The Shell

I spent this summer in Northwest Washington, reconnecting with my childhood state, spending time with family and friends, and working as a hospital chaplain intern. Each morning I would ride the bus into work and when I wasn’t nodding off, I would often write poetry as I searched for words for the experience. Here is one such offering. 

The Shell

The old shell is cracking,
peeling
sloughing off.
As I straighten my neck,
another layer slides,
gently
crackling on the way down
to the
floor.

New skin is exposed,
some raw, quickly
chapped and irritated
by the elements.
Some fresh,
clear and clean,
glowing like a newborn,
with the elasticity and
tenacity of a toddler’s knees.
The rippling muscles of a
marathon runner,
pulsing underneath.

Rising up
Vulnerable wholeness
Exposed strength.

Education

Maybe,
Education is not a contest.
Seeing how many tomes
and theories we can
load
into
our
brain.

Maybe,
Education is a fine set
of carving tools.
Creating new path ways,
Clipping off unneeded wood,
Opening new spaces,
Discovering beauty in the
tangled mess of a burl,
Sanding the rough places until
they are soft,
pliable,
porous.

Emerges,
The solid beauty
of a worked over piece of art.

A person being formed.

Easter Morning 2012

Christ has risen!

Alleluia!

Christ has risen from the dead!

The newsfeed proclaims,

This Easter morning

two thousand years later.

We reach to touch

the awe

the wonder

confusion and fright

relief

joy

of Mary

and Mary.

Disciples who walked with Christ.

They couldn’t believe,

How could this be?

I struggle too.

Is this God of resurrection,

Christ incarnate Word,

Alive and well today?

I, like Thomas,

Want to ask for physical proof,

Show me the children being fed,

Show me the marriages being healed,

Show me the wars subsiding,

The violence ceasing

The hateful words subsiding.

If you are the Christ,

Get down off that cross,

And change things,

Change things for us today.

But not my will,

But

Thy will be done.

Into this world,

Christ was born.

Into the humanist

of human conditions,

Christ entered.

Walking step by step

Into the contradictions we face.

Providing a constant,

a beacon,

a Divine Light

to follow and let grow inside.

This beacon we reach for,

This light we hope for,

This new hope we glimpse,

This Easter morn.

The Human One,

Risen! Divine!

Our Hope

Our Beacon

Our Spring Bulb,

Bursting forth

with Color

with Vibrant Strength

Out of the cold ground,

After a long, dark winter.

Evolving My Faith

This piece was originally published on ESR’s Blog
Learning and Leading“.

The highlight of experience of the 2012 Spirituality Gathering started when Professor Carole Spencer asked if a few of us who had taken Carrie Newcomer’s songwriting class might read Phil Gulley’s talk prior to the event and respond with a creative piece to be used in the closing. I received the talk just before getting on an airplane, where I gobbled up the whole piece, staring and circling phrases and jotting down ideas. As I read I observed reading on two leve
ls, I was reading looking for a song, highlighting phrases and themes as they emerged, and I was reading as a theologian and a human, fascinated by his approach to the topic of The Evolution of Faith.Over the next week I read through the talk a number of times, jotting down themes and images, choice phrases and turns of speech. I kept reading words that connected to places inside me that are questioning, wondering, searching and looking for articulation. Gulley’s talk is excerpted from his new book “The Evolution of Faith: How God is Creating a Better Christian Community.” He gives an overview of his theology and theory on how faith can move forward or diminish and posits the idea that in order thrive in our current spiritual environments, a continual evolution is necessary. Gulley points to the recurring theme in theological education to “teach us what others thought about God in the past… but often fails to teach us what we must know now—how we can evolve in order to thrive in our current spiritual environment” (Philip Gulley, “Evolution of Faith”, ESR Spirituality Gathering 2012).

