Today is Ascension Day.
Yup! Another church calendar high holy day that passes mostly unnoticed, save for an icon or Celtic art posted on my Facebook feed.
My dad was the organist and choirmaster at the Church of the Ascension in Oakland, (that’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). Twenty-six years on the corner of Ellsworth and Neville. I can recite the phone number out loud to this day. My formative years.
He began his work there when I started into the 3rdgrade. Who knew the inklings of liturgical delight begun in that place would blow wide open and run amuck and land me in the Episcopal priesthood by the time I was 35?!
The pic is of my dad on the bench at Ascension, somewhere round about the early-mid 70's.
A city church.
Gothic style, stacked stone blackened with historical fiction. Soot from the steel mills, for a city beautiful with the residue of a livelihood. Lovely and more ancient with its rugged face than its mere 130 years belies.
A gothic beaut! The Church of the Ascension.
Somewhere along the way, artisans decided it was time to clean and restore the gargantuan mural above the High Altar, painted for its namesake: The Ascension.
So up went the scaffolding and cramped the worship experience for so long you hardly noticed it anymore and wondered at all the fuss, for a silly old mural of Jesus floating upwards in the clouds. Yes, Jesus leaving. Who want’s that in front of your face all the time, anyways?
I had no idea. I had grown up with the clouds clouded over from smoking stacks.
I had no idea. I was transfixed. Breathless. Overcome, by beauty. Revealed. When the scaffolding came down.
How could it be that paint carries the light? And that a painter could bring it, and mow me down with Glory?
More years later, many years later, after I was long gone and would rarely but occasionally return to smell the smells and hear the creaks of a life I loved there, I heard the rumor. They built an addition.
I didn’t want to see it. I wanted my church to be just like it always was. But I went. And I slipped out of the service to use the restroom and saw the ramp that goes down into the new wing, just a wretched glimpse of chrome and glass from the top of the ramp, shuddering to think that now they’ve gone and done it, they’ve ruined it! Modernized what was already perfect.
I took a few steps in just to be brave.
To see the truth and reality of this defamation.
To grow up, and let go, and leave behind my soulful attachment to this place.
To look and see what wicked fiction they’ve made up, about ‘who do they think they are?’
And much to my surprise, who’s brilliant idea was this?!
The ramp was flanked by a glass wall the full distance of the room, so that the view looked out onto none other than the old blackened exterior of the church itself, the stone with a story of life making and a lifetime of storytelling. They’ve kept it!
The glass keeping the vision of who they were and are still, in order to become who they will be. Brilliant move and brave!
Allowing themselves to be shaped by the unknown.
To be shaped by a view of rugged beauty that holds our DNA ~ our DNA ~ our Lindberg family, my father’s life, his music, my falling in love with the church. My story is part of their story though they don’t know it, because no, they don’t know me, anymore. But I am in it, with them. In their church, in their story, and they in mine. They can feel their story and live it, still, because they can see it. And touch it. And hear it. The stone stories. And they can stand with it. In it. In its exquisite landscape. Still. All the beautiful fiction and non-fiction with which we make the holy story our own story.
That’s how we say ‘Steel’ in Pittsburgh. Still Mill. I just love oxymorons.
My bishop died this week. Another father-esque kind of image. The one who blessed me, with hands pressing down, and oil on my forehead, twice.
What to do with these images? These people who hold truth, and make fiction, to help us tell the stories of our lives.
Jesus, present, then absent, then present again, in just that same way. Holding truth, blessing me, making up stories to be fanciful with me. Fiction. Non-fiction. Still, all made-up stories.
Sorting them is exhausting and much money spent in therapy.
My father, my bishop, my Jesus. These.
I simply want to take in the light. That’s the gift of The Ascension.
Beauty infused with light equals Glory.
That mural above the high altar, transfixed and breathless before its resplendent light.
The glass wall through which to see and see more and more and feel the heartbeat of those that love you, even if only in the old stone, stacked.
The communion of saints.
