Praying with Icons by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent is one of several reflections inspired by my new book Return to our Senses by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year you might also like to check out her other posts in the series: 

The language of Prayer by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

This Place of Grace by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Praying With Tears by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Eight Ways of Looking at Water By Kimberlee Conway Ireton

MaryIcon

In mid-February, my friend Susan gave me my first ever icon. It’s of Mary, the Theotokos, or God-bearer. The child Jesus leans against her cheek, one arm around her neck, the other resting on her chest, just above her left breast. His eyes look up at her in love; her eyes look out of the icon, at the viewer, at me.

I hung the icon on the east wall of my bedroom, above my writing desk, next to the window. Every afternoon, when I lie down on my bed with my two-year-old twins, to put them (and myself) down for a nap, I can see Mary looking at me with pity and compassion and love.

I need that kind of look these days. I’ve been worn out, worn down, just worn, like an old sheet that’s been washed way too many times. When I get this tired, the nasty voices in my head, which I can usually fight or keep at bay with prayer and Scripture recitation, get really loud and insistent, and in all their clamoring, I start to listen to them.

They say, Jesus never yelled at his disciples, and they bring to mind the way, earlier today, I raised my voice or lectured or even shamed one of my children.

They say things like, Jesus hung out with poor people and prostitutes. When was the last time you hung out with a poor person or a prostitute?

They say, There are people in this world who live on a dump. You, on the other hand, live in a two-bedroom house with running water and indoor plumbing in a nice neighborhood. Why can’t you just be grateful?

They don’t actually say that I’m a disappointment to Jesus or a bad Christian, but they imply it. They speak just enough truth to hook me, and I bite—and believe. And then they leave me floundering and gasping for air. So day after day, I fall exhausted on my bed, with one twin on either side of me and guilt and fear and shame circulating through my body like blood.

When I look up, I see Mary looking at me. Her gaze is one of infinite compassion and pity. She does not look like the kind of person who would say buck up and deal or quit complaining, you spoiled princess or you think your life is hard? Try living in a refugee camp.

No, she looks kind. So kind, in fact, that some afternoons, I find myself talking to her. I ask her if she ever got mad at Jesus, if she ever yelled at him, if she ever, in frustration, slapped him—all things I have done to my children, all things I am ashamed of. I ask her if it’s okay that I’m not feeding hungry people (unless my children count, and maybe they do, Mary?) or hanging out with prostitutes and criminals or even with people who aren’t at-home moms more or less like me.

She doesn’t answer. She just looks at me with pity and love.

When I tell Susan that I’ve started talking to the icon she gave me, she smiles. She says that I’m actually praying. She says, “An icon is a glimpse of heaven. You don’t talk to the icon. You talk through it, to the reality it points to, to Mary herself, who sits in heaven, praying to Jesus on our behalf.”

I was raised evangelical. We thought icons, if we thought about them at all, were just pictures. Susan, who was baptized in the Catholic Church, is far more comfortable with this whole praying-with-icons thing than I am. She continues, “In the Orthodox tradition, icons are a window through which we glimpse heaven, but through which Heaven can see us, too. Mary’s eyes of love in that icon are, in some mystical sense, really Mary’s eyes of love. She is really looking at you. The icon’s a glimpse of Truth, of the Really Real.”

I confess, despite (or perhaps because of) my evangelical upbringing, I love this idea. I love the thought that Mary, the mother of God; Mary, who raised the Son of God; Mary, whose mothering had eternal, cosmic consequences far beyond any that my own mothering might have; Mary who must therefore completely understand the heartache of being a mother, and also the joy and the frustration and the near-constant sense of failure—this is the woman whose loving eyes look into mine as I lie here on my bed

This afternoon, as I look at Mary, I think of my friend Jan. Jan is my mom’s age. She sort of adopted me when I moved to Seattle for college. On Sunday, Jan held me while I cried out much of the fear and frustration I’ve been carrying inside me these past weeks. She held me and rocked me like a child. She spoke words of reassurance and love. As she rocked me and held me and let me cry all over her sweater, Jan embodied the loving gaze of Mary, the loving gaze of Jesus. She became an icon of the love of God.

