the story room

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

what I learned from the pet liturgy

Last spring, one of my Betta fish, Eugene died. Having recently talked about funerals in our pastoral care class, my roommates and I thought it would be a good idea to have a little service of our own. We found a liturgy online and adapted it for our needs. Then we brought my other fish's bowls into the living room, and we all circled around the bowl of our dead fish. And we read and prayed and sang. Then we had a short "graveside service" around our toilet, before we flushed the body of our little roommate away.

It was, hands down, the single dorkiest thing we did all year. And quite possibly the best.

We couldn't help but laugh throughout the ceremony. And it was a holy time.

We celebrated the life of a little creature that God knows, whose body had been filled with the breath of life...the breath of God. A creature different from us in so many ways...but having known life and having known death, like we'll know death.

What I remember most about the service, though, was a line from the liturgy that still echoes in my mind: "May we live more peacefully because of today."

May our reflection on death and life change us. May our coming together over the death of a little fish remind us of the sacredness of life. May our quarrels subside, remembering that we are dealing with people who not only bear the breath of God, but also God's image. "May we live more peacefully because of today."

This summer I found that working as a hospital chaplain isn't unlike sitting around on the living room floor with friends, remembering and praying and loving a life we knew little of, but approached with awe just the same. The call to make peace rings out loud and clear, even if it is hard work.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

shame on you

(the conversation I had today at the checkout):

checkout lady: Would you like to pay for this on your Sears card?

me:'s debit for me.

checkout lady: Do you have a Sears card?

me: No.

checkout lady: Would you like to apply for one? You'll receive ten dollars off your purchase.

me: No thank you; not today.

checkout lady (taking this whole credit card thing awfully seriously): Well, I just have to say...shame on you.


As soon as the words left her mouth, I was taken back to a memory now fifteen years old.

My first beloved bicycle had been stolen from our patio, right where my parents instructed me to keep it. I went with my dad to the police station to report it, and the lady behind me listened in on our conversation. Hearing where the bike had been taken from and assuming that it was the result of my lack of responsibility, she turned to me, looked me straight in the eye, and poured salt in my already hurting child's heart. "Shame on you," she said to me.

The memory of my stolen bike doesn't hurt anymore at all. But that stranger's words still sting. It's a pain that surprises me.

Admittedly, I've always thought deeply about words. I stop and listen to what each one means. So I assume you mean what you say. And when I heard, "Shame on you," I felt the weight of shame.

They are heavy words. They are words of humiliation and dishonor. They may be wielded with ease, but how sharp is the blade! It is specifically designed to harm.

I imagine myself now, standing beside my 8-year-old self, my arm protectively around her shoulders. I imagine standing there with a quiet dignity, invisibly shielding her from a sword recklessly swung. I imagine myself a heroine.

But there are other words that carry the same deadly weight. There are eye-rolls and glances that cut straight to the heart. There are tones of voice that are meant to demean, and the 'harmless' words they wear are a worthless mask indeed. I'd be a liar if I told you I never shame. I wield too well this instrument of death. Oh Lord, have mercy.

I pray that I will become more and more a shield from shame, and not a wielder of it. I pray that I can heal and not harm, protect and not cause pain. To show honor and be gracious.

To be like the One who stands beside us, arm protectively around our shoulders.

The One who shatters every sword.


And my people shall never again be put to shame. . . . And my people shall never again be put to shame.
-- joel 2

Sunday, March 04, 2007

a lenten prayer

One night in early January, on an unusually mild night, I cracked our windows, smelled the freshness of the air, and jotted down this prayer. Looking back on it tonight, I think it's good to share during Lent.

Life-giver, Wind of refreshment deep and soft: blow upon us now. May your sweetness fill our noses and your healing strength our lungs. May your healing hand touch us exactly where it hurts, bringing wholeness and restoration to our stinging wounds, our aching limps, our ever-present scars. Forgive our broken hearts, and heal the bitterness that flares up so quickly and seeps out so slowly.

Grant us your peace, and through us, bind the brokenhearted.

But we need to be changed, too: turned around, converted. We've died and risen with you, but every day we need to live again your death and resurrection. Even when our thoughts are far from you and we cling to lesser lovers...we need you so.

In your love and in your mercy, cup our faces in your hands and turn our eyes to you. Take our hands and pull us close. And in our embrace, lay your hands upon our heads and pray for us - even as you heal us. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, touch us and make us whole.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Early this morning I attended an Ash Wednesday service. It was the first time that I've walked around all day with ashes on my head (the service I went to last year was at night). In the coming days, I want to share some thoughts about today's experience.

