Gravity

I have been stewing over an idea for a very long time. It is an image that has been building over the years. The past few days has brought it to the surface again.

I have to start by saying that images from nature and concepts from science have always been powerful sources of metaphor for me. In addition to being intrinsically wonderful and true all by themselves, they have always contained, at least for me, seeds of insight about creation, human nature, and the divine. Sometimes even the most mundane or ridiculous images…well read for yourself.

A little over 20 years ago, a friend wondered aloud if perhaps gravity was love, or love was gravity. What would that mean? Do heavier objects have more love? Does weight – the pull between two objects – indicate more love? Do atoms have less love than Jupiter and Saturn? It was a fun thought experiment for non-scientists and we took it to extremes. There was something more to it for me, though, just the tiniest idea that love might be the invisible force between things. The thing you can’t see, but which causes everything you see to happen.

Then, more recently – but not too – I was with my son at a summer camp. All week, the boys had been studying space exploration and using those ideas as themes for all their activities. As a volunteer for his group of campers, I headed over to a slip-and-slide and nearly tripped over a basketball labeled SUN. As the boys splashed, I stepped back and saw something about 12 yards away – a stick with a white card on it. When I got closer, I saw a miniscule poppy seed and the word MERCURY. I was in the middle of a scale model of the Solar System.

Another 10 yards away was VENUS, and EARTH 10 yards past that. Each no bigger than the head of a pin. A tiny speck 3 inches from EARTH was the MOON. Sixteen yards from EARTH was MARS, then an asteroid belt.

The scouts were ready for another activity and so we walked through the camp. It was another half hour before I saw a small ball labeled JUPITER. It was more than a football field away from EARTH. As the day progressed, I saw SATURN and URANUS but there was no room for the rest – we were at the edge of the property. URANUS was a third of a mile from the basketball sun and the size of a large marble. This model solar system would not have fit inside a university football stadium.

Standing there in the camp, it was hard to imagine that the basketball more than two football fields away could have an effect on the specks and marbles I had passed. I couldn’t even see the sun at the end point. I began to wonder how things that are so far apart – and some of them nearly invisible – could be related to each other. How could they hang together? And yet they did.

It was at this point in the Solar System stroll that the long-ago conversation about gravity surfaced – the invisible force keeping planets in their orbits, causing tides to rise and fall, and keeping my feet on the ground. For someone like me who believes God is love, the idea of this invisible force is analogous to love, the force that holds everything together…well that seems to be the kind of thing so utterly true it could only be expressed through metaphor. It is the only way I have of grasping the Divine. Or Love.

I don’t know about you, but a lot of the time, I feel like I am as small as the tiny seed representing MERCURY. (Sometimes as small as an asteroid.) There are times I feel as isolated and distant as JUPITER. How can anything I do or say affect those other beings out there? How does any of it matter? In real life, all the space between the planets and the sun looks empty, but it isn’t. Just like the space between people, between nations, between even the electrons in atoms – what looks empty is filled with force. The force of words and actions, the force of compassion, of shared vision, of shared orientation around…a sun? A source of light.

Shared humanity and created-ness is a force of connection. For humans, a lack of love – of gravity – sends us spinning off into darkness. But knowing that you are connected, however invisibly, to those other parts of creation can be enough to help you act on that connection, to honor the pull of gravity and love.

 

Baptism

Immersion in water is entry to a promise
Yet
Like learning a language
Daily ablution
Allows the grammar of that promise
To soak in
Immersion in fellowship and breaking bread
Submersion in service and love
Enveloped by the longing
for justice and peace
Communal, not personal
Continuous, not a moment

 

 

Theophany

The burning bush. Was it supernatural vandalism? Or holy art?
The bush was green again in the end.
But once you’ve seen those flames,
Your attention cannot be un-grabbed.
It makes you wonder about the way things ought to be and look and feel.
You will keep looking for beauty in unexpected places.
And the unexpected in beautiful places.

 

The 99

Today, the Gospel reading was the parable of the lost sheep. Of course, it is also the parable of the 99 left behind. Poor sheep. Either lost of left.

Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
Luke 15:4

Or maybe there is another way to see it.

