Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Three Simple Letters

 Today marks the one year anniversary of my profession of final vows as a Sister of Saint Joseph. Looking back on the year that has been, it's hard to believe all that has come to pass. I never would have thought that 6 months of my first year of perpetual profession would be lived out under the curious circumstances of COVID-19. As I reflect back on September 15, 2019, I am filled with gratitude for the grace of God and the gifts of community. Our Constitutions as Sisters of Saint Joseph say that "each day we make a new beginning," and surely that is true for me today and always. I pray that today, I may live out my vows to the best of my ability and that I may encounter God in all things. May each of us be so blessed.

In commemoration of my final vows, I offer a poem that I wrote last year in preparation for my profession. The wisdom it contains continues to come to fruition. I pray it may speak to your heart as it continues to speak to mine.



"Three Simple Letters" by S. Colleen Gibson, SSJ

Three simple letters
Y
E
S
unforetold in meaning
unforeseen in duty

You speak them without
fully knowing what they mean.
You say them not to what is asked
but to who is asking

Y
E
S
to You
who will be revealed in time
in hands worn deep with crags and crevices
this is the work beyond words
to be given
to be formed
to discover
that it is not what you bring
but who you are that matters
and even that is changing
and it should
if you let it

forget solid ground and settle
in the mixed up alphabet of life
for a standard
written on the heart
and held in the soul

You, speaking, not knowing
what it’ll mean
in the next moment
but when that comes
it will sustain you
so that each utterance
will be a deliverance
to the glory you imagined
with that first
Y
E
S

Friday, August 28, 2020

Befriending Phoebe

For the last few years, I have been involved in conversations around women deacons in the Roman Catholic Church. What began as a conversation here or there about this vocation and ministry with other religious, soon developed into a series of monthly conversations with Dr. Phyllis Zagano on women deacons (the next will be on September 23rd).  Before then, on September 3rd, a group led by www.receiveherinthelord.org will lead a prayer service in honor of the feast of St. Phoebe and for the intention of the current papal commission of women deacons. My latest column for the Global Sisters Report features Phoebe as an example of faithful service and her ministry as a hopeful guide for considering women's roles in the church today.

---- 

Growing up, I never heard about St. Phoebe. She, like so many women of the early church, was lost to me for a long time.

The female doctors of the church — Catherine, Teresa, Thérèse, and, later, Hildegard — were beacons whose wisdom, faith and example I was drawn to. As a young adult, I grew to know and love Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles, as well as a number of other women saints, who, each in her own way, invited me to be more fully myself and more fully engaged with my faith.

Not until my late 20s do I recall Phoebe's name surfacing in my consciousness and even then, I couldn't place her beyond the heading "women of the early church." The reasons she remained in the shadows of my consciousness are as much a reflection of my own life and learning as of the institutions that have taught me and their conscious and unconscious influence on our wider perspectives as individuals and a church.

Phoebe appears in Paul's letter to the Romans, in which he exhorts the Romans: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae." Paul writes, "I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me" (Romans 16:1-2).

Brief though it is, this introduction is full of import. In these two verses, Paul provides critical information about the woman he has entrusted to deliver his letter to Rome.

Calling her sister, deacon and benefactor, Paul signals that Phoebe is his co-worker in the kingdom. He has chosen her to convey his message and it is his hope that they, like her, will come to believe and to support the Christian mission. By identifying Phoebe as a deacon, Paul indicates that she was a preacher and teacher of the faith and gives us the earliest written record of women's ordained ministry in the church.

When I first heard about Phoebe's ministry, I wondered how I hadn't heard about it sooner. A search of the Scriptures used at daily Mass revealed why Phoebe hadn't crossed my path. "In the continuous reading from Romans, verses one and two of chapter 16 are omitted," Benedictine Sr. Ruth Fox writes in her work on women in the Bible, "Thus churchgoers will never hear in our liturgy of Phoebe, a woman who was a deacon."

One can't be sure of the reason for this omission, but by excluding Phoebe (and the stories of many other women) from the lectionary, the church makes a distinctive choice about the models of church and stories of faith it chooses to lift up. Phoebe's absence from daily readings obscures the history of women deacons in our church and directs popular consciousness away from considering women's place in ordained roles of leadership in the church.