As a current seminary student, soaking up layers of church history, history of theological thought, and the wisdom of ancient mystics, my ears caught this with a question mark. As an entrepreneurial spirit, an emergent/progressive oriented Christian and someone with a calling to church planting and new models of spiritual community, I knew I needed to engage in the questions posed. It supported themes that I have been noticing as I sift through church and spiritual histories: theology needs to be questioned, examined, prayerfully sought and applied to our current contexts. In my experience this is not necessarily a call to abandon the study of what has come before, rather a call to learn what the questions are that need to be asked. It is a call to learn from the processes our ancestors have worked through over the centuries, to look back over history not with the intention to find the authoritative answers, rather to spur on our current questions. It is a call to have the courage to open up space for theological discourse of how God is speaking in this time and context.

The call to listen and seek God’s call for each of us in this time and for the church in our current contexts is the message that kept ringing out in me each time I read through the talk. I began to hear the clues about the questions that are bubbling up and urging to be asked and signposts pointing to the practices of attentiveness and presence that are being called out to do this work. These messages rang through words like:

“What if every person received a full measure of our attention?”


“One of the most compelling traits of Jesus was his attentiveness.”


“For what is prayer, but our attentiveness to the Divine Presence…”


“Holy observance.”


“…root of prayer is attentiveness to the Creator and Created.”


“Faith and theology—our understanding of God—is always in process, is always changing, is always being affected and influenced by our culture.”


“…truth is never solely in the past. Truth is also ahead of us, in front of us.”


“We reach truth by evolving toward it.”

It is these threads that came together in me and through me as the words and ideas continued to flow. And it was these threads that the Spirit moved in and through to create a prayer for this day, a creative expression of the evolutionary process of faith.

“This is Our Prayer”


Music and lyrics by Anna Woofenden and H. Wayne Williams © 2012

What if every person received
all we have to offer,
our maximum attention,
and freedom unceasingly?

What if we could listen deeply
without expectations,
seeing Light in one another,
with gracious humility?

This is our prayer
for one another:
A holy heart
to hear each other.

What if Truth would grow and proceed,
questioning and doubting,
moving remnants forward,
and set the Gospel free?

What if we could just let God be
open and evolving,
above us and before us,
and in us creatively?

This is our prayer
for one another:
A holy heart to hold each other.

What if prayer was living in peace,
in love with our Creator,
observing not dividing,
that grace would be increased?

This is our prayer
for one another:
A holy heart
to heal each other.

This is our prayer
for one another:
A holy heart
of gold!

Inspired by Philip Gulley’s message: “The Evolution of Faith” Earlham School of Religion 3.3.2012

“I Heard An Owl” by Carrie Newcomer

This song has been one of my musical prayers of late.  It wrestles beautifully with the nature of evil, love and healing and what is God and what is human and where the hope and action come in.

Here’s a link to a youtube video someone made using the song if you’d like to listen to it. Or check it out on iTunes.

I Heard An Owl
by Carrie Newcomer (on her 2002 CD “The Gathering of Spirits”)
I heard an owl call last night
Homeless and confused
I stood naked and bewildered
By the evil people do

Up upon a hill there is a terrible sign
That tells the story of what darkness waits
When we leave the light behind.

Don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though shaken I still believe
The best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.

I am a voice calling out
Across the great divide
I am only one person
That feels they have to try
The questions fall like trees or dust
Rise like prayers above
But the only word is “Courage”
And the only answer “Love”

Light every candle that you can
We need some light to see
In the face of deepest loss
Treat each other tenderly
The arms of God will gather in
Each sparrow that falls
But makes no separation
Just fiercely loves us all.

God of Welcome. God of the Stranger.

A few of the resources I gathered and created for worship at Richmond Church of the Brethren on the topic of “Welcome”.

Words and images, stories and songs, bring us into the presence of the Divine and the presence of each other. I invite you to travel with me into the land of poetry, as you hear the words of David Whyte. Listen for the Divine, as we contemplate what it means to be a stranger, and what it means to be present with humanity around us.

Two Strangers
by David Whyte  

Two horses

on the wide brow of the hill

and a woman with dark hair

looking toward me

as if she knew me.

Strange and familiar

this silent togetherness,

walking the horses on the tawny heath.

Until she stops,

gathers herself

on that white

litheness and rides

toward the Black Mountains

brooding in the west.

