Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Mary Passions: Easter Morning

Internet image
This reflection is the third of a three part series titled The Mary Passions. The Mary Passions take the biblical text for the Passion of Christ, the anointing of Jesus' feet, and the resurrection and re-imagine them through the lens of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Palm Sunday); Mary of Bethany (Maundy Thursday); and Mary Magdalene (Easter).  All three may be found at Feminist Theology in an Age of Fear and Hope

These reflections were inspired by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski, and written in collaboration with The Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig (Palm Sunday reflection) and The Rev. Anne Wolf Fraley  (Easter morning reflection).  Anne Fraley wrote this Easter Day reflection. 

The Passion of Mary Magdalene
Easter Morning

I had not slept. Since leaving Golgotha I had been overwhelmed by despair. Whether from gray skies and starless nights or the weight of grief pressed against my heart, I do not know. But I did not sleep—my mind raced, struggling to grasp our crushing loss.  Was he truly gone, my beloved Jesus, my friend?

I was there, crouched beside his mother as we watched the wind whip against the bareness of his body, the force of which blew his hair across his face.  I could not turn my eyes from his. I did not want the memory of his suffering to burn itself into my mind, so I looked only at his eyes.  I must tell you, his eyes were extraordinary. They bore the pain of his injury, a tender, forgiving dullness outshone by deep and abiding love. I do not know how such contradictory expressions could be revealed at once, but I should not be surprised. He is no ordinary man.

I remember that my hands were numb. His mother and I clung tightly to one another during those endless hours. She was drained of strength, stumbling several times as she stood faithfully near her son. A merchant whose curiosity had led him off the path as he left the city gates drew a cushion from his stores and brought it to Mary to ease her plight.

Jesus’ breathing became shallow, yet he did not fight what he knew awaited him. He raised his head a bit and looked at us. Upon his mother he looked long and with deep devotion. I felt the tension slip from her being with a deep sigh, and when I looked her face was drawn with comprehension and the tug of peace suggested a smile.  My eyes shifted back to his, and in the deepening darkness of them I saw the world gathered to him.  He did not smile, but the same peace that touched his mother radiated from him. Our eyes locked in wordless farewell, and with one last, penetrating gaze he entrusted his heart and wisdom to me and released his last breath.

Mary sank against me, and I was grateful for the need to tend to her as the enormity of our loss gripped my soul. I remember little else, for which I am glad—no one should endure the agony of love being stolen from them.  What I recall is that we were swallowed by the deep darkness of night, and there remained until the song of the birds alerted us to this dawning day.

We gathered our oil and spices and ventured into the early morning light to go to the tomb. We did not speak. The ritual of this loving obligation to the dead was well known to us, and conversation flowed between us in the sorrowful echoes of our footsteps.

It looked as it did when his body was laid to rest two days before. The entrance to the tomb, small but easily accessible, was marked by the scars of its recent hewing, jagged and raw.  I felt oddly comforted by its gaping darkness, as it reflected the state of my own soul—jagged, raw and dark.  Perhaps it was for this reason that I gathered the folds of my dress around me without hesitation and ducked through the opening to confront the reality of my lifeless beloved.

The others followed behind me, and our eyes adjusted to the darkness with growing puzzlement.  “He is not here,” my voice broke the silence after several moments. We looked at one another, fear beginning to creep into our blood. I set the ointment down beside the lonely shroud that had wrapped his body and made my way around the perimeter of the tomb. It was as empty as I felt.

Of a sudden the tomb was filled with light, as though the sun had breached the horizon and directed its rays to illuminate our devastated world.  So vivid was the light that at first we did not see the two men who stood before us in radiating brilliance. It was too much for our heavy hearts to bear, and our knees gave way to our fear as we fell to the ground, averting our gaze from this terrible wonder.

“Do not be afraid,” one of them spoke gently. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

My thoughts reached deep into the mystery that was this man we all loved, Jesus, whose teaching changed our hearts and thus, our lives.  The experience of him, of what had become known through him, began to take hold and banish the fear that had begun to settle in my heart. I had no answers, but neither was I afraid.  “He is not here,” I heard my voice again, this time with a hint of confidence.  Could it be? Was it possible that the promise of his triumph was more than a metaphor, that it was, in fact, the miracle we were blessed to witness here in this tomb?

