Reflections on questions & doubt: Thomas as a model of curiosity, questioning, and courage

Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving. 
– Frederick Buechner


I talk to God but the sky is empty. ― Sylvia Plath

I think the trouble with me is lack of faith… often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address. – C.S. Lewis

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty! ― Douglas Adams

Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one. ― Voltaire

Who among us has not experienced insecurity, loss and even doubts on their journey of faith?… We’ve all experienced this, me too. – Pope Francis

… the Old Testament, which is where many of the questions (and questioners) are. The Old Testament proves that God honors questioners. Remember, grumpy Job emerges as the hero of that book, not his theologically defensive friends. — Philip Yancey

Songs about DOUBTS & QUESTIONS:

A Sonnet for St. Thomas the Apostle
Malcolm Guite

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”
Courageous master of the awkward question,
You spoke the words the others dared not say
And cut through their evasion and abstraction.
Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,
You put your finger on the nub of things
We cannot love some disembodied wraith,
But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.
Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,
Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.
Because He loved your awkward counter-point
The Word has heard and granted you your wish.
Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine
The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.
 

QUESTIONING: An Act of Faith

When I speak to college students, I challenge them to find a single argument against God in the older agnostics (Bertrand Russell, Voltaire, David Hume) or the newer ones (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) that is not already included in books like Psalms, Job, Habakkuk, and Lamentations.  I have respect for a God who not only gives us the freedom to reject him, but also includes the arguments we can use in the Bible.  God seems rather doubt-tolerant, actually. — Philip Yancey

In other words, no matter how strong our faith is, at some point we may experience doubt. But instead of being a sign of weakness, doubt can actually be something that causes us to dig deeper into our relationship with God, and can even make our faith stronger. — Jesse Carey

Certainty is so often overrated. This is especially the case when it comes to faith, or other imponderables. — Julia Baird

Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith… Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful. – Paul Tillich

Belief in God does not exempt us from feelings of abandonment by God. Praising God does not inoculate us from doubts about God. – Eugene Peterson

Surely… we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. – John Calvin

I do not believe there ever existed a Christian yet, who did not now and then doubt his interest in Jesus. I think, when a man says, “I never doubt,” it is quite time for us to doubt him.  – Charles Spurgeon

The minute we begin to think we know all the answers, we forget the questions, and we become smug like the Pharisee who listed all his considerable virtues, and thanked God that he was not like other men… Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.”– Madeleine L’Engle

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate… I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. – Brennan Manning

We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can almost be as stupid as a cabbage as long as you doubt. – Dallas Willard

All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it, tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself – you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.‘  — C. S. Lewis

I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me—that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. — Anne Lamott

Who among us—everybody, everybody!—who among us has not experienced insecurity, loss and even doubts on their journey of faith? Everyone! We’ve all experienced this, me too. It is part of the journey of faith, it is part of our lives. This should not surprise us, because we are human beings, marked by fragility and limitations. We are all weak, we all have limits: do not panic. We all have them … If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. — Pope Francis

Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God … The torture and pain I can’t explain. — St. Mother Teresa

For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell. I trembled in all my members. Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy of God. — Martin Luther

The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble … Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. — Charles Spurgeon

If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. ― Yann Martel

COMMENTARY on THOMAS as a DOUBTER

Here’s my simple contention about this passage: Thomas is not so much a doubter as he is a realist. Think about it. Everything we know about Thomas up to this point suggests that he is forthright, genuine, and even courageous …
      Thomas, I would contend, is at heart a pragmatist, one who likes his truth straight up and who relentlessly takes stock of the situation before making a decision.
     
Which leads me to believe that what changes when Thomas is confronted by the risen Lord is not that he is no longer a doubter – he never really was – and certainly not his realism. No, what changes is his perception of reality itself. Of what is possible. Of what God can do. Even of what God can do through him….
     Jesus comes and takes his mocking words and turns them back on him, not to humiliate or scold him, but simply to confront him with the possibility that his reality was too small, his vision of what is possible too limited. And when Jesus calls him to faith, he’s actually inviting him to enter into a whole new world. …
      And this issue of having too small a vision of reality is what I find interesting. Because I also fall into a worldview governed by limitations and am tempted to call that “realism.” Which is when I need to have the community remind me of a grander vision. A vision not defined by failure but possibility, not governed by scarcity but by abundance, not ruled by remembered offenses but set free by forgiveness and reconciliation …
    There are, I suspect, a lot of Thomases in our congregations…. who should not have to surrender their sense of realism, but instead be invited to a whole new reality that God created  — David Lose

So, two things I noticed and wondered about when reading this passage.
     First, Thomas only asks to see what the other disciples have already seen. … Thomas asks for no extraordinary proof to move his extraordinary doubt, but only requests what the others had already been given.
    Second, is Thomas’ reaction one of doubt or realism? Might it be that Thomas was, above all else, a realist? And that reality had come as never before ….— David Lose