Phoebe is part of a much larger story of women deacons. In the Western church, from the first Christian communities through the 12th century, women carried out the ministry of the diaconate in its fullness, serving in the diaconal ministries: baptizing and anointing, proclaiming and preaching on the Gospel, caring for those on the margins, assisting in liturgy, and helping to sustain the life of the church through their ordained ministry.

Yet, in the 12th century, when the diaconate became a transitional ministry exclusively for men pursuing priesthood, women deacons ceased to be ordained.

For 800 years, the permanent diaconate lay dormant. Without the presence of permanent deacons, the diaconate became synonymous with the priesthood, with the transitional diaconate serving as a step on the way to priestly ordination. As time went on, this association became ingrained in the popular understanding of who deacons were and what deacons did.

Not until the time of the Second Vatican Council did the permanent diaconate again find its footing in the church.

Noting that a permanent diaconate would bolster the identity of the church as servant and address issues of decreasing priestly vocations, ecumenical relations, and relations between lay Catholics and clergy, the council fathers recommended the restoration of the permanent diaconate in 1965, opening the vocation of deacon to single and married men after Pope Paul VI's 1967 approval of the restoration.

Since then, the ministry of the diaconate as a permanent vocation has continued to take shape.

Fifty years later, we continue to witness the implementation and lived interpretation of Vatican II. In the last four years, the issue of women deacons has resurfaced with two papal commission being assembled, and a rising awareness of the long-forgotten history of women deacons in our church.

As the synod for the Amazon so clearly pointed out, women in the Amazon are already doing the work of deacons, just without the official recognition and sacramental grace of the church. The same could be said of women around the world — whether lay ecclesial ministers or vowed women religious — whose ministry embodies the church's call to servant leadership and without which the body of Christ would be significantly deprived.

In his commendation, St. Paul told the Romans to graciously receive Phoebe and give her any help she needed. At this time in our world and our church can't we ask the same, that women be received in the Lord and given all the help they need to truly share their gifts in ministry in the church? Can we think creatively about what has been and what could be?

Could we imagine, in the words of Thomas Baker, "the energy that would be released by another 18,000 or 36,000 deacons, many of them younger, many of them women, half of them of Hispanic and Asian heritage, asked by their bishops to open up new ways and places for people to encounter Christ?"

Just over 50 years into the implementation of the reforms of Vatican II, we must recognize that our understanding of the ministry of the permanent diaconate is still taking form. Now is the time to consider not only the historical precedence of women deacons but the hope creative thinking about this ministry and vocation offers for the life of the church and the world.

In the words of Phyllis Zagano, "Can the Church accept an ordained woman deacon? If history is the predictor, the answer is yes. If the present is the predictor, the answer is also yes. There is no need for the ministry of women to be restricted by misogyny; there is no reason that women cannot be icons of Christ."

Lifting up women as icons of Christ begins with valuing the ministry of women. It is to recognize and affirm with Pope Francis that "women have put up a sign and said, 'Please listen to us. May we be heard.' And I pick up that gauntlet."

Picking up that gauntlet means listening to and lifting up the voices and needs of today, learning the stories of the past, and praying for the Spirit's guidance for the future.

As we celebrate the feast of St. Phoebe on Sept. 3, a group of women will do just that through a virtual prayer service hosted by ReceiveHerInTheLord.org. Praying for the current papal commission on women deacons and for the ongoing renewal of the ministry of the diaconate, they are following in the footsteps of Phoebe in spreading the good news by witnessing to their call to serve, to preach and to share Christ's love.

"When the people of God risk becoming comfortable, deacons constantly press the body of believers into the presence of a suffering, homeless, incarcerated, sick, marginalized Christ. And when the people of God risk becoming defeated and forlorn, deacons constantly draw up the healing, consoling, nourishing, resurrecting power of Christ," the organizers of the event write.