Now, looking at Mary, I see Jan, too. I see that if Jan, one of my fellow sinners, can look at me with love, without contempt, how much more must Jesus look at me with love? The contemptuous and venomous words that I’ve been listening to these past weeks aren’t the voice of God. God sounds like Jesus, with his arms of love outstretched on the cross. God sounds like Mary, with her eyes of love fixed on me as I lie here between my boys. God sounds like Jan, whispering prayers of grace and gratitude over me as I weep.

God looks at me with their eyes, eyes full of compassion and kindness and love. God speaks to me through their voices.

Jesus said, “The Father himself loves you.” (John 16:27) The Father himself loves me. The Father himself loves you. Amen. Amen.

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Were You There? by Mary Elizabeth Todd

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent is the second written by Mary Elizabeth Todd. Mayy was born in the mountains of Western NC and grew up in East Tennessee- She went to Erskine College and majored in Behavioral Science and Religion. She started writing poetry at 10 years of age, grew up listening to her father’s poems. She worked 28 years as a foster care worker and was awarded Social worker of the Year in 2004 for the state of South Carolina by the Foster Parent Association. She retired in 2006 and reckons she is a mountain woman thru and thru, loves the Lord but fails often, but always gets back up.

You may also like to check out her first post Stranger at the Door

Art by Oswaldo Guayasamín

Art by Oswaldo Guayasamín

Were You there…

Were you there…”*

I was told that I needed to take up my cross and carry it.

It didn’t worry me.

What trouble could that be?

I had seen crosses made of brass hanging on the walls
Of small country churches.
I had been amazed at the majesty and workmanship
Of gold crosses encrusted with pearls and rubies.
I had seen small white crosses
Standing on the roadsides,
And I had worn a tiny gold cross.

I could do that…pick up my cross and walk.

But the Cross I was given wasn’t one of those I had seen.
It was rough new timber.
I lifted it to my shoulder and it was heavy and damp.

I said no problem…still sure of myself.
The first few days,
I called out and said look at me.
But then, I had to say no when I wanted to say yes.
The cross became heavier and heavier;
My hands were sweating and it would slip from my shoulder.
Splinters cut into my hands.
I picked it up over and over again.

I tried again to pick it up…just had to find the trick of carrying it.

I found that I tripped over the small stones.
My feet could not lift over them.
I thought how easy it had been.
I thought about all the reasons I picked up the cross;
No one told me how heavy it would be.

I was ready to ditch it…no one would ever notice.

I had seen others go to churches and smile
Sing songs of praise and go out the doors
To say yes to things they shouldn’t.
No one said to them, “Where was their cross?”
I wondered if it was that or they never really heard the question.

I laid the cross down gently…I could not walk away.

I sat down by the roadside.
My back hurt from the weight.
My hands bleeding from the splinters and cuts,
My feet were stone bruised and tired.
I buried my face in my hands.
Then I heard Jesus, as he washed my wounds and hurts,
“Why did you think you must do this alone?
I said I would be with you.”
He pulled the splinters from my hands and they healed as he said,
“Here, let me help you carry this.
I have been there and know the way.”
He wiped the tears from my eyes, and said,
“Come and rejoice; it is a beautiful day.”
He smiled and I smiled.

We picked up the cross…I knew I would follow Him anywhere.

“When they crucified my Lord?”*

Mary Elizabeth Todd
January 28, 2001
*Traditional African-American spiritual can be sung.

