13 March 2014

Lenten Prayer: Week 1 Fast

Dear God,

I am trying to make sense of all of the ways to fast.  How I am to please You with the fast. How to teach others to fast during Lent.

Would it be too simple of me to practice fasting, giving up, people who distract me from You?

For instance, giving up nagging my spouse to come to church with me at least one Sunday a month so I can keep face among the church ladies?  Or, giving up that casual lover who only seems to want the hook-up on Bible Study night or during early morning Prayer Line?  What about my not giving the side eye to that bank teller who always got an attitude?  Or, giving up the parking spot grudge with my neighbor held for the past three years?

Tell me, would this be the kind of fast You would chose for me this Lent?

"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?" Isaiah 58:6

12 March 2014

God's Portrait by Charles Mingus (1922-1979)

With the first Sunday of Lent coming in the morning, I had settled in at home to a day of painting for an installation that was currently being juried across the country.  Painting (with acrylics) beckons me to stillness which comes with watching each stroke and layer take shape; and  equally so, chaos of spreading out paints and brushes and drop cloths and jars of water.  There is no other way to paint. Or so I thought, in that moment.

Just as the sun was setting on the eve of setting the clocks forward an hour (aka losing an hour's sleep or being late for church), one of my village sons, a Hindu student at MIT, invited me to come hear his jazz band play. Without hesitation, I knew I was to say "yes." I began staging my paintings to dry overnight and cleaning my brushes to not follow suit.  I dressed in village mother leather, leggings, and boots (yes, I am a fly village mother) and made it to the venue with three minutes to spare.  On the way there, I received an email that my ticket would be waiting for me.  What an honor, especially being that I would have paid to attend, regardless.

To know me is to know that I really appreciates LIVE music.  This was to be no exception. Even with a few tech problems and varying levels of musician competency, I imagined each piece in the dance -- each movement the ensemble, each solo a prima donna. I grinned broadly in the dim lighting as village son had a trumpet solo in "All That" (2000 by Kenny Werner, b.1951)!  I enthusiastically snapped at the physicality of the bassist who literally danced the entire set with his stringed partner.  I wished I could hear Kirk Whalem'nem play De-Evolution of Blues (2005 by Mark Harvey, b.1946).  And then, that moment...

That moment when God appears to have entered my row, pardoning stepping over me to take a seat, as the conductor announced that the ensemble would perform for the first time, this arrangement of Charles Baron Mingus' "God's Portrait" (1963) rearranged as "Portrait" (2014) by Peter Godart (MIT'15).  Through the mystery of music I could see God in the sturdy bottom of the bass (Mingus' primary instrument), Jesus in the brass horns crisp-noted brilliance, and Spirit in the aspirant notes of the saxophones. I deeply associate music with dance and now my eyes are opened to see music in the art of painting!

I can not wait to set up to paint again. Until then, I will be listening for the music to play for each stroke, melodies of each hue, and harmony of a finished portrait.  A portrait of divine inspiration.  Inspiration played as improvisation. Although every stroke and chord would be deliberate, all of the elements of improvisation would be present.  Like jazz.  Like Mingus' portrait of God.

If you have never had a moment when divine visitation bridges your handwork to your heart work, I pray you do some time during Lent.

Ash Wednesday Mass

I woke disturbed Ash Wednesday morning because I had to work. Ever grateful for my job, I silently resented not being able to step away without accountability to a Noon Mass and The Imposition of Ashes. I feared that again I would have to miss the congregational awe of this service in Christian worship. I worked, taunted by capitalism, convicted by integrity, and burdened with accountability to my employer. To make matters worse, I had to work overtime to meet a deadline, thereby delaying my private ceremony of penitence. I felt resentful grumbling reverberating through every pore of my being. Again, between pleas and curses, I longed to work in full-time church ministry for which these moments are par for course and never to be missed again. I confess, I was not fully present at all that day at work, then...

Just as I stepped foot inside the door of home, still pouting and begrudging my fate, a friend informed me of a nighttime Ash Wednesday Mass at an Anglican church in downtown. My spirit soared and a within minutes I figured out how to get to the area, have a bite of dinner, and meet up with him to walk the next quarter mile to the church! In a moment, in an eyelash bat and shallow sigh, the gift of worship was given me. Oh, God, forgive my grumbling; and thank you Spirit for having me hear the opportunity to worship Ash Wednesday Mass, after all!

And, what a gift it was! This was no hurried, harried, holy ritual. No, this gift was High Church, with all of the pageantry, incense, bowing, crossing, chanting, kneeling, and singing. Oh. My. GOD! No only was I given an Ash Wednesday Mass, it was over two hours long -- longer than the regular old Sunday worship and just long enough to SELAH between living and dying anew! And so, with each breath, I settled into the place of being aware of my sinfulness until I was nestled in the comfort of the familiar of God's gift of forgiveness. At some moment between resting in the peculiar joy of getting to come to Ash Wednesday Mass, after all, and exiting the church, I found myself no longer enumerating my sins and contemplating my fasts. Instead, my heart overflowed with gratitude!

As I sung choral responses from memory, I gave God thanks and praise for: Fuller Theological Seminary, All Saints Episcopal Church - Pasadena, my love of poetry, and my soul's love of music. As I listened intently to canonical and apocryphal readings, I rejoiced in being from a culture of orality, ability to hear and comprehend, predilection to imagine and embody, and exegetical knowledge and morphological nuance of the written and spoken words. As I knelt for prayer and received the Blessing/Sacrament, there was no known peace that compared to that moment of being in the presence of God, with the congregation of the saints, and all alone -- at the same time.

 Thanks be to God. Amen.

05 March 2014

Ash Wednesday Prayer 2014

Dear God,

Approaching Lent I am transported back to the innocence of childhood joy. Of feeling excited about the magic of changing clocks ahead one hour to sync with longer days of daylight. Even then, there was something holy about my participating in the mystery of time. Not knowing when the beginning began nor its end, and yet, naively believing that my gently pushing the thin metal hands of the analog clock counterclockwise could somehow impact time that is Yours and Yours alone. 

For the next 40 days, may we use the extra daylight to be mindful “to do what is right, to love mercy, and to live humbly with [our] God.” Instead of focusing on forcing the fragility of our flesh to give up pleasures, may we seek opportunities to do more right, show more mercy, and take time to sit contemplating Your call for us to participate in redeeming time for Your glory. 

To You who makes months seem like minutes and a thousand years seem like a day, we submit ourselves this Lenten season to living out Your glory in all time that is in Your hands, in Your hands alone. 

‘But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ 
/2 Peter 3:8-9