At this time in our church and our world, that is just what we need — Continue the piece here

Friday, July 10, 2020

Admitting Blindness


My latest column for the Global Sisters Report returns to my prayer these past few week for the ability join my eyes to God's. This prayer for vision has led me to look at where I might have lind spots, like cataracts of the soul. As I write at the end, "I pray that we all might have the presence of mind and heart to go deeper, to lift up voices we have failed to hear or seek out to listen to before, and to humbly see our blindness and illuminate it as we continue to engage in the work of change." Blessings to all...

On June 14, I sat in a pew at a local parish for the first time in months. After weeks of virtual celebrations, I found it fitting that we would gather in-person on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. It felt good to be together as a communal body. Though our faces were partially covered, the familiar space and feeling of ritual allowed the anxiety of gathering to succumb, for a moment, to the peace of place and presence.

I cherished the peace, yet, as I listened to the presider's homily and then to the prayers of the faithful, I winced — not at what was being said, but what wasn't.

We prayed for an end of violence, for peace, and for those working to end injustice, never once using the words race or racism, let alone "Black Lives Matter."

In the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd and weeks of protests that swelled across the country and on our city streets, there was an implicit silence. This parish, which I'd come to know as progressive, failed to name the racism and white privilege/supremacy that has been thrust into the public consciousness.

I winced because I thought this was a place where I would be able to grapple with the Gospel and the issues of our day. I thought this was a place where I would find challenge in the face of systemic social sin … and I didn't.

I also winced because I knew that most Sundays before that I wouldn't have batted an eye at the absence of the issue and these words from the preacher's mouth or our communal prayer. Speaking of justice and peace would have soothed my soul and I would have been able to carry on as usual without even noticing the omission. Yet, now, rightfully, everything seems far from normal. 

"There is no way to tell the truth about race in this country without white people becoming uncomfortable." Bryan Massingale poignantly writes, "Because the plain truth is that if it were up to people of color, racism would have been resolved, over and done, a long time ago. The only reason for racism's persistence is that white people continue to benefit from it."

That last line from Massingale's must-read op-ed on white privilege and what we can do about it continues to stick with me. This is not a problem separate from me or the church or my religious congregation. It is something whose effects I witness on a daily basis — be it in the classroom with students from Central and South America, watching students at our local inner city public school line up for laptops months after instruction went online, or meeting with neighbors, a majority of whom are Black and Latino, in need of food assistance and other basic needs.

We serve the needs we are aware of and learn the stories of those we walk with, all while striving to root out the causes of such racism. In the end, however, if we are honest with ourselves, we also must face the fact that we — a congregation of women religious that is predominantly white — benefit from unjust systems and perpetuate, despite our best efforts, implicit biases and cultural norms based on our whiteness.

The demand to admit and counteract our personal, ecclesial, societal, and congregational blindness to racism is clear. As Sr. Mumbi Kigutha clearly conveyed in these pages a few weeks ago, we must "move from a place of tokenism to a place of egalitarianism," making efforts across the board to "critically interrogate" as well as recognize, celebrate and proclaim that Black Lives Matter.

So often we pray to have our eyes opened, to see as God sees. Perhaps the first step in gaining that vision is admitting our blindness. Awakening to the fact that we might not be seeing everything is an unsettling admission. It pushes us to expand our vision, to let new light illuminate the larger reality of the world we may never have seen or wanted to see.

These past few weeks, I've heard stories of individuals in staff meetings asking for forgiveness of transgressions in sweeping statements like "if I've ever done anything to offend anyone, please accept my apology." I don't doubt the sincerity of these statements but I wonder if they are meant more to make the offender feel better than to name specific transgressions, to do the work of identifying and naming microaggressions in everyday life, or to admit to (and begin to see) the ways in which those of us in the majority have benefited and continue to benefit from a society that assumes that white lives matter more, good intentions can carry the day, and that white lives are innocent, good and somehow more worthy of protection than others.

In the same way, I think about the multitude of black squares that "blacked out" Instagram in early June in an effort to amplify black voices. This act which genuinely intended to raise awareness instead ended up largely playing out as performative allyship, giving those from non-marginalized groups who posted it a sense of having done the right thing without really helping the marginalized groups it was intended to benefit.

