Lent Five: Hearts Looking


This week we gathered around the story of Zacchaeus, another story of heart and seeing. We reflected on a Zacchaeus sermon Seeing Saints which you can find in an earlier blog post.  And we drew close to the Compassionate One as we reminded ourselves of that gospel we often forget, that we are not alone in our looking.  Rather, as Francis of Assisi tells us,

The one you are looking for is the one who is looking.  

We gathered ourselves with these words

work your hands
in the warm clay of your heart

Feel its press on your lids

And under them, light.

Shape of it longing;
an ancient stream,
a new-fledged bird,
a star.

Pause to honour your fear:
sharp as moon’s crescent
the blade of grass
the tight press of lips.

Then climb –
into the rough-barked moment
the fragile limb of this life
the leafy tangle of days.

and breathless
the One who is looking for you.

Come ~

The Eyes of the Heart



Last week we practiced Visio Divina, Sacred Seeing, allowing ourselves to be called through a curve or a cloud or a colour deep into memory and silence;  to allow the press of the divine on our lids, to receive new sight.  I remembered the sacred seeing of the man whose lids Jesus touched.  I thought of the realities of terror and indifference and hunger that so often fill our sight.  And I thought of the Compassionate One who pulls the yearning cosmos through his body, crying, “stay awake with me”.  We have this Lent practiced response to this cry, offering our hearts: their beating, their breaking and now their seeing.  This Lent our senses instruct us.  This Lent we make of our bodies, prayer.


A Fragment

Walking along, Jesus sees someone ready for healing.
His disciples see a chance for technical questions.
They are still unaccustomed to the answer who walks beside them

 Jesus sees a man whose eyes are cloudy and whose heart is open,
a heart waiting for new words to fall into it,
a heart waiting for the Word who will set him free.

Jesus sees a man who stays still,
a beggar’s bowl beside him,
acutely aware of the buzz of the crowd.

One feeling the space before him filling up with heat and heft of body,
feeling the movement of air as Jesus crouches down to spit in the dirt
and drag his thumbs through the paste.

There was no way to anticipate the feel of those thumbs
drawn across his lids,
tender and confident.

Though he could feel the air move,

no way to anticipate that someone who spoke words of light out of darkness
would be anything but a trickster.
No way for this one to be certain of anything but his longing.
This one was still open,
accustomed to longing so great
and hope so resilient
it didn’t question the efficacy of mud
or the power of water.

 And so he goes, down to the pool, the one born blind
the one who had never become so accustomed to who he was
that he was unable to move toward the waters
in which he would become all he could be.

The one not so accustomed to who he was
that he couldn’t hear the voice that would tell him who he was becoming.

The one not so accustomed to his infirmity
that he wouldn’t risk embarrassment or hope or credibility
to live healed,
to be changed.

 It may not have been easy for him to get to the pool,
wandering around blind with a muddy paste on his eyes.
We don’t hear that he has help – he just goes –
he just finds a way.
He washes
and as he washes the paste runs in rivulets down his cheeks.

And what do you imagine –

does he open his eyes right away with complete confidence?
Does he shade his eyes and look downward,
the first thing seen the miracle of the water.
Does he open one eye to test things out,
afraid of crushing disappointment or foolishness?   

What do you imagine?

 When he sees, it must have been overwhelming.
A fifth sense added to four already honed to an exquisite edge?
Can you imagine opening eyes on a world you’d never seen before?
Can you imagine light when you had known nothing but darkness,
The curve and line of shape
when it had only ever before been felt.
Other eyes looking into yours.

 The man came back transformed,
Back to the folks that often gathered round the pool,
back to the neighbours
and those who had put coins in his beggar’s cup.
Back to all those who aren’t touched with the blessing of new sight,
who haven’t had blind eyes opened,
who haven’t recognized the light in their midst.

The man comes back just a few steps
and he must be so bedazzled he can hardly breathe.
It is wonderful to witness such delight. 

 Can you see him right in our midst,
twirling and leaping,
drops from the pool spraying off him
caught in the net of the air
like tiny rainbow fish.
Can you see him?

 Could we have seen him?
Do we still know how to hope for transformation.
to feel tender hands on our faces
to feel our sight changing under closed lids
to really long to be healed.





Heartbreak: Lent Two


Our small Lenten community this week sought to accompany the Compassionate One through heartbreak that is ours and his.  We considered the words of poet David Whyte on Heartbreak, (read below) and laid our ear against the heart of Jesus.  We could hear it beat, we could hear it break.

We know heartbreak in our own life but can we imagine the great break in the heart of Jesus, the break into which we ourselves are poured?  Can we bear this quality of Love?  Can we be vulnerable to it?  Can we attend the One who follows the path of our lives and takes that path into his heart so that whereever we find ourselves on the road we know ourselves in the heart of Love.

We listened to this breaking through the words of Matthew 26:36 -40.   As we found ourselves committed to the Lenten Journey, we sought this text of heartbreak near the end of its path in order to draw us closer, heart to heart, to Compassion.

You can read Matthew 26: 36-40 in the Revised Standard Version here at bible.oremus.org

You can enter it more deeply through this guided meditation.

