Practice Resurrection

Wendell Berry, dubbed the “Poet Farmer,” has spent countless hours walking through the fields and woods of his property, writing about the wonder of nature and the stories that the land would recount if it could use our language. Any farmer or gardener can identify with his delight in the process of “dead” seeds springing to life and morphing into crops, flowers and trees. It is a marvel.

            But Berry also considers God’s hand in all of this, and most likely refers to more than horticulture in his exhortation to “practice resurrection.” In this first week of Easter we can take these two words as a way to proceed after six weeks of penitence and a day of celebration. To do more than go back to business as usual.

            The cross and resurrection can be regarded as a transaction: God erasing our sin and its consequences by substituting Jesus for us in atonement. That is one way to think of it. But frankly, a transaction is not enough to motivate me in a life of faith.

            The Scriptures emphasize over and over again that God has a relationship with us. God is present with us, involved with us. God invites us to share in life and all its goodness. The Old Testament made it clear that God looks on us with compassion and love, continually forgiving us. But we spurn God’s loving attention and take all that mercy for granted.

            So one of the ways I like to regard the cross is that God wanted to show us once and for all that our foolish, sometimes evil ways are deadly to us. They are the source of great suffering. But God refuses to hold that against us, and instead entered into it, took it into himself, and let it kill him. Then love lived on.

            That is the key: love lived on.  God’s love could not be killed.

            We are given the story of Peter to show us this truth in the life of one person. Peter, who denied the Lord he loved, whose remorse was profound.  Peter walked with Jesus on the beach after the resurrection, and Jesus not only forgave him, he entrusted Peter with the honor of leading his people. “If you love me, move on Peter. Feed my sheep.”

            So how can we “practice resurrection?” Jesus asks us to love as he loves. That is our primary responsibility. He said as much when someone asked him what was the greatest commandment. He repeated it in the upper room, in his last lesson to his disciples: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

            So we cannot let our love be killed by the actions of others. Like him, we can ask the Father to forgive them even if we cannot, “for they know not what they do.” Jesus chose to regard the brutal guards and haughty religious leaders—and us—as those who were ignorant in their actions instead of acting with malice. He saw them as God’s beloved. He sees us today as God’s beloved. We can do the same, seeing others as victims of their ignorance and sin instead of assuming evil intent. Remembering that they are God’s beloved no matter what they do.

            Jesus let the pain and suffering caused by human sin bind him to death of the worst kind because he loves us and has compassion on us. He identified with our worst selves, let us kill him, and broke through to the other side of it to its opposite. In doing so he showed us the reality that we can’t see when we are serving only our own desires and foolish ideals. The deep, eternal reality that is God’s love.

            It is that love that fuels the life of God’s reign. That is the source of life for us, the life God calls us to live, a life of fellowship with one another, caring for each other, and extending mercy toward one another.  Practicing resurrection is refusing to let sin and selfishness dictate how we will live. It refuses to live with suspicion and chooses love instead.

            Now we all know how hard it is to do this consistently.  That is why we have to admit that we cannot do it. We rely on the Holy Spirit God has given us.  One of the verses that stuns me the most is in Ephesians 1, where we are told that we are given power to live this kind of life. Paul cites “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” We have this power at our disposal! What an incredible gift.

            So we rise again daily, to God’s mercies that are “new every morning.” We look for opportunities to love, and even to forgive. We live with intention, with divine love as our source and way of life, love that cannot be obscured or erased. We practice resurrection.

Searching for Home, from Home

I welcome Char Gustafson as a guest writer today. This was written in March, 2021.

Now…” ,  the big man bus driver looked at me, a scared little 8 year old and said, “Where do you belong?”

Where indeed.

It was March…that time of the year in Iowa where those who rented farms moved.  Leases were up.  Farms were sold.  Families, uprooted. In 1961, I was alone on the bus, trying to get “home”. That bus experience became part of my story.

Fast forward to 2020.  I feel as though I’ve been alone, on the bus, once again and have asked myself that same question many times this past year, “Where do I belong?” “How does 2020 fit into my story?

Granted, I’m no longer that frightened 3rd grader but this past year has presented me with that all consuming frightening question “where do I belong?”  Uprooted from our norms, we’ve had little of the leadership  to “guide” us during the  past four years. There has been no “driver”.  I’ve had to find my way.

My dad died when he was 47. My spouse when he was 57.   I remember the feeling of being alone on the bus.  Later as a bereavement counselor I often told other widows that grief is  like “travelling in a foreign country where there are no maps and no one knows your name”. 

