Thursday, 8 May 2014

Wait, Watch, Wonder, WOW!

Last week-end, I 'led' a retreat for women. I called it "Wait, Watch, Wonder, WOW!" Four talks sort of Advent to Easter. Not really, but sort of. Fortunately, I'd finished liturgies a few months ago, and worked on ideas for each topic over the months. However, I arrived at last Wednesday (the day after Johnny's funeral and following on Lent, Holy Week and Easter) needing to put the talks together. I felt weary, worn and in a fuzzy fog, if fogs can be fuzzy. Well, this one was. Not the best space to be writing talks. 

Concentrate, Ros. One at a time. Out of the fog came Wait. 

I found that not only do they lead into each other, but that they are all contained in each other. WOW!

Then Watch. 

All through Holy week, we watched with our Johnny, an Inuk from Mile End Mission as it became clearer that he was dying. We watched until last Saturday, when he died peacefully. Breathing – All that time I was aware of Johnny being Jesus for me… a man who suffered great tragedies in his life and in these last years found love at the Mission. And while we watched, the saying kept going through my mind and heart “It’s all about love. It’s all about love.” Johnny died very peacefully while his brother and sister-in-law were singing “How great thou art” in Inuktitut.

I was a watchful child for many reasons  One - my brother drowned when I was 3 and a magical thinker  - and the image I hold of that moment is of disappearing and becoming just eyes… I kept looking to belong and was terrified of abandonment and/or of people sending me away. My image of God wasn’t much different… feeling for many, many years that I was walking a tightrope, and that if I stepped an inch (in those days – a cm today) out of line, God would zap me.

.... Once we're conscious of a dynamic… we can begin to make changes… to observe ourselves, to get help, to trust some with our stories, to invite God into our stories.

Not magic! I had a breakdown in 1975 when I was still at the convent. It took many years (and I’m not finished growing yet, thank God) of healing to address my wounds. I ended up tossing out the God I believed in – one who would keep my parents from divorcing if I prayed hard enough – one who would zap me, one who didn’t care if children drowned…” and God and I are still working on a healthy real relationship. To imagine immediate healing would be like expecting a two year old body leap to 40 overnight. Spirits don’t grow any faster.

So, I‘m going to pose some questions – with an understanding that healing almost always takes time.  God’s not a magician. God is God –

1.      What are you watchful for? What kind of child were you? What has happened to you as an adult to make you cautious and watchful?
2.      Watching afraid to be judged? What will others think? On edge…
3.      Are you watchful, as a person of colour, having experienced racism over and over again – often subtle and therefore harder to pin down.
4.      Have you ever been in an abusive relationship – and do you therefore watch for the slightest sign that the person is getting angry again?
5.      Have you had cancer? It’s almost 9 years since I finished treatments for breast cancer, and a twinge in the area of my mastectomy still creates a moment or more of panic. It’s normal .

6.      Have you suffered from depression – what happens when you begin to feel it may be returning… what signs do you watch for?

Finding Stone p. 129  Christin Lore Weber
As she lost people she loved
Because they travelled to the prairie
Or the mountain or the desert or another sea
Or because they made the final journey to the stars,
She felt empty in her heart,
But she heard her Finding Stone whisper,
Loss stretches my soul. Loss widens my heart and leaves me standing on tiptoe at the road’s end, watching. I stand in the road, but my yearning reaches to the Arizona desert, the wooded slopes of Vermont, the Dakota prairies, the Minnesota lakes; to a cabin at the tree line in the Rockies, the white sands of Florida beaches, a forest in Germany, a valley in the rain forest of Maui, the sheer cliffs of Kerry. From my heart, paths forged by those I love stretch around the world. They took what I gave them of myself and walked to the ends of the world and beyond, to the stars. The spaciousness of my heart is as large as anything I have lost, my home as extensive as all the places my loved ones have gone. I am large as life. I will endure.

Now – a shift: God doesn’t intend us to be afraid much of the time or anxious or watching for the other shoe to drop. Or to merely endure.

Our realities are our realities… but … there’s another side to the equation. How do we bring God into our watchfulness and how do we watch for signs of God in our stories?


Jesus Mafa poster of Simeon

Simeon and Anna – what were they watching for? How did they know? Jesus didn’t have a sign pinned to his swaddling clothes saying – “I’m the Son of God” They waited and watched for years and years…  p’raps 100’s and hundreds of babies were brought in over the years. Praying, watching, searching –

from:  Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion  Fr Gregory Boyle
Gangs in LA – founded  Homeboy Industries,
“The wrong idea has taken root in the world. And the idea is that there just might be lives out there that matter less than other lives. The prophet Jeremiah writes: “In this place of which you say it is a waste… there will be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness … the voices of those who sing.”

“To that end, we choose to become what child psychiatrist Alice Miller calls “enlightened witnesses” – people who through their kindness, tenderness, and focussed, attentive love return folks to themselves.  It is a returning – not a measuring up. … we don’t hold the bar up and ask people to measure up to it. One simply shows up and commits to telling the truth.”   p. 172

 “We seek to tell each person this truth: they are exactly what God had in mind when God made them – and then we watch, from this privileged place, as people inhabit this truth. Nothing is the same again… No bullet can pierce this, no prison walls can keep this out. And death can’t touch it – it is just that huge.”

