Presence in the Present

Also known as: “What I have learned from listening to the Grateful Dead for 23 or so years…”

If you are at all familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, I am and INFJ.  The J portion of my personality type is what’s of interest right now.  Being a J (or Judger) doesn’t mean that I am judgmental or anything like that; it means I thrive when there is predictability and order in my day to day life. I am not a fan of surprises or sudden changes to schedules or routines.

Now on to the Grateful Dead: a band known for, loved for, it’s experimental and often improvisational way of testing the boundaries of music. There is a give and take, a push and pull between the members of the band and between the band and the crowd.

No show is ever the same, and not just due to the enormous catalogue of songs. The shows were (are) different because each song would unfold in a unique way and you couldn’t predict when the bridge would emerge; you just danced along and helped the song unfold.

That’s not an easy thing for me to do. And all of this occurred to me on the train for my morning commute as I was listening to a show that was played and recorded in August 1971 and Truckin’ came on. Even people who don’t know a lot about the Grateful Dead have probably heard the song Trucking’ and it’s not a song well known for surprises. I was anticipating a particular guitar riff and drop to come at a particular moment but the improv jam just kept unfolding for a few more moments.

And it was then that I remembered a hot summer day 22 years ago sweating and dancing and shaking my bones in Las Vegas.  (History has shown me that the show wasn’t that well played, Jerry was only with us three months after that show and he was in really rough shape.) But I was in the moment and I was dancing, and I had no idea what song was coming next or how that song would manifest. And it was beautiful.

This weekend I’ll hop on a plane and go back to Vegas and dance and shake my bones with Dead and Company, and as hard as it may be for the J portion of my personality type, I won’t know what song is coming next or how it will be born into the moment.

But I will be fully present in the present, in the now. And I am entirely certain that it will be beautiful.


We Can Discover the Wonders of Nature

I was feeling a little restless this afternoon (probably been longer than just this afternoon, if I can be honest…) so I threw on my headphones and cranked up Dick’s Picks Volume 29 (from 5/19/77) and went for a walk down in the estuary that’s just down the street.

I’d normally go for a run, but since my eye surgery is less than a week old, my doc says, “No running, not yet.” So I gotta do what the Good Doctor says.

Anyhoo, I’m walking along and I notice these gorgeous little succulents just chilling out making these neat-o flowers, and rimmed with frosty little edges and got all wonder-filled and stuff.

Just thought I’d pass along some random beauty.

Make sure to look around, you’ll find the world’s actually crammed with beauty.

“Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.” George Carlin

I like my coffee and my comedians the same way: bitter.

In reality though, I don’t have the energy to be a bitter person.

Some articles say that bitter people are jealous, attention seekers and that they like to hold grudges .

I just don’t have time for all that.

Granted there are days when I can be so jaded that I could crap a chess set, but life’s too short, and time goes by too quickly to carry that stuff around day after day after day.

via Daily Prompt: Bitter

Naked and Unashamed

Vulnerability is not a bad thing.

If you want to be known by people, really truly known by them, you have to expose your inner most self and not be afraid or ashamed.

When humans were first created, the Creator saw the one human and declared that it was not good for the person be alone. In the process of finding a companion for the first human, many other things came into being, but they weren’t quite like the human.

Dog was awesome, but not quite there.

Cat knew how awesome she was, but didn’t want much to do with the human because humans are beneath cats.

The human was still alone; there wasn’t anyone to share life with.

So the Creator made a second human, and the first human said, “Ah! At last! Someone like me.”

And they looked at one another, saw their differences, but didn’t get in a tizzy over them.

They were naked and unashamed.

Not just naked, naked. Not just unclothed. But vulnerable, exposed, open in sharing dreams and hopes and fears and doubts.

And they knew that it was good. And the Creator saw that it was good.

Vulnerability and exposure aren’t bad things.

via Daily Prompt: Exposed

Thoughts on the 4th Sunday of Easter

” I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” (John 10:10 The Common English Bible)

This past week I had the honor to meet Dr. Edith Eva Eger, a woman who is now close to 90 years young, and I say young because I honestly believe that she has a younger spirit than I do. Dr Eger has endured much in her life because she and her family were victimized by the Holocaust: forced to relocate from Hungary to Auschwitz, where her parents were killed. Forced to dance for Dr Mengele because she was trained in ballet.

