Reflections on being curious and asking questions … the experience of the holy season of Lent.

In the holy season of Lent, we are called to the spiritual discipline of preparation. Some part of this is the practice of curiosity and questioning. Entering Lent is wandering into  the metaphorical  ‘wilderness’ … where everything is primal and makes a difference and you’re likely to be at risk and to get lost … it’s about life and death, about getting down to core values. From that deep place arises the deep questions, the underlying ‘why’ that shapes how we live. So Lent is about living close to the wellspring of creativity and tension, beyond the context that usually makes us comfortable, safe, and secure. Paying attention to Lent becomes an invitation to go into an emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual place where we have permission to wonder and doubt and explore and grow. — Rev Gail (with credit to Rev Sean Dunker-Bendigo of Madison Church for the inspiration to approach Lent as a series of questions)

Music Video Link: Question by the Moody Blues

Be present.
Make love. Make tea.
Avoid small talk. Embrace conversation.
Buy a plant, water it.
Make your bed. Make someone else’s bed.
Have a smart mouth and a quick wit.
Run. Make art. Create.
Swim in the ocean. Swim in the rain.
Take chances. Ask questions.
Make mistakes. Learn.
Know your worth.
Love fiercely. Forgive quickly.
Let go of what doesn’t make your happy.
Grow.
— Paulo Coelho

On Asking Questions: Being Curious

Always the beautiful answer / who asks a more beautiful question. —e.e. Cummings

Be curious. — Stephen Hawking

Don’t be afraid to look again at everything you’ve ever believed … I believe the more we search, the more we delve into the human teachings about the nature and God of life, which are in fact are the teachings of all the great religions traditions, the closer we come to a mature understanding of the Godself … In other words, doubt, questions, drive us to look at how we ourselves need to grow in wisdom, age and grace.  The courage to face questions is the first step in that process. — Joan Chittister

Instead of anxiety about chasing a passion that you’re not even feeling, do something a lot simpler: Just follow your curiosity. — Elizabeth Gilbert

A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea. — John Anthony Ciardi

Curiosity isn’t the icing on the cake. It’s the cake itself. — Susan Engel

We live in the world our questions create. — David Cooperrider

The role of the artist is to ask questions, not to answer them. — Anton Chekhov

I was looking for myself and asking everyone but myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. — Ralph Ellison

Ever since I was a little girl and could barely talk, the word ‘why’ has lived and grown along with me… When I got older, I noticed that not all questions can be asked and that many whys can never be answered. As a result, I tried to work things out for myself by mulling over my own questions. And I came to the important discovery that questions which you either can’t or shouldn’t ask in public, or questions which you can’t put into words, can easily be solved in your own head. So the word ‘why’ not only taught me to ask, but also to think. And thinking has never hurt anyone. On the contrary, it does us all a world of good. — Anne Frank

Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers. — Voltaire

How do I create something out of nothing? How do I create my own life? I think it is by questioning. — Amy Tan

My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, “So? Did you learn anything today?” But not my mother. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?” That difference—asking good questions—made me become a scientist. — Isidor Isaac Rabi

On Lent: Surrendering Ourselves

The reality is that I cannot free myself from the bondage of self.  I cannot keep from being turned in on self. I cannot by my own understanding or effort disentangle myself from my self interest and when I think that I can …I am trying to do what is only God’s to do. To me, there is actually great hope in admitting my mortality and brokenness because then I finally lay aside my sin management program and allow God to be God for me.  Which is all any of us really need when it comes down to it … —  Nadia Bolz-Weber

… another Lenten season, a time of lengthening days…not just in hours but in slowness, in taking time to linger over our spiritual lives, over our identity as a people of faith, over the texts that form us and the quiet places in which God speaks to us, still. — Kathryn M. Matthews

The big rub is that to surrender my “singularity” (John 12:24) and fall into this “altogether new creation” will always feel like dying. How could it not? It is a dying of the self that we thought we were, but it is the only self that we knew until then. It will indeed be a “revolution of the mind” (Ephesians 4:23). Heart and body will soon follow. This is the real “try harder” that applies to Lent, and its ultimate irony is that it is not a trying at all, but an ultimate surrendering, dying, and foundational letting go. You will not do it yourself, but it will be done unto you (Luke 1:38) by the events of your life. Such deep allowing is the most humiliating, sacrificial, and daily kind of trying! Pep talks seldom get you there, but the suffering of life and love itself will always get you there. Lent is just magnified and intensified life. — Richard Rohr