This week’s gospel lection offers us a secret room, and, with it, an invitation to touch, to cross more deeply into Jesus’ story and our own… History has labeled this disciple Doubting Thomas, as if his uncertainty were the most memorable thing about this follower of Jesus who, elsewhere, is the first to step up and say he is willing to die with him Yet Jesus, as is his way, gives Thomas what he needs  — Jan Richardson

I was reminded that in the story of the raising of Lazarus, Thomas is the one—the only one—who steps forward and expresses his willingness to die with Jesus. In this week’s reading, Thomas once again crosses into a place where others have not ventured: into the very flesh of the risen Christ… The wounds of the risen Christ are not a prison; they are a passage. Thomas’s hand in Christ’s side is not some bizarre, morbid probe: it is a union, and a reminder that in taking flesh, Christ wed himself to us.— Jan Richardson

Inventory ― Dorothy Parker
Four be the things
I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow,
a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things
I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity,
freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things
I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and
sufficient champagne.
Three be the things
I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope
and a sock in the eye.

ON DOUBT

We learn from failure, not from success! ― Bram Stoker

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. ― René Descartes

Doubt everything. Find your own light. ― Gautama Buddha

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.― William Shakespeare

To deny, to believe, and to doubt absolutely — this is for man what running is for a horse. – Blaise Pascal

Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.
― George Carlin

Doubt as sin. — Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned. ― Friedrich Nietzsche

I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess. ― Walt Whitman

And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrased, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers–perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life. ― Rainer Maria Rilke

THE GIFT of DOUBT —from Between the Dark and the Daylight by Joan Chittister (Penguin Random House)

As Voltaire remarked, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
      The problem is that certitude seduces us. It enables us to believe that what was said to be true is true because someone else said so. It simply cuts off thought. It arrests discussion in midflight. And yet we yearn for it with a passion. We spend endless, sleepless nights grappling with intellectual options in order to wiggle them into a satisfying kind of certainty without so much as a scintilla of evidence.
     Rulers of all stripe and type dispense certainties—theirs—with great abandon. They do whatever it takes—define cultural dogmas, assert organizational doctrines, impose decrees, and use power, force and penal systems—to suppress the ideas of anyone who dares to question them. Ideas, after all, are dangerous things. Ideas have brought down as many myths and mysteries as they have toppled kingdoms.
     But there is another way to live that runs hot and bright through darkness. There are always some in every population who know that life is not meant to be about certainty. Life, they realize, is about possibility. They see certitude as a direction but not an end.
     Doubt is what shakes our arrogance and makes us look again at what we have never really looked at before. Without doubt there is little room for faith in anything. What we accept without question we will live without morality. It is in populations like this that monarchs become dictators and spiritual leaders become charlatans and knowledge becomes myth.
     An ancient people tell the story of sending out two shamans to study their holy mountain so that they could know what their gods expected of them. The first shaman came back from the north side of the mountain to tell them that it was covered with fruit trees, a sign that their god would always bless them abundantly. The second shaman came back from the south side of the mountain to tell the people that it was barren and covered with rock, a sign that their god would always be with them but intended them to take care of themselves. So, which shaman was right? If both, then it is dangerous to dogmatize either position.
     It is doubt, not certitude, that enables us to believe, because it requires us to think deeply about an entire subject, and not simply depend on the side of reality that is on our side of the mountain. Only when we look beyond absolutes to understand every level of life can we possibly live life to the fullest, with the deepest kind of insight, with the greatest degree of compassion for others.
     Voltaire was right, of course. Certainty is comfortable but always unlikely and forever disruptive. As life changes so must our explanation and response to it.

The Blessing of Thomas
— Maren Tirabassi

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” — John 20:29b

Blessed are the ones, says Thomas,
to those who listen to him, this eastertide,
who don’t need a sanctuary to worship God.
Blessed are those who don’t need a choir to hear holy music,
and who don’t need to sit in a pew
to open their hearts in prayer,
and who don’t need a stained glass window,
or a preacher or even bread and cup
to find the good news.
Blessed are those who really touch
even with gloves on,
who really smile with a mask,
who can be kind on Facetime or Zoom,
who follow a livestream to find Jesus alive.
But also blessed is the Thomas in every one of us
who acknowledges our longing
to hold someone’s real warm hand
not just the story of a hand
that reaches out to someone else, and who wants to feel
not Jesus’ long-ago bleeding side
(we congratulate ourselves about that)
but at least to feel side by side
with other Christians
in order to be side by side with Christ.
Blessed is the Thomas in all of us, who lives with doubts and hopes,
and learns to let go of all expectations
when waiting to meet God.