She would say to herself, if she could survive this day, then tomorrow, she’d be free.

“They could beat me, and they did, and they tortured me, but they could never, ever murder my spirit,” she said. (source)

Meeting people like Dr Eger help you re-think what the abundant life is all about.

When I was younger, I thought the abundant life would be something akin to “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” with Robin Leach.  If you’re too young to remember that show it was like Cribs on MTV.

Then there was the time in life when the abundant life was just having a life with no troubles—a don’t worry be happy kind of existence, or a Your Best Life Now to the Power of Positive Thinking level of exponential happiness.

I have come to realize that the abundant life is neither of these things: not a life with a house that has enough square feet of living space for a small country or a life that is free from suffering. The abundant life is a life that abides in the knowledge of being loved by God who is present with us in the whole of life.

There may not be a clearer image of the abundant life than the one that the psalmist paints in the 23rd Psalm. The psalm is packed with poetic imagination that invites us as the readers or hearers to look for a life where we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are lacking nothing.

This psalm doesn’t show a life that is free from suffering or sorrow; this psalm speaking of enduring those seasons where the path of life leads us through valleys of darkness because we trust that God is there with us, leading us through those moments, bringing us out of those moments into seasons of green pasture and still water.




Thoughts on Easter Sunday

resurrection icon

There are two distinct parts, two distinct movements, two distinct encounters to this morning’s passage from John.  I think those two encounters also have a great deal to say to the church on Easter Sunday as well.

In the first movement of this passage Mary Magdalene and then Mary, Peter, and John have an encounter with an empty tomb.

Mary goes to the tomb and discovers that there is no body.  She runs back to where the eleven are, and reports to Peter and the Beloved Disciple this fact: “The tomb is empty;” more specifically she says, “They have taken the body of Jesus.”

Insult has been added to injury: we can’t even give Jesus a proper burial. Remember he was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb before Sabbath began; Jesus’ followers have been in the house resting according to Torah, waiting until Sabbath ends to properly anoint his body and create the space for grieving.  That’s why Mary is at the tomb early on the first day of the week, she is there to anoint his body; she is there to grieve. And as far as she knows, the body is now somewhere else.  So she runs to the house where the rest of the followers are and tells them what she has seen. The tomb is open; the stone has been rolled away.

Then John tells of a dramatic footrace to the tomb, of Peter and the Beloved Disciple running together. I remember at command PT one day in Sasebo we were running sprints across the basketball court in the base gym.  I was lined up next to one of my RPs, who was quite a few years younger than me, but I pushed hard to beat him across the court. I tried, really, I did, but he outpaced me by a yard or two—a big grin across his face as he went by. Peter, likewise, tries to run with the presumably younger disciple, but the Beloved Disciple beats him to it, winning the foot race.

At the tomb the beloved disciple looks in, sees the wrappings, but does not enter.  Peter arrives shortly after and enters the tomb. I initially want to think that Peter goes into the tomb in his classic excessively enthusiastic style, speaking or acting without fully thinking it through. But then I imagine that, because he is on the heels of denying Jesus, that maybe his entry is more tentative, more tender.  He sees the wrappings used to cover the body of Jesus.  The beloved disciple then enters the tomb and together they see that the Body of Jesus is nowhere inside.  Then John says, “They saw and believed.”

Let’s stop for a moment and consider what did he/they see and believe?  There is no body: it has been taken/moved.  This is what they believe.  They believe that the tomb is empty; they believe Mary’s report.  John makes a point of saying, “for as yet they did not understand the scripture…”  They don’t yet believe, know, or understand that the empty tomb means Jesus is alive and that he has been raised; they don’t grasp yet that the grave cloths are cast aside because Jesus no longer has need of them, ever.

For them, in this moment, Jesus is like Moses; his body is in a place that no one knows. The tomb is empty. Happy Easter? And they go home, perhaps making up their minds to go back to life as they had known it.

