Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter, Actually

Every year on Good Friday at All Saints Church, we sing one or two versions of the spiritual "Were You There". It's gripping, and I often break into tears singing it, even though I'm usually standing in front of a few hundred people during the noon to 3pm service when singing it.

For the last several years, I've also sung it at around 7pm, as I have served as the cantor for the Via Crucis / Stations of the Cross march from our church, around the Courthouse, Police Station, Homeless center, Jackie Robinson memorial, and ending at City Hall. Quite symbolic locations for the stations in my opinion. While singing it this year, it occurred to me that it's in the wrong grammatical tense. It's sung in the past tense when we should be singing it in the present tense.

Are you there when we crucify our Lord
Are you there when we crucify our Lord
Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Are you there when we crucify our Lord

Are you there when we nail him to the tree
Are you there when we nail him to the tree
Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Are you there when we nail him to the tree

Are you there when we lay him in the tomb
Are you there when we lay him in the tomb
Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Are you there when we lay him in the tomb

And it needs to be in the present tense, because Easter isn't just about what happened 2000 years ago. The events leading to Easter, yes, occurred in the past, but Easter is more than that single day. Even the liturgical calendar has Easter spanning 50 days, almost one out of every seven days. Think of it as "and on the 7th day, He rose".

Easter is the apex of the liturgical year, and the 27 different services that occurred during Holy Week at All Saints sure feels like everything led up to it. The resurrection is God’s great revelation and is the center of worship for practicing Christians. But is Easter truly joyful? Does it speak of unimaginable love, for us, between us, about us? Is it a celebration that permeates our lives? If so, wouldn't we accept Easter every day, regardless of the liturgical season or which sport happens to be on television? We celebrate it weekly at the Eucharist, but do we carry that joy with us throughout our day?

I don't think most of us do. And I think that most of us forget about Easter because we forget about the intensity of Holy Week and the Passion most of the time. We think that Christ was crucified by the Romans at the request of the temple authorities 2000 years ago.

But don't we crucify Christ today? Don't we do crucify Christ every day when we ignore those he commanded us to love as He loved us? Don't we Christ to the tree when we turn a blind eye to injustice in our midst? Don't we lay Christ in a tomb every time we forget to give thanks for all that we have?

If we can remember these things when we hear about executions, about poverty, about homelessness, if we can remember these things when we walk past the hungry on the street, if we can remember that we crucify and nail throughout our day - yesterday, today, and tomorrow - perhaps we can remember that the story doesn't have to end on some Sunday in April or March.

Perhaps every day, we can feel the pain of the cross. And every day, we can live into the promise revealed by the Resurrection. And our lives can be intertwined with each other, as we balance the tears and pains of our day with the joys of our day. And that we can actually appreciate Easter throughout the year.

Perhaps every day can be Easter. Everywhere. Perhaps we can have Easter, Actually.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

April Fools for Christ

The "Ecce homo" in a Spanish monastery was ruined by a parishioner who said she was a restorer. The wrecked fresco has turned into a windfall for the monastery, as thousands have come to visit and see the unfortunate art work. Photo was from June 2016 after the conclusion of my Spring 2016 Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage of Healing.
As April Fools Day arrives again, I'm imagining my husband the 2nd-grade school teacher and the endless kid jokes he must endure. Signs taped to his shirt or chair. Truly painful knock-knock jokes. Statements about his shoelaces being untied. He's a great teacher and he takes it all in stride as part of the cultural fest of pranks and corniness that we come to expect on the first of April.

The fool or victim is a common image that appears throughout Western history. We expect people to act respectably, appropriately, expectedly. It's in their stability that we find opportunities to prank them. These are the unexpected fools that we think about in April. Additionally, those who don't act respectably, appropriately, or expectedly often are considered outsiders, or fools. It's this type of predictable "foolishness" that my mind's been playing with since a recent chat with Rev. Zelda Kennedy of All Saints Church Pasadena.

It was after a noontime service, and I was bringing up trust as a component of that day's Gospel reading. So, trust in the Gospel. Trust in the Word. Trust that's inherent in faith. And she told me of a former parishioner who referred to herself as a "fool for Christ". She called herself that because she trusted in Christ to the point that may sound foolish to the outside world.