If we remain blind to our actions and intentions, carrying on what is "normal" and thus perpetuating the racism ingrained in our society, we serve only ourselves and impede the work of movements that are trying to create change. Our intentions, which I believe are good, can unintentionally cause harm to our sisters and brothers. Without a critical eye, we can never see what we are blind to — and without naming our blind spots and those in the people we interact with, we can never hope to have the open eyes we've prayed for.

Once we can admit our blindness, we can see our blind spots more clearly.

For the past few years, I've gone to a local rec center in the city of Camden early each morning to work out. Within the first few months, I became friendly with the people who would arrive at the same time. Because it was so early, we needed to be buzzed from one part of the building to the next. The security guard on duty was notoriously tired by the time we arrived at the end of his all-night shift. One morning, two men, both of whom were black, and I arrived at the same time but the security guard was nowhere to be found.

Having seen him push the button on the desk numerous times, I wondered aloud if we might go behind the desk and do the same. My two companions looked right at me and quickly responded they were fine waiting as I craned my neck to better see the button; just then the security guard emerged from the back office wiping the sleep from his eyes. The men chuckled nervously and the guard buzzed us in. Recounting the story to a friend later that day, I heard my own confusion at the men's reaction. Then, like a light bulb going off, I realized how blind (and privileged) I had been.

I have work to do. (We all do.) More work than I can even realize at this point. I don't say this to be commended or comforted; I am simply acknowledging the uncomfortable grace I'm encountering.

This does not cover all the areas of our/my blindness. Nor does it offer an answer (or answers) to the issue of racism. In writing it, I had to admit to my blind spots and shortcomings and the inadequacies of my language. I had to face the inadequacy of the energy I have put forth in becoming anti-racist and better educating myself about the struggles of my Black and brown sisters and brothers.

In all honesty, this is an unfinished piece because we as a society and as groups and individuals are in an unfinished process...Finish reading this piece here

Friday, May 29, 2020

Learning to Believe God Will Provide


The following is my latest column for the Global Sisters Report. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak and pandemic, we've seen an overwhelming demand for services at my ministry. In the midst of packing groceries and trying to stay safe, I've discovered that the extent to which I believe God would provide was more limited than I'd imagined.  In the midst of a dark time for our country and our world, may this reflection shine light on the ways we're called to action, to trust, and most of all to love of God and neighbor without distinction. Blessings. 

On the night of March 17 when we locked up the neighborhood center where I minister, it was hard to tell what the next day would bring. We knew 15,000 pounds of food were being delivered in the morning, but the question of who would be there to unpack it and how we'd distribute it loomed large. With public health warnings about COVID-19 and a suspension of all programming except for our food pantry, we waited to see what volunteers would join us to help.

"God will provide," the sister I live and work with said as we drove home that night. In the morning, a skeleton crew arrived for a highly modified distribution. With only nine of our usual 45 volunteers, we managed to move our distribution outside and feed a record number of neighbors in a day.

This, it turned out, would be the first of many pandemic records. The outpouring of both support and need in our community has been overwhelming these last 11 weeks. Demand for our pantry's services has only grown as the pandemic continues. In comparison to this time last year, we're serving more than three times the number of families each month. With thousands of bags of food distributed, we've seen nearly 300 new families come to us for food in the last three months alone.

If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that flexibility is key, that hunger (and other basic needs) don't follow stay-at-home orders, and that God does indeed provide.

"God will provide" is a sentiment I thought I believed before this pandemic. Certainly, God provides for our needs; that, after all, is the bedrock of faith. Yet as these weeks have dragged on, I've discovered that the familiar phrase "God will provide" is less familiar than I thought. What once seemed like a simple article of faith has, in fact, evolved into an element of self-discovery and growth. In it I see my reservations and my unbelief; I'm coming to see that God provides in ways far beyond my imagining.

As I was standing in a warehouse the length of a football field a few weeks after the initial shutdown, my nose was filled with the smell of ripe fruit. Palettes of fruit unclaimed by importers towered over the burly men who showed us around the terminal. "The next stop is the dumpster outside," the foreman told us regretfully.

"Do you think you could use some?" he asked as we nodded in awe, taken aback by the sight and thinking of the families in need who were waiting on our return from this morning's errand. 

"Whatever you want is yours, sisters," he chimed in as he began to load boxes into our cars.