The forgiveness of sins.
The life everlasting.
For the love of it,
I’ve never liked Noah. The story, rather, not Noah himself.
So, I guess I should say I've never liked the Story of the Flood. Almost every religion has one, an ancient cultic flood story.
In Illuminated Pages Bible Art Journaling, we’re in a series of random passages wherever a tree is mentioned, so I took the risk of the flood story because of a feature character in the story:
Curiously enough, in this story, technically it is just a leaf. It says, the dove returned with a “freshly picked olive leaf”, [hence "the tree" since an olive leaf comes from an olive tree.]
So, in my art journaling I found some peace, maybe joy, definite satisfaction, in the part where God makes covenant with the earth.
A Promise to creation itself.
“Never again will I curse the ground on account of man.”
And the rainbow, as we all know, is the sign of the promise.
Just 3 sentences later, the next chapter opens with “Eden-story” language all over again:
“God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them: be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”
God covenants with creation and then trusts us, all over again, to live here,
on fresh-from-the-flood land, like in Genesis, when God parted the waters, and brought forth the land.
Its creation all over again.
Dry land emerges.
And God sets humanity, on the ground, in the middle of it all.
I’m seeing this bible story: Locally.
Globally, but locally.
Our partnership with the earth.
Our want to restore people into covenant with God and the creation. And to, likewise, be restored. It’s part of "the ministry of reconciliation” ~ which interestingly enough ~ is the mission statement for the Episcopal Church, itself.
The Earth, in Sandy Springs, is scarred with a pipeline running right through the middle, and we, here at Highpoint, have reestablished fruitfulness. Life with a garden, a community garden, a gleaners’ garden no less, (a Leviticus initiative) that invites ‘the poor’, (which is to say, the ones outside of a faith community), to find food.
For a myriad of reasons, culturally, people have left church, and find church to be irrelevant, or inconvenient, spiritually uninspiring, or generally misguided.
We are inviting people who have lost interest in, or grown weary of, the complexities of church life, or who have never wanted super-organized religion, (i.e. the church), and people who consider themselves to be spiritual but not religious, to find a spiritual home in our faith community, by meeting under the trees at 4:00, on the fourth Sunday of every month.
We are inviting these, all and any, to the meeting circle in the woods at the top of the knoll on High Point Road.
"Church of the Woods" is not a gimmick.
It is our freshly picked olive leaf, because we know there is a tree in there somewhere.
A tree from which the whole world knows, the olive branch extends.
We are inviting these, all and any, who find themselves to be without a community, or outside of a faith community, to be part of this community based solely on
our common humanity,
our common need,
our common love, for the fruit of the earth.
In the spirit of peace and reconciliation with all creation, because God thought it was worth the risk,
Abraham, sitting at the door of his tent, midday,
notices with a start, that three visitors stood before him,
at the Oaks of Mamre
where he had made his tent village.
Abraham’s whole family, extended family, livestock, and servants. And all of their tents.
This story of Genesis 18 was our text for Monday night Bible Art Journaling in our Illuminated Pages class. We are in the middle of a random series of texts that mention something, anything, about ‘trees’.
And Genesis 18 mentions a tree three times, at The Oaks of Mamre.
These visitors that showed up under the oak tree:
First it calls them, ‘three men’.
Then ‘the Lord’,
And Angels of the lord.
And again, men. And later it calls them the Lord and two angels.
Suffice it to say, “Holy Visitors”.
Abraham experienced a visitation from God and God’s favor.
There, at the door of his tent and under these oaks.
As the story goes, Abraham extended to them the ancient, exceedingly important custom of hospitality to strangers.
Water for washing their feet.
And rest under the tree.
He suggested they lean on it, while he fetched a morsel of bread for them to eat.
So there, the three Holy Visitors sprawled out in the shade and took their naps.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, everything took place at lightning speed.
“Quick!”, he said to Sarah, “Go get 12 quarts of flour, and mix and knead and bake bread.”
