Mothering God: A Prayer

 

 

Mothering God

 

Mothering God, we praise and bless your holy name.  You are our God and we are your children‑‑we have no other Gods before you. You pronounced our name and called us into existence, breathed the breath of life into us. Like a baby in the womb of its mother, it is in you that we live and breathe and have our being. You are our Mother and our Father. You are the Creator. We stand before you with praise and thanksgiving.

We thank you for those who carried and birthed us into existence. We thank you for our mothers and grandmothers and all the other mothers who precede us. We thank you for those other women who were mothers to us‑‑aunts, neighbors, teachers, others. We thank you that we experienced your loving, watchful care from these women.

Yet God, we lament with those women who are unable to have children, for whatever reason. We carry their sorrow and grief for their empty wombs. We lament with those mothers who have lost their children, who have had to bury their children.  We weep alongside them. We lament for those children who did not know their mothers, who have lost their mothers. Our hearts ache on their behalf.  You, Mothering God, who is the originator of life and love, we know that you hear our lament and grieve and weep as well.

Merciful, mothering God, because you love and watch and care for the world, we again bring before the cares of the world, in order for you to move and act. We pray for estranged families who do not know your peace. We pray for the families were there is abuse, in whatever form, we pray for your merciful justice.  We pray for those who are alone and feel desperately lonely and isolated from others and from you‑‑break through the protective barriers they’ve constructed in order to cope with the loneliness. Draw them near to your heart‑‑let them know they are not alone, but you are with them. We hold all of these broken, hurting lives before you.

We pray that you will continue to strengthen the healthy, thriving families with your love. We thank you for these families because they are homes where those who hurt can be healed. We thank you for the faithful families in our lives. Continue to pour out your loving mercy upon them. Let those families become deep wells of your mercy and your grace and your love that others can drink from. Continue to give each of us wisdom in relating with one another. Help us to see with your eyes and to hear with your ears. Enlarge our hearts with love.

Mothering God, we again thank you for brooding over us like a hen with her chicks.  Thank you for your watchful, attentive eye on us. We thank you for the privilege of being your children, of being called the daughters and the sons of God. We love you and we bless you.  Amen.

 

Befriending My Depression

befriending depression (2)

 

As I meet with a new doctor she reviews my list of prescriptions.

“Do you still need this one?” she asks while pointing at my anti-depressant medication.

I take a deep breath and proceed to tell her my history with depression: “I had my first depression when I was 13 years old, the next one at age 19, another one in my mid-20s, then again when I was 40,” I said. “That last one was deeper and longer than any of the others and I started the medication.”
“Okay,” she said while nodding. “Sounds like you’re a lifer for meds.”

“Yep, probably.”

***

I’ve had this conversation with a variety of physicians, including a dermatologist who said, “You look fine to me!” To which I replied, “That’s because of the medication—it helps me not to be depressed.”

Another doctor suggested I see a therapist and I said, “I’ve done years of talk therapy and have met with four different therapists during my life. I know my depression well enough that if I need a therapist, I see one.

***

My depression is part of who I am and I am well-acquainted with it. When I notice the inner flatness I take a survey: how have I been sleeping? Do I need to increase my vitamin D and/or B12? Do I need to get out of the house and move more? And, as an Enneagram 4, am I veering toward the unhealthy attributes? If so, do I need to do a life correction and move toward the Enneagram 1? Or, is this the return of “darkness, my old friend?”

***

For decades I’ve been ashamed of my mental illness.My friends remember my depression at 19 and describe me as sitting in the corner at Bible Study with a pullover hoodie and greasy hair. I’m ashamed by that description. A few months after I began anti-depressants I wanted to stop because I was “feeling better and don’t need them anymore.” My husband wisely said, “You feel better because of the medication. You have a disease—the mental illness of depression.”

I don’t like the phrase “mental illness” because of the portrayal of people mental illness in popular culture—scary, erratic, irrational. I want to appear normal, steady, and have-it-all-together, not someone who lives with a mental illness.

