Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Tao of Grayson

I was sharing with a dear friend, who has known me since I was eighteen years old, and could be, perhaps, hired as my blog marketing representative, that sometimes I do my best writing now in short Twitter bursts or Facebook updates. Aforementioned friend, for reasons which shall go unnamed (although I believe the words, "I don't get into all that tech stuff..." were used), reminded me that in my short-attention span writing style I'm forgetting to update this whole blogosphere on other crazy Graysonisms. And so...fear not, devoted reader(s?), here are a few of the words of the wise sage I live with, who still can neither button his shirt nor pull up his own pants if they have a zipper.

I bring you "The Tao of Grayson."

From 11/25/11. The traditional question was posed to the family as we sat around the Thanksgiving table. To stir it up a little I suggested that no one be allowed to say, "family" ['cause, everyone says it...]. We went around the table. When it was Grayson's turn he said, "the whole world, and the earth, and the power of love." My son is a combination of Gandhi and Huey Lewis.

From 11/20/11. Conversation with the boy tonight as we looked at some pictures of a wedding.

Me: Grayson, do you think you'll get married some day?
Grayson: Actually, Mom, I'm already married.
Me: Really?
Grayson: Yes, to you. Did you know that?

While generally I am not a fan of Freud, I sure do love the Oedipal phase.

From 11/7/11. Grayson was counting in Spanish tonight. He said, "Uno, Dos, Tres, Quatro, Cinco, Siesta, Orchard, Noplinko, DeMaisie..."

From 11/4/11. Grayson just told me that when the dog was barking that she was saying, "I want to go to college. I want to go to college. I want to go to college."

I swear. We don't pay him to say this stuff...

From 10/18/11. Grayson said to me tonight, "You know, it's so rainy and chilly some hot apple spider would be great!" And he said it with such a sense of belief that what he was saying was accurate that I didn't even gag at the prospect of what that would taste like if he knew...

From 10/6/11. Grayson's evening wisdom as we watched a video of GilChrist retreat center as I tried to explain to Grayson where I was and what I was doing this week. I told him I went away to be alone and quiet and to pray. Grayson said, "What did you pray for?" I told him I prayed for lots of things...but also for him. He said, "And did you pray for the whole world to be wise?" Sigh...words from the wisest.

From 9/28/11. Conversation with the boy tonight proceeded thusly...
Grayson: Mama, how old are you again?
Me: 39.
Grayson: You are almost 100! Great job! You get a star and are very smart!


From 9/15/11. was just told by Grayson that he thinks his eye is broken. The problem? He can blink once, but when he blinks twice it hurts. I asked him how he did with three or four blinks. He told me that was, "just great, Mommy...it's just when I blink twice that it breaks." Take heed, double blinkers, lest your eyes break too.

From 9/13/11. when we said our evening prayers tonight Grayson and I talked about what the word "Amen" means. Afterward he said, "I love this word. I can say 'Amen' to everything. 'Amen, Amen, Amen.' My family. My school. Amen. Amen." I certainly don't think of myself as a holy roller, but I rolled just a little in joy with his wonder.

And that, my friends, is the Grayson James Pettit report for the past three months. You heard it here first.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Almost and the Not Yet--Sermon 11/27/11

The Almost and the Not Yet

Waiting has never been my gift. Never. I disclose this to you in full candor, as we enter this season of waiting. Waiting has never been high on my list of priorities. I am not a patient person. I’m not good at waiting for things to gestate, waiting for things to unfold, waiting for the truth to emerge. I tend to have a bit of a lead foot, because I like to get places faster and I’m not patient enough to just enjoy the ride, only to find that I’m early and have to, guess what…WAIT! I bring things to occupy myself when I have to wait in doctor’s offices, or appointments to have my oil changed, or while I wait for Brynn to get finished with ballet. I am the queen of cross-stitching or dish towel knitting, or crossword puzzles tucked into bags at conferences, or family reunions so I can always do two things at once. I even have a book loaded on my I-phone, so I can stop and read at railroad crossings without having to feel as if I wasted time waiting. When I run I have to listen to NPR, so I’m doing two things at once. And I confess that D.H. Lawrence is my least favorite writer because the major theme of all his books is the anticipation and the waiting. I don’t even like ketchup that isn’t in squeeze bottles, because the waiting for it to flow out of glass containers seems to take an eternity. I am a hopeless case.