Then Abraham himself ran and selected a calf and told his servants to hurry up and roast it.
A feast for the visitors after their rest, which they enjoyed, with Abraham, under the tree.
This oak tree, we learned, could possibly have been a pistachio tree, or some other kind of nut tree, but the main thing being, its sprawling branches that made the beautiful place
where they enjoyed hospitality, rest and relief, shade, holy presence and visitation, favor with God, community and feasting.
I was enchanted by this silent character in the story. The Tree.
Broad and strong.
Solid and stationary. Silent.
A Powerful Presence.
Being. And Place.
Deep down, roots.
For my art journaling. . .
I stayed with the tree ~ this silent structure, under which all of the other exquisite things happened. You can probably guess, that the process took me right away into a metaphorical plunge and spoke to me of an interpretation which was all about us, here, at Highpoint Episcopal Community Church!
To capture the ‘making’ energy of Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality,
their bustling about
their excitement of serving these important holy visitors,
to capture this cyclone of activity, I used torn up strips from a sewing pattern, which to me always means: we’re making something.
We can cut, and turn, and pin and press, and measure, and stitch, and this fabric will become a garment that fits, and is one-of-a-kind, and authentic, imaginative; something I can see in its pieces, but do not yet hold in my hands.
They’re making a feast. A table of hospitality.
They’re making a life under this tree, this oak of mamre, where they have already loved and worshiped God, as, some time ago, they had already made an altar to the Lord. (it says so, 5 chapters back)
And then there’s Our making a feast. Our table of hospitality.
This place where some time ago we (you) built an altar to the Lord and lived and loved and opened the tent doors in hospitality, all the while believing some divine promise; and how, now, we’ve set down a second altar, as Abraham did in this latest piece of the story.
This magnificent life of love and worship and hospitality, up under these oaks, (and of course, beech and pine and tulip and sweetgum. . .) on this holy hill.
And, they’re imagining with their holy visitors that
God will make good on his promises for ~ life ~ in this place.
In fact, the Holy Visitors promised Abraham and Sarah, that in a year’s time when they visit them again, they will be holding their son Isaac in their arms.
Even in their old age.
And it tickles them, each, individually, and they laugh, even while they embrace the promise.
Poetic language lets me over state, but also, to say things we might not dare to say in straight prose.
I think we all know, that I take it to be divine promise, that in a year’s time, we will know that we have made a spiritual life and house here, that will endure.
Yup! Lots of work to be done to ‘make’ this thing. This tree, this pattern, this holy garment that clothes us for life in the world.
Yup! We’re all working hard.
Yup! It’s a lot of fun, but nonetheless shocking when Abraham says: “Quick! Make 36 loaves of bread!”
Its feels like that doesn’t it?
A little overwhelming in some ways,
but in most ways, exhilarating, thrilling, and exciting . . .
Because we are Hosting the Holy One. For a spectacular party!
And who doesn’t love to throw a party!
The joy we find here under the sprawling branches,
The bustling work behind the scenes to make a Feast.
The hospitality and open tent door,
The divine favor.
The holy community and sacred partnerships like theirs, this Abraham and Sarah.
The promises. And giggling about them.
The exquisite things that happen,
All up under the sprawling branches. This Church.
This is our Tree. This Tree House. This Highpoint.
Out on a limb, I am always, yours,
My day got ahead of me so I didn’t get out for a run
until the sun was high in the sky and the temperature registered: 82’
A bit warm for a run,
but just right for the heavy scents of spring, weighty and voluptuous,
Privet Hedge and Honeysuckle both, floating on the breeze.
I don’t know the chemistry of air, or how heat changes the air into a structure that can do this heavy lifting, or if in fact that’s how it works at all.
But I’m a romantic, so it makes me think of the offertory sentence that I say to you most every Sunday.
“Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us,
a fragrant offering and sacrifice, to God.”
What a mystery! The changed structure of resurrection-laden air.