Reflections on mothers and matriarchs

… give them to all the people who helped mother our children. … I don’t want something special. I want something beautifully plain. Like everything else, it can fill me only if it is ordinary and available to all. — Anne Lamott

Mother is a verb. It’s something you do. Not just who you are. – Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Just when you think you know love, something little comes along and reminds you just how big it is. – unattributed

Motherhood takes many forms… there are step-moms, foster moms, adopted moms, and moms who have been estranged from their kids. — Ryan Nelson

We are braver and wiser because they existed, those strong women and strong men… We are who we are because they were who they were. It’s wise to know where you come from, who called your name. — Maya Angelou

Songs about and for Mothers:

What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black
(Reflections of an African-American Mother)

(excerpt) — Maya Angelou
… So this I will do for them, If I love them.
None will do it for me.
I must find the truth of heritage for myself
And pass it on to them.
In years to come I believe
Because I have armed them
with the truth, my children
And my children’s children will venerate me. 
For it is the truth that will make us free!

From “understory” Craig Santos Perez
my daughter, i know
our stories are heavier
than stones, but you
must carry them with
you no matter how
far from home the
storms take your canoe
because you will always
find shelter in our
stories, you will always
belong in our stories,
you will always be
sacred in our ocean
of stories…

OF MOTHERS

We are born of love; Love is our mother. — Rumi

What shall I tell my dear one, fruit of my womb, Of how beautiful they are … — Maya Angelou

Motherhood takes many forms… there are step-moms, foster moms, adopted moms, and moms who have been estranged from their kids. — Ryan Nelson

You know, there’s nothing damnable about being a strong woman. The world needs strong women. There are a lot of strong women you do not see who are guiding, helping, mothering strong men. — Ginger Rogers
 
… these old photos of our mothers feel like both a chasm and a bridge. The woman in the picture is someone other than the woman we know. She is also exactly the person in the photo — still, right now. Finally, we see that the woman we’ve come to think of as Mom — whether she’s nurturing, or disapproving, or thoughtful, or delusional, or pestering, or supportive, or sentimental — is also a mysterious, fun, brave babe. She’s been here all this time. — Edan Lepuck

I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life. — Abraham Lincoln

Life began with waking up and loving my mother’s face. — George Eliot

For when a child is born the mother also is born again.—  Gilbert Parker

OTHER MOTHERS: SPIRITUAL PARENTS
… my main gripe about Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat. I am the woman I grew to be partly in spite of my mother, and partly because of the extraordinary love of her best friends, and my own best friends’ mothers, and from surrogates, many of whom were not women at all but gay men … — Anne Lamott  

Our images of God, then, must be inclusive because God is not mother, no, but God is not father either. God is neither male nor female. God is pure spirit, pure being, pure life — both of them. Male and female, in us all. — Joan Chittister

I know how lucky I am to have such a wonderful woman and heroine in my life. Also, I do recognize that not everyone has this blessing. This is why Mother’s Day can sometimes bring out many different emotions in people. Some women have lost their mothers, women who have absent mothers, women who are desperately trying or have tried to have a baby and become a mother themselves, and women who are single mothers having to be a mother and father to their children. The list goes on. We all know women like this or are those very women ourselves. So this year and every year let me suggest something. On Mother’s Day, let’s not only celebrate our mothers and the mothers of the world but let’s celebrate the women in our lives who have helped us become the women WE are today…
         These women are everywhere. Maybe they are your favorite teacher, your aunt, your grandmother, your stepmother, your neighbor, or a friend. We all have “mothered” someone and have shown them love and support in their time of need. So, let’s thank and celebrate those women in our lives too. To me these women are not only my mother, they are my Aunt Barbara and my dear friends who for years have given me unwavering love and support. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.
         So again, on Mother’s Day I want us to celebrate not just mothers of the world, but the women that helped you become the strong and beautiful woman that you are.  — Nina Spears

God as Creator: Source Code of Grace— Nadia Bolz-Weber
In the beginning, all there was, was God. So in order to bring the world into being, God had to kind of scoot over. So God chose to take up less space—you know, to make room. So before God spoke the world into being, God scooted over. God wanted to share. Like the kind-faced woman on the subway who takes her handbag onto her lap so that there’s room for you to sit next to her. She didn’t have to do it, but that’s just who she is . . . the kind-faced subway lady’s nature is that she makes room for others.
Then God had an absolute explosion of creativity and made animals. Amoebas. Chickens. Crickets. Bees. Orangutans.
Then God said, “Let us create humans in our own image and likeness.” Let us. So, God the community, God the family, God the friend group, God the opposite of isolation, said, “Let us create humanity in our image and likeness. Let there be us and them in one being.”
So God created every one of us in the male and female image of God. Then God gave us God’s own image —something so holy that it could never be harmed, and never be taken away. A never-aloneness. An origin and destination. A source code of grace…

