Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

One more time

I leave for the Caminho Portugues (Camino de Santiago - Portuguese Route) in less than 6 weeks. This will be my 5th journey into Santiago de Compostela. Instead of walking from Lourdes, France to northwest Spain, I'll be heading north from Southern Portugal.

Some have asked why I keep doing this. I usually suggest that they sit down with my blog posts from the past four years to identify the yearning in my heart that draws me to return year after year.

I walk because I'm hungry. I'm hungry all the time - physically, mentally, and spiritually. With so much to choose from, I still eat poorly. And my body, mind, and spirit reflect the accumulation of these bad choices. Sure, I sometimes eat smartly, resisting cravings, saying I've had enough. And in a few hours, I've forgotten and am hungry once more.

I walk because I'm lost and not where I should be. I'm lost all the time - physically, mentally, and spiritually. In a time of life where I'm told I should be coasting into the sunset, I look around and see that you can't coast downhill when everywhere you look is up a hill, through a forest, into the darkness.

I walk because I am fallen. I fall down all the time - physically, mentally, and spiritually. And in falling down, I now accept that it's ok because feeling hurt, feeling pain, feeling other's pain is part of the fabric of our lives. It's woven deep into our DNA.

So as always, as before, and once again, I walk. I get up, dust myself off, and look to the skies seeking guidance so that my feet are directed in ways that I never expected or tried.

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
I leave for Lisboa (Lisbon) on a Monday morning. This trip won't be a complete walk along the Camino but will take me from Lisbon to a detour through Fatima. I'll be there a couple of weeks before the Pope arrives to celebrate the 100th anniversary of "The Day the Sun Danced", a miraculous vision experienced by thousands. 

After a couple of nights of prayer, I'll take the bus and walk a section to Porto. In Porto, I'll rest a couple of nights, enjoying a few glasses of port wine (named after this city of its origin) and visiting the many churches.

From Porto, I'll look at the weather and decide what route I want to take. If it's good weather or if it's too hot, I'll go along the coast. If the weather is just too rainy, I'll take the ancient route. I'm leaving it to Providence to guide my journey.

And, after I finish with some time in Santiago de Compostela, I'll spend a few days at a beach, digesting what I've learned, contemplating the people who touched me along the way. It will by then be October, which is also the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses onto the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg and other churches. October 31 is called Reformation Day.

Our Lady of Fátima and Martin Luther speak to me as voices of renewal, restoration, reparation. As an Episcopalian, I feel comfortable holding different spiritual traditions in a balanced tension, praying to Our Lady as well as for Church and spiritual renewal.

My prayers on this Camino will focus on peace, renewal, and reparation. But I'm also keeping in mind that I've done this before. I'm trying to release my expectations so that I can keep be open to new things, new life, new visions.

That's not to say I won't keep certain realities and truths in mind.
  • I'll meet people who amaze me with their stories.
  • I'll try to be open-hearted and generous of my spirit, because each walk gives me more practice to give of myself so that I can receive.
  • I anticipate my physical behaviours: that I won't have an appetite because I'm not hungry whenever I'm tired. So I'll have to eat adequately and eat wisely.
  • I must accept that I will be trudging in the rain and thus might have blisters.
  • I won't be surprised when I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as She moves through the trees and valleys and me.
  • I got by on my basic French and Spanish in the past, but I must humbly accept that I don't know how to speak Portuguese. 
  • I will join others who make a pilgrimage to Fatima. I will light candles in prayer for those who've asked me to pray for them or their loved ones. I'll ask for prayers for myself.
  • I'll share what I learn, the ways I'm foolish, the light hidden in surprising places.
  • And most of all, I know that I'm not alone. And the person in front of me is not alone. And the person behind me is not alone. And whoever is beside me is not alone. For we walk with each other and for each other, in love, as Christ loved us on his journey.
As always, I invite you to walk with me again, to pray with me, to sustain me as Christ sustains me, to seek peace in our world. It's on our mutually intertwined journey that we appreciate that Love moves freely through the universe She created, and that we were meant to be with each other. Like photons speeding through the void of space, we are both matter and light, we can't be pinned down with certainty because that's not what was intended, and we aren't meant to sit in silent isolation. 