We’ve been to the grave and beyond our knowing, Christ has been raised, and his heavy scent, weighty and voluptuous, rises with the heat of the Paschal Fire.
And it gets all over us!
Resurrected Love! Somehow, it has a scent.
And we smell like it!
And St. Paul says to us: "You, are the fragrance of Christ"
People who haven’t been around the fire, know that we have, because they can pick up on the scent. They can get it, from us ~ the love of Christ.
All the world can know the love of Christ, because we walk in love.
The household is heady with the fragrance of divine love, simply because we walk through the room, and they can smell the love.
The neighborhood is sensitive to the presence of the Divine, because the love of Christ exudes from our pores, and drifts on a breeze, invisible, but making certain of an unmistakable Sacred Presence.
The world is tilting its curious head, for an uncanny, recognizable but yet unidentified, Holy Fragrance.
Because we, are walking in love.
We carry our Paschal pillar candle in procession, because we know what the fragrance is
and we delight in it!
It is the victory of love!
It is life over death!
It is mortality putting on immortality!
It is Divine love!
It is the light of Christ!
It is our Sunday celebration!
See you in Church,
Nine of us gathered before the break of dawn.
The word “gathered” is a bit of a stretch. Rummaged really. We rummaged around in the dark.
It is the spiritual life, mind you, this rummaging around in the dark.
The spirituality of Holy Week and Easter. Our rummaging. The darkness.
A veritable ransacking if you think about it.
Darkness and lostness. Denials and betrayals.
And fighting sleep.
Symbols of death.
Disciples who were heavy with the pull of gravity and the grave to where they could not stay awake in the garden with Jesus. Could not pull themselves out, for knowing themselves to be going down into the deep.
The story says that the women came to the tomb while it was still dark. . . (rummaging)
We want to feel it in our bones, know it in the fiber of our being, so there we are in the dark, tromping around in wet grass, bundled for cold in the wee hours of Easter Morning.
We imagine ourselves to be nearing the edge of the tomb, though a simple cold fire pit is what it actually is.
We stumble around and can’t find our stuff and whisper even though it doesn’t matter if any one hears us, it’s the instinctive behavior of operating in the dark or when something precious and holy is under way.
Brave bird-song not minding to wake up the world.
We act things out. That’s what ritual is about. We do it so we know it.
We act things out, not the full extent of the drama, but in symbol and gesture, we act it out.
We kindle new fire.
The cold dark empty echoing fire pit bursts into flame and we say:
“sanctify this new fire”, and
“The Light of Christ!”
“The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!”
“Grant that in this Paschal feast, we may so burn. . .”
The ancient church gave us a pillar candle, weighty, and worthy of leading the lot of us in procession for the whole of Easter season; their instinct that fire is the stuff of resurrection, and that we should carry it around.
The implement. The element. The power.
The uncreated light that fuels the life of the world.
So we kindle. New Fire.
Children intuitively see God in the lighting of wicks and, in fact, their inclination is to play with the flame! Our inclination is to say “be careful you might get burned!”
I think the nearness of God does burn, and I suspect that the resurrection will singe quite extensively, and I remember that story where the Holy Spirit lighted up an upper room, caught their hair on fire, and everybody suddenly spoke in different languages. What a hoot!
God in Holy Fire was playing with them!
Practicing the Resurrection is our taking up God’s invitation to play. Yes, with fire!
We played with fire. This Holy Uncreated Light.
Rummaging around in the dark and Practicing Resurrection.
In this Easter season we will lead the procession with the Paschal Candle, that tall pillar candle that we lit with the flame of the new fire before day break.
And we light our tall thin beeswax votives.
A practice of resurrection.
Our procession of resurrection.
Our ritual play.
We act it out. We want to feel it in our bones, know it in our fiber.
Flickering candles that compel us because of the flame, even if sometimes it seems just a preoccupation with the fire itself. That preoccupation is a good thing!
Recognize that fire as God,
Name it as the Light of Christ,
Carry it as your passion for God, your delight in the Holy One, your want for resurrected life and everlasting light!