Resistance is the edge of growth

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the phrase "God will provide" raises caution within me. "No," I think to myself, "that is a cop out. There must be something we can do." The resistance within me, it seems, is in the belief that I can and should be able to it on my own. This simple phrase shifts the onus; in some ways, I fear that it lets the speaker off the hook.

My caution, I am finding, is rooted in a mix of motivations. There is the myth and pull of the individual that runs strong within me and our culture. Following the false thinking of "If I can't provide for myself, why should anyone else?" this individualism trades faith and trust for pragmatism and control. To a desire to control the situation and/or remain self-reliant, hearing someone say "God will provide" is gut wrenching.

Yet it is in the situations where nothing else can seemingly be done — where our efforts only yield so much — that I find, more and more, the phrase "God will provide" passes my lips. As I look at shelves picked bare in our food pantry, the contents of which we've worked tirelessly to stretch so as many neighbors as possible can eat, I know we've done all we can.

Here the phrase is not a sign of giving up but instead is an act of surrender. There is nothing more we can do but believe and know our work is bolstered by God's grace. Then when my phone buzzes with calls about canned goods packed and ready to be picked up at local parishes, I know that, certainly, God provides.

Reality, it turns out, is more nuanced than a gut reaction. "Act as if everything depended on you. 
Trust as if everything depended on God." St. Ignatius is often cited as saying. The inclination of the individualist is to take the former part of the quote and forget the latter. "I prefer to reverse it," writes author Jim Manney. " 'Pray as if everything depends on you, work as if everything depends on God.' … [this] puts our work in the right perspective: if it depends on God, we can let it go. We can work hard but leave the outcome up to him. If God is in charge we can tolerate mixed results and endure failure."

From this perspective, God provides not because we will it or because we see the world through rose-colored glasses, but because faith allows us to be free, to trust that all will be well and also to know our part in the work of God. We are not the master craftsmen; we are workers in the field.

I marvel at the graces that weasel their way into the potential hopelessness of these days. After an undocumented and now unemployed family came to us in haste unable to pay their bills, a regular volunteer, who can't come to help because of health concerns, unbeknownst to the situation-at-hand sent us her stimulus check with a simple note saying she didn't have much but certainly had all she needed and could share this in her physical absence.

By no fault or cause of our own

These days, I shake my head as the phrase "God will provide" passes my lips. I recognize the mixture of gratitude and astonishment beneath the words, both from lessons learned and for promises kept.
I must admit the phrase still catches in my throat from time to time. Who is this person speaking? I think to myself. Trust takes time and faith blossoms bit by bit. And if I'm honest, I know that the phrase "God provides" spoken in the aftermath of such cases comes much more easily than "God will provide," the faith-filled declaration of trust in what is yet to be.

Still, God provides, by no fault or cause of my own. People's kindness and generosity abound as casseroles appear at our doorstep, plants are nurtured in our community garden, homemade masks are delivered from across the country, and donations and volunteers of all stripes and sorts continue to arrive.

Walking past one of our classrooms on a recent weekday, I noticed a tiny statue of the Blessed Mother facing out toward the impromptu staging area for food distribution. We wouldn't distribute for another week, but the forecast called for rain and so a sister had faced the statue outward to ward off the bad weather. Continuing down the hall, I smiled to myself. In the past, I would have smiled at the thought that that would make any difference... Continue reading to the end.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday & Forward: Together We Embrace the Cross


A reflection from my latest column, "Together we embrace the cross: paschal mystery during pandemic" in the Global Sister Report:


A little over 40 days ago, I reflected on these pages about the signs and symbols of our faith lived out during the Lenten season. "The refrain of 'repent and believe in the Good News' rang in my ears." I wrote on the Friday after Ash Wednesday, "That is the good news of Lent, each step is another opportunity to be marked by the cross, to receive the grace of God not in vain but in the glory of the moment." Little could I have known then the opportunities that this Lenten season would present to be marked by the cross.

Like many, I've marveled these past weeks as news has developed, as life has radically changed, as businesses shut their doors and as ministry became a delicate balance between the call of charity and the demands of safety. With mortality and diagnosis figures from COVID-19 still on the rise, each day is marked by a surreal feeling — what many have termed the new normal and what is astonishing in its unbridled mix of mystery and anxiety.