Today We’ve Disappeared by April Yamasaki

Today’s post for the series Return to Our Senses in Lent is written by April Yamasaki. April is a pastor and writer who blogs on spiritual practice, faith, and life at http://aprilyamasaki.com. Her new book is Sacred Pauses: spiritual practices for personal renewal available from Menno Media/Herald Press, Amazon, and your local bookstore.

A year ago, I was pretty much a stranger to social media. Once upon a time, I had joined Facebook to see some pictures sent by a friend, then promptly hid my profile since I hadn’t wanted to take the time to fill it in or find new friends. I had several invitations to LinkedIn that I had dutifully saved instead of deleting. Every so often, one of my sisters would send me an email signed from “your Facebook Liaison,” so I wouldn’t miss out on any family news.

But last May, I finally followed up on my LinkedIn invitations–and yes, they still worked even though they were a few years old. I signed up for my own Facebook, then Google+. I started blogging. By Christmas, I had signed up for Goodreads and Twitter too.

As Lent approached, I learned that one friend was planning to give up Facebook for his Lenten practice. “That’s not for me,” I said to myself. The world of social media was all still new to me. It was something I could dip into or out of at any time. I wasn’t immersed in it every day.

Then a Twitter friend said he was going to “disappear” for just one day on Feb. 27 in honor of the 27 million men, women, and children who’ve disappeared in slavery around the world. I decided to follow suit—no Facebook, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, no Google+, no Goodreads, no blogs. I posted this on my own blog the night before:

Today We've Disappeared

I didn’t think anyone would miss me. After all, I don’t blog every day. I don’t post something on Facebook or Google+ every day. Even my daily Twitter activity was just a few tweets. Who would notice?

As it turned out, I noticed—much more than I thought I would. I thought about the millions of people who have disappeared. I wondered about the people they were missing and that were missing them. I held them all in my prayers: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. That was the reason I had “disappeared” from social media that day. But I also discovered that I felt more focused. I felt freer from distractions. I felt less pressed for time.

I’ve been reflecting on that experience as I’ve been reading chapter 9 of Return to Our Senses on “Facebook, Blogging, and Go To Prayers.” Is social media “a wonderful tool, or a terrible distraction”? I can see the potential for both.

And so even as the end of Lent is in sight, I’m making a new commitment not just for Lent but for the future: for a once-a-week, social-media-free day, Saturday 6pm – Sunday 6pm, and I’m coupling that with a commitment not to look back endlessly through everything I’ve missed.

The truth is, a person is always missing something. It’s not humanly possible to know everything about everything. And that’s okay. God knows. God is sovereign. I’m resting in that thought.

 

A Child’s Perspective on Homelessness by Edith Yoder

Today’s post in the series  Return to Our Senses in Lent is excerpted from a newsletter I recently received from my friend Edith Yoder Executive Director of Bridge of Hope, a ministry which provides a church based approach to ending homelessness. I was so touched by the video in this post that I wanted to share it with all of you.

“It shouldn’t be this hard and I’m wondering what I’m doing wrong.”  These are the words of Kim Ahern, a single mom facing homelessness who’s featured in this powerful video from the Seattle Times entitled “A child’s perspective on homelessness.”

In 2010, Kim moved from Chicago to Seattle because she heard of job opportunities there.  When housing fell through, Kim, her 9-year-old son Jack, and their Cockapoo Gracie lived in the King County tent city.  Kim explains, “I wish I had Jack’s imagination – without the zombies.”

Kim used the 211 directory to look for housing options and felt that she kept “hitting a wall” until St. Vincent de Paul referred her to Blessed Sacrament.  She and Jack were provided with a room and a shared kitchen and bathroom.

Kim spent two months applying for jobs, but wondered what she would do about childcare.  “Everyone wants $10-$12/hour and I can’t pay out all I’m making.”  She explains that she and Jack dream at night about a new home and furniture.   “It’s fun to dream but everything’s on hold.  It’s a waiting game.”

My dream for Kim and Jack and families facing homelessness is Bridge of Hope mentoring friends from a local church.

