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My Life Before the Face of God

To place 
My life before the face of God…
Not behind or hiding.
And without mask or covering,
I am 
  Before the penetrating look 
    of this Sacred Presence.
Let me sink down into…
As though to stay planted,
In this garden dust,
Before this Face.
Where watched 
And loved,
I place my dreams,
As though they were seeds.
I place my words and voice,
The things I’ve said, and should have said.
I place my identity and my dignity, 
My humility and my pride,
My hopes
And my laments,
My wounds, and scars,
And places still whole.
My faith, my unbelief and doubt,
My sin and regrets…
Like weeds,
   Laid bare in dust before this Face.
And with greatest trust, I place
Those I love
And things I like,
Talents 
   and the time I’m left, 
and
As I look up, eye to Eye, I plant it all
    Before this Face…
…This Face of Love.

Mar Herbert. February 2022

This poem comes from a  meditation on a paragraph written by Madeline Delbrêl.  In, We, the Ordinary People of the Streets she writes .  

“To place our lives before the face of God,
to surrender our lives to the movements of God,
is to roam free in a space in which we have been given…
solitude…”

My All Time Favorite Books

It really is interesting the books one rereads and to ask oneself, why this one? Why theses.  I have many I want to re-read, but these I have re-read at least six times.  So what is it that draws me.

My first read of trilogy, The Hawk and the Dove, by Penelope Wilcock, began during lent of 2002, my second reading 2005, then 2008 till I have read it 6-7 times.   Till my last read in 2019 when I discovered an additional six books.  These books are fiction and for me a story for Lent. 

Maybe the series call to some deep desire to hear the deeper story, or to be told a story not just for the history, but for the wisdom that can be accessed from another’s experience.  But, the first two books are of a mother telling her teenage daughter stories of the monastic life that is a part of their history.  Frequently these are told on the walk home from Compline or Evening Prayer, sometimes they take place in the candle lit room as the mother is calming the younger children into sleep.  Always a time that seems to be a very peaceful time.  But, each story, each chapter, holds a lesson about loving the other, understanding others, having compassion for others, and the ordinary daily exchange that happens when living in close proximity with others that few of us can escape.  There are profound lessons in confession and forgiveness,  suffering and gentleness, community and loneliness.  These are the stories of transformation and hope.

I love that the setting for the books is centuries old, takes place in a monastery, that there is a rhythm to their lives and seem to have nothing in common with most of my life.  I am safe…it’s not about me.  I can enter this story unafraid and with abandon.  I will not have to be vulnerable.  I will not have to try to figure out some puzzle or deeper meaning.   But, as my heart opens to the characters, I find myself hiding in them, being seen by others.  I’m as needy as the newest novice,  and at times without mercy like the strict and exacting novice master.  I find that I am broken and frequently limp along, but that I have the capacity to listen like the abbot, and also to tend like the brother who tends those who are infirm. I’m very like the brother who is in charge of the kitchen…grumpy and bossy. And I am really no different from the brother who finds the courage to do the hard things.

The author has what I consider a trustworthy understanding of the sacred and of humanity.  She tells these stories with authenticity…maybe from experience.  I want to absorb the wisdom of these collective stories about a compassionate community.   The stories caught me while I was escaping into a fictional world.  They made me want to turn around and return to enter them in a deeper way and explore the truths that are so loving and compassionate.  These stories allow me to look at myself more lovingly and with a longer view.  Maybe I need to read them again.

“Now, just try to blend in.”

Isn’t it interesting when you have a thought then a dear friend expresses that similar thought a day later? My thought: “What is it about Sister Act that keeps bringing me back over and over again?” My mother’s thought: “What is one book, poem, or movie that you find yourself returning to again and again?” She wrote her thoughts on a book series by Penelope Wilcock, “The Hawk and the Dove,” read her thoughts here, while I find myself returning to a favorite movie.

Have you ever visited some work of art— be it written, spoken, sung, drawn, or acted— and find yourself returning to it when you find you need that little bit of something extra? This movie is one of mine. At first it called to my soul through music. (I am a theater junky. Get with it or get over it.) Then it became an unspoken tradition to watch it with my grandparents. Now, after having seen it easily a hundred times— and that is a conservative estimate, I have realized that there are parts of who I am because of this film.

I can still hear my Grandfather and Grandmother chuckle when Sister Mary Lazarus raps the table with her knuckle while talking about her convent with no running water in Canada and says, “It was hell on earth. I loved it!” Here is the truth, life here on earth is hell. There is pain, there is suffering, there is hunger, there is loss. John Milton, in Paradise Lost, wrote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” And this film portrays that very trial gently.

Sister Act is a call to remind ourselves about the hard stuff. It is uncomfortable. It is awkward. It is dysfunctional. A black, Las Vegas show woman sees a murder and is hidden in a white washed, sequestered convent from her mob boss ex-boyfriend. And it is hilarious.

It is a poignant reflection of the church. One that has been sitting here for almost three decades now. One that we joke about understanding, but clearly do not. Make church more accessible— put in the coffee shop, brighten up the music, I don’t need to go on as you have heard it all before. But we miss the point!!!! When was the last time you saw a non- Christian speak from the pulpit of a church? When was the last time you saw a non-Christian have value outside of needing to be “saved” inside the church? When was the last time you went out into the community, just to serve the community? Btw, doing this in hopes of increasing your church numbers doesn’t count.