And so, the Christmas season has always been sort of a whirlwind for me. Between wrapping presents, and decorating the house, and mailing Christmas cards, and purchasing gifts, and baking the occasional cookie, I find myself immersed in the briskness of the season, and to be honest, there are times when I like when the action keeps me moving. And I have a feeling that I am not alone in this. I have a feeling that there may be a few of you in this sanctuary who understand this inability to just be, to just wait, and are already impatiently wondering if I’ll ever get to the point (that is if you haven’t already started making your grocery list on the back of an offering envelope, or started playing tic tac toe with your seat mate). Sitting and waiting, being attentive, is not a strong suit for many of us in a world that tweets, and Facebooks, and instant messages, and texts. It is difficult to sink into the contemplative side of ourselves, and so (and for those of you who have been waiting for the point, here it is) the simple message that is relayed in Mark, the message to watch and wait, can feel like an impossible task.

This morning we dive head first into the first Sunday of Advent, a time when we examine some of the paradoxes of the Advent season. And the first crucial paradox is this one of time. We live in an almost and not yet world. We are almost ready to welcome the child of light, and we are perpetually not ready for him to come. We desperately desire the presence of peace, and we don’t know how we will operate when it arrives. We remain hyper-vigilant and watchful, and yet aware that we are in luminal time for the Messiah has not yet arrived. And so we hurry up…only to wait. We live between expectation and realization.

The scripture this morning from Mark, the words of Jesus about watching and waiting are not words of the faint of heart. There is an apocalyptic edge to them as we talk about the son of God coming, but I don’t think this edgy end of the world stuff was quite what Jesus wanted us to pay attention to, or quite what those who chose the texts for the lectionary this morning had in mind. You see, the gospel of Mark was written on or about the year 70 A.D. and the audience for whom Mark wrote had been waiting around for Jesus to return for quite a while, most of them their whole lifetimes. There were questions for these small bands of faithful about whether or not Jesus had been the real deal, for he hadn’t come back yet. He hadn’t come to redeem the people and create the new world yet. And so the words that Mark records, these words of Jesus, were addressed to a people trapped in their own liminal, in their own questions about what it meant to hurry up to be ready for the coming kingdom and then being forced to wait for it to arise.

There are churches that read these words of Jesus and have used them at times as baseball bats to pommel the faithful into submission, threatening those who step out of line by holding a threat of Jesus coming back bigger and better, but most Biblical scholars have come to agree that these words were actually not so much about the apocalypse, and more about saying to his followers, “Look, something marvelous is going to happen. You have to be alert. You have to be aware. You can’t live your lives passively. Even as you wait, you must watch.” It is about staying on our toes and not becoming too lackadaisical about our mission in this world.

And so, perhaps there is no better lesson for the first Sunday of Advent. For this first Sunday as things loom on the horizon, when we hold our breath in delightful anticipation, when we put down those things which are distracting us from the important task of embracing the quiet present. On this first Sunday of Advent, the lesson of the paradox is this, “Wait, but watch. Be passive, but actively. Embrace this simple lesson, for it can be so difficult.” Ah, the paradoxes of Advent.

There is a rich tradition which we learn from the desert fathers and mothers, mystics and wise folks who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries on the margins of society. We have nuggets of wisdom they have left behind, words which can challenge and free us. They are sort of the Zen Buddhists of our faith. And one of them was a monk by the name of John Cassian. Cassian spent years trying to figure out what it was that kept him from truly connecting with God. A lifetime spent in the search for a meaningful relationship with the divine. And finally, what he discovered, and then shared with all of us even all these centuries later was that good monks, indeed many good Christians, grappled with the sin of acedia. Anyone heard of it? Anyone want to confess to it now? Acedia has been one of the least understood, and perhaps most insidious of the seven deadly sins. Essentially acedia has usually, and misleadingly, been translated as “sloth”, but it actually means “apathy” or “indifference.” John Cassian realized that it was apathy for his ministry, for the ills of the world, which kept him distant from God. Acedia can be that state of the soul where we have simply given up, or simply lost hope, or simply tuned out, or simply decide to coast on auto-pilot. And perhaps this can be the biggest distraction from a connection with God, and our ability to work as Christians in the world.

And so this call that Jesus offers on this first Sunday of Advent, the call to keep awake seems to be the cure-all for any of us who occasionally lull into despondency, or apathy, or acedia. This call to keep awake, prods us from our spiritual exhaustion, or spiritual futility, our spiritual listlessness, or spiritual ennui, and reminds us that we are on the verge of a new creation, one that God does not want us to sleep through. And so this first step in our Advent journey, our wake up call, is to be mindful of the ways in which we allow ourselves to be distracted, to be side-tracked.

And after that realization, after the naming of this insidious missing of the mark, we can awaken anew to the sacredness that the next four weeks can offer. Knowing that the path to God invites us to attentiveness, it is our duty to step into that place of holy expectation and see where God calls us, what God wants us to do, and who God wants us to become.