Today, though, as I think about the beginning of my Lenten discipline this year, I'm reminded of something I wrote last year...something that's been on my mind since I wrote it. So, I share it with you again today...

Ashes on Our Foreheads
(from April 3, 2006)

Thirty-three days into Lent, I've finally realized that I'm unable to keep the promise I made.

Sparing the details, I'll suffice it to say that I promised to fast from unloving and unkind words: things I wouldn't say about people if I knew they could hear me say them. Every day I've tried to discipline myself, but every day I've gotten it wrong way more than I've gotten it right.

I spent a lot of time this week praying and thinking about why this abstention, seeming so simple when I promised it, has been virtually impossible to keep. And today a memory came to mind that caused me to finally see:

I attended an Ash Wednesday service this year -- the first one I was old enough to understand. And even though I knew to expect it, I was still struck by the ashes. I was captivated during the service as I watched the elders smudge dusty crosses on each person who came forward: the beautiful, the sad, the very old, the complacent, the the newly-born, the wise, the fearful, the hopeful...all of us, at the end, with ashes on our foreheads.

Dust you are, and to dust you will return, the elders said.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life, whispered we.
The smudgy cross.

The ceremony was beautiful and profound, but then it ended. However, it was the time following that that affected me most.

In the candlelight, in the quiet, with Jesus' words on our lips - even with the mark of weakness and death on our heads - we looked courageous, holy, mysteriously strong. And the beauty of the ceremony is that, in a way, it showed us for what we were. But when the service ended, the candles were blown out, and the lights were turned up, the ordinariness of life quickly seeped into our conversations, our gestures, the ways we watched and listened to each other. Disappointingly ordinary (and loud and busy and self-centered and...), but bearing still the dusty crosses, all of us.

It was like a dream. All of us carrying on as usual, but able to see beyond what we usually see: all of us dusty and weak, terribly hopeless...and yet, showered with mercy and love, undeserved and overflowing.

I expected to leave church that night remembering that I was dust, and grateful for God's mercy. And I did. But I also left remembering that everyone else is dust, too. And if the perfect One mercifully and unashamedly loves dust, then I, smudged and ashy too, must do no less.

My problem with Lent this year is that I tried to hold my tongue but had little compassion. I didn't see their ashen crosses. And I seldom remembered my own.

But I haven't laid down my lenten promise; I take it up differently. God knows my willpower and strength is no strength at all, and in need of mercy I am indeed. But I want to love as graciously and freely and gladly as our Father. So I, weak but willing, will pray to love with his unbounded and compassionate love.

And I'll not forget the ashes.

Friday, February 02, 2007

dusted and damp

I love snowy nights.

If only for a span of a few hours, the world slows down.

The snow catches the shining of the moon, reflecting its light back from where it came. The color of the ground blends almost seamlessly into the sky, and I feel enclosed in a sphere of softly-glowing gray. I can't help bu
t feel especially safe.

Other nights the world is big, but tonight it is small.

I stand on the balcony, dusted and damp.

I take a deep breath and rest in the quiet.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I wish!

Those of you who know me well know that I really like CNN news anchor, Anderson Cooper. Well, I came across this picture, and it made me laugh.

I don't pretend to know politics well (and in fact, I'm sure this post attests to it), but I do appreciate Anderson Cooper.

OK, back to the real world.

Friday, December 08, 2006

one of us, still

Earlier this week I sat in my christology class listening to a discussion among my classmates about the incarnation of Christ. We were a room full of seminarians: future pastors and theologians...but it was so difficult for us to wrap our minds around both the divinity and humanity of our Savior.

It's more radical than we like to think.

I've always had a picture in my head of Jesus taking on human flesh, living on earth, dying, rising, going to heaven, and then...

Well, I don't picture him human anymore after that.

But we talked in class about how Jesus took on humanity, but he did not cast it off. Even now his scars remain...and they always will.

The fact that Jesus continues to bear our nature says a lot about our humanity. If he took on flesh, did his thing on earth, then cast our nature off, it would seem that humanity is a thing to be despised. And, in view of God's holiness and power, who could blame him if that's what he did?

But here is eternal and almighty God, taking on human skin and mind, human heart and soul...and keeping it. What must he think of us to remain one of us? Who are we? What is he making us become?

Jesus Christ was one of us, and one of us he is still.

And he is with us.