“He has risen?” queried one of my companions behind me, and another shouted with excitement, “He is risen!”

In one heartbeat we turned to find the men gone. The light, however, continued to fill the emptiness, permeating our hearts with the fullness of love. Then grief gave way to awareness, and in that shattering awareness we began to leap with a joy that we had never known.

Before we knew it we were rushing from the tomb toward the village, and before long we came upon the place where the disciples had gathered. Peter, hearing our ruckus, got up and began to move toward us. When he saw who he were he stopped, puzzled by our exuberance.  One by one the others got up and moved toward us, and by the time we reached them they were drawn together in a cluster of confusion and concern.

Peter grasped my arms in his hands. “What is it?” he demanded, fearing, I think, that our mourning had given way to delirium. We began to talk all at once, sharing the gleeful news of our Lord’s rising. The significance of our words began to sink in, but they were backing up and turning away, dismissing our claims as fantasy and wishful thinking. Only Peter continued to listen, but doubt, too, clouded his eyes. 

At last we fell into silence, and Peter looked at each of us, furrows of weariness and the weight of sin etched across his forehead. “Go home,” he said at last. “You are tired. We are all tired. We will talk soon.”

In stunned silence we turned away and began our walk to the place where we lodged. I turned once to look back, and saw Peter begin to move in the direction from which we had come. Our heads were swimming, our hearts were bursting, and in a daze we returned to the city while the miracle of the morning began to take hold and fill us with hope and expectation.

That evening Peter came to see us, bringing with him the oil and spices we had abandoned at the tomb.  I knew when I saw him enter the doorway that he had seen and believed. His face was no longer ravaged by the bitterness of the last few days, but was illuminated by the light of joy and renewal. I took the jars from him and wrapped my arms around him, and in that moment we felt buoyed by the love that been bequeathed to and would now sustain us.

We talked long into the night until the full impact of all we had witnessed and come to understand was within our reach. Outside the door, stars hidden from view the previous nights seemed to sparkle with a new brightness, and though my heart still ached with loss, peace coursed through my veins like a soothing tonic.

He was risen. The world might appear the same, but in each breath I took I would draw in the power of love as I served God’s people with compassion and mercy. There was joyful news to share about the God of our people, and as the knowledge of that love unfolded in the days to come, lives would be healed and restored, love would bind wounds and forgiveness would open hearts to reconciliation.  Our Lord had work yet to do, and we would be part of it. He was risen indeed. Alleluia!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

the daffodil principle

Whether it's one day at a time, one hour at a time, or twenty-minute stints here and there, I have really come to value the practice of pacing myself. When life holds as much uncertainty as ours does here, the accumulation of  tasks can become overwhelming. In my case, overwhelming can lead to paralysis, and then it's just one big, ugly cycle of getting nowhere.

Catalyzed by knowing that someone would be coming to the house today, yesterday I began cleaning up in earnest. Somewhere there's an ecard floating around that says a house never gets so clean as in the ten minutes before you have company. Anyone besides me raise their hand to confess to that reality? (This is how the flylady generated a very successful web site based on the idea of CHAOS: Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome).

I took it slow. Gave myself 30 minutes with a promised break at the end of that time. Did the dishes, and made some critical decisions about things that were cluttering the countertops. Took a break. Tackled some of the stuff that was hiding the top of the dining table.  Took a break. Shifted to the bathroom and began decluttering the counter there. Took a break. Living room--items on the coffee table. Back to the dining table. With breaks in between I was able to disengage the notion of "have to get this done!" and relax. I had permission to play spider solitaire, check in on facebook, or take some time with the daily sudoku. By lunch time I had made significant progress.

This morning as I look at the remaining tasks that I would like to accomplish I don't feel overwhelmed. There is still plenty to do (my office--egad!), but I can take time out comfortably to make the banana muffins that Ken would like, and I can even spend a little time this afternoon (after our visitor has come and gone) cheering on Tiger Woods in this weekend's gold tournament. 