ACKNOWLEDGING HURT

We can’t pretend like Mother’s Day is a cheery holiday for everyone. It’s not. If you’ve experienced mom-related trauma like abuse, addiction, mental health issues, abandonment, or death, this is a time when people … grieve something they lost or never had. … people … struggle with motherhood or have been hurt by this relationship … — Ryan Nelson

The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the world passed to the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing. ― Anita Diamant

Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult, and many mothers were as equipped to raise children as wire monkey mothers. I say that without judgment: It is, sadly, true. An unhealthy mother’s love is withering. The illusion is that mothers are automatically happier, more fulfilled and complete ... I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure … — Anne Lamott

PRAYER — Hannah Kardon
To the Moms who are struggling, to those filled with incandescent joy.
To the Moms who are remembering children who have died, and pregnancies that miscarried.
To the Moms who decided other parents were the best choice for their babies, to the Moms who adopted those kids and loved them fierce.
To those experiencing frustration or desperation in infertility.
To those who knew they never wanted kids, and the ways they have contributed to our shared world.
To those who mothered colleagues, mentees, neighborhood kids, and anyone who needed it.
To those remembering Moms no longer with us.
To those moving forward from Moms who did not show love, or hurt those they should have cared for.
… honor the unyielding love and care for others we call ‘Motherhood,’ wherever we have found it and in whatever ways we have found to cultivate it within ourselves.

Reflections on Easter: rebirth and renewal

The people of this world are like the three butterflies in front of a candle’s flame.
 The first one went closer and said:
I know about love.
 The second one touched the flame lightly with his wings and said:
I know how love’s fire can burn.
 The third one threw himself into
the heart of the flame and was consumed. 
He alone knows what true love is. — Rumi

What are we to make of Christ?’ There is no question of what we can make of Him, it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. —  C. S. Lewis

Love falls to earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grow from charred soil. The sun rises. — Anne Lamott

SONGS of NEW BEGINNINGS & EASTER:

FOR A NEW BEGINNING — John O’Donohue
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown
.It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
 
Guardian of the seasons,
keeper of every time,
tune us so to your rhythms
that we may know
the occasion for stillness
and the moment for action.
May we be so prepared
so aware
so awakened
in our waiting
that when you prompt us
into motion,
our hands may be your hands
and our purposes
your own.
— Jan Richardson
 
PRAYER
Our Feather,
one small brush of the grand and lifting wing,
holy are all the names of God.Your kindness come
and your kiss be felt warm
on every lump of soil,
gust of wind,
lapping of salt sea and fresh water.Give us today
and let us recognize it
as a gift —
the bread and beauty of it —
and that it is like no other.Forgive us all the love
we owed but hoarded,
and our careless or angry trespassing
on the lives of your children,
even as, with unbearable effort,
we forgive
the taking and the trampling
of what is precious to us.Draw your hush across our lips,
and pull us back
from what we would regret.
Find us an escape or stay with us
when there is none,for yours is the place our hands are held,
yours is the courage of the sequoia
and the broken atom,
yours are galaxies of starlight,
and the hum of bees –Now … and when we come to sing
all our todays
into your tomorrow.
amen.

One Or Two Things — Mary Oliver
1
Don’t bother me
I’ve just
been born.

2
The butterfly’s loping flight
carries it through the country of the leaves
delicately, and well enough to get it
where it wants to go, wherever that is, stopping
here and there to fuzzle the damp throats
of flowers and the black mud; up
and down it swings, frenzied and aimless; and sometimes

for long delicious moments it is perfectly
lazy, riding motionless in the breeze of the soft stalk
of some ordinary flower

3
The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things; I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
crow voice,
frog voice; now
he said, and now,
and never once mentioned forever,

4
which has nevertheless always been,
like a sharp iron hoof,
at the center of my mind.

5
One or two things are all you need
to travel over the blue pond, over the deep
roughage of the trees and through the stiff
flowers of lightning — some deep
memory of pleasure, some cutting
knowledge of pain.

6
But to lift the hoof!
For that you need
an idea.

7
For years and years I struggled
just to love my life. And then

the butterfly
rose, weightless, in the wind.
“Don’t love your life
too much,” it said,
and vanished
into the world.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
— Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

RESURRECTION & REBIRTH: New Beginnings

Hello, sun in my face. Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields…Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness. ― Mary Oliver

On this Easter morning, let us look again at the lives we have been so generously given and let us let fall away the useless baggage that we carry — old pains, old habits, old ways of seeing and feeling — and let us have the courage to begin again. Life is very short, and we are no sooner here than it is time to depart again, and we should use to the full the time that we still have.
We don’t realize all the good we can do. A kind, encouraging word or helping hand can bring many a person through dark valleys in their lives. We weren’t put here to make money or to acquire status or reputation. We were sent here to search for the light of Easter in our hearts, and when we find it we are meant to give it away generously. The dawn that is rising this Easter morning is a gift to our hearts and we are meant to celebrate it and to carry away from this holy, ancient place the gifts of healing and light and the courage of a new beginning. — John O’Donohue