***

When I first learned of the “dark night of the soul,” I wondered if that’s what I experienced. I asked one of my seminary professors and he quickly responded, “No, that’s depression, not the dark night.”

“How can you tell the difference?” I asked.

In the dark night you still function in life and you have full expression of your emotions,” he said. “With the dark night God is silent. God’s silence is leading you into a deeper or newer form of prayer.”

***

A wise friend suggested that I “befriend my depression” which seemed ridiculous to me. Nevertheless, I’ve pondered this idea and I have come to understand that to befriend my depression is to accept it as an essential part of me as much as my delight at a good joke. To befriend my depression means not disowning and heaping shame on this part of me in an attempt to appear normal. I will never be cured of my depression but medication helps me manage it. I know I will need to introduce this friend to future doctors as “my friend.”

I consider my daily pill as a gift from God. And because that pill is a gift from God it is a daily reminder of my dependency on God. I cannot make myself whole, only God can and there is the grace which allows me to befriend my depression.

befriending depression (4)

 

 

A confession based on Isaiah 6:1-8

statues--5-1-17 blog post

(in unison)

 

O God, we confess to you that we are a people of unclean lips:

we have complained aloud;

we have spoken harshly to others;

we have used sarcasm.

*

Forgive us, Merciful God.

We know that our lips reflect our hearts.

*

O God, we ask that you create us to be people of grateful hearts:

let us rejoice aloud;

let us speak kindly to others;

let us use patience.

*

Thank You Merciful God

for your patience;

for your kindness;

for your joy.

Amen.

I fret, therefore I am.

Jesus appears to Thomas - John 20:24-29John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

I can fret about anything. And fret is the best word to describe it because it’s different than worrying or fearing. It is a wringing of my hands, a low-grade thrumming that underscores my day. Sometimes I will fret over the outcome of an anticipated conversation, an appointment with a doctor, a conversation with an authority figure. And, more often than not, I am surprised by reality.

The consequences of this thrumming are that I am perpetually anxious, easily angered and begin to obsess like a hamster running on its wheel going round and round without relief. I become so tense that I unconsciously shift into brittleness and clench my hands into fists. And, because my hands are in fists, if something is offered to me I am unable to receive it.

However, when I am at peace, I feel serene, calm and my soul feels expansive with a desire to extend grace and love to those I encounter. I feel relaxed and loose, my hands are open and I can receive the good gifts that are offered to me.

In this passage from John 20, the disciples are fearful, hiding behind locked doors days after Jesus’s death and resurrection. The tension and fear in Jerusalem has spiked so the disciples are hiding, with good cause. Were they next to be executed?

And in the midst of their fearful fretting, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.”  The text tells us—in a foreshadowing of Thomas—the disciples also had to check Jesus’s wounds first. And again, Jesus said to them: “Peace be with you.”

The phrase, “Peace be with you” was a regular greeting in Israel at this time. The phrase was “Shalom” meaning wholeness, health, and completeness; to have the physical and spiritual resources to meet one’s needs. So the disciples were familiar with this expression. But Jesus meant more when he said, “Peace be with you.” In John 14:27, Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and don’t let them be afraid.

(Or, “fret not.”) Simply put, Jesus is our peace.

Then Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on to them as a gift. I imagine this as a kind of resuscitation, breathing the LIFE of the Spirit into their fretting, gasping souls.

Eight days later, with Thomas present in the group, Jesus appears among the disciples again. Rather than scolding him for his doubt, Jesus meets Thomas at his fretful, tightly wound place and says, “Peace be with you.”

And Thomas responds from the depths of his heart, “My Lord and my God.” His tight, suspicious heart opens up and he receives Jesus and Jesus’s blessing of peace.

As I ponder this passage I ask myself:

  • Where am I fretting and remaining closed to Jesus’s peace?
  • Where do I need Jesus to resuscitate and breathe peace into me?

