I think we can safely say that the last year has been one of disaster and enlightenment, pain and joy, selfishness and giving, hate and love, and blaming and forgiving. We have seen the most comprehensive spectrum in our society this past year. We experienced political unrest, a worldwide pandemic, and weather that left people in the dark, cold, hungry, and thirsty. We had a political system that showed us its worst and communities who stepped forward to fill the same political system void. We experienced a worldwide disaster (and somewhat still are) and a system failure to help those most in need. We saw again a community come together to fill the void and help people they do not know. While some on social media shouted hate often based on untruths, many came forward to show love and protect those in need and at risk. We have again seen leaders quick to blame and a bit slow to offer solutions. We have seen individuals, business owners, corporations, and neighborhoods join together to create solutions where needed. Many times the helpers did not know or have never met the ones in need of help. These individuals, businesses, and communities shared food and water with strangers.
Sometimes we wonder where God is in all this messiness of life. Just look around. In Exodus 33:20, the Lord speaks to Moses and tells him, “But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”. Here is one place I have to deviate from what some bible purists would say is true. I have seen the face of God. I have the face of God in those with very little giving part to someone else. Someone with only a little water, heat, or food, sharing with someone who has none. If you wonder where God is? Just look around. And … sometimes the face of God is you.
Peace and Blessings my friends,
I am praying that this letter finds you warm and safe. By the time you read this letter tomorrow, may the ice begin to thaw, may your home be filled with warmth, may the streets again be safe for you to go out to get food, and may this deadly week loosen its icy grip on us.
Friends, know that I am praying for you all the time. I wake in the middle of the night, and I pray for you. I pray for you as I buzz about the house -- I just can’t sit still. I pray as I boil water, I pray as I poke the fire, I pray as I blow dry the faucets… as I check my phone... as I read the news - I pray, pray, pray. I pray until I wonder if there really is a difference between worrying and praying, and then I think perhaps sometimes praying is just worrying before a divine audience? I don’t know. I should be able to relax knowing that my family is safe and warm, but I cannot. I cannot because you, my church family, are not all safe and warm.
So I repeat to myself the famous words of Julian of Norwich:
All shall be well,
All shall be well,
And all manner of thing shall be well.
Part of me thinks her words sound naive, but then I remember she lived through the plague, a peasant revolt, and troubles our modern minds can only imagine. So I ask myself, can I trust God, like Julian did -- that God will ultimately make all things well? Can I believe that God loves us so much, even more than the sparrow, and so will take care of her children?
In this season of Lent, I want you to bring all your worries, all your sorrows, and all that weighs upon your heart to worship. Forget self-discipline, self-flagellation, and self-denial this Lent. You won’t be giving up sugar or carbs this year. We’ve given up too much that brings us joy and comfort already. This Lent, we are letting go of our sorrows, our worries, our regrets, and our grief.
Stay safe and stay warm.
‘Arise my love, my fair one, and come away ...
the time of singing has come.’
- Song of Songs 2:10,12
“The Song of Songs describes a lover standing at the latticed window of a house, calling to their beloved to come outside and share the delights of a beautiful garden. It is a love poem, a form that mystics throughout the ages have used to speak of the soul’s relationship with God. That call, ‘Arise my love, my fair one,’ is addressed to each of us, and the ‘singing time’ is now.
The Song of Songs continues, ‘... the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom ...’ (S of S 2:12-13). That special song is the natural chorus of creation, life itself, in which we have our own part. It is the definitive love song that enlivens us as we grow in the womb, that sits on the tip of our tongue throughout our lives, and serenades us as we pass through the veil of death.”
The Healer’s Tree by Annie Heppenstall
This Sunday is Valentine’s Day, and our five week worship series “Love Does” will culminate in an Agape Feast on readings and hymns celebrating God’s divine love. We will hear, in particular, how that love became visible in the story of Christ’s transfiguration. Love, and her other face, awe, illuminate us with Christ.
Even so, quick on the heels of this Feast of Love will come our liturgy of Fire and Ashes on Wednesday written by our dear Rev. Elsa Cook. (Find her meaningful fireside Ash Wednesday liturgy by going to uccaustin.org/ashwednesday.) You may also join us at 6PM online as we together welcome in this holy season of Lent and prepare for the liturgy of Fire and Ashes.
A celebration of love on Sunday immediately followed by a liturgy of loss on Wednesday! Love followed by loss. This comfort and grief are almost too much to hold together in the same week. And yet, perhaps true love and deep grief are simply two sides of the same coin; it is said that these two forces - love and suffering - are the only paths to spiritual growth. True love of God and neighbor always leads to the cross.
Even so, take comfort in knowing that we worship Christ who knows what it is to both love and suffer. What’s more, never give up hope, knowing our God is a God of resurrection. Just when grief, pain, and ashes seem to be closing in, God rolls away the stone, shining in a new day.
As we continue yet another week in our homes, with lives mostly still disrupted, a prayer poem for you by Terri C. Pilarski.
In a world that is simultaneously
Help us to breath in a steady rhythm
in and out
that the expanding may helps us grow
and the contracting will not make us smaller
Help us to see You
In and Out
In all ways
In the rising sun
In the birds that fly
In the changing seasons
In the vast diversity of human kind
all the many ways we are
made in your image
a reflection of you
in the world
made to love
made good to do good
may our expanding
be a gentle rhythm
like a breath
of fresh air
instead of gasp
in fear for life.