The concept of pacing, of breaking down a large task to manageable pieces is hardly new. I was helped in beginning to assimilate it into my life through something I read years ago called the daffodil principle. As a person who thrives on metaphor and imagery it is helpful to me to see how the application of making incremental progress can make a difference in the grand scheme of things. As a lover of daffodils, this particular principle never helps bring a smile to my heart and my face. 

Happy Spring--enjoy some daffodils.

image from the work of Rick Huotari at Fine Art America

Friday, March 15, 2013

once upon a stream of consciousness

So.... last night I was at a Pampered Chef training event. I go to these whenever I can and soak up the tools they share and try to expand my satchel of business savvy. I actually know a fair amount after six years of being a consultant, and I have lots of tips to share with and offer to other consultants. I'm a storehouse of information.

And still, my own efforts in this business are almost flat-lined. I know that I am my own worst enemy, with habits that interfere with success. I don't have a fear of success, as some  adages go, but I do have some less than helpful habits that don't help me. As the trainer reminded us last night: what we do in the next two hours, two days and two weeks will impact our business, and what we don't do in the next two hours, two days and two weeks will impact our business. As she also said, this isn't rocket science. 

She also got us to look more deeply into the reasons behind why we think we don't do better. For me? I don't have a goal. Sure, I want to succeed, schedule shows and sell lots of products. I'd be happy to recruit others to this business who want to earn extra money, grow personally and professionally, and perhaps make a career doing this. I've got lots of knowledge to share, and I'm a good coach and mentor (in many respects). But what the trainer told me last night when I acknowledged that I didn't have a goal because I didn't know what I wanted was that until I had a goal I would not succeed. 

This resonates entirely with my current vocational quest. Employment may be a goal of sorts, but it's not the kind of goal that helps me find employment for which I am suited and that I will find satisfying. God seems to have left the ball in my court for the time being on this subject, and though I am beyond frustrated with the enduring silence from divine quarters, I understand and am familiar with both this process and this desert.

Although not directly related to the content of last night's training I was reminded of an answer I gave to an interview question last summer when I was asked about a "five year plan." What did I want to be doing? Work that I found satisfying and helped me thrive, was my answer. That's pretty vague, but it was a light bulb moment for me. What is related to last night is this: my goals aren't materially oriented. I don't have my sights set on a particular vehicle or a design for a custom-built home. Although there are some "things" I would like to have in my possession, those "things" are not the ends, but means toward other satisfactions (like a good camera for my photography), or tools to assist me in particular endeavors (like Neat Desk to organize my files and get all the paper off my desk!). I recalled something I wrote to a friend recently about attending a milestone celebration of an organization I used to support as a board member. I'll write more about all this in another post at some point, but for now I'll simply share that, in an effort to create an endowment to secure a financial basis for this organization, the cost to attend this celebration is waaayyyy beyond my means. It's a bit demoralizing to be invited to an event whose price tag excludes me, and not to be able to contribute to or bid on silent and live auction items that include things like cruises, a stay at a private home on an island in the Caribbean, or a trip to Napa with exclusive perks. What I shared with my friend is that I wish I were a philanthropist so that I could support the many worthy causes in which I believe and need help. Although not exactly concrete, this is a dream that includes some specificity and can help me define some goals toward which I can reach.

Does this make Pampered Chef the answer for me? No, but I will say this for it. For six years my association with the Pampered Chef has consistently encouraged me to dream, to reach, to discover and to succeed. I have had access to tools, training and personal support related to all of that. For the time being, I intend to seize what is in front of me and rebuild my confidence toward a future that resonates more clearly with what fits who I am and who I am to become. This is not to the exclusion of other interests and ongoing discernment, but as a means to help myself and my family breathe more easily as I make my way on this journey. Just because I'm in the desert doesn't mean I can't bloom

Monday, March 04, 2013

monday miscellaney

Here we are already greeting the fourth of March--where in the world do the days go? I had imagined sneaking in a project 56.0 update at the end of February, and zoom! Speaking of snipping (last post) I guess February took a hit and lost a few days. I wonder how that month was chosen to receive the annual trim?