I follow her until

we slow together

on the round

knoll, the silence

between us

like a third companion,

the clouds streaming

from us in a wide sky

and the mountains

framing her face.

My fortieth year,

and I think of time stopped

and time slipping by

and all the other faces

in all the other years

still looking and still waiting

They come to us

Flowering and fading

Through a thousand forms.

And they do not wait

until we are ready.

I remember

the dark rippled cobbles

in an ancient square

and that broken

beggar’s mouth

moving slowly,

as if to open.

That beautiful

breathless woman in blue

turning toward me

in sunlight,

and that daughter

on the flatbed truck

beseeching for her wounded

father.

The world is full

of strangers

who demand our love

and deserve it.

For their mouths

Loving or helpless.

For their eyes,

beautiful or not,

for their hair,

raven or mouse,

and their faces,

clear or clouded

by their past,

and most of all

like this one,

for her courage

who asked me,

a stranger

to join her,

two familiars

who might never

meet again

their faces

in this moment

calm and protected

from suffering,

looking from the white

manes of their

stamping horses,

pilgrims of the

timeless and untraveled,

over the wide curve

of a trembling world.

–David Whyte

Prayer
God of welcome,
God of the stranger.
We come as strangers.
We come as those who you welcome.
We come as those called to welcome.

Christ, who reached across all lines
Messiah who looked the “other” in the eyes with love.
Challenge us with your radical example of love.
Stretch us to engage the way you engage.
Humble us to receive and be.
Spirit who challenges,
Spirit who connects,
Urge us to compassion,
Break down our resistance,
Strengthen our resolve,
Tear open our hearts,
Mobilize our minds,
Flow through our bodies,
As Your
vessels who will be conduits of
welcome,
compassion,
justice
and
love.
Amen

Sharing our lives in prayer
This morning in our time of prayer, you are invited to participate in a bidding prayer. A bidding prayer creates the space for us to focus our prayers together on a few specific themes.

Today we pray together for the concerns we have on our hearts, for those in need of healing, support and care.  We pray for the individuals and groups that we have walked past, judged, or failed to welcome, calling out in a spirit of confession and commitment to reach outside of ourselves with humility and welcome. And we offer our prayers of thanksgiving and hope, recognizing where God is working in the world.

I will lead us into each of these three movements, and invite you to call out a name or a sentence prayer after each movement. After each person offers their prayer, as a group we’re invited to respond “hear our prayer”.

Holy One, we recognize and welcome Your presence,
moving in us and among us, between us and through us.
We come to You with hearts that are holding—
holding the people we love who are struggling,
those close to us who are sick,
beloveds who are grieving,
and those we fervently wish healing.
God of healing, we call out to you.

HEAR OUR PRAYER

Holy One, we are humbled by your Spirit of radical welcome, love for all and courage to reach out across boundaries and cultural lines.
We confess that we have failed, individually and collectively,
to always follow in your example.
We have walked past those who are hurting,
we fail to be concisions of the inter-connected nature of our world,
we have judged those that we feel threatened by and that challenge our sense of self,
we have failed to welcome people into our lives that our outside of our comfort zone.

We call out the names of people and groups of people in a spirit of confession, knowing that you hear us and receive us—shortcomings and all. We call out to you with a renewed commitment to reaching outside of ourselves with of humility and welcome.

HEAR OUR PRAYER

Holy One, we recognize you as a God of hope, Creator of life,
Spirit of movement, renewal and resurrection.
We pray in gratitude and with steadfastness hearts,
naming the places we see you moving with life, light and hope.
In our lives, in our community, in our world.

HEAR OUR PRAYER

Holy One, hear our prayers.

For Everyone Born (sung)

For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread;
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead.

Refrain:

And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy.

For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the roles, deciding the share;
with wisdom and grace dividing the power,
for woman and man, a system that’s fair.

For young and for old, a place at the table,
a voice to be heard, a part in the song;
the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled,
for young and for old, a right to belong.

For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free.

Words by: Shirley Erna Murray, New Zealand

This song can be found at: http://new.gbgm-umc.org/resources/globalpraise/music/?i=18883