Author Archives: Laurie Brock

50 Days!

We’re here – on the other side of 50 days of fabulous. We’ve celebrated the Resurrection, been asked questions, been offered insight and story from amazing writers, and we have been changed by our encounter with the Risen Christ.

Thank you for journeying with us, for reading the words and adding your own.

Thank you, especially, to the amazing writers (in no order other than they way I wrote them in my notebook): Megan Castellan, Maria Noletti Ross, Anna Fitch Courie, Adam Thomas, David Creech, David Sibley, Tim Schenck, Mary Wright Baylor, Maria Kane – and – the contributors from Forward Movement, Rachel Jones, Miriam McKenney, Jason Merritt, and Hugo Olaiz.

Thank you to many who have shared emails, comments, and in-person meetings about how much you appreciate Fifty Days of Fabulous and the ministry of Forward Movement.

Now we go forth, to love and serve the Lord.

Amen. Alleluia!

 

Tangled in the Light of Stars

Read

Horses by Jim Harrison

In truth I am puzzled most in life
by nine horses.

I’ve been watching them for eleven weeks
in a pasture near Melrose.

Two are on one side of the fence and seven
on the other side.

They stare at one another from the same places
hours and hours each day.

This is another unanswerable question
to haunt us with the ordinary.

They have to be talking to one another
in a language without a voice.

Maybe they are speaking the wordless talk of lovers,
sullen, melancholy, jubilant.

Linguists say that language comes after music
and we sang nonsense syllables

before we invented a rational speech
to order our days.

We live far out in the country where I hear
creature voices night and day.

Like us they are talking about their lives
on this brief visit to earth.

In truth each day is a universe in which
we are tangled in the light of stars.

Stop a moment. Think about these horses
in their sweet-smelling silence.

from Songs of Unreason. © Copper Canyon Press, 2011. 

Reflect

We are tangled in the light of stars.

The followers of Christ were all together in one place, probably still reeling from the events of the last few days and weeks, when suddenly all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Their voices, their stories, their accounts of love and life changed by their relationship with Christ – all this came forth from them by the power of the Spirit, and in this moment, they were tangled in the light of stars.

Pentecost is often framed as only a miracle of language – women and men were able to speak other languages that, we hear, they did not formerly speak. Our minds usually default to a room filled with people speaking any number of languages of the day all at one time.

God, however, is never only one thing. The light-flame of Pentecost that lights upon us all as followers of Christ tangles us in that moment with the light of God, the very moment of creation when God’s very words and voice gave order to the universe and called life into being, a life filled with variety and diversity.

We become tangled with telling the story of God’s love because we are tangled in God’s love. Our voices, our actions, our very beings are empowered by the Sprit to be witnesses of God’s love in the world.

We are witnesses to this love by sharing our stories and using our voice. But do we give equal weight to how we share this love by the language of our presence, by the language of silence, and by the language of being with another fully?

Do we talk about our lives as Christians on our brief visit on earth using the many languages we’ve been given by the Spirit?

Our Spirit-filled language invites us to share how our lives have been resurrected from moments we thought we would surely die under the weight of grief with a friend who is now lost in the midst of her own despair. And our Spirit-filled language speaks as powerfully through the moments we hand her a tissue, hold her hand, sit with her in silence, and leave a casserole in her refrigerator.

Our Spirit-filled language gives us words to sing of the love of God in music written through the ages. And our Spirit-filled language welcomes us as we stand at the fence for hours and listen to creation sing God’s praises through foals running with wild abandon across rolling hills as the sun sets on another day.

Our Spirit-filled language welcomes the newly-baptized with our word-filled prayers, and our Spirit-filled language anoints each of us with holy oil, reminding us in the drenching of water and oil and Spirit, we are marked as Christ’s own forever.

Our Spirit-filled language is vast, deep, and wide. Its communication encompasses words and stories, silence and sighs, dance and stillness.