Today is my grandmother's 111th birthday. She's no longer with us, but her influence in my life is so woven through my being that she truly is with me every day. I talk to her occasionally. She was incredibly wise, and in spite of sometimes suggesting that I could do better in certain aspects of my life (she was right), she had a tender and gentle heart full of compassion.

A brief project 56.0 update:

I've been reading like a fiend! Since finishing Dating Jesus I polished off a short little work on Templar random acts of chivalry, and I'm a chapter short of  the end of Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices and Life Lessons from the White House, by Bud Krogh. More on that in a sec.

I'm plugging along on my cross stitch effort. Some days I just zoom along with my head down, and other days I barely manage to stitch two lengths of thread. I think that has more to do with the strain on my eyes than anything else. In spite of having my eyes checked just a few months ago and with a new prescription for the computer, my "off the rack" reading glasses just aren't doing the job any longer. While painting a couple of weeks ago, and now while doing close work on canvas, I'm wearing two pairs of glasses simultaneously so that I can see. I even upgraded a pair of reading glasses to the next level of magnification, but...

Such joy, aging.

I'm afraid I haven't added any more items to my list of 56 items. I had better get creative soon!

We had some flurries over the weekend. Except for rooftops and cold places (like the top of the grill) there wasn't any accumulation, but I loved watching it come down. Snow makes my heart glad.

Back to the book. Bud Krogh was part of the Nixon administration and headed up what was called "The Plumbers," whose job it was to investigate some specific leaks that Nixon thought imperiled national security. The book came out six years ago, and I bought it after hearing Terry Gross interview Krogh on NPR's "Fresh Air" program. I was impressed by the revelation shared during the interview that his value to act with integrity led him to plead guilty to a particular crime with which he was charged. It was that aspect of the interview that led me to buy the book, and I rediscovered it while we've been shifting books and their cases in the process of our floor re-do. All this was connected to the Watergate investigation, a period of our history that I barely remember because politics totally bored me in those days. It's interesting to read about it through the particular lens of Krogh's story. It's particularly interesting to read Krogh's almost dispassionate perspective of Nixon, given that in my family he garnered no respect whatsoever. The book isn't political. Instead its focus is to reveal how loyalty can obscure the greater context in which we live and make decisions. Whether or not we recognize the conflicts that are inherent in so many of the choices we are called upon to make is indicative of the degree of our integrity and our capacity to hold ourselves accountable for our choices. Thought-provoking stuff.
All in all it's been an interesting read, and I'm eager to set my sights on the next book I'll take up.

What are you reading, and what do you recommend?

Have a good week!

Friday, March 01, 2013

friday five: snip, snip

It's Friday Five time! Over at RevGals, Pat is pairing today's event with the thundering hooves of sequestration. She writes: "let's all agree that there are some things that it would be good to have less of, some things that could use a nice trimming.

I invite you to name five of them here! The possibilities are endless, from the pruning required for the health of a tree to the hair cut that makes us feel fabulous. What are you planning to cut in the near future? And in what way will those cuts improve someone's life?"

1) My first cut is my weight, by cutting calories via carbs. I don't actually consume a lot of calories, but I need to shift the content of what I do consume. 

2) Related to #1, cut back on sedentary time, which translates into burning more calories in order to lose the weight.

3) Cut back on computer time. One of my goals for myself is to bring back into my life some former pleasures. I have already had some success with this, Since Christmas I have read four books (my goal is one per month), which is, sad to say, more than what I've read in the last several years!

4) Cut back on fear. There are a few areas of my life where I hold back because I don't want to deal with potential consequences (this is mostly focused in the area of loving confrontation).

5) The other thing I would like to trim is the house. One way to accomplish that is by cutting the clutter (a process already underway: big ol' yard sale ahead!). The other is to trim the house with decor. We only decorate at Christmas. There are plenty of other seasons to celebrate with festive touches here and there to bring a spot of color to an otherwise neglected corner or overlooked shelf. Thankfully there are already a boatload of ideas that I've saved on Pinterest.

I think the benefits of each of these are fairly obvious. Although I may be the direct beneficiary in most cases, the concept of systemic change applies.


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