Heartbreak, says poet David Whyte, is unpreventable; the natural outcome of caring for people and things over which we have no control. [ . . .] heartbreak is not a visitation, but a path that human beings follow through even the most average life.  [. . .]  Heartbreak is how we mature; yet we use the word heartbreak as if it only occurs when things have gone wrong; [ . . . ] Heartbreak, we hope, is something we hope we can avoid; something to guard against, [ . . .] but heartbreak may be the very essence of being human, of being on the journey from here to there, and of coming to care deeply for what we find along the way. [. . . ] Realizing its inescapable nature, we can see heartbreak not as the end of the road or the cessation of hope but as the close embrace of the essence of what we have wanted or are about to lose. Heartbreak asks us not to look for an alternative path, because there is not alternative path.  It is an introduction to what we love and have loved, an inescapable and often beautiful question, something and someone that has been with us all along, asking us to be ready for the ultimate letting go.   (Whyte, Consolations).

Heart to Heart: Lent One


I’m keeping company this Lent with a group of wise women.  We’re considering courage, from the old French word coeur meaning ‘heart’.  We’re coming together to be a Lenten community that nurtures the practice of living heart-to-heart, asking ourselves what practices will encourage us to resist strategies of invulnerability.

How will we consider our hearts through the metaphor and the meaning of being heart to heart with Jesus as he sets his face to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-56)?  Laying our ear against the heart of the Compassionate One, or standing heart to heart we internalize his pulse.  Through the joined beat of our hearts we practice courage in the world.

We read together the wonderful book for children (and adults) The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers.  And we stepped close to the One who says, Stay with me, through the prayer practice sometimes called Ignatian contemplation.

I invite you to enter listening first to the text and then the words of imagination.

Hanging by a thread


Thinking about church and the transfiguration I found a piece of conversation jangling around in my mind like loose change in a pocket.  It was a conversation about “church”, where we are now and where we were 10 or 15 or 20 years ago, those of us who are part of church community.  The conversational fragment went something like, “then we still thought we could turn it around . . . “.  And now, the implication was, we know we can’t.

This fragment joined on to another conversational piece, also from last week, about the future of the church and what it would look like.  The frequent emotional attendants of these conversations are anxiety or resignation or even fear.

The frequent embodiment of these emotions are frenetic activity, dogged grasping or lethargy.  The first expresses itself in a reaching into the whirlwind of new modes and models, pulling out some bright, glittering shape to try to pull down over the hips of your congregation,  your regional or national structure, regardless of whether it does anything for you, regardless of whether it’s ‘you’, heedless of what it looks like in the mirror of the Holy.  The second, keeps the past firmly buttoned, right up to the neck, even though the fabric is straining and the gussets have popped.  The third, well, what does it matter who or what we put on.

In the pocket of my heart this morning, this phrase, “we no longer think we can turn it around” brings a sense of relief.  It is perhaps, in this relinquishment of optimism, that hope begins.  And it is hope that so catches us with quiet wonder that we are compelled to sit down, right where we are, and look at the substance of it.

Because Transfiguration is so unlike us turning the church around so unlike any kind of figuring it out.

What if the future of the church is wonder?  What if we can’t even begin to imagine it without that sitting down with the substance of hope in our hands; sitting down regularly, faithfully, crazily, fingering its inchoate texture.   What if the sitting down with hope in our hands is the most vital thing we can do?[1]   What if we remember that creativity isn’t just about expressivity but  receptivity?    It’s about cupping our hearts for grace.

What if is is about knowing ourselves and our church as “hanging by God’s thread of pure love”[2] and marveling, each time we gather, at the gift.  What if we know ourselves turned on that bright filament and wait, hearts practiced, to gather the material of Grace in our hands and put it on.

[1] I’m tempted to say that the models and the modes are important too, and they are, but I’m just mentioning that in the fine print because really, they’re just gaudy without the sitting down part.
[2] Catherine of Genoa.  Shalem Institute Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats:  Transforming Community materials

Ash Wednesday Worship


Ash Wednesday   

[This is a quiet, spare worship. For those who are moving from a Mardi Gras gathering into the quiet of this worship I would suggest that any carnival music used be gradually silenced or that one by one each instrument fade away til only one is left playing.   A preamble to the Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday shared meal given before the meal would prepare people for this.  Shrove Tuesday was the day before Ash Wednesday when people confessed or were shriven of their sins.  And pancakes became a tradition in order to use up the ingredients traditionally relinquished during Lent.

Once the mood of the gathering is changed people could proceed to the seats they will have in worship.  If each person had a Mardi Gras Mask and beads they could either place their beads in the baptismal font on the way to their seats perhaps the presider saying,”our joys and tears are held in the life of the One whose journey we share”.  The masks could be kept until just before the imposition of ashes when they could be gathered in a basket or laid in a pile as each individual comes forward, a sign of laying aside all pretence before accepting the ashes and the love.)

The Worship Itself

The service proceeds without announcement.  Words spoken by the congregation are in bold.