It's a phrase I actually wasn't familiar with other than the line in 1 Corinthians 4.

We are fools for Christ. But you are so wise in Christ! We are weak. But you are so strong! You are honored. But we are looked down on!

1 Corinthians 4:10

As it were, the concept of "foolishness for Christ" has a long history which I didn't appreciate. Now, what I describe here came from Wikipedia, so it's gotta be true. I'm not a theologian or church historian, so it's the best I can muster at the moment.

Apparently, those who gave up their worldly possessions and joined monastic orders were often described as fools for Christ. St Francis of Assisi was an example of a well-known fool. Modern English language variants include "crazy for God". It's not so much about Bible-thumping, but about taking the Gospel's call to give up worldly possessions literally. At its ideal, at least when you read the full passage about discipleship in 1 Corinthians 4, it's not about our judgment on others, but on our right ways with God.

The tradition varies among various traditions of Christianity. The Eastern Orthodox Church records Saint Isidora Barankis of Egypt among the first Holy Fools. Saint Symeon of Emesa is considered to be a patron saint of holy fools, though his feast day is July 1. In Greek, the term for Holy Fool is salos. In Russian, the yurodivy has behaviour "which is caused neither by mistake nor by feeble-mindedness, but is deliberate, irritating, even provocative" but is rooted in or even intended to mask piety.

Much of this seems to conflict with the concept of the foolishness of April 1. But Stephen Colbert, the comedian who is well-known to be a devout Roman Catholic, has described foolishness for Christ as the willingness “to be wrong in society, or wrong according to our time, but right according to our conscience, as guided by the Holy Spirit.”

I'm glad I stumbled upon his thoughts, for they are consistent with what Zelda and I were discussing. Sometimes, when you live and speak prophetically, or justly, or in unity with God, you aren't consistent with your own reasoning. And often times, it's not consistent with popular culture. What if you don't need to buy the latest consumerist item, lust over the current body du jour, or yearn for the fanciest car? I've caught myself expressing surprise when someone tells me that they don't have televisions.

And in truth, I shouldn't be surprised. I mean, we ourselves don't have cable. We stream some things from the Internet to our tv as needed, but for the most part, we try to not be beholden to television. I rarely know the top 20 songs of the past year anymore. It sometimes seems I'm out of sync with others, and I've realized that I am okay with it.

In fact, I find that I like to live more simply. To live a leaner life. To not care if I seem out of step with others. I mean, what normal person (or so I am asked at times) likes to walk through heat, rain, cold, and hail for hundreds of miles at a time in a foreign land? That's about as out of step as you get - a lot of steps.

Maybe I'm a fool for Christ, which is why I felt drawn to look into this. Or, maybe I'm not foolish enough.

Or maybe, just maybe, as Holy Week approaches in 10 days, I can focus and pray on all this foolishness:

  • coming into the city on a donkey instead of a steed
  • believing in one who was crucified with criminals
  • calling out a dead man to walk out of a grave
  • rubbing spit and dirt in a blind man's eyes
  • rising from a grave
And for my own life, praying on what foolishness I can handle
  • wondering what it means to give up all your possessions (real or otherwise)
  • trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle
  • loving those who strike me
Maybe I'm a fool for Christ. And, maybe I'm not foolish enough. And maybe, just maybe, at least for now, at least for this April, we can be fools together.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

1-2-3- Go! - Lenten Meditations 2017

Little Rascals episode "1-2-3-Go!"
There's a Little Rascals episode that I remember to this day. In it, the young Robert Blake of the 70s TV show Baretta played "Mickey". Mickey was playing baseball with Spanky, Buckwheat, Froggy, and the gang when he chases a ball out into the street and gets hit by a car. He's hospitalized and as he recovers, the children come up with a plan called "1-2-3-Go!" that they promote to encourage street safety. Whenever you get to a place of danger such as a street, you don't just run out blindly. Instead, you stop and 1) look to the left 2) look to the right 3) look behind you. Then, when all is clear, do you go.