I think it is good news–because even if no one ever wants to go there, and even if those of us who end up there want out again as soon as possible, the wilderness is still one of the most reality-based, spirit-filled, life-changing places a person can be … What did that long, famishing stretch in the wilderness do to him?  It freed him–from all devilish attempts to distract him from his true purpose, from hungry craving for things with no power to give him life, from any illusion he might have had that God would make his choices for him. … But it would be a mistake for me to try to describe your wilderness exam.  Only you can do that, because only you know what devils have your number, and what kinds of bribes they use to get you to pick up.  All I know for sure is that a voluntary trip to the desert this Lent is a great way to practice getting free of those devils for life–not only because it is where you lose your appetite for things that cannot save you, but also because it is where you learn to trust the Spirit that led you there to lead you out again, ready to worship the Lord your God and serve no other all the days of your life.  — Barbara Brown Taylor

But the historic practices of Lent are Christian. There are three of them: praying, fasting, almsgiving. These are three things that Christians should consider doing all the time, but the 46 days of Lent provide us with an explicit invitation to do them more intentionally. I say an invitation, because we don’t have to do them, not during Lent, not ever. … I am going to make an unabashed case for Lent, myself. …  Lent is a chance to uncork the bottle, to unclog our spirits from what is stifling them, to sample the mystery. It is a chance to own that we do not wholly own ourselves, but acknowledge that God has a claim over us. We work so hard for radical equality in our lives—for equal marriage, equal pay for equal work, an end to bigotry of all varieties—and we sometimes delude ourselves, as religious people, that radical equality extends to our relationship with God … Taking on a Lenten discipline means surrendering to a higher power, it means placing ourselves under God’s authority and protection. But here’s the rub: to place ourselves under God’s authority is a reminder that we are under no other authority, or at least that all those other authorities are less than God’s. The church, the state, our remote fathers, our overbearing mothers, our inept boss who gets paid more than we do, our snarky coworkers, the popular crowd, the opposing football team, the opposing political party, Al Qaeda, alcohol, fried foods, chocolate, caffeine, porn, late-night cable. Whatever our addictions, whatever our self-medication devices, whatever our overlords of fear and control, none can match the power of God our Father and Mother, if we choose God as our God. To claim that we are in a direct relationship with our Creator, to join with that Creator and Sustainer in an act of self-disciplining, is an act of resistance. It’s a boycott of all that is body-wounding and soul-killing. It is a radical re-ordering of our priorities, and a reclamation of our God-given will and strength …  … What might you do, this Lent, to rend your heart, to give God an opening? What might you do to make God-shaped space within your heart, a space that will invite you to call on the name of God more frequently, to share the experience of your brother Jesus in the wilderness, to uncork the Spirit and let it flow freely, to release yourself from rage or addiction or the tyranny of lesser gods? What can you give up, or take on, as an act of resistance against the authorities that don’t deserve any claim over you?  — Molly Phinney Baskette

Reflections on First Responders and ‘Losing Life to Gain Life’

Reflections on first responders in anticipation of First Responders Sunday (Sept 16 at Jackson Community Church) and ‘losing life to gain life’ as themes from Mark 8.

I find myself wondering: How do we discern what we should be fierce about? How do we choose what we will hold on to, and what we need to release? … Some crosses are made of what we take on; some crosses are made of what we let go … Where is this place in your own life? How do you discern what you will hold on to, what you will claim and fight for, and what you will release? How does this choosing, this discerning, draw you closer to … what God might imagine for your life? — Jan Richardson

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Themes from Matthew 25 about giving and receiving: doing unto others (and Thanksgiving)

Contemplating Thanksgiving— receiving and giving support — as themes from Matthew 25 about separating goats from sheep and “doing unto others.” When do you need to hold out your hands and open your arms and accept the grace available to you, and when may you be a tangible source of grace for others?

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. — St Augustine

Pie with Spirits Mary Wellemeyer
This is the very pumpkin pie
my grandmother made—almost.
She was a modern woman
who knew how to follow recipes.
Receipts, she called them,
 because they had been received.
She had a rule for pie crust that was constant
until, from time to time, it changed.
I have that rule, in turn, and it has moved on,
just a bit, from where she left it.
This is my special shared moment
with her, departed a quarter century.
As I work, I am all ages of myself,
and the thought of my tall son comes to join us,
though he hardly knew her.
He makes pies with wild abandon,
sculpting them from material and artistry.
He has received pie somehow at the level of soul.
The three of us make pie together,
preheating the oven,
cutting butter into flour, adding water,
flouring a board, rolling the crust.
To honor her, I follow the recipe.
To honor him, I change just one thing.
To honor myself, I take my time and smile.

Receiving Help: Accepting Grace

None of us got where we are alone. Whether the assistance we received was obvious or subtle, acknowledging someone’s help is a big part of understanding the importance of saying thank you. — Harvey Mackay

Somebody help me, tell me where to go from here, because even Thugs cry, but do the Lord care? — Tupac Shakur

You can’t change the world alone — you will need someone’s help — and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them. — William McRaven

“You should ask for help,” he said. “I don’t know how to do that, either.”
Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. — C.S. Lewis, character Aslan speaking in The Last Battle

Being first to ask for help in a friendship takes courage and humility. ― Afton Rorvik, Storm Sisters: Friends Though All Seasons

… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. — Matthew 25

Gracious acceptance is an art – an art which most never bother to cultivate. We think that we have to learn how to give, but we forget about accepting things, which can be much harder than giving … ― Alexander McCall Smith

A lot of the time we don’t know when we’re surrendering that we’re actually, at the same time, maybe establishing connection … to a power greater than ourselves — or something in the next concentric circle out whose name is not me. So, that to me is where help begins. You know, we’re often ashamed of asking for so much help because it seems selfish or petty or narcissistic, but I think, if there’s a God — and I believe there is — that God is there to help. That’s what God’s job is. — Anne Lamott

No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. — John Donne

Inter-being: Tiếp Hiện (接現) is a Sino-Vietnamese term. Tiếp means “being in touch with” and “continuing.” Hiện means “realizing” and “making it here and now.” The translation “Interbeing” (French: Interêtre) is a word coined by Thich Nhat Hanh to represent … Buddhist principles … to describe the essential interconnectedness of the universe … If we look deeply into the nature of our universe we can see all things as profoundly interdependent.

… Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are. If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist. — Society of Interbeing, Thich Nhat Hanh

Offering Support:
Small Acts of Grace

Non nobis solum nati sumus. (Not for ourselves alone are we born.) ― Marcus Tullius Cicero

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another. — Charles Dickens

The best antidote I know for worry is work. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired. One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served. ― Gordon B. Hinckley, Standing for Something

No one has ever become poor by giving. ― Anne Frank, diary of Anne Frank: the play

Frankly I’m not religious, but I believe in the cause of humanity — doing good work. — Sukhwinder Singh

It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely. ― Leo F. Buscaglia

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough. — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. — Dalai Lama XIV

While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary. — Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah

The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful then a thousand heads bowing in prayer. — Mahatma Gandhi

We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Little GoatKatie Ford
God is not light upon light, no more
than goat is need upon need
although there, where it grazes, it is sun upon coat
within which ticks and stray-blown feed burrow
into the pocked skin of such foul scent
covering the underflesh heart that could eat
this farmer’s grain or the barren mountain’s bark
high in the solitude of sheer animal peace
laid over sheer animal terror.
We ask the animal afflicted by its time,
its impoverished American meadow
that drove it to find birch from which to strip its easy feed
to abide with us.
It does not need us. We think it needs us.

We must forgive God God’s story.

The Black-Faced Sheep (excerpt) — Donald Hall
Ruminant pillows! Gregarious soft boulders!
If one of you found a gap in a stone wall,
the rest of you—rams, ewes, bucks, wethers, lambs;
mothers and daughters, old grandfather-father,
cousins and aunts, small bleating sons—
followed onward, stupid
as sheep, wherever
your leader’s sheep-brain wandered to …

Meditation: blessings among brokenness: based on Joshua 3 and Matthew 23

Themes from Joshua 3:14-17 and Matthew 23:11-12. The crossing from wasteland to abundance, from brokenness to blessing … gratitude arises from the chance to serve others.

Blessing of EnoughJan Richardson

I know how small
this blessing seems;
just a morsel
that hardly matches
the sharp hunger
you carry inside you.

But trust me
when I say—
though I can scarcely
believe it myself—
that between
and behind
and beneath
these words
there is a space

where a table
has been laid
a feast
has been prepared
all has been
made ready
for you
and it will be
enough
and more.


Gratitude through Service

As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal somebody else  … Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good. — Maya Angelou

In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others. ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

One can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay ‘in kind’ somewhere else in life. — Anne Morrow Lindbergh

At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. — Albert Schweitzer

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. ― William Arthur Ward

But fortunately for us, the soft spot — our innate ability to love and to care about things — is like a crack in these walls we erect. It’s a natural opening in the barriers we create when we’re afraid. With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize that vulnerable moment — love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy — to awaken … — Pema Chodron

Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and in the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back. ― Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ― John F. Kennedy

To become fully human means learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good. It means growing gentler toward human weakness. It means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone else’s hourly failures to live up to divine standards. It means learning to forget myself on a regular basis in order to attend to the other selves in my vicinity. … It means receiving the human condition as blessing and not curse, in all its achingly frail and redemptive reality. ― Barbara Brown Taylor


Feast & Famine

In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices. ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

No one has ever become poor by giving. — Anne Frank

‘Enough’ is a feast. — Buddhist proverb

Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life. — Rumi

Eating, and hospitality in general, is a communion, and any meal worth attending by yourself is improved by the multiples of those with whom it is shared. ― Jesse Browner
If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health. ― Shauna Niequist, Bread and Wine
Call it the persistence of wonder, or the stubbornness of the miraculous: how Christ casts his circle around the fragments, will not loose his hold on what is broken and in pieces. How he gathers them up: a sign of the wholeness he can see; a foretaste of the banquet to come. — Jan Richardson