Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I walk to the center

On my wall in my office I have a quilted batik of a labyrinth similar to the one pictured above.  I made it a number of years ago when I was in seminary. Sometimes when I need to quiet myself or focus or take break from whatever I’m working on I’ll lean back in my chair and let my eyes follow it’s path. It almost never fails that the center comes as a little, holy surprise. This happens no matter how many times I walk it, whether with my eyes or with my feet.

The first time I walked the labyrinth it was even more dramatic. It was a chilly early April evening in northern Indiana. I entered the labyrinth with little expectation – even a slight skepticism – and began to walk in the half-light of the almost sunset. I simply followed the path. One step after the other until suddenly and unexpectedly I was there, the center. I remember feeling an almost physical sensation of windedness. In that instant, even while all around me remained still and twilit, the light shone and the choir sang. It was the presence of the Spirit was revealed.

I sank to my knees on the damp grass and just breathed in the silence and the brightening stars. There were no actual words or voices from heaven, but I was changed. I realized that God could indeed work in ways that I don’t expect. I didn’t want to leave that spot that seemed so full of the Divine. Some of that has lingered every time I travel the labyrinth.

Today as my eyes traveled the path of the labyrinth, the center was a bit of a surprise but it was the end of the labyrinth, the way out that caught me off guard more than most times. It came sooner than I was expecting. My eyes wanted to keep wandering and meandering. I wasn’t ready to be thrown out into disconnectedness. I wanted to remain in proximity to the center and be bound by the safety of that gravitational pull. Even now my eyes keep returning to it.

I am glad. I do yearn for the center. I do want to remain in the gravitational pull of the Spirit. I do hope that when my orbit swings me away and when it pulls me close, my sun is always Christ.

There is a song in the Sing the Story Mennonite Hymnal supplement that I was reminded of as I wrote:

"Jesus be the center"
Jesus, be the center
Be my source, be my light, Jesus.
Jesus, be the center.
Be my hope, be my guide, Jesus.
Be the fire in my heart.
Be the wind in my sails.
Be the reason that I live, Jesus.
Jesus, be my vision.
Be my path, be my guide, Jesus.
Jesus, be the center.
Be my source, be my light, Jesus.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Another favorite poem...

...Earth's crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
And only she who sees takes off her shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware...

Elizabeth Barret Browning, from Aurora Leigh
(adapted for feminine language)

The Nature of a Parenting God

A short walk from my house is the Thornton Creek Watershed, a park that contains wooded area and a large pond into which Thornton Creek and other small waterways empty. It's home to beavers, muskrats, fish, frogs, turtles and all manner of water fowl, all of which are wonderful to watch as the evening light stretches later and later through the days of spring.

One evening as I was watching a family of ducks - a mother and her ducklings - the image of God as mother hen (or duck, in this case) was so clearly illustrated. The mother duck lit on a log by the edge of the pond and began to groom herself, then to honk softly. One by one her babies followed her, launching themselves awkwardly and gracefully onto the mossy log beside her, shaking the water from their downy feathers and reaching around the groom their backs. And then one by one they found places under their mothers soft wings.

While many of the ducklings disappeared under their mama, one wayward and adventurous duckling continued to swim. She poked her way through buried reeds, checked out floating twigs and generally ignored her still gently honking mother. Eventually though, she too came home. Mama goose kept calling until even her last baby found a place nestled under her feathers. And all that was left to be seen of those babies was the subtle pulse of life, like the heartbeat of six tiny duckling hearts.

Shortly after this walk I was in a meeting with the Worship Oversight Committee from my church. We were invited into reflection on this passage from Psalm 139:7-12:

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

As one person commented on the meaningfulness of the image of God's hands leading and holding fast, I thought about the way I use my own hands. Naomi is learning to walk right now. She seems to have no fear. She often plunges literally headfirst in the direction that she wants to go without thinking of the close edge of the couch, the steepness of the stairs or the sharp object that might be in her way. I use my hands to hold her up, to keep her safe, to move danger out of her way, to keep her from falling and to comfort her when she's taken too big a risk and hurt herself.

I allow Naomi a lot of liberty in exploring her world but I also try my best to keep her safe. God's hands for me are so much like my hands for my daughter. It brought tears to my eyes to think that however much I love Naomi, God's love for me is infinitely more, holding me fast. And here I thought also of the Biblical image of God the Father guiding the infant in it's tentative steps. We parents offer both guidance and freedom for exploration, both correction and comfort, whether we are human or animal. We are created in the image of God and God has offered us the same gifts as our Mother in heaven, as so much more. Thanks be to God!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Thousand Red Birds

Here is another poem that I think fits really well with Pentecost. The spirit calls us to proclamation! I was interested and glad to see that it made it into the new Mennonite hymnal supplement 'Sing the Journey' as a responsive reading.

Thousand Red Birds

We clutch our tiny bits of faith in tight fists
shoved firmly in our pockets.
We clutch it suspiciously, so unwilling to let it go -
we don't want to lose it.
We clutch is fearing that once it is spent,
we will be without hope,
cast adrift, out of luck.

Help us to loosen our grip.
Help us to pull our hand out of our pockets.
Help us to uncurl fingers stiffened over time.

to grow,
to shimmer,
to pulse,
to explode into the air

like a thousand red birds.

-Phil Porter

Friday, May 02, 2008

A comment about my last two posts...

Not that I have a whole lot of readers, but I want to qualify my last two entries and say that I am not obsessed with birth - just that 'tis the season. I didn't even look to see what my last entry had been about otherwise I might not have posted something so thematically similar. The most recent post was an article for the church newsletter.


It is a season of celebration and we have much to celebrate. One year ago I was given the gift of my daughter, after not a small amount of effort and labour. This season we celebrate another birthday much more significant than Naomi’s. Words from our new songbook Sing the Story speak this invocation: “Come, Holy Spirit. lamplighter, midwife of change, comforter, disturber, inspirer, and advocate.” God’s spirit midwifed the church into being that day. And though the Spirit Midwife gave the amazing gifts of comfort, inspiration and advocacy, she also accompanied change, pain and a labour into a new life in Christ.

I am learning as a parent that labour does not end in the birthing room and that it is mingled with love, great joy and celebration in one’s relationship with a child. As a child myself I know well that one’s relationship with parents too is often full of both joy and difficulty. We are children of the One who sent the Spirit to birth the church into being and we continue to struggle along with each other and in our growing relationship with God our parent. We need to continue to invite the Spirit to be present in this struggle. Because though we experience the pain, the unease with the new, She will always be our comforter, our advocate and inspirer.

As the same prayer quoted above continues we must invite the Spirit to come, “fill the church with the gifts [we] can neither produce nor afford.” We need the gifts that the Spirit Midwife has to offer. Today our children will invite us to identify one of these gifts that we feel an affinity with for this day or this season. But the Spirit’s gifts are many and she offers in abundance even as she both identifies and moves with us through the struggle.

Thematically unrelated, I found a poem about Pentecost that I like quite a bit...


In the upper room
Pentecostal wind
swirled like a tornado of grace
and fiery tongues
burned language into stutterers.
   O Spirit,
stir our passion again!
Light wildfires
and spin them past
our tame intentions.
   Huff and puff till you blow down
the shutters we hide in,
scarred by earlier zests,
more cowardly and cynical
than once upon a time
   when we inhaled your fire
and gulped your windstorms
like tap water
and laughed at those
who counseled
--Sr. Patricia Schnapp, RSM Adrian, Mich.