But where do we even start on the daily walk of restoration and awakening? We start where we are. We find God in our human lives, and that includes the suffering. I get thirsty people glasses of water, even if that thirsty person is just me. My friend Tom goes through the neighborhood and picks up litter, knowing there will be just as much tomorrow. We visit those shut-ins whom a higher power seems to have entrusted to our care – various relatives, often aging and possibly annoying, or stricken friends from our church communities, people in jails or mental institutions who might be related to us, who benefit from hearing our own resurrection stories. My personal belief is that God looks through Her Rolodex when She has a certain kind of desperate person in Her care, and assigns that person to some screwed-up soul like you or me, and makes it hard for us to ignore that person’s suffering, so we show up even when it is extremely inconvenient or just awful to be there. ― Anne Lamott

Singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples. Like Mary Magdalene, the reason we stand and weep and listen for Jesus is because we, like Mary, are bearers of resurrection, we are made new. On the third day, Jesus rose again, and we do not need to be afraid. To sing to God amidst sorrow is to defiantly proclaim, like Mary Magdalene did to the apostles, and like my friend Don did at Dylan Klebold’s funeral, that death is not the final word. To defiantly say, once again, that a light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it. And so, evil be damned, because even as we go to the grave, we still make our song alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. ― Nadia Bolz-Weber

The promise to each of us is that we will never be called to walk the lonely path of suffering without seeing the footprints ahead of us which lead eventually over the brow of the hill where Resurrection awaits us. Behind the darkness of suffering, a subtle brightening often manifests itself. Two lines in a poem by Philippe Jaccottet echo this: “Love, like fire, can only reveal its brightness / on the failure and the beauty of burnt wood.” There is consolation and transfiguration here. The fires of suffering are disclosures of love. It is the nature of the lover to suffer. The marks and wounds that suffering leave on us are eventually places of beauty. This is the deep beauty of soul where limitation and damage, rather than remaining forces that cripple, are revealed as transfiguration. — John O’Donohue

New doesn’t always look perfect. Like the Easter story itself, new is often messy. New looks like recovering alcoholics. New looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit I was wrong and every time I manage to not mention when I’m right. New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing we never saw coming –never even hoped for –but ends up being what we needed all along.“It happens to all of us. God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, andour addictions. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over.  ― Nadia Bolz-Weber

Rather, at the heart of the Gospel is the promise that God is both with us and for us at all times and through all conditions. In sorrow or joy, triumph or tragedy, gain or loss, peace or fear, scarcity or plenty, God is present. That promise is, more fully, two-fold. In the cross God promises that, while always available to us, God meets us especially where we most need God (and often least expect to find God): in hardship, struggle, loss, and death. Because of the cross, that is, no experience, no matter how difficult or awful, and no person, no matter how sinful or lost, is truly God forsaken, because God is always where we most need God to be. And in the resurrection, God promises that all the harsh realities of this life – hardship, struggle, loss, fear, disease, hunger, death – these realities – though painful they most certainly are – do not have the last word. Rather the resurrection promises that God’s light is more powerful than darkness, that God’s love is stronger than hate, and that the life God offers through Christ prevails over all things, even death itself. — David Lose

Risen: For Easter Day
—Jan Richardson

If you are looking
for a blessing,
do not linger
here.

Here
is only
emptiness,
a hollow,
a husk
where a blessing
used to be.

This blessing
was not content
in its confinement.

It could not abide
its isolation,
the unrelenting silence,
the pressing stench
of death.

So if it is
a blessing
you seek,
open your own
mouth.

Fill your lungs
with the air
this new
morning brings

and then
release it
with a cry.

Hear how the blessing
breaks forth
in your own voice,

how your own lips
form every word
you never dreamed
to say.

See how the blessing
circles back again,
wanting you to
repeat it,
but louder,

how it draws you,
pulls you,
sends you
to proclaim
its only word:

Risen.
Risen.
Risen.

Seen: A Blessing for Easter Day
— Jan Richardson

You had not imagined
that something so empty
could fill you
to overflowing,

and now you carry
the knowledge
like an awful treasure
or like a child
that roots itself
beneath your heart:

how the emptiness
will bear forth
a new world
that you cannot fathom
but on whose edge
you stand.

So why do you linger?
You have seen,
and so you are
already blessed.
You have been seen,
and so you are
the blessing.

There is no other word
you need.
There is simply
to go
and tell.
There is simply
to begin.

EASTER (2008) 

An old blog entry by Rev Gail from the first year after Jessie died, and our family coped with holidays. — — Rev Gail

At the table this season, we light candles. In particular, we use a candleholder carved out of stone. It stands in the shape of three human figures holding hands and encircling a single flame.
 