Sheep are meant to be in flocks, not alone. When one goes wandering, it needs finding and a shepherd will go looking. But a lost sheep isn’t home until it is back with its flock. Back with the 99 who stayed. They weren’t left, they were being the flock so the lost one would know where home was.

I was with my flock today. My tribe, my peeps. I hope if I ever go wandering, I’ll know I am found when I am back with them again. And I also hope when anyone else wanders in, they will know they are home. No matter which sheep you are in this tale, you are essential to the whole, made to be with your flock, your tribe, your community. It’s not the same without you.

Shadows and soil

Some of the stones in this old cemetery have names and dates,
others are rendered anonymous by time.
Anonymous to me, but not to those who placed them
or to the oaks and vines that grow from the soil enriched by the stories buried there.
Walking along the weedy paths
we cast shadows on the stones and earth,
on the wood and grass.
Those buried here can tell just as much about us from our shadows
as we can tell about them from the life that springs from their graves.
Together, we make a full story of beginnings and endings, life and death
and all that connects us to each other.

Grounded

This morning, my daughter and I went on a morning hike. It was glorious. Several women, a couple of girls, and the best dog in the world (sorry Max) walked on a portion of the greenbelt that snakes its way through the western side of our city. Water was coursing through what had been a dry creek bed last summer.

Those of us over…well, let’s say over 5 feet tall…reminded ourselves to breath deeply and be mindful. Halfway down the trail, we stopped for some meditation that helped us feel connected to the earth beneath our feet, to feel supported and grounded in nature, to let the air cleanse us. The lush green trees and flowing water called our attention away from cell phones and the sounds of traffic just a few feet away.

During the hike itself, my daughter was mostly engaged and excited, but she rolled her eyes each time one of us reminded the others to breathe. Our mid-hike, mountain-pose breathing meditations were too still for her. I started to get frustrated…

But you know what, my daughter didn’t need these reminders to connect with nature. She is literally closer to the earth than I – by about 12 inches. At the start of our adventure, she made friends with a millipede, put it on a stick and brought it along on the hike. She is the one who encouraged us to wade in the creek, to feel the cool water and the stones under our feet, to let the minnows tickle our toes.

Legs the Millipede, our hiking companion

We are made from earth, every cell and the space between them. At every age we have ways of remembering that connection. For those of us with busy, indoor lives and lots of lists, it takes a hike and a reminder to breathe. Some see nature as a place filled with friends like millipedes, others see it as a wonder of mathematical beauty or principles. Farmers and gardeners have a different relationship to the earth than pilots and sailors. We  each help the others see a different facet of our earthiness. One day, my daughter will need a reminder to breathe, and a child will remind her to make friends with a millipede.

Learning to take things more personally

My daughter is in the 3rd grade so I know a lot of 8 and 9-year-olds. They are silly and creative, loving and infuriating. They take in the world around them and make it all personal. Sometimes we call this tendency self-centeredness, but it is the age-appropriate way children experience and relate to the world around them. The weather is personal because it can cancel a field trip. (It did.) Traffic is personal because it makes a commute long and boring. (All the time.) Chocolate milk is amazing because it is delicious…and also stupid for sloshing onto a shirt. (Yep. Stupid.) My daughter has a love-hate relationship with water that is directly proportional to whether I am asking her to take a shower. The tendency of water to make a person wet is very personal.
Kids this age convey heartbreak more clearly and dramatically than adults. Sometimes it comes across as a tantrum that needs calming, but sometimes it comes across as a wake-up call. Their reactions can tell us that the things we take for granted as background noise are deeply personal.
Yesterday, my daughter told me this: “Mommy, don’t vote for Trump. My friend said if he is president she will have to leave because she is not the right religion, her religion is from another country.”
The xenophobic rhetoric of this election season has become so heated and so infused into everyday conversation that this child’s life is in suspension.
We are better than this.
It is a tribute to this girl’s parents that she feels acceptable and loved by her community. But that doesn’t make it better.
Here is the kicker: this girl’s parents are legal immigrants and the family is not Muslim. Messages aimed at illegal immigrants from Mexico and adherents to Islam have now bled beyond those targets to all those who are “other” in our communities. This girl is not wrong to think she is the target of the fear and hatred she overhears in everyday political discourse – the target has grown to envelope her. And now, it has grown to include my white, Christian daughter as well.
That is what fear and hatred do, they are contagious. We can’t just blame them on a few narrow-minded people, because if fear and hatred are not checked they spread. I’m taking a cue from my favorite 3rd graders. I am taking this personally. Fear and hatred are not background noise; they target and harm real people that I know and love.
Calling out fear and hatred is age-appropriate for everyone. Make it personal, y’all.