And maybe there are a few people like this in the Church, maybe some here this morning. People who believe that there was an actual empty tomb on Easter morning, but they’ve walked away before meeting with the Risen One.  They’re going back to life as they have known it, they believe in the forgiveness of sins, but they haven’t met the Resurrected Jesus.  If it’s you, wait a while; Jesus is here. As one pastor said, “[for] centuries Christians have begun their journey of faith by running to the empty tomb.”*

They believed something, even if they didn’t know exactly what they believed: “there was something in the story that reached the deepest regions of their hearts and minds, where both doubt and faith are found. That is, in the resurrection God gave us such a miracle of love and forgiveness that it is worthy of faith, and thus open to doubt. The very doubts we may hold attest to the scale and power of what we proclaim. So the place to begin in the life of faith is not necessarily with those things we never doubt. Realities about which we hold no doubt may not be large enough to reveal God to us.”* Maybe the hope in our questions is that we are open to finding out more about what God can do, even if we’re not sure what that may be, even if that thing that God does is bigger than our ability to comprehend.

In the second major part of this passage we have Mary waiting alone and weeping. She’s been robbed of her chance at closure. She cannot complete the rituals of lamentation.

And whether it is because she can’t believe it, or maybe because she thinks that if she looks in the same place one more time he’ll be there, Mary looks back into the tomb.  (You know, like when you lose something and you look in the same place over and over and over again?)  That’s what Mary does. She looks into the tomb one more time. Maybe it was simply a way of saying good-bye.

As she looks in she sees two angels.  Sitting there among the wrappings that  once held Jesus’ dead body are two messengers there to attend to her in her grief.

Their question seems so obvious, but it’s an important question: “Why are you weeping?”

We’re taught to pay attention to the body language of people.  To look for signs of distress, not so that we can refer them to professionals, but so that we can be present with them in whatever moment of pain they are experiencing.  Aloneness in grief, makes grief that much harder to bear.  We’re invited to become messengers of hope for others, just as these angels are for Mary.

“Why are you weeping?”  They give her a place to name her pain and she takes it: “They’ve moved the body of Jesus and I don’t know where it is!”  And she turns as if to gesture to them the barrenness of the tomb, the emptiness of the garden, the vastness of places where his body could have been taken, and there he is.  There is Jesus.  But to her he is just the gardener with the same question as the angels in the empty tomb; she is blind with grief as he asks, “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”

It’s almost as if she can’t hear the second question or that to her it doesn’t matter—why would the gardener care who she is looking for? She gets right to the point.

“Where have you taken him?”  she cries.  “If you show me where he is, I will take him and tend to his body!”  To Mary he is just a gardener, and she is so blinded by grief and pain she can’t see him…until he speaks her name:  “Mary!”

I imagine like a parent comforting a child saying their name, rocking them back and forth, trying to get them to calm down.  “Mary!”

And in hearing the Risen Christ speak her name, she knows him for who he is.  And she falls to her feet in front of him.  The Gospel’s author says that her utterance of “Rabbouni!” means teacher, but it’s slightly more personal than that, a familiar, intimate name for a beloved teacher; she doesn’t just say, “Rabbi,” but “MY Rabbi!” Because Jesus spoke her name, Mary could move from mourning to dancing, from weeping to joy. From believing in an empty tomb to knowing the Risen Lord.

This is why I said to wait a while.  Jesus is here and he speaks our names: Daniel, Joey, Dianne, Angela… He speaks our names so that we will know him for who he is.

There are quite a few studies about newborns recognizing the voices of mothers based on learning their voice patters in utero; there’s not so much support with regards to paternal voice recognition (sorry Dads), but newborns and infants will respond to—turn to—recognize Mom’s voice and eventually Dad’s when they hear those voices frequently.  It may not necessarily create stronger bonds, but our children know who we are.

Mary knows Jesus because he speaks her name.  Jesus speaks her name because he knows she will recognize him and know that she belongs to him.  And he speaks our names this morning so that we will know to whom we belong and so that with our words, with our actions, with our lives we will testify to his risenness.

So off Mary goes, once again, serving as the Apostle to the Apostles, the first witness of the Resurrection, to announce her encounter.

“I have seen the Lord,” Mary told the eleven.  “I have seen the Lord…and it is so much better than the empty tomb.”


* Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2010-10-12). Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (Feasting on the Word: Year A volume) (Kindle Location 13550). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.