Symbolic, isn’t it? Three mortal figures, clasping hands, backs turned to the darkness, focused inward on the flame and whatever burns brightly within it. Only three…once upon a time we didn’t use this candleholder…because it didn’t include the correct number of living family members.
 
Our circle is smaller, and the candleholder can represent us now…if we want it to. And even offer a metaphor for Jessie, too.
 
… reasonably often, we sit down together. Inhale, wait until someone at the table sighs and offers to go first, and then we say ‘grace’…sometimes rote and sometimes improvised…we hold hands as we pray. Then we let go. But the flame burns and the meal begins, and we are together.
 
Occasionally we are joined by friends, but mostly it’s the three of us. Seating arrangements have changed since Jessie died…mom sits where Jessie once sat, closing the gap and creating a cozy triangle at the end of the table.
 
Over the meal, dad reads an inspirational “quote of the day” and then asks his question, “What’s one thing you learned today?” Conversations start, and sometimes they resonate and meander where they will, building connections. Other nights our dialogues stumble or go off track, and we retreat into the silence of forks scraping across plates. Someone leaves the table early, unable to stay any longer.
 
Ever since we started the journey through childhood cancer, and its aftermath, we have journaled about community. And of course, meals.
 
During Jessie’s 6 years on treatment at the hospital, we could build a sense of community. We remember how we depended heavily on family, friends and community throughout the years of Jessie’s treatment. We were good at tag-teaming, moving between hospital, clinic and home, and sharing responsibility for two daughters, and very different lives…the cancer-centric one in Boston and the everyday world of Ipswich. It all worked because of  the support of many other people.
 
Holidays highlighted those connections every year. Some years, friends made and brought a feast that served staff and families on the entire oncology unit. Later on, we were home for the holiday, and celebrated it vigorously. (Yes, and took naps after big meals.)
 
This year, the emotional weight of such holidays seems to isolate our family. We all handle grief differently. We rush toward social connections in order to buffer our feelings, or we withdraw into quiet, introspective states. We desire companionship, or we feel the need to escape and be alone.
 
Easter just highlights, in many ways, how wounded we are. How differently each family member experiences this season that is sharpened by loss. We all want and expect such different things. We all seek comfort somehow.
 
And yet nothing really feels good and safe anymore. Old familiar traditions don’t fit. New ones seem alien and painful. Being alone—three of us together, but each one of us in a different place along this grief journey—just holds up Jessie’s absence and makes it more immediate. Being with anyone else is complicated, fraught with expectations, feelings and chances for miscommunication.
 
What is left?
 
We thought that living with cancer, and spending extended time in the hospital, was probably the toughest season we’d ever experience. And back then, it was.
 
Right now, it seems that this season…perhaps this whole year…is even harder.
 
It makes us realize how difficult holidays are for so many people. Folks who are trying to overcome addictions, economic hardships, disease, illness, war, violence, crime, changes in habitat or relationships, the aftermath of natural disasters, or just living in geographic isolation from those they love. For many reasons, people can be quite alone at times when the community gathers to celebrate.
 
Sometimes, the best to hope for is sheer survival. Stability, safety. One more day.
 
And how do we find our way through this time of vulnerability and sorrow, which was once a time of joy and celebration, even in the middle of crisis? Yes, sometimes we get past the holidays through service. Going to soup kitchens or large communal settings to join the bustle of people finding community. Sometimes we share it with friends or kin. Sometimes we just step back, and stay home, and let it all slide by.
 
This season, we are trying. Someday we hope Easter will hold more comfort for us again. Right now, it’s not easily found. But we pull out the recipes and go through the motions, after weeks of debating whether to run away, travel, or ignore the holiday altogether.
 
Unlike the candleholder on our table, our family is not carved out of stone. We are human. Flesh. Mortal.
 
Unlike the figures carved into a candleholder, we may hold tight to each other, but then we let go. We might face inward toward the light, but we might also choose to stare outward at the darkness, confronting what we fear most, or turning away from what we’re missing.
 
Perhaps we seem unified, but we are each alone, too. We are connected, but also isolated. We appear whole, but we are broken.
 
And the light in the center of the circle? The one around which three vulnerable people stand, clasping hands, defying darkness?
 
Strike a match. Light such a candle. Watch the nimbus around its flame and the long dancing shadows it casts. Both are true.
 
We may feel the light, heat and warmth. But we are also visible, embodied in the leaping, twisting shapes thrown by its flickering, uncertain light. Distorted. Changing. We aren’t sure what comes next. Or who we are. We do know this…we are lost. Broken. Humbled. Confused. Trying to find our way.
 
The journey continues.