A mentoring group could look at Jack’s “furniture map” and help to make it a reality.  Mentoring friends could provide childcare while Kim interviews for jobs.  Bridge of Hope staff would provide temporary rental assistance and help Kim to find a job (and job training if needed) so that she can meet expenses for housing, food, childcare, etc.

Please contact me if your church or agency would like to make this dream a reality for a family like Kim, Jack and Gracie. “It shouldn’t be this hard and I’m wondering what I’m doing wrong.”  These are the words of Kim Ahern, a single mom facing homelessness who’s featured in this powerful video from the Seattle Times entitled “A child’s perspective on homelessness.”

In 2010, Kim moved from Chicago to Seattle because she heard of job opportunities there.  When housing fell through, Kim, her 9-year-old son Jack, and their Cockapoo Gracie lived in the King County tent city.  Kim explains, “I wish I had Jack’s imagination – without the zombies.”

Kim used the 211 directory to look for housing options and felt that she kept “hitting a wall” until St. Vincent de Paul referred her to Blessed Sacrament.  She and Jack were provided with a room and a shared kitchen and bathroom.

Kim spent two months applying for jobs, but wondered what she would do about childcare.  “Everyone wants $10-$12/hour and I can’t pay out all I’m making.”  She explains that she and Jack dream at night about a new home and furniture.   “It’s fun to dream but everything’s on hold.  It’s a waiting game.”

My dream for Kim and Jack and families facing homelessness is Bridge of Hope mentoring friends from a local church.

A mentoring group could look at Jack’s “furniture map” and help to make it a reality.  Mentoring friends could provide childcare while Kim interviews for jobs.  Bridge of Hope staff would provide temporary rental assistance and help Kim to find a job (and job training if needed) so that she can meet expenses for housing, food, childcare, etc.

Please contact me if your church or agency would like to make this dream a reality for a family like Kim, Jack and Gracie.

 

Resources for Holy Week #1: Palm Sunday

Every year before Holy Week I like to update my resources for the season. The list continues to grow so this year I thought I would divide it into several lists: Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.

Palm Sunday, this coming Sunday marks, the beginning of Holy week.  It celebrates Jesus procession into Jerusalem where people threw down palm fronds to celebrate his entry into the holy city. Many churches process around their churches waving palm fronds and crosses as a symbol of this triumphal event.

Last year I wrote this reflection which contrasts Jesus entry into Jerusalem with the very different entry of Pilot on the other side of the city:

Palm Sunday 2012 – Which Procession Will We Join?

There however a huge number of resources for this season.

As usual Textweek.com has a very comprehensive and excellent list of resources  from all over the world to help prepare for this celebration.

Faith at home has some good suggestions on activities to participate in with children.

And Little Takas  has a variety of colouring pages available for children of all ages.

What we often don’t realize is that this was a very subversive event, symbolizing the in breaking of God’s kingdom with its upside down values and countercultural ways. Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem may have begun with crowds shouting Hosanna but it ends with Good Friday and the apparent triumph of the powers of the Roman Empire and of Satan.  It does not end with a gold crown but with a crown of thorns.  Jesus triumphal entry ends with his willingness to take into himself all the pain and suffering of our world so that together we can celebrate the beginning of a new procession on Easter Sunday – a procession that leads us into God’s banquet feast and the wonder of God’s eternal world.

I really enjoyed watching this short video on how to make a palm cross for Palm Sunday.

You might also enjoy watching this rendition of All Glory Laud and Honour which is the traditional hymn sung on this day.

The traditional hymn sung on this day is All Glory Laud and Honor

Facing the Pain of Lent

I wrote this morning’s reflection for the series  Return to Our Senses in Lent as a result of some the struggles I have experienced in the last few weeks.