COVID , I realize, has brought me back to the early “grief days” on the bus.  We have had so much loss and there has been little memorializing. I can’t quite grasp that  we’ve lost more people to this scourge than to all our combined wars.  Expectations are gone.  Things that once gave sustenance to the soul no longer exist… going to church, a concert or to an afternoon matinee … all gone.   As the late Iowa author Curtis Harnack aptly titled his book about loss, “We Have All Gone Away”.  I’ve found that perhaps these things, the things that we have always done, that have made up the moments of our lives… perhaps they have been mere substitutes for what really matters. And, as in the grief process, the only thing to do is go forward, one day at a time, sometimes, one hour at a time, doing the only thing that we know how to do or can do in moments of any kind of loss.  Find our peace…with ourselves.

So, “where do I belong?”…  some days, on the couch, with a book in hand and a good cup of coffee at my side.  Somedays I belong looking out at the timber in my back yard… the gold finches flitting about for their black thistle coveted treasures, the squirrels gleefully running up and down, up and down, forever grasping for their holds on life.  Somedays I email, or actually write letters or send cards. My Colorado grandchildren think Grandma G. is hilarious when she asks them to “write her a letter”… and reply with their quizzically “I have no idea what you are talking about”  zoom looks.

Early in the pandemic, I had a purpose…making masks to help and protect those on the front lines.  I reported to my sewing  room daily where I would turn out thousands of masks for Iowans in need.  It gave me a “purpose” and at least I felt that I was doing SOMETHING even though our then president thought that the masks I and thousands of other men and women made in their homes and on their sewing machines, were not important enough for him to wear.  I pressed on .

I’ve become quite the “online shopper”… I don’t think that I will EVER have a need to go inside a grocery store again (Costco, however, that is a totally different thing all together..this author says with a smile).  You Tube?  I’m totally in love and have found that there are many women, like me, who have become Ok with no visits to any hair or nail salon. I find solace in the instagram celebrities who show up sans make up.  In a  society where youth is everything, they are brave to show up as they are, and so that makes me brave too!  I know now what “hard pants” are and really don’t want to go back to them either, although I’m sure I will as sweats are rather hot in the humid Iowa summertime.

I know and love Marco Polo (no, not the guy explorer) and receive not enough updates on the weather, flora and fauna from children in California and Colorado, respectively.  I almost feel as I’m there and long for that day…

I listen to too much “news” and have uttered “huh? Or whhaaattt?” far too many times. There have been dark, dark days when only Stephen Colbert could provide the antidote  for the snake bite that was 2020.

I’ve become quite the Facebook Marketplace aficionado and from my front porch have traded or given away things I no longer need.  I have given to those who are in need wherever I safely could (Des Moines, how can I help you?  Facebook site has proven just how many are hurting…)  I have “met” many women such as myself who search for “things” that remind them of a favorite kinder, simpler decade when life was simpler and the things that Grandma or Grandpa had have the uncanny ability to make us happy…whatever trips your trigger and my memories have been tripped by— dishes!

I have found kind people in my neighborhood.  I fulfilled a dream of placing a Little Free Library in the yard this year (made from inexpensive items from Facebook Marketplace!).  A neighbor, whom I did not know, rang my doorbell and left a holiday gift, stating how she appreciated its use.  What can I say,? That little kindness made my season.  I passed it on.

I utilize my little library’s card catalog, reserve books on line, call and my library delivers to my car.  I asked friends for recommendations and have developed a love for entirely new genres I never thought I would touch.

I’m finding a kinder, gentler Iowa in spite of our current “leadership” and the not so kind ways that the “leaders” “lead”.

So, I’m still looking.  As in the early days of other grief journeys, I go forward and sometimes falter in trying.  An important quote from a favorite book came to mind again and again as I tried to bring peace and kindness into my small world this past year.  Don Marquis is quoted in E.B. White’s “The Second Tree From the Corner” in one of my favorite E.B. W. essays, “The Door”, 

‘My heart has followed all my days something I cannot name’…  

On the farm, rural Iowa, when days were long and people close, long ago now, E.B. White wrote to me, for 13 years,  a rural Iowa woman who liked his work. But that story is for another time.

Literature and music bring me solace…always have, always will.

So…”where do I belong”?  Where indeed.  Not on that bus with the driver who had no idea …or in a school system that failed to tell him that there was a new little girl that would need to find her way…or in a world where dads die and husbands do too.  I belong, exactly where I am now.  Feeling giddy, like an 8 year old school girl who has just figured out what to tell the bus driver.  I got my second COVID shot last week and now, I’m driving the bus.  I will go forward in the ways that I know how, hoping that everything will be kinder and gentler to those who have lost their way.