The poet Mary Oliver wrote these words in her poem The Summer Day, “I don’t know what prayer is, I do know how to pay attention.” And this paying attention to what is beautiful, to what is real and alive and authentic, to what is wild and precious, is itself a kind of prayer. Perhaps we do this through listening more carefully to the words of our children. Perhaps we do this through watching more astutely as the trees are silhouetted against the pink of a sunset. Perhaps we do this through heeding the words of Jesus to love our neighbors, and then feel called to volunteer to deliver food to someone in need, or buy gifts for families who have so very little. Perhaps we do this by expanding the boundaries of our comfort zones and learning more about the needs of the world and asking how we can make a difference. However it happens, we can be called into places of attentiveness, and these places of attentiveness can beckon us on the Advent path.

Peter von Breemen in his book, The God Who Won’t Let Go, shares the holy task, the holy balance of the almost and the not yet in this way. He writes, “The essence of prayer is our waiting, our letting go, our bearing with our own inadequacy…waiting does not come easily. God will come, there is no doubt about that, but in God’s own time. And this waiting is not dead empty time.”

As we prepare to welcome the Christ child, as we take our first steps on the way to the manger, may we recognize that our waiting can be holy time. Our waiting can transform us. Our waiting can beckon us into a deeper relationship with God. May we remain awake and alert, in this time pregnant with hope.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Passing Glance--Sermon 11/20/11

A Passing Glance

Our four-year-old Grayson has recently added a new bedtime tactic which has led me to wonder if he does not have a brilliant career ahead of him as an auctioneer. While Robert and I for the past four years or so have lived under the illusion that we have had our grip on the household, running it as our own little loving dictatorship which Grayson has tolerated with a modicum of respect and obedience, we are now starting to see the roots of revolution rise up. There is our own Arab Spring happening on Strathdon Drive, our own Occupy movement in the bathtub each night as the preschooler who loves to soak in bubbles stages his protest of “Heck no, I won’t go.” I have found negotiating in the role of management, while he acts as representative on behalf of his own little union. “Five more minutes!” I command. “Ten!” he counters. “Seven minutes, but only one book.” “Nine minutes, and two books,” he counters. “Seven minutes and two books, and that’s my final offer.” I grudgingly announce. And yet, even with the offer on the table I find myself reconsidering. For Grayson is a master negotiator and he puts all his skills into the task. He gives me puppy-eyes and demonstrates that his fingers are not yet prune-like. He shows me the wooden boat he likes to play with. He promises not to splash. I pause and find myself counter-offering again, “Okay, okay, I give up. What’s an extra minute going to hurt. You win. But no complaining when I brush your hair.” “Sold! Sold to the lady who adores her son beyond all reason, and who still wants to maintain a sense of authority and, well, mystery and power. Sold to the lady who desperately wants to be fair, but also wants to make sure her child gets to sleep at a reasonable hour.” I suspect if you are a parent you’ve had these sorts of conversations in your own home. Or at one point of your life or the other you may have been on the receiving ends of the negotiations with parents or authority figures of your own. The conversation around borrowing the car, or staying out past curfew, or getting that extra ear piercing. And in authentic relationships, those gives and takes, those banterings and barterings, really can lead us into understanding one another in a deeper way, even if they exhaust us in the process. For by asserting what we need, and by listening to the other, there are compromises which lead us down new roads of relating.

Which leads us this morning naturally into learning more about that little confab that Moses had with God on Mount Sinai in the thirty-third chapter of Exodus. But first a brief backstory, a little reader’s digest condensed version of what brought God and Moses to that talk that day. You see, Moses had been leading the Israelites on a long, long journey, an insanely long journey. And Moses had taken a little time away from his people, a little break to get the latest news from God, a break to get away from the backseat whining and wailings of “Are we there yet?” and “I have to go to the bathroom.” Moses had been away from the people, up on the mountain receiving the ten commandments. He hadn’t been gone that long, but things had gotten a little rowdy at ground level while he was away. If you wonder what that party was like you can watch Cecil B. Demille’s version of it--you’ll see lots of dancing girls and special effects as the people worshipped a golden calf which symbolized the pagan religion that the Israelites had left behind. Who knows why these forebears of ours in our Judeo-Christian heritage got so rambunctious that day. Perhaps they were bored down there waiting for Moses, perhaps they wanted some tangible thing to symbolize a god, perhaps the yearning for the familiar of their past religion became the panacea they needed on that long wait. Perhaps they just began to doubt who was calling them on their journey, and if this God was really present.

Regardless, God wasn’t happy about it--called them a few names, including stiff-necked, which I don’t know about you, but seems to be fighting words of a sort. And here is where we pick up the story…with Moses the negotiator, with Moses who stands in the gap between God and the people and speaks in defense of these people who he has led, and who he has grown to love, even in all their rebellion and whining.