Because one more time, your light shines on my journey. You move me like Christ moves me. 

And thus I remember that I'm alive.

Prior Camino blog chapters (some links will be updated shortly)

Friday, June 2, 2017

It Takes Two

We watched Into the Woods recently at the Los Angeles Ahmanson Theatre. We've seen the Broadway recording and the movie but had never seen it on stage before. The songs are marvelous and the play itself is a fascinating exploration of fables, expectations, aspirations, and disappointments. What seems like a fairy tale with a happy ending soon ends up with confusion in the woods.

And as any person on a journey, whether on the Camino de Santiago or in our daily struggles, we sometimes are lost in woods. And we don't know we're lost. Or we play it safe, stay out of the woods, and never realize that we're not making any progress on our journey, not when we just lock ourselves up, locking up our hearts, shutting out our dreams.

As Pentecost approaches, I think about the Holy Spirit coming alive in each of us, emboldening us, enjoining us. It was God's visit to the disciples, just sitting in their rooms, giving them the ability and the courage to come out and speak truth.

I think it's appropriate that LGBT pride celebrations happen around the time of Pentecost. The protests that sparked these annual celebrations were ignited when the oppressed and maligned, blackmailed and abused drag queens of New York's Greenwich Village finally had enough. And they were inspired to speak out, stir up trouble, make their different stories of oppression in their different voices heard. That's a Pentecostal story to me.

Rev Ed Bacon, the former Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena, sent me an email this morning, as a response to a series of emails, that just said "Holy Ignition! Alleluiah!". And I thought, "that's a Pentecostal message!"

I think of the Holy Spirit igniting each one of us to see past our fears, our hurts, our ills. The Spirit challenges us in times of deepest, darkest trials. By ourselves, we cannot do it. We cannot change. And though we hear the message of Christ, though we hear the message of justice, is that enough to get us out of our places of comfort? Or our places of pain? Or our places of self-satisfaction?

No, it takes two. We need the Holy Spirit to help us follow Christ, and She's there if we want Her. I think the Holy Spirit's breath is a powerful but quiet force. We can't hear it unless we are open to hear Her.

And when we do listen, we can invite Her into our hearts. We can live together, move together, breathe together.

And in those dark woods, I think we discover what God made us to be.

I realized during my morning contemplations that a song from Into the Woods reminds me of what's possible when we're lost or weak or scared or hurting. So I sang it with the idea of the Holy Spirit descending into each of us.

You've changed
You're daring
You're different in the woods
More sure
More sharing
You're getting us through the woods
If you could see
You're not the man who started
And much more open-hearted
Than I knew
You to be

It takes two
I thought one was enough
It's not true
It takes two of us
You came through
When the journey was rough
It took you
It took two of us
It takes care
It takes patience and fear and despair
To change
Though you swear
To change
Who can tell if you do
It takes two

You've changed
You're thriving
There's something about the woods
Not just
You're blossoming in the woods
At home, I'd fear
We'd stay the same forever
And then out here
You're passionate

It takes one
To begin, but then once you've begun
It takes two of you
It's no fun
But what needs to be done
You can do
When there's two of you
If I dare
It's because I'm becoming
Aware of us
As a pair of us
Each accepting a share
Of what's there

We've changed
We're strangers
I'm meeting you in the woods
Who minds
What dangers
I know we'll get past the woods
And once we're past
Let's hope the changes last
Beyond woods
Beyond witches and slippers and hoods
Just the two of us
Beyond lies
Safe at home with our beautiful prize
Just the few of us
It takes trust
It takes just
A bit more
And we're done
We want four
We had none
We've got three
We need one
It takes two

It Takes Two
Into The Woods
Stephen Sondheim

I sang these words and I recognize how I'm different in the woods.