The Spirit-filled language reminds us we are tangled in the light of stars.

We are tangled in the love of God.

Always.

Respond

What are the ways your communication is inspired by the Spirit, especially ways that don’t involve talking? How can you express the language of the Spirit without words?

The Underside of Our Life

by Maria Kane

Read

The Underside of Quilts
by Cecily Jones

Two ceilings roofed the front room of my grandmother’s house most of the year:
a pink calcimined one almost matching the roses in the wallpaper
and a ceiling under which I sat to watch creation.

Visitors exclaimed over my grandmother`s quilts
stretched between two wooden slats
which could be deftly hoisted to the calcimined ceiling
and then lowered for quilting time.

Visitors admired the Pinwheel
and the Double Wedding Ring
and the Log Cabin
and the Dresden Plate
pieced together winter nights
and now arranged in bright-blocked rows like a landscaped garden.

But the underside of quilts offered a magic roof
beneath which I waited for the tracery of squares and diamonds touching points in every other block.
Sometimes a border Grandmother stitched a patterned vine:
A tendril, then a leaf, a tendril, then a leaf.
And though the repetition of the leaves was constant,

I`d wait for one more tendril to link its slender stem to one more leaf in one more twisting vine
as two borders joined.

Sometimes, these years, I dream:
Let the stitchers piece a million quilts
for all the children of the earth,
who can watch the patterned magic from beneath a wooden frame.
Sweeps of simple muslin
would become golden canopies
where a child from any land could see
a galaxy of buttercups
or a cobblestone of sky,
where a filigree of stitches would create
small parades of lambs and lions,
dove-wing silhouettes,
and circles of never ending circles
with a pansy in each one.

A whole world could be created on the underside of quilts.

From Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, Vol. 29, no. 3 (pp. 10-11)

Reflect

The first time I read Cecily Jones’ poem a few years ago I alternated between awe and envy.  “I wish my grandmothers had made quilts…I wish I had stuck with sewing lessons as a kid…I wish I could finally afford a quilt so beautiful…I wish, I wish, I wish.”

When I read the poem again days later it finally sunk in that Jones’ reflection is not about sewing; it is about the stories and dreams of her life.  Even still, aren’t there times in our lives when it is easier to look to our right and marvel at the “good life” we imagine everyone but us is leading? Even in the face of someone else’s sorrow or suffering, we sometimes catch ourselves shamefully wondering why our faith does not hold up as strong as our neighbor’s faith when storms ravage our lives. It often leads us to think our past lacks significance; our present is missing something; our future is not as promising.

And God weeps.

God’s tears fall because we do not see what our Creator gazes upon each day. Regardless of how we sometimes feel, the patchwork pieces that make up our lives are just as beautiful as the next one. There are joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, and memories and dreams in all of our stories. We can get in the habit of looking only at the underside of our quilt and what we think are unfinished seams while gazing longingly at the seemingly connected pieces of our friends, colleagues, and neighbors. We forget that our undersides also create breathtaking images and figures. There are millions of quilting combinations and innumerable manifestations of God’s glory in each of us—all of us. It’s not a competition; it’s a community. We are created to dream, to imagine, to create, to behold, and to receive the precious goodness that is each of our lives—no matter whether we know how to thread a needle or not.

Respond

Write down at least 5 unique characteristics about yourself or experiences you have had. Let your memories and list become an offering of gratitude or hope to God.

Beauty in the Broken

by David Creech

Read
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
John 1:14-18

Reflect
The strong affirmations about who Jesus is and what Jesus has done in the Gospel of John is often perplexing to me. In the Gospel of John we have the highest explicit christological affirmations—Jesus is the Word made flesh, the preexistent I Am, the only begotten of the Father. This Word made flesh is “lifted up” on the cross and in his death gives the Spirit who leads us in truth. How is such a tragedy seen with such hope?