In many ways, it reminds me of the final song in Encanto where Abuela apologizes for holding on to tight. She sings, “The miracle is not, some magic that you’ve got, the miracle is you. The miracle is you, not some gift, just you. The miracle is you. All of you, all of you.”

This seems counter to what church teaching has been for thousands of years. But why not welcome everyone? Towards the end of the film, the nuns have taken down the chain link fences, started a soup line, created a kids playground, and at the very end, the choir performed for the Pope. The people that they served in the community showed up in all of their jewelry, leathers, and raucous applause. Quit worrying about whether they change or not… maybe they aren’t the ones that need to. After all isn’t it God’s job to separate the goats from the sheep, the weeds from the grain?

Ps: I am a huge fan girl to both Whoopi Goldberg and Maggie Smith. ❤️❤️❤️ okay. I’m done. 😬😁

Four Inches

Notice
How people gather in doorways
-on thresholds.
Their deepest conversations
in four inches of space?
Between one coming
and one going?
Four inches of intimacy, 
four inches of knowing.

We see the people
who linger 
in this space…
that is neither here nor there.
Holding onto a door that is open,
an opening with freedom to speak.
A threshold with invitation
to be heard and to move forward
…through four inches of intimacy.
A threshold to be gained.

Let us bless this common space
Made sacred by the stories.
Let us bless the greetings and the leavings
Made holy by the long good-byes. 
Let us bless this open door
With its quiet words and  listening.

This poem began in church with a very unholy attitude.  Honestly it was the congestion I noticed first and inside I began to complain and rail against this problem.  Then I noticed it happening when I visited others, lingering as I got ready to leave, finding myself doing what I had complained about.  Now it is a holy place and time.  An invitation to another visit maybe in a wider place.

Step 12 A challenge

Step 12. My name is Katie, I am a recovering evangelical and this one is for you. Yeah, and your friends.

One year and one month ago, I started this journey knowing I needed to understand who I believed God to be, how did that God see me or what did said God expect of me, and what in me needed to change. Did I check all those boxes? Nope. Did the last year change my life regardless? Yep. Do I think you should take a year to examine your faith and spiritual foundation? Hell yes and here is why: I firmly believe that a faith that cannot be examined or questioned or doubted, is not a faith worth having. No matter what religion or denomination within said religion you proscribe to.

But this is scary. Because being raised as an evangelical Christian I felt like I had to have all the answers or at least act like it, and when I didn’t, use the sanctimonious “Sometimes God says yes, no, or wait” or “You just have to have faith that God….” or if you were really daring, “I don’t know,” while really actually having a fool proof belief. And aren’t those really signs?? Consider Jesus who spent so much time asking questions, trying to teach his own disciples to ask questions. And when they did ask questions, Jesus gave super clear and not at all murky answers. Sarcasm… that was… you get it. I don’t have all the answers, but I am asking all the questions.

This is dangerous. As Richard Rohr wrote in his book about Francis of Assisi, Eager to Love, “Perhaps that is why so many religious, formally moral people, do not seem to be attractive or happy to us. To do a moral or virtuous thing however, with the right energy, is what I would call beautiful morality. Yet, it will often be judged by the same kind of people who accused Jesus. This is precisely the vulnerability of the faith position and why it takes the darkness of faith to be faithful. In other words, you must be open to the possibility that you are wrong.” I could be wrong!!! I probably am in practice if not in thought— just ask my husband, kids, siblings, in laws. My theology is shaky at best and a quivering mess at worst. But to put down all the laws and the rituals, that haven’t brought me one stitch of life or actual joy, and to pick up the single plan of loving people as they need it where they are, and by doing so love God, I have begun to feel as though I am actually standing on a firm foundation.

This is challenging. Because it means you sit yourself down and actually begin to ask the questions. The big ones. “If God is love, is there really a hell?” “What about people who have never heard the gospel?” “Why is there pain?” “What the heck are those genocides in the OT about??” “Is God even real?” So much of the Christian life is about escaping pain and the hard things (ex: Come to Jesus, for his burden is light, he gives life, removes death, etc.), but that is counter intuitive because Jesus went toward the hurt. He moved towards pain, towards the broken, towards the really uncomfortable, smelly, scary, dark, difficult, heart breaking stuff of humanity of which he was a part.

But the sincerest reason I recommend examining what you actually believe in the deepest parts of your soul is this: because it changes how you see yourself and the people around you. It moves a person from us/them to we. It changes the immediate response of “Either/or” to “Yes! And…” It removes the focus from saving someone else to working on your own stuff. It changes how we approach people. It changes how we see other religions. It will change how you see yourself. I grew up with a mentality that I have to become so small so that Christ can increase. That I can do nothing apart from God. That everything I do is because of God. But these mentalities really do two things: make God extremely egotistical and the human worthless. But as I have spent time actively working against those thought processes in my brain, I have come to appreciate how far removed they are from the design of life set forth in narrative story in Genesis.

I want to leave this first year long journey with one final point, partially to justify my journey but also to encourage you to join me on it. In Matthew 15 Jesus tells us that he came to save the lost sheep of Israel. This tells me one thing: Those of us that grew up in organized religions, we are probably getting/doing it wrong. And you only have to look at every Reformation or revival to see it happening again and again. Thich Naht Hanh wrote, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.” Examining what you actually believe, what you are mindfully practicing brings us out of the clouds and plants our feet into rich soil.


Music that brought me comfort or joy this month: