Thin Space – A Reflection by Paula Mitchell

earth touches heaven

Earth touches heaver - photo by Coe Hutchison

This morning’s post in the series Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For? was written by Paula Mitchell. Paula is a Spiritual Director, retreat facilitator, writer, wife, and mother of four grown sons.  She is the founder and program director of Doorways Ministries, providing days of prayer, Ignatian retreats, and a 9 month program based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as ways of deepening our lives with Christ. She is also the city coordinator for the Ignatian Spirituality Project, a Jesuit organization dedicated to offering spiritual retreats inspired by Ignatian Spirituality to people experiencing homelessness. Paula brings to Doorways her own desire for deeper intimacy with Jesus, a love of prayer, and a heart to share with others the freedom and joy found in following Jesus.

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Thin Spaces

Heaven touches earth

the veil separating God and us

shimmers and for a moment in time-

we find ourselves

standing in God’s presence

holy ground-

Where like Moses we stop, look,

take off our shoes.

God breaks through our hard packed soil,

shattering our well-defended walls

touches our heart with his love and grace

thin space, holy ground.

Jesus, love of God embodied

for thirty-three years

God’s light shining

in the darkness

Chaos—

of our world bringing

Life, Light, Love

Freely giving tender mercy, loving kindness, forgiveness, grace

God who so loves the world

so loves us-

he gave us his only begotten son

whosoever believes in him will not perish

in the deep darkness

but be given life eternal.

The Saints, too, each a thin space unique in their own way

holy ground, fertile soil, pounded thin

by circumstance, pain, suffering

compassion birthed in the soft soil of holy lives given to God.

They prayed that the life of Christ might take root, grow, and produce fruit-

holy ground, fertile ground, given to God

heaven touching earth–thin space

fully alive for the glory of God

Creation, too, a sacrament of God’s presence

where heaven breaks earth open

glimmers of God’s beauty

mountains, oceans, sky,

magnificent, radiant, translucent

reflecting heaven

thin spaces

holy ground

if only we have eyes to see.

Mary, too, a thin space

Where the life of Christ took root and grew.

She, too, holy ground, humble soil, a thin space

Bearing Christ in the rich soil of

humiliation and suffering

yet with great joy and gladness

for unto to us a child is born,

a son given, you shall call his name Jesus.

Not an easy path, full of suffering,

her heart broken by the darkness.

But God promises that the darkness can never, ever extinguish the light

Her yes makes me want to take off my shoes

her life a thin space

holy ground

radiant with his light.

Paul learned

he is made perfect not in his strength

but in his weakness.

Thin enough to be broken

Thin enough for the life of Jesus

to break through

reminding us all

it is no longer we who live but the life we now live is Christ’s own life

mysterious, embodied, thin space

Christ in me the hope of glory

not my glory

His-

What about you?

Do you hunger and thirst for thin spaces?

People who let the light of Christ radiate in them

Light bearers

Christ bearers

Those who carry the death of Christ in their bodies

so they may carry the life of Christ into the world.

Into your world

that you might know his presence in and with you.

Those who bear his wounds, who share his heart,

who bring compassion and peace

To the chaos of our times

To the chaos of our lives

Thin spaces

Holy ground

Sometimes I wonder,

Can I be a thin space?

It’s what I want-

what I hunger and thirst for-

what I’m afraid of-

To become so thin

Radiant

That the life of Christ

shines through me

radiates from me, is embodied in me

whether I know it or not.

So I no longer live but the life I live in my body is the life

of Christ  living in me

Thin space

Holy ground

For the light shines in the darkness

And the darkness can never ever put it out…

–Paula Mitchell

Depression and the Living God – Lenten Series

This morning’s post in the series Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For? was written by an anonymous contributor.

 

I don’t hunger and thirst for much. I just hunger and thirst to escape depression. There,
I’ve said it. But I’m not able to add my name to this statement. I need to be anonymous.

I am a middle-aged pastor of a suburban congregation of around 150-160. Every week I
stand and declare that Jesus forgives our sins and restores us to life. Yet I am bound by
pain which reaches back into my infant past, pain that I have only just become aware of
through therapy, pain that I have not yet faced—and fear to face even now.

I have grown up being driven to ‘repair’ the world, to ‘make a difference’, trying to make it
better so that others don’t suffer the way I do. I fear I have mixed that up with what it
means to be a Christian, and to be a pastor. When I fail, there is a kind of voice within my
my therapist calls the ‘savage god’ who accuses me of being—wait for it—less than
perfect. I have confused that voice with the Living God. Sometimes the only thing that
protects me from suicidal thoughts is a sense of compassion I can find within myself for
those with whom I could be rightfully angry with. I would dearly like to find ‘rest for my
soul’.

I see a therapist several times a week. I take antidepressants at the maximum dose. I
pray. I believe. I love my congregation, and I have the good fortune to pastor a supportive,
wonderful community. The people know I suffer with depression, because I’ve spoken
about it from the pulpit. It seemed important for me to do so to help fellow-sufferers who
felt shame for their illness. Yet only a few know how much I suffer; I want to protect the
congregation. I want them to know the freedom that is theirs in Christ. In fact, when I lead
worship I do feel like the burden is lifted for a while. I find that I can step outside the
constrictions of the pain I feel and be with the people. I don’t mean that I’m overly
demonstrative, just that I know that inner freedom for a time and my smile is genuine.

I don’t think I’m living a lie. My problem isn’t authenticity, it’s just pain that has dogged me
since the nursery.

I’m sure there will be others posting in this series who want justice and peace for all. So do
I, and so does my community. I want the kingdom of God to come. I know it is here now, in
the midst of my pain, our pain. I know that in Bonhoeffer’s great words, ‘only a suffering
God can help’ and I take comfort in that. I know Christ’s strength is in my weakness. I just
want to feel it all the way through.

This Lent, I expect to put one foot in front of the other and walk towards Holy Week and
the Triduum. I rejoice at the destination of the Empty Tomb. But I fear there’s still quite a bit
of me mouldering in that tomb, and I hunger and thirst for it to live.

Blessed Is He Who Comes In The Name of the Lord by Richard Brown

Palm/Passion Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-9a/50:4-6 IV, Psalm 31:9-16Philippians 2:5-11Mark 14:1-15, 47/14:1-15, 51, Mark 11: 1-11/11:1-13 IV

This post was written by Rich Brown a freelance writer, editor, and publisher specializing in religion. It was first posted on his blog Forewords as Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord.

Here we are, once more, just days away from Palm/Passion Sunday, the beginning of the most important week in the Christian calendar. Yet it brings this rather uncomfortable question: How many Christians really care, or for that matter actually notice and alter their normal routines?

For much of my adult working life I was a (if you’ll pardon the crassness of the term) a “professional religionist.” As an editor for my denomination’s publishing house before and after it was absorbed into its international headquarters, I couldn’t help but be aware of Holy Week’s importance. And this was true, despite the fact my faith community was hardly “high church,” liturgically speaking. Well, at least the office was closed every Good Friday and there was not-so-subtle encouragement to participate in local congregational activities throughout the rest of the week, as well.

Anthony Falbo, "Gethsemene" (The Hour is Near, 2006)

That was nothing like my first year in seminary, however. I recall what a very big deal that was: foot washing in my own congregation during a Maundy Thursday service, attendance at two (!) quite different Good Friday services (my New Testament professor preached the homily at the Anglican cathedral downtown; afterward, several of us seminary students dropped by a Baptist communion service); then there was the Great Saturday Vigil service in the school’s chapel, which followed the centuries-old Anglican rite (including incense–didn’t care for it then, don’t much like it now either), a sunrise service on Easter morning, followed by a glorious Easter service in my own congregation. I was exhausted by Sunday afternoon. It’s just a good thing the school gave us “Easter Monday” off, as well.

Nowadays, well,… at least I blog. I don’t think I’ve attended a Good Friday service in all the years since.

But enough about me and my mea culpa.

I wonder: Will American Christians this weekend be more focused on the beginning of Holy Week or the end of this year’s NCAA basketball season with the Final Four semi-finals Saturday night and the finals Monday evening in New Orleans’ Superdome? It’s probably unfair to even ask such a question. And I don’t bring up the subject to guilt anyone into “appropriate” religious observance.

But maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea for us all to hit the pause button on life and spend some time in the Gospels. This year’s lectionary takes us through Mark, at least until Good Friday when, as always, the lectionary focuses on the Gospel of John.

Matthew and Luke are perfectly fine accounts, of course, although Mark has the advantage of brevity. Recall, too, that Mark begins this way: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1 NRSV). Mark spends a lot of time and effort to persuade us of that basic truth, that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. But it isn’t until chapter 15 until a Roman soldier, of all people, proclaims this out loud: “Now when the centurian, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, `Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (15:39).

Even if all we do is start reading Mark’s Gospel with chapter 14 and go to its end (at 16:20), we will find a story like no other. Keep in mind that Luke and Matthew offer differing perspectives and details–fortunately, there is no “one true account” of God’s good news. Palms and hosannas in Jerusalem. Cleansing the Temple. With Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. The Upper Room. Gethsemene. Arrest and trial. Peter’s denial. Crucifixion. Empty tomb. Certainly it’s far more important than checking off those last few brackets in our NCAA predictions.

May the coming week be, for you and for me, an exceptionally holy one.

Lent, again – By Jim Schmotzer

This morning’s post in the series Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For?  is a poem, contributed by Jim Schmotzer. You can find more from him on his blog here.

Lent, again

Small Baptist church
Edge of the city
Family farms were gone
Ever widening streets
Car lots and early stage
Of strip malls
Good people
Almost “country folk”
My mom’s people

They knew the Bible
They loved it
They tried to live it
No creeds of rituals so
They believed

Lent was bad, almost evil
Empty routine of
False religion
Catholics and Lutherans
Maybe some others so
Far from faith

Home is not so distant
Four or five hours down the freeway
Decades later, now about four

Yearly ashes to my forehead
The joy of sorrow
The smudge of death
The touch of some pastor
I hardly know

What was once forbidden
Now is my food, my life

I worry for a moment that I may later see
Someone I know at the
Store who won’t understand

Six weeks Wednesday at noon
Sitting with Glenn
Sometimes others join us
A hymn or two
Short sermon
Some good, some not
Prayer

Lunch in the basement
Church cookbook casserole
Creamy salad
Water or tea
Neither of us drink coffee

Talk of family and sports
Maybe the sermon
Church friends and politics
Work updates
We say our goodbyes

Giving up something, maybe
Remembering, anything to help

Holy Week, the beginning with
Sword ferns posing as palms
Maundy Thursday
It took a long time to
Understand the “Maundy”
Good Friday
It’s trite,
But who ever thought to
Call it “good?”
The dark, quiet and waiting

Easter and
It’s over
Day of joy
Get my life back, again
Not sure I want it
At this cost
The seasons end

I hope it will come again
Next year
Or maybe, I hope
I’ll be here next year
To remember that
It happened
Jesus suffered
And I live

Lenting Fasting; Easter Feasting – By Rachel Stone

This morning’s post in the series Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For?  is by Rachel Stone. She blogs about food, family, faith at her site, Eat With Joy. This piece was first posted here.

I’m not sure what the actual stats were, but it sure seemed like most of the kids in my high school were Catholic. When I started going there as an eighth grader, everyone (it seemed) was busy making their confirmations. On Ash Wednesday, lots of people went around looking like this:
And while I’m pretty sure it wasn’t constitutional or whatever, somehow it seems that the school lunches on Fridays during Lent tended toward the fish stick and pizza variety and away from the fleisch products. Could it have been so? I can’t be sure, but I definitely remember people “giving up” various things–chocolate, swearing, soda–for Lent.
I must admit, I always felt a little left out as one of the few Protestant-y type Christians. Because I don’t how much my A Beka curriculum told me that the Catholic Church was BAD, I found all that liturgy and incense and images and ashes and abnegation attractive; a welcome change from the excessively inward “is your heart right with God?” kind of thing. I could always see–can still see–how holding a cross and a circle of beads might help one’s mind stay on one’s prayers.
But it wasn’t until after college, I think, that I started to see some of my fellow evangelical-type Christians practicing Lent in the more modern style of “giving something up.”
(Orthodox Christians still go vegan for Lent; traditionally, Lenten fasts involved limiting meals to one a day and fasting from various animal products. Hence, Mardi Gras-type celebrations are called Carnival in Latin America: “farewell, medium-well!”)
Some Christians see the tradition of Lent–beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending forty days later, on Easter Sunday–as a way of “fasting while the Bridegroom is taken.” Others see it as a way of participating in Jesus’ 40 days of desert temptation. In any case, practicing some kind of fasting during Lent is definitely no longer a ‘Catholic’ thing. What’s its appeal?
1.  Lenten Fasting Makes Outward and Visible Stuff That Is Otherwise Just In Your Head
A vintage (circa 1960) Christianity Today article put it this way:
“Lent can become a time when material things are put again in their proper secondary position; when we see in the spiritual the unconquerable forces of life. It can become a time of self-examination, when we reflect upon our present position in the pilgrimage and check our directions. It can become a time of personal readjustment, not through mental resolutions to do better but through yielding ourselves afresh to the God who demands to be obeyed. And it can become a time when, by following the battered path to Calvary, we identify ourselves once again with the Saviour who makes all things new.”
And in an NPR interview, the inimitable Anne Lamott said:
“Ash Wednesday, to me, is about as plain as it gets — we come from ashes and return to ashes, and yet there is something, as the poets have often said, that remains standing when we’re gone.”
Hence Facebook, online, and other media-fasts. Not “I should spend less time doing this or more time doing that,” but a firm resolution to do so. Can this be ‘legalism’? Sure. Can it just be a Good and Healthy Discipline? Absolutely.
2. Lenten Fasting Gives You a Good Reason to Say No To Good Things
Andrew Santella wrote the following for Slate a few years back:
“Perhaps it’s the things that made Lent hard to take as a Catholic kid—the solemnity, the self-denial, the disappearance of hot dogs from the lunchroom—that account most for the season’s broadening appeal. I was schooled to see Lent as a time apart, a respite from the daily pursuit of self-gratification.”
And likewise Lauren Winner:
“In sated and overfed America […] fasting teaches us that we are not utterly subject to our bodily desires.”
Greediness is tiring. A season of voluntary simplicity is–or can be–one way of taking a kind of rest. Also, it can be a way of expressing solidarity with those whose simplicity is not-so-voluntary.
3. Lenten Fasting Provides a Counterpoint To Easter Feasting
My favorite Episcopalian priest I’ve never met, Robert Farrar Capon, exalts the rhythm of festal/ferial as a splendid way of ordering our appetites. Because really, how much better is Easter Dinner–how much sweeter a sacramental celebrating that Joy of Joys–when you have prepared for it by fasting?
The sensation I always remember in this regard is how incredibly tasty a nasty freeze-dried meal by the fire with friends can taste when you’ve been hiking up and over mountains all day on nothing but water and GORP–a sweet nectar/sore need dynamic.
Again, Anne Lamott on the breaking of the Lenten fast–ie, Easter Sunday:
“I’m going to go to my little church, and we will have a huge crowd of about 60 people. And I will cry a little bit … out of joy, and then I will go home, and I will have 25 people — 15 relatives and about 10 riffraff, i.e., my closest friends — and we will sit down and we will eat, the most sacred thing we do.”
Amen.
Even though I want to fast, I’m not quite sure what form that will take for me/us this year.
What is your take on Lenten fasting? Will you fast this Lent? How?

Righteousness in Short Supply – by Jon Stevens

Hunger & thirst for righteousness

Hunger & thirst for righteousness

Today’s reflection in the series Easter Is Coming What Do You Hunger and Thirst For, comes from Jon Stevens proprietor of the Open Gate Farm on Camano Island
———
Righteousness seems in short supply these days.  You know the kind.  The kind we’re supposed to be hungering and thirsting for.  Folks seem to be getting wrapped around the axle of the end times, the tribulation, the second coming, and all those life changing activities 2000 years of Christians hoped would start tomorrow.  Our vanity allows us to think it is going to be our generation that sees the rollout of the new creation.  So forward looking have we become that we’ve lost the view of the present moment, the now, and the gift of new life it holds.  And we’ve lost our hunger to live righteously, that is, in right relationship with God.  Actually it may be we have not lost it because we have never had the true thirst and hunger for righteousness and have only been faking it.
If we live in the right relationship with God now, all that other end of the world stuff drops out because if you read the Bible carefully you may spot that salvation (which precedes righteous living) solves any fears we might have of where we’ll be when all Hell breaks loose literally.  When we’re saved, the only question remaining is will we see our friends and family after the dust clears and the new world is in place and we on it.
So it doesn’t matter if the Mayans have the right date.  It doesn’t matter if an old man sitting on a mountain called it for the end of the world.  What matters is that the fruit of our personal salvation has us hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  And we have to remember to keep the cart before the horse…first salvation, then hungering and thirsting.  If we get that wrong we’ll be thirsting for more than righteousness when the world falls apart.  And hungering for those apples hanging from the Tree of Life we saw once in a garden.

Content with Our Daily Bread, But Thirsty for Tomorrow’s Wine…by tracy Dickerson


Hungry anyone?

Content with our daily bread but thirsty for tomorrow's wine

Today’s contribution to the series Easter Is Coming What Do We Hunger and Thirst For, comes from Tracy Dickerson. It was first published on her blog Nacreous Kingdom 

——–

In my vocation as a hospice nurse, I have observed repeatedly a phenomenon that occurs when patients draw closer to the end of life: they stop feeling hungry and thirsty; they simply have no desire to eat. Amazingly, accompanied by this lack of desire is also a lack of ability to process fluids and food: swallowing and digestion become impaired or altogether cease. This is often a bewildering and highly frustrating experience for the loved ones who, faced with this very dramatic change, are incapable of making the mental shift from life to death and so attempt to force-feed their beloved in the hopes that some form of reversal takes place. Of course, this never works, and only tends to place the patient at risk for choking, aspiration, or a stomach blockage. Knowing this, my goal is to pro-actively teach patients and loved ones ahead of time that when hunger ceases, so should the compulsion to feed.

Easier said than done- because in our minds and spirits is an innate understanding that hunger and thirst are related to LIFE…and that lack of hunger and thirst most certainly always lead to DEATH.

And so it is with our spiritual “hungers” and “thirsts”…

In my vocation as a pastor in 21st century America, I see an equally bewildering phenomenon. In my dealings with middle-class Americans who have very few physical “wants,” I hear them tell stories of their emptiness, their spiritual hunger, their feeling lacking and in want of God’s presence, and of their relentless desire to be “filled” with “something more.” If you doubt the veracity of this, I challenge you to go to any contemporary worship service and listen to the music- it is rife with images of hunger, thirst, and need. What’s so amazing is that all this hunger is being experienced in the midst of unprecedented physical abundance, as well as in the midst of a culture that, for the first time in history, is able to provide us with seemingly unlimited information and unrestricted opportunities for connection. Yet the end result is loneliness, emptiness, and spiritual hunger and thirst.

The commentary on this phenomenon is extensive, much of it critical of our consumerist culture and its alleged spiritual dearth. The brevity of this article limits my ability to discuss this false conclusion in depth, so I will address only one concept: Contrary to others whom I have heard comment on this trend, I do not feel that it is a negative thing to be spiritually hungry, nor do I believe that spiritual hunger is equivalent to spiritual dearth. In fact, I will be as bold as to say that spiritual hunger and thirst are healthy in that they are signs of a viable spirituality.

But what does this mean practically? How should we then proceed? Should we ignore the hunger we feel, and recognize that feeling “spiritually full” is this life is a futile goal? Should we stop trying so hard and cease searching?

Well, yes and no.

God has instilled eternity in our hearts, yet we are embodied currently in mortality and are limited by time and space. What this means is that we have been created in such a way that there is a natural tension between our mortality and our eternity. We live in the “now and not yet Kingdom of God” and we innately know it. If we were to have a feeling of spiritual satiety, what would happen to us, I wonder?

Complacency would rule, I think, and Kingdom work would never be accomplished. We would be comfortable with life as it is and desire no more. We need to stay hungry in one sense; because-let’s face it- staying hungry keeps us attached to the vine.

Interestingly, Jesus cautions us to be careful not to get ahead of ourselves and plan out and worry about tomorrow, yet his final command to his disciples (“Go and make disciples of all men…”) connotes a task with a future-reaching trajectory. Likewise, Paul teaches us to imitate him in how he has found a way in which to find contentment in whatever situation he is in, and in how he “presses on toward the mark.”

So therein lies our answer, somewhere between discontent and complacency is a third way, the way Jesus taught, the way which Paul imitated- a place characterized by contentment, but hallmarked by a holy discontent, a longing for the “not yet” that our Life in Christ promises to us. It is a strange tension that we are called to live within: to be content with our daily bread, but to be thirsty for tomorrow’s wine. It is in this indeterminate state that we live and move and breathe, until that final day when we finally share a table with the King of Kings and dine with Him for all eternity.