But it takes two.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Fear, Health, and the Visitation

2016 Camino of Healing. Somewhere between Estella and Los Arcos
I've been reflecting on some of the events from my first Camino of 2016, the one that went from Lourdes to Santiago de Compostela. In it, I had to cope with a fever, hail, strained hamstrings, and countless blisters. Truly, during the hailstorm, I feared for my life (see Angel Messenger and the Comfort of Christ). But if you follow the daily postings on that page of my blog (2016 Camino of Healing), there's a consistency to it that I now see after the fact.

Pain, sickness, and the unknown create fear in us. They generate a fight or flight reaction of anxiety, and since we can't flee from pain and sickness, we're left with an elevated sense that we're fighting an external enemy. It may be true. It may be a parasite or virus living within us that we fight. But the psychology of that anxiety has its costs.

We get exhausted. We may start to despair. And we can give up on putting one foot in front of the other, as we struggle to maintain our strength. I've seen it in others. I've seen it in patients, in pilgrims, and in caregivers. And I have seen it in myself. And I see it in myself.

I'm waiting for my 82-year-old father to undergo a biopsy next week. He's recovered from a severe lung infection but the doctors are unsure of what they see in his lungs. This has my mother anxious. And that's ok. It makes sense to be nervous about the unknown in your body.

Somehow, though, we need to move past that anxiety. I was thinking about this as I reflected on the Feast Day of the Visitation (May 31). It's when cousins Mary and Elizabeth meet up and see each other with child. Elizabeth greets her, "Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb."

I imagine that this must have shocked Mary. Here she is, having traveled over 80 miles back then, while pregnant, while young, while nervous, and her cousin greets her with a most amazing blessing. This must have been incredibly comforting and loving.

And according to Gospel of Luke, Mary responds with the Magnificat.

My soul doth magnify the Lord,
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded
the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth
all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me,
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him
throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm;
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel,
as he promised to our forefathers,
Abraham and his seed forever.

I can't imagine that she was having these thoughts on that long journey to see her cousin. I see it as something that burst from her as the burden of fear and anxiety were lessened by her cousin's words, by her cousin's embrace.

It's why we visit each other when we're sick. We aren't all medical professionals so my advice isn't worth more than anyone working at a hospital. And people who comfort me are most often not the medical professionals.

It's our cousins, relatives, friends who do so, who lighten our fears and anxieties. And when I visit someone, I know I can't answer all or any of their questions of healing, but I hope that I can listen. I hope that I can hear,

So when I reflect on last year, and what transpired over the Pyrenees, or on the paths, or at Lourdes, I like to think that it was the simple stuff - a gentle hug, a tap on the shoulder, an embrace, a healing bath, a voice over the phone - that gave me strength to go on. And in finding that calm, in finding that strength, we like Mary can rejoice and find ourselves filled with a healing love that cannot be denied.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Wild Geese

Some days, the sun rises, the birds chirp, the flowers bloom. It's spring. Some days, all looks right in the world.

And yet, sometimes, deep inside some of us, the waters lie dormant and the skies are dark. In fact, the pain affects not just some of us. The pain hits all of us, at different times. Depending on the day, we all can look out that window and wonder why the world looks so bright when all feels so gray in our hearts.

I've been trained and been serving as a Lay Counselor at All Saints Pasadena for almost two years now. We meet with those in our church community who need advice, an ear, a friend who isn't already mired in the problems they have. We direct people to professionals when their problems are beyond our abilities.

Most of all we listen. We listen. We listen, we ask, we comment, and we pray.

I empathize with those assigned to me because we all have those bad days, weeks, months.  We all notice that when our feelings seem misplaced, dark silhouettes block out against the bright sky. We feel isolated. We are dimmed by the eclipsing moon, in shadows when we yearn to be in the light. And over there, a few steps away, we sometimes see that others are not in the shadow. We don't know how to get there, at least not on our own.