“Should I mark more than the shining hours?”
Evan S. Connell
(Notes from a Bottle Found on the beach at Carmel)


Gathering Words:  Genesis 2:7

Introit Gather Us In MV 7

Gather us in, ground us in you
Gather us in, ground us in you
Gather us in, gather us in
Ground us, ground us, in You

Opening Reflection

On a dark night,
Inflamed by love-longing
O exquisite risk?
Undetected I slipped away.
My house, at last, grown still.

Dark Night of the Soul



This is the night, so inflamed by love,
So full of longing
We take the great risk of remembering
Our origin in dust and breath
Surely the love is beyond measure
that moves us to be marked with the ashes of dying,
that like soft pinioned doves
we might know ourselves loosed again into the bright air of life.             Catherine Smith

A Reading from Psalm 51 (NRSV and Ancient Songs Sung Anew)

Hymn:   Sunday’s Palms are Wednesday’s Ashes  VU 107

The Imposition of Ashes

[Here is the place where, if we are carrying masks, we lay them aside]

We come forward singing Dying we Live, returning to our seats following the imposition.  If you prefer the ashes be placed on your hands rather than your forehead please offer your hand palm facing down.   (The chant Dying we Live is one I created and led so it’s in my head.  I can write it out should anyone want to use it or you might substitute a chant that you have easily at hand in your collection of worship music.)

Dying we live
Dying we live
Dying we live in you

Presider:  (tenderly, as the ashes are drawn on forehead or hands)

Dust you are; to dust you will return
Love’s you are, to love you will return

Matthew 6:  1-4; 19-21

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So whenever you give alms do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may be praised by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you give .  . do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be done in secret and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. . . Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.


It seems to me that the time of snow has something to tell us about the time of ashes; the time we are slowed and hemmed in by the enclosure of winter storms, has something to tell us about the treasure that has our heart.

Macrina Wiedrekehr offers these winter words
Winter is a lesson about the fine art of loss and growth
Its lesson is clear;  there is only one way out of struggle
And that is by going into its darkness,
Waiting for the light and being open to new growth.

                                             Macrina Wiederkehr

And Mary Oliver offers these: I Worried

(The poem may be found in its entirety in Swan:  Poems and Prose Poems by Mary Oliver.  It sets up the brief meditation.)                   

Though Oliver is writing from her age; youth worries too.
And young or old you can take your body
And go out into the morning or into the night
And sing the song of ashes
And the song of love.


(We respond to the spoken words of this prayer with the following sung chant.)

Chant.  May we see Christ’s loving face
                May we be an icon of God’s grace        

(copyright Trisha Watts and Monica O’Brien,  I have the music for this but it can be listened to and purchased for download at As One Voice.  I found the easiest way to access on line was to go through  sixmaddens.org) 

 In our journey O God, you call us to the edge and we hear you say,
“Let go?

For those of us who are struggling to believe we hear you say, “I am with you, always, even until the end of time”

         May we see Christ’s loving face . . .

For your people throughout the world who suffer through poverty and oppression,
Bring justice, bring freedom, bring peace . . .

         May we see Christ’s loving face . . .

For your church that it may be a church of reconciliation and compassion
A church unafraid to know its dust and earth
A church unafraid to mirror resurrection

            May we see Christ’s loving face . . .


For each person here.

You know our deepest longings, our fears and desires.
We place our trust in You.

                May we see Christ’s loving face.


Closing Reflection

On a dark night,
Inflamed by love-longing
O exquisite risk?
Undetected I slipped away.
My house, at last, grown still.

Dark Night of the Soul


This is the night, so inflamed by love,
So full of longing
We take the great risk of remembering
Our origin in dust and breath
Surely the love is beyond measure
That moves us to be marked with the ashes of dying
That like soft pinioned doves
We might know ourselves loosed again into the bright air of life.



Go now marked by the humbling of dust and of love
God be with you

Closing Music










This is not Trump’s day

Photo from Pixabay Images

On this seemingly surreal but also real day when Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as  President of the United States, it is not more commentary or assessment, however well written, I need.

Because how many words have we read, and listened to, and shared, that told us what many of us knew so early on?  How many ways has our tongue sought out the tooth that was cracked and found it as it had been five minutes before?  Today will be the day a gold crown is stuck on over the crack.  There will be more pain.

But there will also be Love and a thousand, thousand movements of justice that will roll out across worlds and there will be those that are hidden in hearts and pressed hand to hand and there will be those that are seen as tears and those that march and those that cover canvas with colour and those who spin threads and clay.

This is what I need to know as it appears the painful crack will widen.  That a thousand, thousand hearts are called to prayer.  That love flows through the gaps in the crowds and hems in hearts that are poised to strike out and rinses the wounds of those who will most grievously receive the weight of this day.

What does it mean this day, this very day, when we touch the crack and long for the anaesthia of rancour or bright bitterness, to receive, to hold out our hearts like begging bowls for love, to feel them filled, to pass them round.  What does it mean, even on this cracked day to feel at our centre the water and fire and fastness that is Love.

I invite you to take one tiny bowl of time each hour this day
Hold it in words or silence to be filled.

Consider it.
Because this day too is Love’s.