This is our rummaging around in the dark for God, and bursting into flame with his Resurrection.
Lighting a simple candle: Death’s vanquishing!
and taking Christ’s victory over the grave as our own!
Playing with Fire, as is my want to do, with you,
(As an added flourish, I collected the stubs of our burned-out vigil candles from Maundy Thursday's altar of repose, and tossed them on the stack of wood as kindling. Thought you’d like to know.)
Sally took every opportunity when we were in Europe and she was 7, to light candles in churches and for some reason, lie prostrate. Right there in the middle of everything, foreign language, pilgrim feet all around, on marble floor and ancient plank, she laid herself down.
Lit a candle and hit the floor. Again and again.
What did she like about that? Where did she even get that idea? Not from me! I don’t do that!? Or at least, I didn’t. Until I saw her and felt inspired.
Gesture. Flame. Heat. Melting wax. Ancient of Days.
And no need to craft the particular syllables and consonants, because she said it all with her body.
Thoroughly known and utterly anonymous in faraway lands.
Incarnate spirituality. God, in the body.
Sally has always been, of my three children, the least ready to give words. But there, in Italy and France, in Cathedral and Crypt, she was utterly at home.
There. Sprawled out. On the floor. As Prayer.
This incarnate spiritual life.
Our bodies tell stories.
Our bodies pray.
Our bodies know God.
Our Wilderness journey is taking a turn.
If we keep walking, Lent will give way to the Passion this Sunday, and as in the Labyrinth, we get closer and closer to the center, still-place, of the cave.
The hollowed-out niche in earth and stone where there lies a body in a cave,
the edge of which delivers us Resurrection at dawn.
It seems to me that Holy Week is the stuff of 7-year-olds saying their prayers.
Foreign tongue. Silent tongue. Bodies sprawled.
So, we would do well to access our “inner child” for this turn in our Wilderness journey toward The Passion:
the inner child, who embraces mystery,
explains nothing, beholds everything,
and believes the perfection of candle lighting and melting wax;
the inner child, who pauses in silence to watch and wait;
the inner child who can pretend and imagine and pay attention to the interior;
the inner child who loves God in the body, and just for good measure
(and perhaps for the fun of it),
throws it down on the pavement, prostrate.
in the days of The Passion and Holy Week, here’s to being thoroughly known and utterly anonymous, in faraway lands.
Hoping to see my fellow pilgrims along this way.
Marshall won the smart phone race to get Siri to define ‘prodigal’ for us last Sunday morning. So then our sermon conversation wrapped around the notion, of:
Having or giving on a lavish scale
Spending resources freely and recklessly
Spending without holding anything back
[Webster, via Siri]
So, what, we asked, describes the picture of prodigal living in Luke 15?
The obvious giveaway in the text is that it wasn’t just the renegade son.
The father was just as prodigal when the son returned, broke and broken.
His running to meet him when he was still far off,
a kiss to bless him, an embrace to take him back.
A ring, a robe, a pair of sandals for his feet.
And then of course, a Resurrection Feast with the fatted calf,
for ‘this, my son, was dead, and is alive again’
Complete and thorough Restoration.
And then, throw in the Epistle that changes the reconciled into reconcilers and we off on a mission to live a prodigal life ~ loving without holding back, wastefully extravagant, risking, reckless about restoring relationships, raising the dead to life.
I am connected with a group called the Wild Church Network.
A contributor to the network brought the earth into the conversation as a prodigal.
The earth. And don’t we know it? Reckless giving, abundance, spending on a lavish scale.
The violet volunteering in the broken pot comes to mind.
Our community garden comes to mind, stretched across the swath
where the earth was scored, it’s complexion scarred.
A grave was dug, and a pipeline laid down. So we could live.
And like a perennial-cut -and-come-again Zinnia, the earth
continues to give recklessly, without holding back.