I'm not really sure why I remember this episode from childhood. Perhaps the self-help of the children appealed to me. Perhaps the fact that they all worked together to make their lives better and safer resonated deeply. Or may the slogan itself is something that makes sense even today, or, perhaps, even more so today with everyone walking with their faces buried in their smart phones.

These thoughts came to me this week as I was reflecting on this journey through Lent. I began to wonder about the journey itself. You see, one of the things I help do is help prepare the prayers and music for the worship in the style of Taize at All Saints Episcopal Pasadena. During the 40 days of Lent as we approach Easter, I have to remember not to include the Alleluia but to sing a different hymn instead. We don't sing it because during the liturgical year, this is a time of reflection and penance, and Alleluia isn't consistent with that theme. And yet, sometimes, like last week, I forget that a hymn has an Alleluia buried inside the lyrics. I've had to think about being more focused and not in auto-pilot as I put together the liturgy.

Because yes, Lent is a penitential season. Now, any of us think of penance as punishment for our sins. When we seek penance, many believe that we repent so that we can seek to be absolved of sin. In some faith traditions, an intermediary like a priest absolves us. In others, the repentance needs no intermediary and Christ is present to absolve us directly.

It's hard for me to think of repenting without understanding sin. In the Episcopal tradition, we confess to sin with a confession. Here's a standard confession in the style called "Rite II" from the Book of Common Prayer.
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
It's a spiritually meaningful prayer to me,  as is the similar Roman Catholic confession, because it makes sure that we acknowledge that sin is both in the act and in the omission of acts (what we have left undone, or what we have failed to do). Even more so, it helps make it plain what sin is. It's directly related to the Great Commandment. Here's the Gospel of Matthew version.

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
— Matthew 22:35-40

Given that these are the two commandments that Christ gives in the Gospels, that all the commandments hang off of these, we can see how the confession takes shape. Forgetting the first commandment leads to the confession that "we have not loved you with our whole heart"; forgetting the second leads to "we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves".

Unlike the popular view that sin is an evil act, sin is more extensive. Sin in the Gospel isn't about intrinsic evil It's about what you say, do, think. There can be sin in both what we do and what we do not do.

But how can we possibly love God all the time? We experience tragedy and pain. War and politics. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia. It's so overwhelming that we forget to pray. We forget about the sick and the old, the prisoners, the lawyers and the tax collectors. How do love God, how do we love our neighbors as ourselves, how do we stay out of sin when we so easily, well, sin?

Sin makes more sense to me and is easier to work on when I think of it as separation from God. Whenever we sin, whenever we don't love another as we are loved, we move ourselves further from God. So penance is more about coming to a stop. Standing still. Assessing where we are. Looking to the left, looking to the right, looking behind us before we proceed. And, if necessary, changing directions on our journey. "1-2-3-Go!" We repent when we see the sin and change our trajectory. We repent when we fully acknowledge our misdirection. We choose to go towards God.

To me, that's the beauty of Lent. It's a pilgrimage towards Wholeness that fully appreciates that we will often wander away into the desert, further from divine unity. We get lost, out of intention. We get lost because of our habits. We get lost because of a lack of commitment to the path towards God.

And we acknowledge during Lent that this happened, is happening, and will happen again.

And we say "1-2-3-Go!"

We heal our relationship with God. We heal our hearts. We choose to be made whole.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

On the Road to Emmaus - Lenten Reflection 2017

If you know your Bible stories, the road to Emmaus seems like an odd one to discuss during Lent. It's a story that takes place after Easter, after the resurrection, not before. You just don't see it as a reflection item during Lent.

But it keeps popping up in my head. It keeps popping up because it's about recognizing God in our midst, of seeing Christ beside us when we thought we were with a stranger.

Here's the passage in Luke 24:13-32

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
I keep wondering as I go through Lent if I recognize Christ in our midst. Where is God as the world burns I ask? Why does the world burn?

And I come to a recurring theme in my morning prayers. That God is here with us, in us, around us, but we do not yield to God. Christ is walking beside us, but we don't recognize Christ and we treat him as a stranger. A foreigner. Thankfully the disciples welcomed him and shared their dinner with Jesus.

