The times do shift on us. I was, at one time, a copious journal writer. Religious even. A day did not go by that I did not write pages and pages in my journal. And then the times shifted. I met a man and suddenly I no longer needed to spend so much time writing because I could share with him all my thoughts, my dreams, my hopes and imaginations.
Thirty-seven years ago yesterday I stood before the altar of God and promised my love and faithfulness to that man. And it has been a wonderful journey. Thirty-seven years is a long time – but it doesn’t feel like it. We have had joys beyond belief and struggles that have challenged us. But even after all this time we still do share the depth and breadth of our souls.
And now the times have shifted again. That man I married thirty-seven years ago has retired and you may have noticed that I cannot keep up my daily posts. Not to worry. All is well. I just don’t have that urging need to write about something I’m thinking or feeling or experiencing . . . because once again I can share with him . . . as I always have, but now I can do it immediately. And once I have shared, there is less of a need to write about it.
To have someone to share our joys and sorrows with is indeed grace. To celebrate our thirty-seven years of love we went to see “Les Miserables,” which we had never seen before. I vaguely knew the story, but not enough to know the story. So it was with great emotion that we watched the final scenes where the character sings “To love someone is to see the face of God.” I know that to be true. I have experienced it. And it is grace.
So, if I am not so faithful in my writing as I have trained myself to be over this past year, please don’t worry. I am enjoying my love and I will write when the shifting time and space allows. And I will try for at least once a week if not more.
Enjoy and savor these times of grace and love. They are God’s gift of grace to us. They are, indeed, the way we see the face of God.
During this journey of Lent anything is possible. It is a time to remember and reshape; recall, revisit, and renew. And, in the remembering, a song came drifting back into my memory that I was first introduced to almost 40 years ago now. It’s one I have sung to myself often through Lent and Lenten times in my life. It has comforted me when I was afraid, or angry or simply grieving. And it came back to me yesterday as I was thinking about all my grandiose promises for this Lent that have already fallen short of what I would have hoped. And so I sang to myself this morning as I walked:
“Even then, even then I’ll cling to you,
Cling to you, cling tight to you,
Whether you want me or not.
In your good grace, or even out of it,
“Save me, save me!” I cry to you,
Or maybe only, “Love me! Love me!”
It is from a recording titled “When From our Exile” by Dutch composer Bernard Huijbers and lyricist Huub Oosterhuis.
It is my Lenten psalm. It awakens grace in me whenever I think of it – sing it, or cling to it as a symbol of God’s continuing love for us – no matter what.
New experiences usually bring joy, at least when they are unexpected and beautiful! I am trying to hold onto the image of my hand in God’s hand throughout this Lent. So it was with great surprise and joy that I had an experience that continued to remind me of just that image – and then strengthened it.
While in Charleston, SC we took the water taxi out to visit Ft. Sumter, the sight of the first battle of the Civil War. Being in the fort was an awesome experience and my thoughts went to all the men who had served in such a capacity. But, on our way back to Charleston the most amazing thing occurred. Harbor dolphins began to accompany our boat. They broke the water with grace and beauty – two at a time in most cases. Their sleek backs and fins shedding water as they quietly and gracefully swam up and down through the surface. I was transfixed. Rarely do we get the opportunity to see such a display so closely.
And, my thoughts went to how I respond when I am with a partner. Am I that graceful and as aware of what my partner is doing so as to move as if we are making one movement? Am I that close to God? Do I share with my partner and exchange all that I think, or feel, or fear, or hope, or dream? Do I share those intimate thoughts with God? Do I even try to understand my partner enough to be in perfect sync with them?
Challenging thoughts for this Lent and all from the joy of an unusual experience of seeing the graceful dolphins move and flow as if in one movement. Oh, that we could be that close and in such rhythm with the mind and heart of God! Perhaps that is what this Lent is trying to help us achieve.
Lent is usually filled with new paths if we are taking Lent seriously. But the new paths we are on these days are not the challenging kind – they are the expanding and exploring kind. We set off for a couple of days of exploration into South Carolina and places we had never seen before.
We drove all day Saturday through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and a blinding snow until we reached the coast of South Carolina at Charleston. Sunday and Monday we explored the historical sites in and around Charleston – Ft. Moultrie, Ft. Sumter, and the USS Yorktown among others.
All of our explorations brought with them a profound gratitude for the sacrifices our ancestors made to establish, protect, and defend our country through the generations – from the Revolutionary War to WWII. So, I offered a prayer of thanks and resolved to be more aware of the sacrifices that others make on my behalf. And, those sacrifices don’t have to be as monumental as going off to war, they can be as simple as the mere consideration someone affords me as I’m trying to find my way in a strange place.
Becoming more aware and recognizing with gratitude the grace of other’s actions has filled these Lenten days of exploration.
Walking this morning I noticed a yard covered with tiny spring crocuses. Some were white, some purple, and they were so tiny I almost missed them – yet they covered the entire lawn. I could only imagine that they will grow and increase in the days to come.
Perhaps these tiny flowers – the first of spring – are symbols of the graces in our lives blooming before we’ve even reached the end of Lent. Perhaps they are symbols of our desire and are visible signs of our Lenten practices breaking through the hard ground of our winter lives.
It made me smile to think that something so small could be so beautiful. And I thought about how each small effort we make this Lent to come closer to Christ is itself a grace. And each grace we receive and recognize makes us all that much more beautiful, too!
The other day we went to visit the Newseum here in D.C., a museum dedicated to reporting the news, news media and equipment, as well as news reporters. It was quite the experience. Being the newest museum in the area it is full of high tech equipment and interactive displays. But one of the most fascinating exhibits for me was the display of a front page of a print paper from every state in the country. And this display changes daily as it shows the current front pages on the day of your visit!
It got me to thinking about Good News and what that means to us as people of faith. We call the Gospels Good News, but rarely, I think, do we apply it to our daily lives as headlines that are changing daily. Rarely, I think, do we realize that we could be writing Good News that others are reading. Yet, as disciples, that is exactly what we are doing if we are struggling to follow Christ. This Lent gives us an opportunity to examine our lives and see if the headlines we are displaying to the world are consistent with our faith and our beliefs.
I’m reminded of a little poem I once learned – the author long ago forgotten, if I ever knew. Yet the lines have remained with me and continue to challenge me.
We are writing a Gospel, a chapter each day in things that we do and words that we say. People read what we write, whether faithless or true. What is the Gospel according to you?
It’s a little grace that continues to make me stop and think. What front pages are we being? What do our headlines flash across the lives of others? And, is our Good News growing and changing each day so that our headlines are never the same?
Something to think about for these days of Lent.
So begins our Lent with the words from scripture “Come back to me with all your heart.” Certainly God is expressing this longing to each of us today as the events of the past year may have pulled and pushed us in so many directions that may be far from God. So Lent is that invitation. It is a call to come back and return to something we once knew – or perhaps something we have never known. It is a welcome reminder, a welcome invitation, a welcome homecoming. Finding our way back, or our way into, a deeper relationship with God is a process. It is meant to take some time – and so, we have six weeks to make that journey.
The Lenten journey allows us the time to examine our lives and our hearts. It invites us to begin again to establish a stronger bond with our God, who loves us so very much, and whose presence we know and experience in a multiplicity of ways throughout our days and our experiences.
As I walked past four different pairs of lovers this morning on their way to classes at American U, I had a thought. These couples walked hand in hand, smiling; one young woman even leaning her head over on her lover’s chest as they shared a laugh together as they walked. It made me think that perhaps that is what God is inviting us into this Lent. Perhaps God would like us to place our hand in God’s as we walk throughout our days and to open our hearts to a lover’s exploration. Perhaps we are being invited to open our hearts to explore all that God is, while we also simultaneously open our hearts to let ourselves be explored by God.
It’s a thought. It could be grace. It’s Lent. Why not give it a try?
Some time ago I read a book by Kathleen Norris titled The Quotidian Mysteries. It was a beautiful little book about all the ordinary things that we do that can be the source of grace in our lives.
I’m reminded of it today because I am stuck in the quotidian. I’ve got a pot roast cooking, clothes in the washer, dishes in the dishwasher and I’m dusting and vacuuming. I guess I must admit these activities are far from quotidian for me – I hardly do them every day. Yet, they are in some ways the “plain, ordinary, everyday things” that occupy our lives.
And I’m reminded of the grace in the repetitive motions of folding the wash, sorting the recycling, peeling the potatoes and the like. When we are trapped in the mindless activities of cleaning, our minds can be free to encounter God in even the smallest things. It is also an opportunity for profound prayer. Yes, grace inhabits our lives and God is acting whether we are involved in exciting activities or the quotidian chores of keeping house.
Such are my thoughts on a gray, cold and ice-rainy day in D.C. I hope you can find grace in the quotidian as well.
We all have stories. Stories are one of the things that makes us human. And by sharing our stories we can learn much about ourselves, our own story and the world around us.
So it is that we – for the first time in D.C. – met up with two of my husband’s former colleagues for dinner on I Street last night. The stories flowed. We each had a piece of our lives that felt so uniquely ours that we were anxious to tell. There was no competition, no challenges, no “my story is better than yours.” It was a comfortable sharing of “this is what happened to me.” We laughed and ate and shared our disbelief at how our own unique stories intersected and paralleled each other’s.
We began to see that each of our stories – that were so unique to us – was a part of a larger story. And we began to make connections and see similarities that we had failed to see before. No matter what we are inclined to believe, we are not alone. And in the sharing and the telling of stories, the burden we each carried was made lighter.
We found another refreshing result from the sharing of our stories. We found grace and understanding; support and encouragement as well as laughter and insight. While we each thought our stories could only have happened to us, and could only have been an individual occurrence, we soon learned that we shared something on a deeper level – not just our experiences and stories, but our hopes and dreams for the future and for improvements in working conditions and organizations everywhere.
Profound grace and a wonderful gift from a simple dinner invitation and shared stories.
And so, a new life begins! In this cold of mid-winter in D.C. our new life of retirement starts today.
It’s hard to think about what retirement will be like before it is actually here. No one knows what the future will be like. And we can’t begin to guess. We can only dream. But one thing we do know, as Hans Christian Anderson wrote many years ago: “Every person’s life is a fairy tale written by God’s fingers.” And so shall our retirement be – a fairy tale written by God’s fingers with grace in every stroke.
To celebrate, we took a walk in the cold and ice of yesterday. Despite the weather, it was a beautiful day, filled with grace and a little snow. We could see the buds beginning to form on the cherry trees around the tidal basin and we knew that the promise of spring is not far off. New life is not far off for the cherry trees and new life and grace will be there for us as well. Indeed, every person’s life and every day is a fairy tale written by God’s fingers.
What grace does your story have to tell?