****

Look!
The stone’s rolled back.
Not his, but yours!
Get up!
Go!
The time is now and there is work to do!
Resurrection.
Easter blessings all.
Now let’s get to work.
— Paul Alcorn

THE WORK of EASTER — Maren Tirabassi

When the lilies lose their petals,
when trumpets are quiet, new shoes scuffed,
chocolate eggs melted by small fingers,
bunnies returned to the shelter,
and sermons start to doubt themselves,
the work of Easter begins —
to offer spring cleaning or garden care,
errands or a mini-respite
to a family on hospice,
to learn Narcan and carry it always,
to write thank-you to funeral directors
who drop prices beyond break-even
for low income families,
to offer deep and tender comfort
especially to those who do not expect it,
mourning a miscarriage,
an elder with dementia,
a long–time companion animal,
to name resurrection in the midst of life
for the poor, the refugee,
the vulnerable,
and the groaning creation –
Justice is risen,
Compassion is risen indeed!
and, as for music —
to make Hosannas beyond the church,
and Alleluias in the heart.

EASTER DARKNESS — Rev Gail 
We are standing
In the same sort of darkness
That Mary Magdalene, that sister –Who wasn’t yet the first prophetess
And apostle we all heard about just now 
She wouldn’t be that woman
For a few more minutes anyway
Right now, in about the same wee hours of the morning
As we are experiencing together
She dared to endure the darkness 
She was just a mortal woman
Persistent in her love
And restless in her loss 
She walked through the same darkness
That gathers round us
Close as love’s embrace
Drawing us into communion
Tinted with something more
With expectation of sunrise
And love’s awakening 
But we feel that way
All tingly with anticipation
Hushed with hope
Because we know how the story ends
Don’t we? 
Shhhh, don’t give it away to her.
Right now she’s walking out of that same darkness
Into uncertainty limned by the light
Following the presence of a love
That’s already moved ahead of her
But she doesn’t know that, either Right now she steps
Quickly, anxiously, tenderly
Toward what she expects
But she doesn’t find
What she supposed she would 
And she’s not sure
She can bear one more sorrow
But she will face it
If she must What must it have sound like?
The roar of wind
The beat of the waves
Like a heartbeat roaring in her ears
Pounding out the sheer impossibility
Of what she sees
The rolled stone 
Silence swallows all the sounds of the garden
The morning birds tuning themselves to the song
Of the warming earth
And the sigh of the lavender-lidded horizon She cries out
But there’s no immediate answer
Just emptiness
And absence
Where she thought she would
Find death’s confirmation 
Her expectations are overturned
But she doesn’t yet know how
It’s just a yawning open question
A theft An insult An injury
Another wound, so she feels and thinks
Running Breathless Calling out 
Oh, that sister, she runs something fierce
Runs to Simon Peter and the others
Closed up inside their own grief
Behind closed doors
Hiding Hurting Waiting 
Waiting for what?
Waiting for something … else.Something more. 
She has grit, that sister,
And they answer when she calls.
In fact, they run, too.
Through chill dawn hours
Beneath a bruised and changing sky
Aching, desperate, afraid
But they run toward their fear
Through the rising light
Run to investigate 
And what do they find?
There’s nothing there for them
Except discarded clothes
And the impossibility
Of what their senses tell them
So they leave again
Troubled Confused Worried Believing 
But believing what? And Mary M.?
That sister stays back in the garden
Alone beneath the long shadows and the growing light
Walking between trees
Touching stone
Trembling and trying to find the remains
Of her beloved teacher and friend 
Sure enough
She sees two angels
And the impossibly empty space between them
Those messengers may be a little more gilded than her,
But she’ll be a messenger soon enough 
Remember, we know this story.
We’ve heard it before.
We know the end, don’t we? 
Mary M, that sister, she asks
Those angels for directions.
“Just tell me where to find him, won’t you?
Where is his body?
Give me some directions
Toward what I seek.” 
She’s bargaining with angels
On the edge of the new day
The first day
The beginning of all things. 
She’s working her way
Out of the same darkness
That’s leaving us behind, too.
And she’s drawing closer — and bringing us with her —
Nearer to something she just can’t imagine.
Every question she asks.
Every step she takes. 
We’re right there with her,Aren’t we?
Searching. Trying to make meaning? 
She came to keep vigil
To watch over what was lost
To mourn what was past
To puzzle out some answers
And find some way into tomorrow. 
Her queries push like green shoots
Where has he gone? Where is he?
The stone is rolled away
And the tomb
Oh, the tomb … it’s empty!
Her queries emerge
Out of the pregnant darkness
Into the softness of a welcoming world.
The first stirrings of a greater question 
And then she meets the gardener
The gardener Who names her
And asks why she weeps 
She doesn’t even recognize
The one she’s looking for
He’s so changed
And she’s just not ready to meet him there
Right in the middle of her sorrow
And stubbornness
And searching 
But that’s just where he meets her
And finally, she knows him.
Oh, she knows him. 
And as she reaches for him,
He cautions her
Don’t hold on Let me go. 
He’s telling her, I’m on the move
But go, go, tell my brothers, I am risen.
I am alive. I’ll be with all of you soon.
And eventually you’ll be with me. 
By now
The sky is streaked with purple and peach
The nearest star – earth’s own star — reaches up
Into the vaulted heaven
And her heartbeat is drumming
It pounds so loud in her ears
Keeping time with the worldsong 
Her mind races,And she takes the next step
The first step 
She utters the first words
That awaken all of us
Into this new day 
Oh, Mary M. That sister, smart as she was,
She didn’t know
That it was love
That moved the stone
That emptied itself
Into new life 
Love
Lost and found again
Moving ahead of her
Moving among us
Moving through our darkness
Like her darkness
Drawing out our dawn 
She didn’t know then
But she knows now
Mary M. has told us That’s why we knew the end
Of the story, isn’t it?
Except it’s not the end, of course.
It’s just the beginning.
Loves meets us
just where we are.
And then moves out ahead
To prepare the way.
And whispers to us
Go on, sisters.Go on, brothers.
I am with you always.
Although you may not recognize me
When you meet me. 