In the midst of all of this, we, as a people of faith, have made our annual pilgrimage to the cross. This year's journey was quite different than others. Death was more palpable; despair more available; isolation more regular.

In these circumstances, the Passion takes on new meaning. Just as I now cringe as I notice the distance (or lack thereof) between people in everyday life, on television and in movies, I immerse myself in the way of the cross in a new way. The isolation and abandonment Christ experienced takes on new shades in a world where people admitted to hospitals are prohibited from having visitors and those living in nursing homes and on their own are confined by mandatory lockdowns, let alone the many who are dutifully obeying stay at home orders. In these situations, the isolation of the cross becomes more real, contrasted with the sacrifice made by those whose jobs and livelihoods won't allow them to enter such isolation.

The stress and trauma of this moment in our history is difficult. For most people, it is unlike anything they've ever experienced before. The uncertainty of each moment and the unknown sense of what is to come or when/ how it will all be resolved is draining. The weight of the world, it would seem, is on our minds and hearts. In this climate, we come to see that our daily living, the reality of our current situation is a cross.

We don't get to pick our crosses. If we could, we would certainly endure them differently. Rather, the crosses we bear, both individually and communally, stem from the deepest recesses of our being. They press on our deepest wounds and needs, highlighting our individual and communal blind spots and shortcomings.

As we weather this extraordinary season of life, the crosses that present themselves call forth in us resilience in the face of adversity. These crosses cannot simply be endured as burdens but invite us to encounter them as experiences to be in union with God, most especially with Christ and his cross.

Like Jesus, we walk this way stripped of control. Our only choice, it would seem at this moment, is how we will experience it all. The unexpected nature of our current reality and the mysterious way we travel (and will continue to travel for the foreseeable future) are the crosses we bear. As we encounter the many emotions of these days — from loneliness and isolation to gratitude and awe — we must ask ourselves: Can we offer these to God? Not so they might be taken away but so that we might share these emotions (and moments of light and darkness they bring) with God, trusting that Christ is here with us.

This question is one of connection in the cross, connection in and through Christ crucified, resurrected, and alive among us, even now. In the words of Caryll Houselander, the "realization of our oneness in Christ is the only cure for human loneliness." Together, we will weather this pandemic and the many tides of emotions and realizations it brings. As we experience the absence of traditions this Holy Week and scarcity of formal sacraments for weeks to come, we can hope to be in union with people the world over for whom this absence is not a new reality. Without minimizing our own struggle we can embrace and be with others, strengthened in walking together, and lighter for having held each other's crosses.

The image etched in my mind as I consider all this is a solitary figure moving slowly, not without labor, across an abandoned, rain-soaked St. Peter's Square. There, in falling darkness, Pope Francis offered his extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing March 27. Behind him as he spoke, the miraculous crucifix from the Church of San Marcello. Watching the blessing live, I marveled at the scene before me, my eyes transfixed by the body on the cross, strewn not just with painted wounds but with streams of water dripping from its body as if like tears from the whole world.

As I absorbed the image, I thought of people throughout the world watching the scene simultaneously. In that moment, the universal body of Christ felt real and united in the cross that drew us together. The shining screens that for weeks have delivered us the hard news of the virus drew us in and from our isolation into communion with one another. Together we joined in prayer and were reminded that together we bear the cross of our current reality with grace and mercy.

On this Good Friday of our lives, in a space that feels much more like Holy Saturday than Easter Sunday, the lesson is simple: We are not alone.

Now more than ever, we may be separated and feeling the effects of isolation but we are not alone… Continue the Journey Here

Friday, February 28, 2020

Marked by More Than Ashes


Wednesday morning was not a good day for parking at our local church. Even though the sister I live with and I had left early, there was not a space to be found when we arrived for the morning Mass. Pulling in behind the parish school, we finally found a spot a few minutes after the service had started.

"Ash Wednesday," we sighed in unison.

By the time we found a seat, the lector was into the second reading from the second letter to the Corinthians. Paul's familiar words washed over us: "We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For God saysIn an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:1-2).

