About Emily

midwestern belle, Episcopal priest.

Gone Walkabout

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Native Australians, the Aboriginals, are a people who, so far as I understand it, still have a rite of passage where young men are driven into the wilderness and are expected to fend for themselves for as long as six months as a way of transitioning into full manhood in the culture. They’re set up and prepared for this trip, trained and taught in the years leading up to it, and when they’re ready, according to the opinion of the chief elder, then they’re allowed to make their Walkabout.

That’s what the trip is called, a “walkabout,” and over a span of years this word has come to carry extra meaning. While it’s describing a noble and arduous undertaking, the trip of transformation and the greatest change in an Aboriginal man’s life, the word has now come to be used in a derogatory tone; in Anglo-Australian culture, it’s used to describe directionless wandering, pointless travel, a waste of time.

Jesus himself wanders into the wilderness to fend for himself for 40 days, he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him — so says our Gospel lesson this morning — he bereft of human company, alone, without friends to fall back on, no cell-phone service, as Satan licked at his heels and helped him hallucinate bread.

It seems like a crazy thing to do after the spiritual high of baptism in the Jordan river and hearing God boom from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” We’re given, too, an outline of what Jesus is up to after this time in the desert, he went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news. So stuffed between these two activities so familiar to us, baptism, and telling the story of God’s redeeming love in our lives through evangelism, there’s that weird Walkabout. Continue reading

In the Flesh

cross-posting with Facebook, because I’ll want to know where this is some day, and Facebook will have swallowed it up.

Everything Happens Podcast by Kate Bowler

I just finished the second episode, with Dr. Ray Barfield, this morning on the way to work.

In the last 10 minutes of the ‘cast (is that something people say?), their conversation hits on the soul of ministry — not just for priests or nurses or doctors or do-gooders, but for EVERY HUMAN BEING IN THE WORLD — that is to be present, to show up, for one another. Kate talks about how Ray has shown up for her, and Ray talks about how he has found he has to show up for his patients and friends. Difficult conversations don’t work via text or email, he says, he’s got to, at the very least, talk on the phone, hear the person’s voice, and even better, to sit on the couch or at the table with them. This is because, he says, he needs to hear “the blood in their voice,” to know when they start to get sad.

Sending an email is nice, writing a card is kind, but sitting at the bedside of a dying person, holding their hand, is something else entirely.

Sitting in front of a friend to ask forgiveness is a completely different experience than sending a text.

Ray talks about how he doesn’t always know what to say, but always trusts — and has found to be true — that whatever needs to be said will come to him in the moment.

My friends, that’s Jesus. Jesus comes to us in flesh and blood, not just in words and written poems or stories. It is in the physical and particular moment when we open ourselves to God in Jesus that we are made new, healed, we commune with the divine.

Why not try it out yourself, what have you got to lose? Come to church sometime this Lent, maybe even today, to the Ash Wednesday service (St A’s at noon and 7pm), and see what happens if you show up for the flesh and blood and presence of God. 

God is Relentless, and Merciful

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Have any of you seen a whale up close — or not up close, but even at all in real life?

I haven’t, but I imagine it’s the sort of feeling you get when you’re standing in front of a mountain, or a waterfall, or the ocean, or even a huge building. Of course none of those are living things, the way that a big fish is, but there’s a strange sense of peace, seeing something that’s so much larger than yourself. I always feel small, in a comforting way, because it reminds me that everything isn’t up to me, that I can’t really do very much on my own, I’m just too little by myself.

There’s another angle to this feeling, too, whether witnessing a geographic marvel, like a mountain or a waterfall or a big body of water, or a big old building, like a cathedral or a basilica in Europe, Asia, or South America, something really, really old. Those kinds of things make me remember that my life is small and short compared to the age of the world and history of humanity. Mountains stood and water carved canyons thousands of years before people even saw them, temples were erected and churches built over the span of many lifetimes, and hundreds of years before I was a twinkle in my daddy’s eye.

I remember a moment in the basement of one of these worship spaces, I was in France, by the ocean, wandering around a monastery that had been built in stages, even the newest stage being several hundred years old, much older, of course, than our country itself. So I was there in the oldest part of this compound, in a little chapel that had maybe one small window up near the ceiling; it was mostly dark, and I sat down near the back edge of the room, and as I tried to be quiet, it struck me: “People have prayed here for a thousand years.”

How many people was that? How many prayers had been whispered inside those walls? How many hands had been lifted to God for deliverance from those very stones? How many lives were contained in the air? How many souls had been transformed by God’s presence in that very place?

I felt the weight of my ego melt away. It’s not that the place made me feel like I was insignificant, but it reminded me that the burden of success is not on my back. The outcome of the world doesn’t depend on our efforts, not even on the efforts of all of us in this room, or of all the social justice activists in our country, or even all the impressive, successful, influential people throughout all of time.

If you are feeling road-weary, and your efforts are feeling stretched, and your energy is used up, I have good news for you.

It’s not up to you. It’s not up to me. It’s not even up to all of us together. Continue reading

Me Before You, Review; On Expectations

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When I read the book Me Before You, I hated it. I kicked myself for not trusting the title, which made me recoil. How selfish. How anti-the-way-I-want-to-life-my-life. It was so totally wrong, I even wondered if I’d interpreted it incorrectly.

A friend loaned me her copy, saying it was good, and inspired by the recent (at the time) release of a film based on the book (and being a woman in that vaunted 18-35 commercial age range), I read it. I read a tear-jerker while I was pregnant and in the process of moving. What did I expect?

Parts of it drew me in, and of course, the hunky lead didn’t hurt, but I was disquieted by the ending. I watched the film yesterday while getting dinner ready and doing some cleaning, and while they blunted some of the sharp edges of the story for the sake of cinema, it had much the same effect. **spoilers to follow** Continue reading

That Damned Wilderness

For forty years, what Scripture counts as an entire generation, the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness. In our day and age, with medical advances and technological developments, the span of a life is seventy years, maybe in strength, even eighty — or beyond; yet 40 years is a long time by any mortal measure, at the least, it’s half a life, the majority of a person’s time on earth. And this was how long God’s people walked and walked around, without home or land to possess, without a place to build a life, or a place to rest in security.

God’s people had little comfort, nothing to fall back on, and small hope of deliverance from this condition — the only one who could really deliver them was the one who’d put them here in the first place, their God. And of course there was complaining against him, but the complaining didn’t really make things any easier, and it didn’t shorten their sojourn.

I wonder where you might feel like you’re wandering in the wilderness this morning. I wonder if there’s a relationship you’ve sort of given up on ever changing or making progress. I wonder if you’ve given up hope in your job, or maybe you never had it to begin with, that you absolutely hate your work, dread where you drive to every day, if you set your teeth and grind your molars through your days. I wonder if there’s something inside of you that feels like wilderness, maybe it’s loneliness, or maybe it’s being so behind on the promises you’ve made for yourself, maybe it’s the shell you feel like you keep up pretty well on the outside, but is just a straw man compared to the reality of your life. Maybe you are feeling wilderness in a medical diagnosis — your own, or someone else’s — maybe you don’t even have a good reason to point at, but your mind and heart feel full of sand, full of tumbleweeds, full of nothingness. Continue reading