Author Archives: Laurie Brock

Keep Living…

In season 3 of Call the Midwife, the beloved of one of the main characters dies in a tragic accident. This storyline is paired with a woman, a survivor of the Jewish ghettos in World War II, who has not left her home for 12 years, but finally steps outside her home into the Poplar neighborhood.

They meet on the street at the end of the episode, and Jenny, who suffering the fresh wound of grief, dissolves into sobs. The older woman tells her, “You will feel better than this.”

Jenny shakes her head, responding from the valley of the shadow of death, feeling so certain light and life have fled from her life. The woman speaks, “You just keep living, until you are alive again.”

If we open ourselves, Holy Week touches the deep laments and griefs of our lives. We come face to face with our own acts of betrayal, our own resistance to servanthood and our own rejection of love. We may remember in our souls the pain we’ve felt from loss and disappointment. We stumble upon the places in ourselves that don’t feel alive and maybe haven’t for years.

We are at once the ones who yell, “Crucify him” and the ones who ask why God has forsaken us. That is the mystery of Holy Week.

Each day’s readings and prayers ease us more and more into the places our selves and souls would rather not go. On Palm Sunday, we pray we will walk in the way of Christ’s suffering. Holy Tuesday’s prayers invoke the declaration we will “gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.” On Holy Saturday, our prayers ask for strength to wait.

These are not prayers that easily touch our wounds then immediately dance into joy. They are prayers that confront us on the street, jostle us out of our tentative okay-ness, and may leave us in sobs. They are prayers that move our souls through the motions of living – of all that is living, including loss, betrayal, hate, and grief. They are prayers that confront us with new life, which we may or may not truly be willing to welcome.

Holy Week is a journey with Christ, one we walk in all the awe and mystery that is Jesus’ final days, until we are alive again at Easter.

And that new life, that aliveness, brings greater growth.

May we all walk humbly with Jesus this week, until we are alive again.

 

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?