So we cry out. And we hope someone hears us. If we can communicate and ask for a sound, a turn of the head, a honk, anything that can show that someone hears us, sometimes that's all we need to get us on our way. As a Lay Counselor, I think I'm there to listen and honk for you if you need to hear my voice.

I do it in the spirit of Christ. I do it in a community of people who help other people. And I do it because if we don't, we all might find ourselves adrift in the sky, wondering where we'll land.

And it's something we all should do.

Tuesday night, during our twice a month meeting as a ministry, I read a poem by Mary Oliver.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I imagine the geese, flying to far off lands without a map, with a GPS that's built into their very being. But they can't do it alone. And they don't do it alone. No matter the weather, no matter the world around them, they make sounds and gestures towards each other. They call on each other so that they can stay the course, whatever that course might be.

It's enough to keep them in beautiful formation as they slice through the skies. They may not know their way out of the storm or the desert by themselves, but they say things to each other. They say things, and they listen to each other.

And they soar.

Related links:

Monday, May 1, 2017

Blissfully Unaware of Threat

"Blissfully unaware of threat" in Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms

All Saints Pasadena Episcopal Church has an impressive musical program. I've sung with them for 17 years and in that time we've sung at the prestigious Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles several times with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And this June, we're tackling for the first time in two decades Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms (1965).

It's an amazing piece, sung in Hebrew, and full of deliciously difficult chord progressions. I can say wholeheartedly that I'm glad I sing bass for this work, as the tenors have a wildly challenging job in this score. If you've not heard it before, I invite you to our concert on Sunday, June 5, 2017, at 5pm. For those who cannot attend, we will be live streaming it at

One composer note had the choir giggling during our first rehearsal of the piece. It was above the women's parts. Berstein wrote "Blissfully unaware of threat".  Undoubtedly, that might be the oddest and most amusing composer directive many of us have seen.

And yet it had me thinking into the night.

You see, Chichester Psalms is based on several passages from the Book of Psalms. The English text is as follows

Psalm 108:2
Awake, harp and lyre!
    I will awaken the dawn.

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Psalm 2:1-4
Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
    and throw off their shackles.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
    the Lord scoffs at them.

Psalm 131
My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

Psalm 133:1
How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

The "blissfully unaware" notation comes as the women are singing the well-known Psalm 23, where we shall not fear, and we shall not want, where we will fear no evil, and where we lie down in green pastures.

As they sing this, the men come in with Psalm 2. And, boy do we ever. It's a hard-hitting, menacing sound that feels like a war cry. It's violence depicted chorally. This pounding cry is a stark contrast to the bucolic, pastoral sound of the women's voices.

It bangs on the heart.

As I thought about the text, it made me think about life, and how we who regularly attend church cherish Psalm 23. We yearn for that protection and peace, for heaven on earth.

And yet, the nations rage.  The people plot, in vain. We are stymied in our effort to find that tranquility.

Are we naive? When we're blissfully unaware of the threat, are we walking with blinders on? It sounds like we're doing it unintentionally, innocently ignoring the dangers that lurk around us.

Or perhaps, just as disconcerting, we are doing it intentionally. We choose to ignore the threat, to maintain a facade of bliss.

And is it bad? Is it bad to be blissfully unaware of threat? If we are at peace with ourselves and our Maker, then shouldn't we be blissful, whether aware of threat or not? Shouldn't we be willing to march to our call with the happiness that we do so with an eternal protection and grace that cannot be threatened away? It doesn't specifically mean to me that we do not see the threat. But it might mean that we do not react to the threat, that we do not feel threatened. 

To feel safety in the face of threat. Call it unaware or call it trusting. But Psalm 23 offers refuge and bliss, even as we are surrounded by a valley of death. 

May we in the abyss trust Him with bliss.

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.