In verse twelve Moses, the one who has always had God’s ear, the one who has trusted the vision which God has cast seems to have reached his breaking point as intermediary. In a move of utter chutzpah and gutsy nerve Moses minces no words as he speaks to God. In the contemporary words of Eugene Peterson’s The Message, a modern day version of scripture, Moses says frustratingly to his Lord, “Look, you tell me, ‘Lead this people,’ but don’t let me know whom you’re going to send with me. You tell me, ‘I know you well and you are special to me.’ If I am so special to you, let me in on your plans. That way, I will continue being special to you. Don’t forget, this is your people, your responsibility.” Whoooo…talk about speaking truth to power, talk about calling someone on the carpet, talk about venting feelings. Moses has moxie. He’s not afraid of telling it like it is. And he’s not afraid of reminding God, the creator of heaven and earth, what’s on his mind. He doesn’t like the threats to abandon the people. And he’s sick and tired of wondering what’s next on this journey of faith.

Has it every occurred to you that Moses was speaking to the one who created him, was speaking in essence to the divine parental figure? Moses was speaking to one who had the power to squash him like a bug to smite him or ignore him or abandon him? And yet, Moses spoke. And perhaps this is our first inkling of the power of this story. The relationship that Moses had with his God was so profound, was so intimate, was so interactive, that he was not afraid of speaking the truth. He wasn’t afraid of naming his frustration. He did not feel powerless in the face of a problem or conflict. The first lesson we learn is that we are free to speak, even angrily, with the God who has broad shoulders and can take our questions and feelings.

But the scripture deepens, for in verse fourteen, God reconsiders and acquiesces. God says in one simple sentence, in essence, “you’re right, Moses.” With these words God speaks, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” The Hebrew translation for “presence” is actually the word “face.” God’s face will be turned toward these people, God will see the journey through. And perhaps this is the second little nugget for us to grab hold of, God is not one who abandons us. Like any good parent, God may be frustrated, there may be days when God wouldn’t mind pretending like he doesn’t know his children when they have a screaming fit in the grocery store, for instance. And, let’s be honest, building those idols must have really, really ticked God off—I mean, that was sort of like his was children thumbing their nose at their father, but, ultimately, God proclaims that he would be faithful and God will forgive again and again. So lesson number two of the morning offered, God promises faithfulness.

But, this little encounter in Exodus offers our 21st century ears even one more thing. After the little bargaining session with Moses and God, there is this last perplexing exchange. Moses wants just one more thing from God, just one more little favor. Since the Israelites have been forgiven, and since Moses is doing this leading, than would it be too much, Moses, asks, too much at all if God wouldn’t mind turning a face so that Moses might see God face to face? This was a bold proposition. For it was believed in Jewish tradition that to see God face to face might lead to death. One could not stand the utter glory of God and continue to live. And, well, Moses had already seen God when he got those ten commandments on the mountain a little earlier. So, why ask now? Did Moses want to be equal to God? To show that he could stand eye to eye with the divine? Did Moses want some reassurance of who he was dealing with? Did Moses want to fully understand the mystery of this one who was at times unfathomable?

The dialogue closes with God denying Moses’s request. For, while God will relate to Moses, and while God will not abandon Moses or his people, there are ways in which God will still be God. And ways in which God must still be God, and ways in which part of our faith is to walk into the mystery of that relationship and trust the one who reaches out to lead us, and promises not to abandon us.

But like any good negotiator, there is one exception that God will make for Moses. One final offer God places on the table, a little incentive to thank Moses for all his hard work. In verses 21 through 23, God offers a counter-offer. God says, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” And with that, God sweeps through in a way we cannot even imagine, perhaps with rushing wind, or silent majesty, all the while protecting Moses by shielding him safely with the palm of his hand. Hiding the sensitive eyes of his beloved child, allowing him to rest safely in the mystery of grace. And this, I believe is our third lesson. Not only does God invite us to share all of ourselves, not only does God forgive and faithfully accompany us, God also safely shields us and invites us to linger in the mystery, and that sense of mystery and wonder can be a beautiful place.

The Persian mystic, Rumi, once wrote, “Mysteries are not to be solved/ The eye goes blind when it only wants to see why.”

My prayer for each of us on this Sunday as we enter into a holiday of thankfulness and gratitude, is that we remember that the mystery of God’s presence is enough for us to rest in. The core of God’s grace is a safe place to tarry. And we can trust the faithfulness of the God who desires deep relationship with us. May our eyes focus not on trying to solve the mystery, but instead marvel at the shining glory that we glimpse only in passing. Thanks be to God.