Preparation

Scrubbing. It’s what I’ve been doing for three days now. That, and assembling furniture.

On Saturday, I moved to a house on the grounds of a monastery, where I will be on retreat for the next five months. I have known this monastery for a long time, and have always found it to be a place of peace and prayer, of warm community and generous hospitality. And so I had visions of peace and a gentle settling in to quiet, to reflection, to growth in a godward direction.

But reclaiming an old house makes its own demands, and this one had not been inhabited for months. There were mouse droppings in the kitchen, ground-in dirt in the bathroom tiles, enormous amounts of dust everywhere: floors, lighting fixtures, window-ledges; even the fireplace screen was choked with ash. And so I have been administering the sacred rites of Pine Sol and mop, vacuum and screwdriver.

I would like to say that I have great enthusiasm for this work, but I’d be lying. What I do have is enthusiasm for the goal: a house for the spirit, a place of healing and learning and tears and joy. When I arrived here, I found that a friend had sent ahead a book of blessings from John O’Donohue. It contains one of my favorites:

May all that is unforgiven in you
Be released.

May your fears yield
Their deepest tranquilities.

May all that is unlived in you
Blossom into a future
Graced with love.

That is what I want from this place, and it is worth the work of preparation.

One question keeps haunting me, through all this work of cleansing: What would it mean to work this hard to prepare my heart for the coming of Christ within it? I am not sure of the answer; my theology tells me that grace comes, whether we will it or not. No human being can compel God. And yet…our preparation does matter. The life we lead, the kindness we give or withhold, the good we do for one another or leave undone: these matter. They shape our souls to be hospitable to Christ, or less so.

Jesus told a parable about a man who had an unclean spirit. And after it had gone away, it returned, and found the man’s soul cleaned and swept and ready to be inhabited, so it brought along seven of its buddies and made the man more miserable than ever. But if we can prepare our souls for what is evil, surely we can also prepare them for what is holy, for the indwelling spirit of God. What would that work look like in your life? What is holding you back from accomplishing it?

 

 

 

 

 

What next?

sandcastle-washed-awayWhen I was a small child, we moved around a lot. By the time I was four, I had lived in five homes, four cities, and two countries. And so I have always had a strong sense that the life I live is provisional, makeshift: that it can vanish and be replaced at any time. In the summers, sometimes, we would go to the ocean, and I would build castle after castle, shoring them up against the ravages of the sea. But, every time, the waters rolled in.

Here’s the thing: I kept on building them.

This morning is a bit like that. This is my last Daily Cup. This Sunday, I will be moving from the church I have served these last five years, and I’m not entirely sure what will come next. And our nation has awoken to the morning after a bitterly-divisive election, and we are not sure what comes next. (Oh, we know who comes next, just not what.) No matter who won this election, many were going to experience it as a death-knell for the country they love.

So this morning, I woke up. I got out of bed. I walked the dog. I made some tea and prayed. It’s the grown-up version of what I did after each move, when I was a child: Unpacked the toys. Arranged the stuffed animals. Ate breakfast.

The most ordinary details of our life stitch this world together: Parents bathing a child. Tending an elderly parent. People feeding one another, washing the laundry. Kathleen Norris calls these things “the quotidian mysteries”: the relentless round of daily tasks that somehow, by grace, bind us to one another and open us to God. Take refuge in them. There is a strong power in these simple things: power to carry us through.

Last night, when the results began to come in, my friends started to text one another, thentumblr_m5i4dmdmu01r4bxnf to call. We needed to hear one another’s voice. We were frightened about what this land might become, about what kind of country our children might grow up in. What kinds of language and action they might accept as ordinary, just another part of the world in which we live. We needed to remember that there were others out there: people who have dedicated their lives to the work of making an inclusive world, a world in which doors are open and communities are welcoming and every human being is honored as a living, breathing, image of God. We reached out to one another to remind ourselves that we still have one another. That we are not alone.

If this were an ordinary day, I might end this here. I might remind us that the good things of our ordinary life and the friends of our right hand are what God has given us this day. I might say we should honor them, and I would be right. We should. They are God’s gift, just as you are, and if the mystery of Christ means anything, this astonishing claim that God took on human flesh and ate and drank and bathed and walked and laughed and wept, then surely it means that these things of our every day are holy, sanctified by his touch. That when we practice them with an open heart, Christ comes to meet us through the thin veil. That in times of trouble, they carry us, as surely as any chariot of fire.

But I am writing this today not only as a pastor, but also as a human being: as a woman, as a person of Jewish descent, and as a survivor of sexual assault. Over the last year and more, my gender, my tribe, and my past have been assaulted in word and in image, over and over again. I cannot pretend that this is an ordinary day, not even an ordinary day after an election.

So the other half of what I want to say to you this morning is this: be vigilant. There was always a serpent in that garden.

11There’s a strange thing about the myth of Adam and Eve: at the end of the story, they are cast out of Eden and an angel with a flaming sword is positioned between them and the Tree of Life. But the serpent is not cast out. The serpent stays.

It is not enough to pray. It is not enough to cling to those we love. If we wish to honor the dignity of every human being, we must also work. We must build nets and strengthen relationships and reach out of our comfort zones and work to build the communities we love. “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” (Song of Songs, 8:7) Even if the waters seem to wash them away, we can always build again.

And we are not alone in that work. There are so many groups already out there, tattered angels who walk their rounds night and day, patrolling the edges of our world, making sure that no one falls away. They are groups like the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center, Episcopal Migration Ministries, the House of Ruth, the Equal Justice Initiative, and others you could name.

Many months ago, I wrote on another blog: “I guess what I’m saying is this: it’s not up to our leaders to shape this world. It’s up to us. Each of us has a ballot, but each of us also has a life: the days and minutes and hours that God has given us. The ballot is a powerful tool and great gift of freedom, and every one of us should use it to support whomever we think can best lead our nation, our city, or our state. But of the two, the second is more powerful: what you do with your life.” (If you missed that post, you can find it here: http://stalbansdc.org/the-daily-cup/vote-your-life/).

And so, today, I urge you to contact one of these organizations (or one of your own choosing) and make an offering. Send five dollars or ten; send a hundred or a thousand: that gift is your first stake in the ongoing work of making a world that is hospitable to Jesus. It matters that people of good will stand up and pitch in and do this work. And it matters that we keep on keeping on. Because this world is in our hands; we are the workers of God. We are our brother’s keeper, and our sister’s keeper, and our neighbor’s neighbor. We are the people God has redeemed to do the work, and we are the agents of grace and the bearers of mercy.

In the words of St. John of the Cross, “Where there is no love, put love in.” That is the whole work of God. There is no other.