The insistent hope of John’s Gospel is even more astounding when you look at what is going on behind the Gospel. John’s community is one in turmoil. This fledgling group of believers has been recently expelled from their parent community. The hurt of this break echoes throughout the Gospel. Even worse, there is growing factionalism in the community. Fellow believers in Jesus are now refusing hospitality to one another (apparently some problems in the church are very old). In spite of this hurt and strife, John’s Jesus still gives us some of the most beautiful exhortations to love one another.

As this Easter season draws to a close (hello 7th Sunday of Easter!) and our calendar drifts into the “ordinary” may we, like John’s Gospel, find the Word in broken and and fleshy places.

Respond
images-4Look for beautiful broken things today. When you find something broken pause to reflect on the history and the beauty of it. Share the beauty you find with a friend.

Down to the River to Pray

READ

On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. (Acts 16:13)

REFLECT

Recently a ministry on which I serve on the board has been faced with a significant decision that will have a long-reaching impact. So we did the standard responses when faced with such a decision: the board met, we discussed, and we met again and discussed again. We wrote position papers, detailing the ministry and our option. And we met again.

The decision, like all hard decision, does not have a clear good side and bad side. There are strengths and weaknesses on both decisions, and there are many options in between both decisions. To say this is a stressful time is an understatement.

During one particularly anxiety-filled board meeting, I felt the weigh of the impasse, the weight of not knowing, the weight of being lost, in a way, in the woods. Much like the men in the video, running from not knowing, running to something we perceive as good and realizing that simply may be our perception and not reality, and standing in the woods arguing.

Suddenly these strange people in dressed in white begin to come forth from the woods, surrounding the argument, the fear, the distress. And they sing.

They sing of going to the river to pray.

They sing of prayer. And the men follow.

I realized in all our discussions, discernment, positions papers, and tasks, we had forgotten to go to the river to pray. We had forgotten to stand on the muddy banks of a swirling water and listen to the presence of God. We had forgotten to follow God wherever we may be led.

Paul and his companions in today’s lesson from Acts go to the river to pray and are (as we all frequently are) surprised by their holy encounter. The meet some women. And they listen to the women and learn of Lydia.

They then meet Lydia, who becomes the first Christian convert on European soil. And Lydia, at the river to pray, meets Paul, who in his is typical unvarnished way, tells her of his past, both tragedy and triumph. Lydia’s home is open to Paul and Silas, and probably becomes one of the first house churches in Europe. Both of them are changed by their encounter at the river, all because they both went to the river to pray.

Life happens at the river when we pray. Faith dances along the muddy waters into unexpected encounters. God’s Holy Spirit descends on us in particular ways at the river when we pray. We may meet someone unexpected whose own experience of God and prayer will expand us. We may hear a song that changes us with its mystery. We may simply feel the mud rise between our toes and the water pull over our legs as we feel confused and unsettled while we remember God is our foundation, ever under our feet as we walk this life.

I marvel that, in my mind, millions of people were changed because of Lydia and Paul. Christianity entered Europe when two people went down to the river to pray. The Way became rooted in the muddy banks of a river in Macedonia and grew from there, because two people went down to the river to pray.

Life changes when we go down to the river to pray.

RESPOND

What weighs on your life on this day? What concerns, heartaches, thanksgivings, or questions might need to be taken down to the river to pray with you today? And when you go, can you simply stand in the mud and water and listen for God?

Writing Your Good News

READ

From the Gospel of Mark
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The Shorter Ending of Mark
And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

The Longer Ending of Mark
Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it

REFLECT

St. Mark. Painted miniature, Gospel head-piece. From Illuminated Armenian Gospels with Eusebian canons. Shelfmark MS. Arm. d.1

St. Mark. Painted miniature, Gospel head-piece. From Illuminated Armenian Gospels with Eusebian canons. Shelfmark MS. Arm. d.1

The author of the Gospel of Mark created the literary form of the Gospel, of sharing the life of Jesus in written form. Mark’s Gospel is the earliest of the Gospels, according to the majority of scholars, likely dated from the late first century. Mark himself was not a disciple, but one who came to believe in Jesus through the original disciples who travelled with Jesus, the same disciples Mark often portrays as clueless.