And it was while breaking bread that they realized Christ was in their midst.

Are we breaking bread with the stranger? Or are we walking around that person wandering the streets like a foreigner or homeless person? Do we cut off any opportunity to see Christ in our midst?

It feels like it.

With me.
With others.
With the world.

This saddens me. Not because I'm a raging extrovert, which I can sometimes be. In truth, I need much time for myself lately to process and digest what's in my head. Prayer at this time is a wonderful exercise to be extroverted not with other people but with the Holy Spirit, to be in deep conversation with Her, to listen and to learn.

It saddens me because we have our changes and we turn away. The world burns because we don't realize that Christ is here to help us put out the fires. We fear that stranger and turn out back on the one who saves us.

Some events since Ash Wednesday that got me thinking this way:

  • I voted for Proposition H in Los Angeles, which would create constructive ways to deal with the homelessness problem in our county. I wonder if others recognize that homelessness is not something we need to fear or accept, but a symptom of our own failings, as individuals and as a community.
  • From home, I hiked around Mount Wilson, San Gabriel Peak, Mount Lowe, and Inspiration Point, some of tallest mountains on the front range of Los Angeles' San Gabriel Mountains, maxing out at 6100 feet. In the predawn light, I watched the fog swirl in the deep valleys between the mountains (see photo above). It made me think of how dark it was in those valleys, where light could not penetrate or be seen. And yet the sun rises. It shines even when the fog blocks it out. It might be hazy, cold, even dim, but it's there, and it's a far cry from abject darkness.
  • We attended the wedding of my husband's sister. All of us watched as Jen and Tara married in a beautiful farmhouse field, the family arranged not in rows or pews, but in a circle of chairs around the couple. The family surrounded and supported the new couple to start the life together as a blessed union. How often do we forget that our family and friends are around us to support us when we feel most vulnerable? How often do we forget to help prop up our family and friends when they need a shoulder to lean on? And why do we forget that - by defining our circle too tightly - we may don't get to have as big a circle of love? Sure, make a tight circle of 10 people. But 20 people can support you better, 30 even more. You might be leaving out the one who could save you when your time of needs comes.
  • Husband leaping for joy for his sister,
    as we finish setting up the chairs for the wedding circle

  • During the most fierce storm of the drought-ending season here in Southern California, we passed dozens of homeless on the streets of Santa Barbara, with all their possessions, soaked to the core. The issues of homelessness are plenty, but it saddened me that such a prosperous city could not find a way to help possibly mentally unhealthy people into shelters for those dangerous nights.
  • We watched the Oscar-nominated movie Hidden Figures, which recounted the tale of brilliant and resilient African-American women who helped NASA get our astronauts into space. It made me wonder how our systemic biases prevent us from reaching our dreams and goals. It made me wonder how we can be blind to our own blindness, at least until someone opens our eyes for us. 
So are we, on our road to Emmaus, remembering all around us who can help us, protect us, raise us to unimaginably lofty heights? Or are walking past the stranger, holding back on our chance to break bread with the one who could save us.

May your Lent be filled with strangers who open your eyes to the light and lift your hearts to the stars.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I am lucky

I am lucky.

I was born to a Christian family
      and raised in predominantly Christian countries.
I am a minority, and got in fights as I was called a "chink",
      but never got seriously hurt.
I am brown, played cops and robbers,
      but never got shot.
I am an immigrant
      but never had to contend with uprooting my family like my parents did.
I am male
      and thus never experienced misogyny directed towards me.
I am gay, and had to endure name calling and fear, 
      but have outrun attackers the two times I was chased by gay bashers.
I am cis-gendered
      and have cried with my friends because I can only guess how awful it must be
      to feel like your body doesn't match how God made you.
I have genes that give me health issues, 
      but I am strong and reasonably fit for my age.
I've seen accidents, drugs, and disease
      and yet I'm still standing because I've had medical insurance.
I have had psychological crises that necessitated intervention,
      but I had counseling and care.

I'm damn lucky.

