and quietly like the green plant, and sometimes arrives with chaos, uncertainty and pain. And yet new life always comes, and re/birth seems to arrive regularly. Awesome.


more poetry

Ok, so I’m slightly obsessed with poetry lately, but I think that’s ok; my guess is that it is kind of an epiphenomena of what’s been going on with my soul as of late. So when I was at camp a few weeks ago, somehow Shakespeare’s sonnets came up in discussion, and I, like virtually everyone else, had a sonnet still tucked away in the corners of my brain that I had memorized during high school. So I began to recall it, and as I did it was as if I were reading it for the first time, even though “I” “knew” the poem “by heart”, it felt more like I was discovering the poem anew as I spoke it out loud, and in some ways it felt almost as if the poem were reading me, not I it. And it was an incredibly beautiful experience.

A large part of the beauty of this particular sonnet, for me, is in saying it out loud. For when I let the lines carry my voice, the very act of speaking the words with raw honesty seems to carry my body to a different place. The line that begins “Like to the lark…” always leaves me breathless with a racing heart by the time I get to the end of it, because I never pause between that line and the next. So partly out of physiology and partly because of the words themselves and what they point to, I am left gasping at the beauty of it all. And then the last two lines become a sort of contented sigh, passing through me like truths that cannot be harnessed, denied or controlled.

I am still swept away by the beauty of these words and the huge meaning they express in such brevity, amazing. There is a sense that I “understand” this poem now far better than I did when I memorized it for school, but there is also a sense that I have always “understood” the poem, in that the way I speak the words now is the result of continuous testing and re-speaking when I first learned them, and that too is a strange truth in itself. Perhaps this sonnet-remembrance experience has more in common with my spiritual journey than I first may have thought. Both are journeys of rediscovering something learned long ago that suddenly, under the right circumstances, has burst open with a supernova of meaning; a supernova that leaves both glittering beauty and a dark black hole….. kind of like the poem… Hm.

Sonnet # 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

the present time

Today I preached at church, and it was a very interesting experience. Lately I have been creating my sermons rather amorphously, leaving an awful lot up to my own theologizing – for better or for worse. I haven’t been focusing on in-depth exegetical (aka Biblical study & interpretation) work, not going to the original languages, not reading commentaries, basically not using the tools I’ve spent years learning about and have faithfully used on many a successful sermon.

Instead I have been focusing on attentive readings of the scripture texts as well as readings of my life and the lives of those I’m supposed to preach to, and then I use the given theme to try and draw out possible important ideas.

Today’s theme was especially fruitful and provocative: “Discern the Present Time”. When I first read it I was struck by how much application it had to my own life, how much it resonated with my current reassessment of where my life is and where it is going. Discernment is something I’ve been very familiar with lately, it is an ongoing process in my life, but discerning the present time was a new framing for me. Usually when I think about discernment, I think about making a decision or choice for the future, but instead I find myself now, just as the theme stated, focusing more on the present time, on having fidelity to the current moment.

Fidelity to the present time can be very tricky, because we seem to much more naturally find ourselves getting caught up on past or future times – lately many are asking “how will my stocks perform through this market drop?” Lately I’m asking “What am I going to be or do with my life? Where is this life of mine going?” But as I’m sure you have heard in many a pithy proverb: if we only focus on and worry about the future and/or the past, we miss out on the beauty of this present, perfect moment.

So, I find myself asking the question that seems to consume me daily: “how then shall we live?” How do we discern what kind of just life I/we need to live in this moment? I find myself looking for (and found myself talking about in my sermon) the signals or pointers or road signs that let me/us know that the path we’re choosing is one that is faithful.

In one of the scriptures there was a call to be a “healing and redeeming” agent in the world. Phrases like “wholeness of body, mind and spirit”, “strengthening of faith”, and “reconciliation and healing of the spirit”, to me are examples of the road signs that tell us we are on the right path. And perhaps that is all I/we need right now, to trust the journey and trust that when the time is right, it will yield fruit.

you can save lives

Ok friends, I would not normally do this, but I’m going to anyway. The Canadian blood supply is currently at an all-time low and there is an urgent need for donors.

Click here to go to the Canadian Blood Services website, where you can learn about the locations of clinics and when they are open. Their phone service is also extremely helpful, call 1-888-2-donate and tell them where you live and when you’re free and they will find a clinic for you to go to and make an appointment for you, it’s very simple. My Mom and I are going to the Oak Street clinic tonight at 5:30.

I don’t normally pass this info along because I know that there are many, who for variously just or unjust reasons, are unable to or not allowed to donate. I don’t want my friends to feel guilty for not being able to. If you are able to though, I encourage you to go. It takes about an hour for all the prep and everything, but it is well worth your time. You can actually save lives. If you’re worried about going alone, give me a call and I’ll try to go with you.

maybe tears are enough

Anyone who knows me fairly well knows that I’m a crier. I cry fairly easily. Those who know my family know that this is a seemingly genetic trait I share with my mother, grandfather, aunts and cousins. When I was a teenager it was rather embarrassing and socially awkward to burst into tears at random moments. As I’ve gotten older, I think that I don’t cry quite as much as I once did, but when I really think about it, I probably do cry just as much, but I have just gotten a lot more comfortable with it. One could say I have a healthier relationship with tears now than I once did

So when I saw an article entitled “Tears and Compassionate Connection” in an e-zine I receive regularly, I immediately clicked on it. It is a beautiful article that begins with a story of a young Palestinian woman who was arrested by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. Unlike the stories I hear from my women friends about using tears to get themselves out of situations, this story was very different. The young woman describes how seeing two of the soldiers at the checkpoint: a man and a woman, both crying, opened a space for her to forgive.

I have had incredibly powerful experiences of tears – one day I began crying for seemingly no reason, only to find out later that a woman near me was crying, and that I must have sensed her distress, even though I could not see her. I remember one time apologizing to a male friend for crying while we talked, only to have him say that he wished he could cry too, but couldn’t. I jokingly tell friends that I should be a professional mourner (apparently in some cultures they actually have such things) since I cry so easily. In some ways I think I already do this, I mourn for the dead parts of our world and for my friends.

Tears, for me, as I’ve grown into them, are most often openings, just as the article suggests. Like a big smile, tears silently speak volumes and gift those around with a truth that is otherwise unspeakable. And so, I wonder, if sometimes tears are enough: words can’t make another’s pain go away, but tears can validate that pain, and shed a light of honesty that unites us even when all we can see is difference.

the future speaks ruthlessly

Again and again

Some people in the crowd wake up.

They have no ground in the crowd

And they emerge according to broader laws.

They carry strange customs with them,

And demand room for bold gestures.

The future speaks ruthlessly through them.

– Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell


Today I was walking with a small group of youth into the woods here at camp on our morning silent meditative walk. I had the most interesting experience:

Due to high winds last fall, throughout the pacific northwest, there are many trees that have fallen down. Our woods here are no exception. As we walked along a well-worn, very wide path, we suddenly came to a spot where a huge tree (about a two foot trunk width) was laying across our path. Serendipitously enough, our theme this week is “The Road, The Way” and so there we were with an unsurpassed object lesson… the teachable-moment-watcher in me was tortured because our little group had covenanted together that we would make the journey into the woods in silence, and so I was confronted with an ultimate moment of the “gappy theology” that I’ve previously talked about. I was not able to tell them what they should think about what was happening, wasn’t able to tell them what the metaphor was, I had to trust that the tree itself spoke more than I could ever say.

Wordlessly, one of the campers led the way around the tree, through the brambles and branches, and back onto the path. And then my stomach dropped slightly: the first thing I saw when I looked up from our circumnavigation of the wind-fallen tree was a peace pole, decorated years ago by another camp, and facing me was the side that said “OUR GOD IS AN AWESOME GOD.” Indeed. The fallen trees ahead and behind are visible testimonies of the awesomeness of God.

I find it so amazing that I am constantly learning new things about God. I am only now coming to terms with the awesome, destructive side of God. It almost seems un-politically-correct to say that a part of me was in awe of the beauty of the destruction that “God/creation/ultimate power/the ground of our being” is capable of. But that is exactly how I felt. I can’t wait to see what other amazing things I discover about God this week.