Saint Brigid

Brigid – known also as Brigit, Bridget, Brid, Bride – is a patroness of Ireland, along with Patrick and Columba. Her life mirrors a huge cultural shift during the 5th and 6th Centuries, when Christianity was introduced to the pagan clans of Medieval Ireland.

There is a tale in which Brigid is asked by friends to visit a dying pagan chieftain. He was delirious in his illness and they hoped she could calm him. As she sat by his bedside, she picked up some rushes from the floor (common in those days to keep the room warm and clean) and started weaving them together into the shape of a cross. As she wove, she explained the meaning of the cross to the sick man, who grew quiet and listened. Soon his fever broke. The story of love she told him, the Christian story, so captivated the chieftain, that he was baptized just before his death.

Brigid’s cross of rushes gently bent her natural surroundings into the shape of her faith – just as Brigid wove the people and culture of Ireland into a Christian people. Born to a pagan chieftain father and a Christian slave mother, Brigid’s family included the two communities that she bridged through her life and work, teaching pagan Ireland how to embrace a new faith, while keeping it’s unique cultural character.

Christianity came to Ireland, not through political power, but through individual acts of faith and storytelling by people on the underside of history. Born a slave, Brigid spent her life helping the poor. Many of the miracles attributed to her are tales of feeding the hungry, giving away worldly goods, and being mysteriously rewarded for her generosity. When, as a child, she gave away all her mother’s butter, it was replenished three-fold. She kept a secret store of clothes and food for the poor and in one story even gave her father’s treasured sword to a leper.

Brigid showed how her Christian faith incorporated elements that were valued among her pagan neighbors – respect for the natural world and strong bonds of kinship. She is most notable for forming religious communities that became centers of prayer, charity and learning for both women and men. It was from these tightknit communities that early Irish Christians reached out to the rest of Ireland.

This prayer is attributed to St. Brigid – and sums up the earthy, joyful, communal faith she shared:

I’d like to give a lake of beer to God.

I’d love the heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.

I’d love the men of Heaven to live with me,
To dance and sing.

If they wanted, I’d put at their disposal
Vats of suffering.

White cups of love I’d give them
With a heart and a half;
Sweet pitchers of mercy I’d offer
To every man.

I’d make Heaven a cheerful spot
Because the happy heart is true.
I’d make the men contented for their own sake.
I’d like Jesus to love me too.

I’d like the people of heaven to gather
From all the parishes around.

I’d give a special welcome to the women,
The three Marys of great renown.

I’d sit with the men, the women and God
There by the lake of beer.
We’d be drinking good health forever

And every drop would be a prayer.

(From Journey Toward Home: Soul Travel from Advent through Epiphany)

Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos. Day of the Dead. It has a different ring to it than All Souls’ Day.

Growing up, I had never heard of Day of the Dead, but I remember praying for people who had died and not really knowing what that meant. Dying was something that happened away from real life, to other people. Remembering the departed was a matter of prayer in church, a list of names. They weren’t even dead, they were “departed.”

But there is something heartwarming and emotional about a colorful altar covered with mementos of an earthy, earthly life that was intimately connected to others. A friend of mine always leaves a beer bottle on the altar for his father, because that is something they enjoyed together. So, on my first Dia observance a few years ago I left a bottle of Tabasco for my dad. And chocolate for my grandmother. It was better than seeing their names on a list; I relived moments we had together and told those stories to the people who are around me today. And I heard other people’s stories.

Dia de los Muertos, with all its skeletons and sculls, reminds us that death really happens. It isn’t the sanitized, distant event we tend to shy away from in modern American life. In places where Dia de los Muertos (or similar observance) is observed around the world, death is much more present. And because it is more present, perhaps the victory over death we celebrate in Christianity takes on a different meaning as well. All that color says that we are not in mourning, we are celebrating those we love. Dia de los Muertos is like a family reunion that crosses ALL the generations.