 

A Lesson in Yielding: Kevin of Glendalough

 

Kevin of G.

 

Last fall Kevin and I participated in the The Soul’s Slow Ripening: Monastic Wisdom for Discernment pilgrimage in Ireland. We learned about St. Kevin of Glendalough, an important figure in Celtic Christianity and we were intrigued with the most famous story about St. Kevin holding a bird in his hand while he prayed.

A little background: the original Kevin is somewhat mysterious—it is challenging to know where the facts about him end and the myths begin. For instance, it is said that Kevin was born in 498 and died in 618 giving him about 120 years of life.

He lived as a hermit in a cave in Glendalough yet he attracted people and created community—his cave became the hub of a monastery.

Many of the stories about St. Kevin suggest that he had a deep relationship with the natural world. For example, one legend is that the loneliness of a hermit’s life was alleviated when “the branches and leaves of the trees sometimes sang sweet songs to him.”

Then there is the famous story of St. Kevin and the blackbird.

One day, as the story goes, Kevin was praying with his arm outstretched in his cell in the monastery. The cell was so small that his right arm had to poke out through the window. As he was praying, a blackbird came and nestled in his hand. Then the blackbird started to build a nest. When the nest was complete, the blackbird laid an egg.

Once Kevin realized that the nest and the egg were in his hand, he decided not to move until the egg had hatched and the fledgling had flown away. He didn’t want to risk breaking the egg.

One of the great things about legends is that simple stories are never that simple. This one works on several levels: a good deal of Celtic spirituality is about finding love in hard places; it is about both blood and stone. So, here we have St. Kevin, in his austere cell, undertaking something which is painful and difficult. Another level of the story is the small chick, a fragile creature for which Kevin feels great tenderness, inviting nurture and the pain that might involve. And another facet is yielding to what is emerging.

When we returned home, I ordered the Dancing Monk icon of St. Kevin (from Rabbit Room Arts) then found a small wood hand sculpture and I added a small nest with a bird. These reminders of St. Kevin have been on our home altar since October and I pass it several times a day and  I reflect on these invitations:

*I am invited to yield to what is, to what has been, and what will be.

*I am also invited to pray for the patience of St. Kevin because I sorely lack it.

*And I am invited to submit to God’s work in me, in (my) Kevin, and in our lives.

Kevin of Glendalough Dancing Monk

Seamus Heaney wrote this lovely poem:

St. Kevin and the Blackbird

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff

As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands

And lays in it and settles down to nest.

 

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked

Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked

Into the network of eternal life,

 

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand

Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks

Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.

 

*

And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,

Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?

Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

 

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?

Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?

Or has the shut-eyed blank of underneath

 

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?

Alone and mirrored clear in love’s deep river,

“To labour and not to seek reward,” he prays,

 

A prayer his body makes entirely

For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird

And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.

The Spirit Level, 1996

 

Also, Christine Valters Paintner wrote this exquisite poem here.

Questions I ponder:

  • How many times in my life do I reach out my hands for a particular purpose and something else arrives?
  • What needs to be surrendered or yielded in my life for new life to emerge?
  • What might need nurturing? Is there anything holding me back from nurture: fear of pain, fear of loss, fear of what it might cost?

 

 

What has been capturing my attention

Reading

*My friend Eric Massanari is a chaplain at a retirement center in Kansas. He recently wrote about an interaction with a resident here.

*Another friend, Rachel Miller Jacobs, is an associate professor of Christian formation at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) wrote an powerful reflection on Psalm 146 here.

*The book, The Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. You can find my review here.

*Reflections about Michael J. Sharp, a Mennonite man working in the Democratic Republic of Congo with UN and human rights violations. He was kidnapped on March 12 with his colleague, Zaida Catalan from Sweden, and their bodies were found earlier this week. From Mennonite press and from mainstream media.

 

Watching

*The “George Gently” series on Acorn. I love British mysteries!

*The Trevor Noah stand-up special on Netflix. His impression of Nelson Mandela is riveting. Warning: some language.