I wonder why we find it difficult to tell ourselves this truth?  We are exactly what God had in mind when God made us. We are meant to inhabit this truth.

An Algerian monk, threatened with death, says to those who will inflict it: “What do we have to fear after all? To be thrown into the tenderness of God.”

We don’t have to be at death’s door to throw ourselves into the tenderness of God. And to wake up to God’s tenderness and beauty in the smallest things.

Then Wonder. Two kinds of wonder - the awe kind and the curious, questioning kind. 

Wonder  ....

Does being people of faith give us room to wonder and ask hard questions? In a Lent Study a few years after I arrived at St. CHL in 1995, one of our parishioners, a serious woman in her 80’s said, “We were never allowed to ask questions before.”  Good grief!!!  How scary! 

Some quotes I shared: 

     “I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief.” 
Gerry Spence, How to Argue & Win Every Time: At Home, At Work, In Court, Everywhere, Everyday

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” 
Albert Einstein

“The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.”   Albert Einstein

I wonder about God and this vast universe – how God can be a personal God. I wonder about the meaning of the cross. I wonder why some people use the Bible as a weapon. I wonder how to live life today as Jesus calls us, I wonder how we can be Church today, I wonder how some men still get away with sexism and why the church still is racist in some ways… I have to live in the questions. God can’t be put in a box. P’raps God IS the questions. P’raps God IS wonder. Awe. As well as compassion and love and mercy and undefinable.

A small child came to me (his mother sent him because she didn’t know how to answer) with a question: “Why did Jesus die on the cross?”  I told him it was a wonder-full question and I didn’t have an easy answer to it. However, even when there isn’t an easy answer, it’s wonder-full  that  we can ask important questions and wonder together. That’s Church.

I told the women I had spent long years imagining myself as a mouse - small, unobtrusive, meek really - and then "Now that you know me a little, I don't imagine that's the first word that would come to your mind to describe me." One woman replied, "Only if we put 'Mighty' before it!" Much laughter. Then I said I'd discovered my inner tiger - and this poem speaks of wonder... awe... questions... 

THE TYGER (from Songs Of Experience)

By William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright 
In the forests of the night, 
What immortal hand or eye 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? 

In what distant deeps or skies 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes? 
On what wings dare he aspire? 
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art. 
Could twist the sinews of thy heart? 
And when thy heart began to beat, 
What dread hand? & what dread feet? 

What the hammer? what the chain? 
In what furnace was thy brain? 
What the anvil? what dread grasp 
Dare its deadly terrors clasp? 

When the stars threw down their spears, 
And watered heaven with their tears, 
Did he smile his work to see? 
Did he who made the Lamb make thee? 

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright 
In the forests of the night, 
What immortal hand or eye 
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? 

More quotes:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.” 
William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”   Ralph Waldo Emerson

 “Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.” 

“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.” 
G.K. Chesterton

“Words are like nets - we hope they'll cover what we mean, but we know they can't possibly hold that much joy, or grief, or wonder.” 
Jodi Picoult, Change of Heart

 Joy is the habit of delighting in the surprise, wonder, and absurdity of being alive.

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” 
― Ashley Smith

"Eternal life is an often-misunderstood concept and often posited as “going to heaven when you die,” which turns it into some kind of celestial evacuation plan. Eternal life is living fully and freely in the present now, loving God and each other. This lifetime of loving presence happens right here and now and continues forever."     I'm not sure where this came from .... 

Then # 4 - WOW!   I just wasn't in a WOW space (until during and after the retreat - it was so neat) and couldn't do WOW! as a talk. Then inspiration struck. In May 1990, when I went to ACPO to be evaluated for ministry over a week-end with a group of other hopefuls, I'd written a puppet play for a homily. Why not adapt it to this year? It was an Easter play after all. Yes!

Went through all of my puppets and gathered up the ones calling out to participate and there it was. Thomas was Lamb. Poor Thomas gets a bad rap. He 'just' represents us wondering and questioning and doubting - which is a good and necessary thing. Most of the play was about the real meaning of that reading: "Peace be with you."  In the midst of uncertainty, doubting, not knowing or seeing... That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Friday night, women volunteered for parts without knowing the play, but viewing the puppets. One of the most awesome - wonder-full - aspects of the play was connections they made each to her own puppet that they weren't aware of. It was so moving. Jesus was portrayed as a clown. Well, clowns turn things inside out and upside down and on their heads. So did Jesus. 

So, Jesus went around (the woman 'playing' the part) and ever so gently hugged our necks as she whispered in our ears, "Peace be with  you." When it was over, one of the observers said, "That was so moving, I feel a bit envious. do you think jesus could come around to each of us in the circle and breathe on us and say, "Peace be with you"? He did. So gentle. 

Saturday evening, we were singing at the end of the "Wonder" meditation when someone said, "Quick! Come to the windows!" We all rushed over and there was a young deer wandering quietly in the dusk. We went back and completed the hymn - last line: 'Lost in wonder, love, and praise."

And NOW - I've found another wonder-full WOW book by Barbara Brown Taylor - hot off the press:  Learning to Walk in the Dark.  I'm not alone in thinking it is her best book yet - and her writing is truly a blessing.  More to come on that. 

All images in this entry are from Google images.

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