Char Gustafson is a graduate of Buena Vista University. She has her Death &  Grief Studies Certification from Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s Center for Loss, Ft Collins, Co.  A  former hospice  bereavement counselor, she  has presented workshops on hope, creativity & writing “your story”.  Forever a “creative” who believes art has the power to change lives, she continues to find hope in the creative journey. She lives in Ankeny and loves to travel and explore California and Colorado where she  spends  time with her children, Matt and Joanna and grandchildren, Andrew and Grace. 

The Music Over There

I cannot put the glory into a poem.
The Kyiv Chamber Choir sings 
“In Thy Kingdom”, their voices 
resonating, swelling in 
what I picture as a beautiful cathedral.
How they cannot make this beauty 
now. How they are scattered 
and the church is a shell where 
the music cannot carom off its walls but its memory 
flies into the atmosphere as a prayer.
Dissipates.
How the music has to be inner 
now and cling to the walls of terror 
to be planted as seed 
to be heard as silent lament 
to mimic the blasphemous 
vibrations of bombs flinging 
their hopes to smithereens.  
The corner of the tattered bridal veil 
lifts with the indifferent breeze.
Reverberates. 

Winter Day in Nebraska

Winter Day in Nebraska

I glance out, see the geese 
stitch the sky over Interstate 80 
their ragged, urgent arrows aiming 
somewhere east southeast 
no big deal 
but they keep coming 
prophecies sliding like hieroglyphs 
against a cave wall of grey clouds 
as “I Got the Boy” blares 
on the pickup radio 
reflecting on the passage of time 
without resentment:
“She got the future, I got the past”
and once they’re behind us 
a few miles later 
a herd of Angus cattle trot in unison 
kicking up dust.

Ten miles before the exit to Denver 
my husband notices how 
the wind tugging at us all day 
has died down.

A cemetery appears on cue 
yonder on the side of a hill. 
I can barely detect the granite stones 
in the endless brown grass.
It’s the conifers that catch the eye.
I could count them 
they’re so clear and earnest 
marching in place 
ever greening.

Open, Open, Open

Revelation 3:8 has been my go-to verse for a couple of years now. It leapt off the page of my Bible one day and has held a place in my awareness. It urges me to keep looking, to see how big God is and all the ways the Great Love manifests in the world around me. It is God’s invitation to keep seeking new ways to love, new stories to listen to, new people to meet, new opportunities to explore.

A couple of days ago this prayer formed inside me, so I will share it with you. Be blessed with peace and every good, dear reader.

Most Holy One, open me.
Open my heart to receive 
all that comes to me today.
Open my eyes to see the beauty 
and the need.
Open my ears to listen.
Open my mind to consider ideas 
other than my own.
Open my lips to encourage 
and to bless.
Open my hands to give generously.
Open my arms to embrace.
Open my home 
to welcome the stranger.
Open my heart and my life to love.
Amen.

Enduring Late Winter

Today I am featuring a guest writer, Carol DeSchepper. She has a talent for finding great spiritual writings and adding her own thoughtful responses. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I do.

Winter 2020 near Gillett Grove, Iowa
I must admit I rarely give Groundhog Day a second thought.  Whether it’s 4 weeks or 6 weeks or 8 weeks from now when ‘winter ends’, it remains cold and wintery in my part of the world. That said, I rejoice at more hours of daylight.  It’s a very hopeful sign.  One of my colleagues shared this prayer with a group of parish nurse colleagues.  I will save it and look at it again and again.  It changes the way I look at Groundhog Day.  It offers so much symbolism for our faith journey and our inner life. Indeed ‘you [God] hear our chirps and growls and snores and in your love answer’.  I already know the answer --- that too is love.  
“Prayer:
Good God Almighty, it’s cold!
It’s a miracle that we survive at all.
Don’t let our hearts be frozen.
Make us conscious in the cold
of those who shiver for want of kindness, justice and compassion.
Groundhog of All Being,
Wake us from our hibernation
at least long enough to recognize the world around.
Let us not shirk from our shadows,
but rather face the unresolved.
Let us confront those things that need changing
and accept the things that simply are.
Don’t let us rush back to sleep prematurely.
O you who descended into the earth,
and rose again with the dawn,
Open our eyes to light,
even the cold crisp light of winter.
Let it awaken in us irrational hope,
the unreasonable possibility of spring in the depth of winter,
the possibility of kindness in a world desperate for warmth.
God of the meantime,
Let us huddle together while we wait,
let us nestle and dream, reach out to each other
and comfort each other in the warmth of our prayers.
(Prayer cycles and prayers for specific people)
From deep inside our burrows
we call out for you.
Hear our chirps and growls and snores,
and in your love answer.
Amen.”
(Centre for Christian Studies, Winnipeg, Canada)


Carol DeSchepper is a spiritual director/ companion, retired nurse, parish nurse, and a seeker who lives in Lake Park, Iowa.