*The documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” about writer and activist James Baldwin. I saw this in a full movie theater where everyone was silently engaged with the film. Very powerful film and necessary viewing for everyone.

 

Pondering

*We placed this sign in our front yard about a month ago and I am pondering how I can support local refugees. I’ve been reading D.L. Mayfield’s blog and she offers many suggestions for developing friendships and supporting refugees. Also, her book Assimilate or Die is excellent and you can read my review here. (You can read the backstory about the signs here).

Glad You are Our Neighbor Sign

*Lent. I’ve been reading Paula Huston’s book, Simplifying The Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit for daily reflections. I’ve also been participating in the Lectio Divina Lent study with Abbey of the Arts.

We are quickly approaching Palm Sunday (April 8) and Easter (April 16). I am enjoying my gospel lectionary study as well. Here are my reflections for Lent 2 and Lent 4.

Celebrating

*Kevin and I celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary this weekend. This photo was taken a few years ago at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia when we celebrated his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary with Kevin’s family. I love this photo of us.Kev and June at Peggy's Cove

 

What is captivating you?

Who sinned? Lent 4

Jesus cures the man born blind - John 9:1-41

 

John 9:1-41

9As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

***

The lectionary gospel text for the fourth Sunday of Lent is long and dense. There are many layers that could capture our attention but I want to focus on one thread running through the entire passage: sin.

The story begins with Jesus and the disciples walking past a man born blind. The disciples ask Jesus: who sinned—the parents or the man? They assumed that sin was the cause, or source, of his disability. This was a common belief then and is one now.

Jesus responded that sin didn’t cause the blindness but instead the blindness was an opportunity to reveal God’s glory by healing the man. Then Jesus made a few mud pies, placed them on the man’s eyes and told him to wash at the pool of Siloam. The man’s eyes are healed and he could see. He returned to his neighborhood and new set of problems began.

His neighbors couldn’t believe this was the same man—how could this be? He told them what happened and the neighbors took him to the synagogue leaders, the Pharisees. They begin interrogating him about the healing but they focused instead on the fact that Jesus broke the rabbinical Sabbath laws. The Pharisees declared: “This man [Jesus] is not from God because he didn’t observe the Sabbath.” Others chimed in: “Yea, so Jesus must be a sinner … but how can a sinner perform miracles?”

As the religious authorities continue interrogating the formerly blind man they continually circled back to sin—the man’s sinfulness, Jesus’s sinfulness, offense that someone accused them of sinning, etc.

But here’s the thing: in the gospel of John, sin is not based on behavior, it is focused on one’s relationship with God. According to The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Volume IX):

In the Fourth Gospel, ‘sin’ is not a moral category about behavior, but is a theological category about one’s response to the revelation of God in Jesus. (p.653)

By the time we get to verses 24-25, the formerly blind man’s insistence on what he knows from experience confronts the religious authorities with their own contradictory understanding of sin. Their focus on the violation of the Sabbath laws keeps them from seeing the glorious wonder of the healing.

Finally, in v. 41, Jesus redefines the meaning and understanding of sin. While the Pharisees have physical sight they are unable to see God’s loving face revealed to them through Jesus. For John, sin isn’t about what we do but almost exclusively about one’s relationship with Jesus, and whether we believe that God was revealed in Jesus.

Sin is witnessing the healing love of God, but not recognizing it as such. Sin is sitting in the presence of a beautiful sunrise, but staring at your phone.  Sin is deciding what the Bible says, instead of being open to hearing God’s active voice though the Bible. Sin did not cause the blind man’s blindness, but blindness to God causes sin.

The story of the healing of the blind man and the ensuing discussion about sin invites me to reconsider how I view others and my own behavior—am I quick to judge someone as sinful when only God can do that?  And, will I pray for eyes that see and ears to hear God’s presence in me and around me? I hope so.

 

JESUS MAFA. Jesus cures the man born blind, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48383