While almost nothing is known of the person of Mark, his Gospel gives us an image of Jesus as God incarnate who knows the Messianic secret, what it means to be Messiah. Secrecy is a key theme in Mark, perhaps because Mark the Gospel writer understood on a deep level a life committed to following the Messiah is always one of discovering, of becoming, and of learning.

The original ending of Mark is a cliffhanger. Jesus has been crucified and entombed. The women come that Easter morning to find the tomb empty except for a young man, presumably and angel, telling them, “He has been raised; he is not here.”

And the women flee in terror.

We have no meeting two disciples on the road and breaking bread with them, no breakfast on the beach, no showing of the wounds to the disciples. No resurrection appearances at all in the oldest ending of Mark. Just an empty tomb.

Some years later, another writer added the director’s cut endings, complete with Jesus appearing to the disciples, eating with them, calling them out for their cluelessness, and giving them a commission.

All the endings are important. The longer ending reflects a community who had lived into that truth, who had, perhaps, other gospels to read and other stories of meeting the Risen Lord. The writer (or writers) including all the ways their encounter with the empty tomb and their life in Easter had been lived: they went into the world and proclaimed the Gospel. It offers us a full and complete story, one that feels like and end, whereupon we can begin another story.

The original ending, however, is as important. It’s brevity and rawness reminds us how much of our faith in Christ and the experience of Easter itself is unsettling, even frightening. What does following a Christ crucified and risen mean? How does that meaning change as we live and move in our Christian life? What does this faith in the Messiah mean now that death no longer has the last word? This is scary, life-changing stuff without easy answers or tidy endings. And Mark understood that truth.

Gospel means “good news,” and for a story of good news to end on a note of fear is not obviously Good News, which makes me believe Mark quite cleverly underscores the continuation of the story. Death is conquered. There is no more definitive The End in this life of Resurrection. Mark reminds us to continue the story of life after what appears to be The End.

Mark, perhaps, understood that the real ending of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is still being written in the lives of each of us, of our Christian communities, as we live with the truth of the empty tomb.

Easter in the very text of Mark is not something that ends, neatly tied up with a literary plot device. We do not read of Jesus appearing in the lives of the disciples, sharing some hugs, then ascending while the credits roll. We read in the original ending of Mark a story that invites us to encounter the empty tomb, to be unsettled by that encounter, and then to pick up the quill and continue the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our own lives.  A life committed to following the Messiah is always one of discovering, of becoming, and of learning.

We add our words to the story of Easter.

RESPOND

A spiritual autobiography is a writing of the significant events, communities, people, and moments that have influenced and shaped your belief in God and your life of faith. If you’ve never written one, or it’s been many years, consider writing a spiritual autobiography. One basic framework invites us to write about our faith in our childhood, our adolescence and college years, our young adult, and other significant age divisions.

Some questions to consider while writing:

  • How did you come to know about Jesus and to engage in a faith community?
  • Did you change faith communities or leave your faith community? What caused those shifts? What invited you to return?
  • What did your family teach you about God and Christ? Your friends? Your coworkers?
  • What significant events challenged or changed your faith?
  • How has your understanding of Holy Scripture, prayer, and worship changed through the years and why?
  • How have you lived out your Easter faith through prayer, through worship, and through ministry and how have those changed through the years?
  • When have you been angry at God? Unsure of God? Committed to God?
  • Which parts of Holy Scripture have resonated through particular years and times of your life?

As you write, realize that you are continuing to write the story of humanity’s encounter with the Resurrected Christ. You, too, are writing a story Good News.

For more about the Gospel of Mark, click here.