Feast Days: Thanksgiving – Christmas
— Annie Dillard (excerpt)

… creation:
outside the great American forest
is heaving up leaves and wood from the ground.
Inside I stand at the window, god,
with your name wrapped round my throat like a scarf.
. . .
I dreamed I woke in a garden.
Everywhere trees were growing;
everywhere flowers were growing,
and otters played in the stream, and grew.
Fruit hung down.
. . .
Woman, why weepest thou?
Whom seekest thou?
–John

. . .
God empties himself
into the earth like a cloud.
God takes the substance, contours
of a man, and keeps them,
dying, rising, walking,
and still walking
wherever there is motion.
. . .

Jesus —  Michael Nau (of Page France)

I will sing a song to you, and
You will shake the ground for me
And the birds and bees and old fruit trees
Will spit out songs like gushing streams

And Jesus will come through the ground so dirty
With worms in his hair and a hand so sturdy
To call us his magic, we call him worthy
Jesus came up through the ground so dirty

I will sing a song for you, and
You will stomp your feet for me
And the bears and bees and banana trees
Will play kazoos and tambourines

And Jesus will dance while we drink his wine
With soldiers and thieves and a sword in his side
And we will be joy and we will be right
Jesus will dance while we drink his wine

La la la la, la la la la…
La la la la, la la la la…

Jesus will come through the ground so dirty
With worms in his hair and a hand so sturdy
To call us his magic we call him worthy
Jesus came up through the ground so dirty…

SOIL MEANS LIFE (excerpt)
— Science Learning Hub (full article: https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/889-soil-means-life)
Soil, dirt, earth, muck – there are lots of words for soil. One we don’t often hear associated with soil is life…

Soil keeps us alive

Where would be without soil? According to one soil scientist, we’d be “hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless and breathless”. Our food comes from soil. Even fish and other things that live in lakes or the sea depend on soil. Nutrients wash off the land and into the water, helping things to grow.

Soil cleans and stores the water we drink. This might sound odd – wouldn’t soil make water dirty instead? When it rains onto streets, farms or other areas, water droplets can pick up pollutants from oil or cow poo. If this water goes straight into a stream or river, it carries the pollutants with it. If the water seeps into the soil first, the soil can hold on to these pollutants. Soil microbes recycle some of these pollutants – so soil can clean the water. We pump water from under the ground, clean it a bit more and then drink it or bottle it to sell.Soil keeps us warm and dry

Much of our clothing comes from the soil. Cotton grows in the soil. Silk and wool come from animals (silkworms and sheep) that eat plants grown in soil. Buildings are made of wood, brick and concrete. Trees grow in soil. Bricks are made of clay from soil. Concrete uses sand and other minerals from the soil.Soil helps us breathe

Even the air we breathe has a soil connection. Plants that make our oxygen grow in soil. Plants take water from the soil and combine it with CO2 and light to make their own food – and give off oxygen.Soil means life for other things

Soil is a habitat for a wide variety of life. One quarter of the Earth’s biodiversity (living things) live in soil. This includes things we can see like insects, earthworms and rabbits. It also includes things too small for us to see like bacteriafungi and other microorganisms – billions of microorganisms! There are more tiny living things in one teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people living on Earth!Soil recycles our wastes

Soil organisms break down wastes and recycle the nutrients. Think about a compost bin and how food scraps go in. Later, dark nutritious compost comes out. We add the compost to the soil to reuse the nutrients and keep the soil healthy. Imagine if our food scraps, dead leaves and cow poo stayed around forever!Protect soil and protect life

We need to look after soil. Like water, it is a special resource. If we pollute it or lose it, we cannot buy or make more. Soil is lost when wind or water move it away (erosion). We can no longer use soil once we cover it with roads or buildings. Some types of farming can make soil unhealthy by removing too many nutrients or ruining the soil structure.

Healthy soil means healthy life.

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