Not everyone is lucky -- or privileged, or whatever word you want to use.
It's not just to think them weak or call them snowflakes because they don't have what I have.

Blessed are those who haven't had the same luck.
God, help me be an outward blessing in their lives
And thank you God for surrounding me with blessings and angels, 
      whether friend, family, or stranger, 
      who walk with me in my life

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Rain Delay

Millard Canyon
It's been a month since I last blogged. Like most, I got caught up in the festivities and demands of the season. I'd like to say that I posted a reflection regularly during that time, but like so much in life, we can't get what we want, not yet, not now.

So my reflections have been delayed. I'm thinking of it as a rain delay. Like during the 9th inning of the 2016 World Series. Everyone's on pins and needles as a monumental comeback followed by an equally impressive rally brings it to an extra innings overtime. And that's when the rain comes in to delay the game even further. I remember people commenting, "Wow, God really doesn't want either of these teams to ever win a World Series ever again". My beloved Cubs did eventually win, after a century of waiting, but that journey in October was a struggle to watch.

Sometimes life feels like that. We're so eager for good things to happen right away. We are so impatient. Like kids wanting to rip open that Christmas gift and bargaining for an ever-earlier Christmas Eve unwrapping, at least for one gift. We want to act and act now, but in truth we have to wait. Wait for things to happen, good or bad.

We want and believe that verse from Amos: "But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream". But it doesn't say it will happen right away. It doesn't suggest that it will happen tomorrow, much less today. We pray that it happens and that it does so now.

When I last blogged, I mentioned how the rain in San Francisco moved me deeply. The rain itself was refreshing, cold but invigorating. But it was unwelcome, as I slipped in the mud repeated while walking through a hilly park before dawn. I felt sorry for myself and wished the rain to stop, or at least pause until I got out of it. Yet that's also when I started to see people sleeping in doorways, and bus stops, pulling their sleeping bags tight to their bodies to keep warm and dry. In truth, they probably weren't dry, but at least it could keep the wind of their faces as they slept.

This week, I've been walking before dawn, as is my custom. In the rains that has deluged California for the past month. And I would duck into my car or house if it went from a light sprinkle to a heavy rain. That's because I never wandered too far away from safety and comfort. And that's what's unsettling. I choose to walk in the rain. It's a privilege that I can afford. Those sleeping outside this week most often did not have a choice. I chose to accept discomfort, and they had to endure it.

This weighs heavily on me as I read about our new federal executive administration and Congress, as they find ways to remove health care, housing and employment protections, and equal protections under the law. It screams injustice to me, taking from those in need what little we already offer them. It makes me look up to the water-laden clouds and say "Bet let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.".

And yet, there's this wait, this rain-delay.

Earlier this week, I was strolling in Millard Canyon. I couldn't see the stream through the fog and drizzle, but I could hear it flowing. I could hear the waters flowing. It's not ever-flowing. Few Southern California rivers or streams flow constantly, especially when we're praying that this winter may be the last for this terrible drought we are having. I could not see a thing, but I knew the stream was there. I stepped into it partially at one point, but still could not see. But as the photo above shows, the rains paused. The fog lifted. And yes, yes I could finally see the stream that was shrouded and hidden away. And I was struck by how we can sense justice and righteousness at our feet, even if we cannot see it yet. It's there, waiting for us, if only we can see our way through the fog.

I've dried my feet on a fuzzy towel. My toes are snuggled in a pair of toasty slippers and I've leaned back writing this reflection. I bought a stranger a combo dish at Taco Bell an hour ago. He didn't want money. Just food. I asked if he knew about the rain shelter and he said he did. I doubt his feet are warm and toasty right now.

Must we wait for justice to roll down? Must we wait for the fog to lift? Yes, for the world to find justice and righteousness we must wait. But we don't have to sit and wait for the rest of the world. Perhaps here, perhaps now where we stand, we can see just a little bit more clearly. Perhaps, we can do our part, share what we can or know, so that for those we encounter, maybe, perhaps, the rain delay will be a short one. We can open one little gift now, and know - believe - that the other gifts are sure to follow.