Christine Sine

Christine Sine

This morning I am almost pain free and my head does not feel as though it is full of cotton wool. That may not sound remarkable to most of you but for me it is a wonderful feeling. For the last 5 weeks I have struggled with a bout of facial neuralgia that has slowed me down physically, mentally and even spiritually. I have struggled with constant pain, sleepless nights, and an inability to think straight. And for someone like me who generally memorizes their calendar, rarely writes down appointments and loves to work on half a dozen projects at once, this has been extremely limiting.

Sounds appropriate that this should have hit during Lent, one of my friends commented.  At the time I dismissed her comment but now find myself reconsidering. After all, Lent is about craving for wholeness. As we walk with Jesus towards Jerusalem and the cross, we look not just for spiritual healing but for physical healing too. Sometimes, as in the case of my facial pain, there is little we can do to bring about that healing except wait patiently, pray and hope for a better world. At other times we can actively work towards healing, changing our lifestyle and daily activities to nurture the healing process. And always there is that amazing sense of freedom when our pain or whatever other issues we struggle with, disappear and we are released. 

So it is with our faith. The healing from the brokenness within does not always come easily and sometimes we feel there is little, if anything, we can do to hasten it. We are acutely aware of the pain, we stay awake at night agonizing over its impact on our lives and those of others, but we feel incapable of changing. All we can do is pray and hope.

Then suddenly something changes, we don’t know why or how, but suddenly the burdens that have so weighed us down are lifted and we feel life has returned. It is as though we have arrived at the foot of the cross and been able to lay them down. Fortunately that is not the end of the story however.

The freedom, the rejoicing, the celebration in our spirits is huge, not because we have reached the cross but because in this moment we have looked beyond the cross to the resurrection and the new life of God’s eternal world. May we always remember that the cross is not an end but a beginning, not a failure but a triumph, not a death but an entrance into new life.

Are you ready to join Saint Patrick in the spiritual discipline of listening – by Tom Sine

Today’s Lenten post for the series  Return to Our Senses in Lent is written by my husband Tom Sine. Tom is a futurist, author, and chief hospitality guy for Mustard Seed Associates. It was first posted on the MSA website where Tom is now blogging each week.

Celtic cross -behind Abbey

In 1982 I took my first pilgrimage to Iona to experience the new discipline for me of listening for God in one of the holy places.  I got more than I bargained for.  I not only had a very deep experience of what Celtic Christians call “thin places” where the dimension between this world and the next becomes one.  As a result of that first pilgrimage I became acquainted with Patrick and a number of his friends and followers and it has radically changed my view of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

At age 16 Patrick was kidnapped from his home in England and was taken by Irish traders as slave to Ireland. He was forced to care for sheep.  He learned about the people and Irish culture but being enslaved most importantly he learned a life of prayer was essential to his difficult life..  After 6 years he escaped and returned to his family. Then God called him to return to Ireland as a missionary. In three decades Patrick and his compatriots saw Ireland become largely converted to Christianity.  The Irish, Scots and English were introduced to much more of a whole life faith than was not common then or now.

What I have learned from Patrick, Columba, Hilda, Bridget and Cuthbert is that prayer is not 15 minute break in the day but prayer was intended to permeate all of life.  Celtic Christians had prayers for rising in the morning, prayers planting seeds in the day and prayers for banking fires at night. Celtic Christians not only were devoted to a life of prayer, but a love of God’s creation and a care for the poor.  I find younger Christians who are hungry for a more authentic whole life faith are often drawn to Celtic Christian faith.

If you would like to have a small taste of the Celtic faith join us for our annual Celtic Christian Prayer Retreat on Camano Island August 10th &11th.

As we head into the final days of the season of Lent and as we celebrate St. Patirck’s Day on Sunday… I invite you to join Saint Patrick and the many Celtic Saints in taking time to listen to our God by quietly repeating Patrick’s prayer and listen to what God might say to you.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
 

Write me and let me know what you hear from God as you quietly read Patrick’s prayer and listen for God’s whispers to you.