15 garden plots abound,
tomatoes and chili peppers flush in the summer sun,
sweet potato vines and blackberry brambles
stretch far and wide in playful profusion,
okra and pole beans reach skyward in glory
as if to announce the coming of the kingdom of God
deep down under the earth, roots and tubers in silent stillness, rest.
This Prodigal Earth,
the wastefully extravagant giver of goodness,
the reckless high-risk presence under our feet,
supporting our very lives;
The Earth, as it says in the Psalms, rejoices and sings praise.
AAaaand, the fox is back!
Blessing us to and fro!
Take a moment to write or draw on a prayer flag or two as we offer our thanksgivings, hopes and dreams, praises, wants and desires, to the earth, from Equinox and Earth day to Easter. Supplies are on the table by the coffee pot.
Seeking to live a prodigal life, with you,
Let the sea roar,
Let the floods clap their hands,
Let the hills be joyful together.
Praise the Holy One, did you see the full moon last night?!
Did you see it?
The super worm moon?
(I’m writing on Thursday, so it was actually on Wednesday)
A Super moon is when the moon swings closest to the earth in its orbit, and is simultaneously ‘full’; and so appears to be spectacularly bright.
The worm moon is the full moon in March, near the equinox, the threshold of spring, when the earth is soft and ready for seed and planting and the earthworm does its part to break up clods of earth.
Soft earth and a full moon
Brilliant and weighty in early evening
Slung low on the horizon.
A champion in the night sky.
Singular in its beauty. And fair.
Its dominion mighty, and feminine.
and good. Pure.
Earth softening for seed and sowing, planting and plough,
thawed and rich and ready.
The Dormant waking.
Light and dark in equipoise.
Imagery for our wilderness journeying.
It makes us ready to claim our Easter (A. . . .ias),
It readies us to celebrate our redemption,
It brings us to the brink,
And yet, it is the next full moon for which we wait.
The Passover Moon.
We know how the story goes, and the full moon thrills and summons us.
Motions us forward to new life and liberation and death being vanquished
all things Resurrection.
We want to sing our Easter song, for the sheer raw beauty of the moon.
But. . . not yet. . .
Do you realize that this coming Sunday could actually be Easter?
The date of Easter is decided by the rhythms of earth and moon and equinox; full moons and the Passover Moon and the ancient story of Exodus from Egypt.
Had the councils of the early church not tried to mess with things like the phases of the moon, today would be Maundy Thursday and Sunday would be Easter!
But. . . at the council of Nicaea, in the year 325, the church decided there would be not just an astronomical equinox, but an ecclesiastical equinox, (of all things!) and so it was set in stone:
The ecclesiastical equinox will be on March 21st, now and forever! Amen!
What a funny thing to think we can decree such as the moon and the earth in their rhythms. . .
But I digress.
So, that’s how it works: Easter will be on April 21st, because our full moon this week reached its peak on March 20th, and therefore, according to the church, it was not the full moon “on or after” the spring equinox, rather it was the full moon just before the spring equinox. . . go figure.
That’s the ridiculous part.
The important part, the more profound things are these:
All creation groans for redemption.
Creation waits with eager longing, and
the creation itself will be set free from its bondage . . .
The whole Creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth . . . and writhes like a woman in labor, for redemption.
The Creation itself reveals the invisible things about God, namely, God’s eternal power and divine nature.
All Creation sings the glory of God.
The moon sang for me last night.
The people of God
Escaped bondage in Egypt,
Fled from captivity,
Under a full moon!
Brilliant and weighty. Rising powerful.
In the month of Aries, the ram, a deity in the sacred constellation in the land of their captivity.
On Sunday we will read about the burning bush,
a wisp of sacred flame
lapping at Moses’ shins,
a hint and
and the voice of God.
A voice that promises liberation and prefigures the Exodus from Egypt.
A sacred song that resonates as
the antiphonal voice to Miriam’s
when she sang on the opposite shore of the sea that parted
and birthed their freedom.