Smooth Stones

This morning I heard the story of David and Goliath on the wonderful app Pray as You Go

It seems obvious that the corona virus is the Goliath we need to slay.  We have been using our best weapons against it. But what has been happening in the ranks? Argument over strategy. Polarization. Broken trust.

I am reminded of the Scripture that tells us not to fear what can kill the body but what threatens the soul (Mt 10.28). Community based on deep mutual trust is the locus of our collective soul.  Erosion of that is the greatest threat.

We need to pick up our stones smoothed by time, readied by ancient forces. We need to heed Jesus’ teaching that small things make a big difference (seeds, yeast). Tiny weapons made of love and compassion, used extravagantly because the supply is abundant. Practiced daily, in all situations. Aimed strategically at the brow of the monster, claiming our power as sons and daughters of God.

We are called not to give up. “Strengthen your weak knees” and “pursue peace with everyone” (Heb 12. 12, 14). Claim the power of love that could not be erased by a cross, the resurrection power (Eph 1.19-20) that is ours to wield not with argument and force but with mercy and patience, forgiveness and encouragement.

We are in a battle, but it is not one whose victory is in conquering one another. In this battle of kinship vs. animosity we will find ourselves drawn together, galvanized by divine love that flows through us to manifest the ways of God that the world will one day recognize to be its native self.

Lay down your sword. Pick up the smooth stones of love: compassion, listening, helping, giving. Aim them at the enemy: the foolish giant that cannot destroy our care for one another. Humble instruments that neutralize the insidious forces of discord. Their power is limited. Our supply of hope is inexhaustible, our love unstoppable, grounded in the One who holds us all. 

A quick note: If you enjoy my blog, would you consider sharing it? My intention is to write and post more this year, and I hope my words can reach those to whom they may be of help.

Stars

This week we celebrate Epiphany, when the magi were drawn to the house where the child Jesus could be found. I truly doubt that they knew why they were kneeling by those little feet and giving precious gifts to someone so small, but I like to think their hearts were softened by the trip and the unexplainable longing that drove them there, and they could do nothing else in the moment.

Epiphany is a reminder to look up more often, above the fray and the routine. Take a break from your thoughts and ambitions, away from your worries and fears, above the noise of your life’s background music, and look up at the stars. We live in an unimaginably huge universe that is held together by Great Love that sees us and invites us to dream what is possible with that Love as our driving force and deep comfort.

Abraham
The stars were his promise 
to carry him on his sojourn 
past the skeptical glances 
and his own fear 
through the waiting 
despite domestic squabbles 
to a son and 
a bloody altar and 
a legacy of trust.

Magi
The star was their invitation 
to a new way of seeing 
beyond their charts 
and ancient incantations 
to a child who held the key 
to a new way of being 
at home in this world.

Harriett
The North Star was God’s eye 
seeing her to freedom 
steeling her resolve 
the fire of courage required 
to forge safe passage 
out of hell.

Twinkle, twinkle heaven’s stars 
calling me to stand in awe 
of creation’s endless scope 
seeds of wonder 
coins of hope.

Annunciations

...her humble self a hearth divinely wrought...

For some reason this year, I can't stop thinking about the annunciation, so here's one more before the incarnation is the focus of our celebration.
She thought herself unnoticed, ordinary 
until the gaze of Joseph lit a flame 
of love and new awareness in her spirit, 
an inner warming when he said her name.
And then a shocking, wondrous invitation, 
a privilege and burden never sought.
The fiery figure offered explanation:
her humble self was hearth divinely wrought.
The darkness of our weary lives is broken, 
our waking dreams found small beneath the light 
of holiness that kindles hope unspoken, 
quickening the fire of new-found life.
When once we simply thought our hearts betrothed, 
we find ourselves enlightened by Great Love.

“O Dayspring”

I’m posting a poem I wrote last winter, because today’s O Antiphon leading up to Christmas is “O Oriens” which means O Dayspring. This one was published in Lyrical Iowa 2021.

Incarnation at Dawn

The dark tendrils of the old maple
are framed as a detail within the
angles of the sunroom window.
The blue beyond them is a canvas
light-years deep.
Such is the texture of everything we see,
flat in the glance,
limitless on closer inspection.

Today the image draws my attention
to the groundedness and the reaching,
the tension of incarnation.  Altogether here
while reaching, always drawing life
from both dimensions

and, I suppose, more than the two
but something deeper still, as seen now
by the lightening of the sky.
The dimensions of the branches
come into focus, rich-textured.
Word made flesh in my backyard.