After a quick homily and invitation to consider the call of the Lenten season, we lined up to receive our ashes. Reminded that the dust we bore on our brows was a sign of our beginning and our end, I looked around at the church filled with fresh-pressed crosses, each one as unique as the individuals who bore them.

And then, just as quickly as Communion was received, those dusty brows headed out into the world, leaving an empty parking lot to be filled with eager hearts and clean heads within the hour.

"Where did all those people go?" the sister I had been with asked later in the day. "I went to the store and nothing… not a cross in sight!" We both marveled at this.

The question, innocent enough, stayed with me.

Later, driving through a neighborhood in Philadelphia plagued by the opioid epidemic, I marveled at the people walking by in drug-induced stupors. With the exception of my forehead, there were no ashes in sight and yet there were people bearing crosses all around.

Stopping to visit a center where our sisters minister to immigrants in the neighborhood, I found a priest giving out ashes to the students and teachers inside. "Where will all these people go?" I thought to myself.

This neighborhood was where I began my journey in religious life. It left an indelible mark on me. 
Here I encountered Christ in the neighbors I worked with and the life we shared. The mark of faith it (and they) left on me was a call to believe in the Good News and to witness to the life, love, and hope found in and among the dirt and dust.

As I left the center, the priest stepped out onto the street behind me. Every few steps, someone would stop him to ask him for ashes. As I got into my car, the refrain of "repent and believe in the Good News" rang in my ears.

That is the good news of Lent, each step is another opportunity to be marked by the cross, to receive the grace of God not in vain but in the glory of the moment.

Beyond the ashes, there is something gritty about these Lenten days. These days offer us the chance to feel differently. In fasting, we recognize our limits and our needs, both of which we can so often overlook. In so doing, we also recognize the reality and the needs of so many of our neighbors who regularly go without.

These 40 days also give us the opportunity to remember who we are. While the cross we receive on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday makes us mindful of who we are and who we claim to be for a day, the intentionality of the entire Lenten season calls us to be mindful of who we are even when the ashes wash off. We are reminded of who we are called to be and we recall who we have been and who we, in the process of living, have become. Our lives are to be the sign of our faith and witness to the transformation, renewal, and repentance Lent calls for.

"Behold, now is a very acceptable time;" Paul declares to the Corinthians, "behold, now is the day of salvation." Those words we first heard on Ash Wednesday reverberate throughout Lent. Now is an acceptable time; now is the moment you and God have been waiting for.

So, what would it mean if we lived each moment of this Lenten season in that manner: beholding the perfection of this moment?

What would it mean for us if we declared in our hearts the supreme acceptability of each and every moment to encounter God, to meet love, to offer mercy, to heal and be healed? And what would it mean for the world around us, if in our words and actions we chose to accept the invitation each moment has to offer? If we saw today as the acceptable time to be who (and how) God calls us to be?

The choice is ours. We can choose to see the crosses others bear. We can choose to believe in the good news. We can choose to reflect light in the darkness and to have the courage to speak truth to power. We can choose to let the defining marks of our life be kindness and compassion. We can and we must.

These choices are the grit that mark our lives; they are the signs that we have heard God's invitation and are responding. Our lives then become the marks Christ leaves in the world, the crosses drawn with each step on the journey and each act of love and mercy. Believing the good news and putting it into action requires getting our hands dirty, it calls our attention to the dust beneath our fingernails, and it allows us to help and be helped on this day of our salvation...Continue the Journey Here

Monday, January 6, 2020

Reprisal: Epiphany on Moreland Street

In honor of the Epiphany, this January 6th I offer a reprisal of a poem from 2016. Follow the light my friends, follow it wherever it leads.

Epiphany on Moreland Street

In the light of the night
they lay
unceremoniously discarded by the roadside
conifers cast aside with
season's cheer and a chill in the air

and as I drove past
the only guide, a set of headlights
I wondered- when does room at the inn run out?
what price must be paid for new life?

And there in rings as bright as day
like stars traced out across the sky
the stumps answered in
a chilled chorus of Hallelujah:

Keep your gifts.
It takes a life.
To make a manger...
to take the journey.