This low-slung moon in last night’s sky,
the spring equinox and
the soft earth’s promise of fertility,
sing the song of the next full moon’s liberation from captivity.
We’re not there yet.
Like Moses wasn’t there yet, when he stood barefoot on holy ground.
The Exodus will come.
Slaves will go free. Captives liberated.
Christ will break the bonds of death and hell.
And we will be delivered under the Paschal Moon by the Paschal Lamb,
brilliant and weighty.
And death will be vanquished!
But let’s be brave on this holy ground between full moons. . .
Let’s hold the moon and all creation groaning, in our strong arms.
Let’s keep it all in our own ‘groaning’ for redemption,
hearts softening as the journey itself breaks up the clods.
Let’s keep them,
this full moon and all creation crying out,
as our company in the wilderness and our journey inward for Lent.
Can we dare to hold such brilliance
without singing out our Easter song that starts with “A. . . . . .ia”?
But to just hold it in prayerful silence. Contain it.
Bear the pain of its brilliance and unsung joy.
I’m feeling bold,
wanting to take just such a risky proposition.
Wanting to contain it and
let it do its work of illumination and clod breaking
on this inward journey.
Branches that bloom and
the super worm moon entice us to celebrate
and start singing (A. . . .ias) again.
(shhh. . .)
An unbearable tease of resurrection.
But keeping it, holding it, containing it?
It can make us feel,
a little more viscerally, the longing that the earth feels,
waiting for redemption and groaning in labor for it;
if we let it.
It can make us,
a little more acutely in tune with the people of God,
anywhere and everywhere,
who lift their voices and cry out for liberation and for God to vanquish death;
if we let it.
References relevant to my letter, in case you want to know:
Exodus, ch. 3 - 16
a bunch of Psalms,
The Book of Common Prayer:
The Exultet for Easter vigil, p. 286
Lynn Crovatt who took me outside at church on Tuesday to show me the moon.
Duffy Hickey who sent me word of the worm moon’s scheduled sighting, for Wednesday evening.
Benno who walked with me under the brilliance.
Rabbi Aron Moss, contributor to Chabad.org
I’m pretty sure you can tell that it is a stack of stones.
is a stack of stones left by pilgrims to help others find their way.
It is also a long held spiritual tradition to stack stones where holy experience has taken place, and you mark the spot because you want to remember.
Sometimes, it’s just a fun, but bold and brave way to say, “I was here”. To be sure of our own existence.
So, this is the simplest aha moment ever. So simple, that when I say it, it sounds cliché’, and yet it came to me as genuine and revelatory, (which, by the way, is the point of contemplation and the purpose of listening by engaging with art supplies), so I’m holding it as a holy treasure for my Lenten journey...
The aha occurred to me on my way home after Bible study.
If you read all the way to the end of this letter, I will tell it to you, no matter that it is simple.
But first, a little reminiscing.
We decided over breakfast what to do with our day. Benno and I were camping on the eastern slope of the glorious Sierra Mountains.
Magnificently Barren. Ancient and rugged and stunningly beautiful.
Rock under every step, the view in every direction.
We would hike this day, to Italy Pass, a trail that had a ‘not well marked’ designation. As it turned out, there was nothing but little stacks of stones for a ‘trail’, 3, 4, 5 inches high; rocks not easily seen against a backdrop of rock. Mountains of rock, but stones small enough to pick up and stack in delightful little Cairns.
We hiked and climbed and rested our way from 10,000’ to nearly 12,000’ by way of this 4-mile ‘not well marked’ trail.
It was not a trail really, at all. It simply was, a way.
A way through the rocks to more rocks.
I began to feel the presence of those who went before, as though they played with us by stacking stones. Or held conversation. Or offered company without words.
Mischievous Elves knocking the stacks down to make the trail go still.
They were even, companions, keeping us safe. Beckoning. Gesturing. Warning. Including.
With stacks of stone.
Such delight, our silent company! Watching for their signs, following them forward, telling us to turn sharp or turn back, or to go down again and then go up.
Though I am a novice hiker, eventually I felt lighthearted enough that I could join the throng of adventurers who forged this trail with their Cairns, and said to me:
“I’m here, and I see you. And you are here, too, with me.”
And we added, here and there, little stones of our own.
Our marked steps, with this ritual of rock.
Our journey by foot in the Sierras.
Probably 6 or 7 years ago now, with our stone stories still stacked in the Sierras,
No matter that we are novice pilgrims.
Our journey is worth making. Our story is worth telling.
So, my ‘Aha’ moment that I mentioned at the start of this page. . .
It is as if I heard Jesus say, after I finished my art journal and was almost home,
and in just a whisper:
‘that’s me. there. for you. I am your cairn.”
So, simple as it is, trite as it might sound, I hold it sacred.
I inadvertently drew Jesus into my story, onto my page, in a pen and ink and watercolor cairn.
But only in hindsight, it occurred to me, that Jesus himself, could be the Cairn.
He went first.
He stacked stones.
He made a way.
He journeyed the wilderness, kept company with the creatures.
He sat down in a parched and dry land,
in a magnificently barren uninhabitable place, and made habitation.
For my journey right now, into the wilderness this Lent, he is my company.
He is the whispering voice. He is the muse inspiring, the sprite inviting, the mischievous elf knocking the stacks down to make the trail go still.
He is the wanderer in this wilderness who is himself stacked stone to say, as pilgrims do:
“I’m here, and I see you. And you are here, too, with me.”
Walking holy ground,
And looking at me, he said to her, “she is here now”.
His expression, his gentle tone, the essential goodness of what he said, anchored me for the duration of the trip; like a motto or mantra in my head.
She is here now.
As if all the past has come to fruition in the present moment, and that now is all that matters and that the present moment is truly, all that exists.
His words framing the eternal significance of it, that the now matters, because it is full of God.
Now is where God is.
There is no going looking for God. There is no waiting. No hoping. No pining.
No pleading. No searching.
God is here now.
And always in the present moment. We can find God. Right now.
So the challenge is to be, in, the present moment.
There is no thinking, ‘drat! I just missed it!” or
“maybe God will come along again, soon, or maybe tomorrow”.
Mindfulness is a spiritual practice, even a bit trendy in common parlance, the vocabulary of mindfulness.
In simple terms, I guess I would say that
~ the practice of mindfulness ~
is developing an attentiveness that locates you in the very present moment.
Lent gives us the chance for this practice. Lent is a season that helps us locate ourselves in the here and now. We devise all sorts of Lenten disciplines with one ultimate purpose, to center ourselves in the presence of God.
To become attentive to God, right now.
To sink down in and not budge.
To stay. In it.
It’s hard to be present to our own lives. To fully inhabit our bodies, our relationships, our work, our play. Our own selves and souls, constantly scattered.
We’re frantic sometimes to find the thing, the technique, the place, the person, the product, that will bring the soul’s satisfaction of deep connection with the one who brought us into being, or that will give our lives meaning.
It’s still a mantra for me.
Yep! I whisper of myself, to myself, in the third person: “She is here now”.
To locate myself. To re-member myself.
To drop down in to the gravity that presses my feet on the earth. And go, nowhere. But into the keen awareness of the presence of God.
“She is here now”.
And there is no running about. Just being here.
No scattering, no next best move to make, no better place to be, than right here, right now, in the presence of God.
Wherever my feet might be on this good earth.
The Holy Spirit, will take us into the Wilderness tomorrow, Lent I, for solitude and silence and journeying soul work, deep into the presence of God in the human experience.The goodness of God in our temporal life, the transcendent holy one, near and present and indwelling. My life infused with the sacred.
God in my human experience, and me, paying attention.
Boots laced for the soul work of inhabiting my body,
Reverend Ruth Pattison
Rev. Pattison serves the people of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as the Parson, exercising her gifts for collaborative leadership through preaching, liturgy, and the pastoral arts.