oh peas, no!

20140509-172930.jpg(actually, they’re tiger beans, but this priest couldn’t resist the bad AWESOME joke)

This morning I had coffee with a fellow writer friend.  I confided in her that I’ve felt challenged the last few weeks, lots of honesty roiling inside of me, eager to get free.  But I haven’t found a gentle, gracious, sufficiently-shrouded way to say these things yet, so I keep quiet–and very little comes out of the faucet at all (case in point: this dear space over the last six weeks).

Looking at my dear little bean plants in the garden this afternoon, I noticed something very disconcerting: their hard, protective shells were shriveled on the dirt.  Discarded.  Dried up.  Spent.  Returning to the dust.

The sort of click that you hear just-cracked safes make in the movies sounded in my head.

It’s only in taking off the outer barrier–the nice, cozy, practically indestructible casing–that allows the plant to grow, to feel the sunshine, to blossom, and then to bear fruit.  Growing does each of us good in and of ourselves, and to a much lesser extent, does good for those around us, watching our growth, encouraging their own growth, we hope.  The bearing fruit, though, that’s when we can really thrive, because that’s what we’re made and meant to do–to share the beautiful, hard-won, unique gifts that God places inside each of us.

But ugh–we’ve got to shed that outer shell, making ourselves open to attack, criticism, weather, ugliness.

Another wise friend of mine said recently, “With the immense support I have, how could I let my fear get in the way?”  With the immense support we have in our great triune God, how could we let our little limiting casings get in the way?


giving growth

2014-02-24 15.22.50

Seeds are such mysterious things.  Here in South Carolina, it’s already time to start planting the hardier stuff–greens, roots, some herbs, so I took advantage of the sunny, warm days over the weekend to fill up my boxes, sprinkle some seeds, and water the soil.  I’m always amazed when I open the little paper packets at how small and wisp-like seeds produce these (comparably) huge, delicious, totally-different-looking fruits and vegetables.  Last week’s lectionary epistle lesson has been bouncing around in my head as I’ve been working the dirt:

“You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” 1 Corinthians 3:3-7

Looking around the church (all people who call Jesus their God and Savior, believing in the triune God) these days, it’s hard to ignore the battle lines that crisscross Jesus’ body throughout the world like the scores in a ham.  Screwtape’s words, through C.S. Lewis’ voice, come to mind once more:

“We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials–namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the “low” churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his “high” brother should be moved to irreverence, and the “high” one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his “low” brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that, the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility.”

Of course, part of the trouble is discerning which things are inessential–a literally life-and-death matter which I don’t mean to downplay–but what draws me more this morning  is the solution which Paul offers: God gives the growth.

I can put good soil in my boxes, and plant the seeds, and beg the sun to come and warm up the dark dirt, but all I’m really doing is making room for growth to happen, giving the best environment possible–making room for a miracle to happen.

In our lives, we choose how to use our time–what kind of soil (habits, relationships, mental tape loops) we put in the boxes of our minds, our spirits and our bodies.  We choose the sorts of things we read, watch, eat and ingest–the seeds we plant in our boxes; and we choose how to nurture those seeds with the sunshine and water of prayer, spiritual disciplines, service, and learning.  Then we’ve done all we can–we can’t make growth happen, in our own lives or in the lives of our churches.

We cultivate, plant, and water, but the growth itself is out of our hands; we prepare and we present ourselves–make ourselves open and ready to be transformed.

God, come into the spaces we make and grow us.  Show us how to make room to be open and to be transformed.

Harry Potter Life Lesson #3

Wizards know how to party.  Did you notice that in the Harry Potter series?  A favorite cafe of mine in St. Louis boasts from its bakery case, “Treacle Tart: A Favourite of Harry Potter’s.”  Each of the seven books provided a sort of liturgy–that is to say, as reader, you knew what to expect at the outset of each new volume: we’d open with Harry away from school, then he’d go to school, then everyone would attend a feast.  Adventures abound, and then would come winter finals, and a Christmas feast.  More adventures, some stress, mounting tension over the great quest of the year, and then an Easter week feast.  A climax, a resolution, the end of the school year…

Why bother with these feasts, or with including meals at all?  On a more detailed level, where do our heroes meet before (almost) every Quidditch (a wizard sport) match?  They meet early in the Great Hall to eat.  Where do our heroes trudge before classes and between exams?  To the Great Hall.  To eat.  (TOGETHER).

For aficionados of the Harry Potter series, one of the most vivid sites at Hogwarts is that of the Great Hall, the gathering place for the community, the place where everyone eats together.  During Ron & Hermoine’s months-long fight, they still sit together and eat (in silence) at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall.  As a sort of reset button and a moment that can be counted on, the feasts of Hogwarts (and at times, the characters’ homes and camp sites) provide a figurative space set apart.  Worries are forgotten during meals, people are most able to keep their mental demons at bay–those eating together pull each other into the present, allowing moments of enjoyment and peace in the midst of the battles against evil which creep ever closer throughout the series.

Something happens to relationships when humans eat together.  The wizards celebrated, mourned, and counted time by their meeting to eat.  We do the same thing, sometimes (not as often as we did, perhaps, in times past), but I wonder what would happen if we did it more of the time–if we recognized the power of sitting down in uncomfortable places and eating together.

It’s not a coincidence that JK Rowling included big, important meals in her series; I think she was reminding us of the power of sitting together at the same table and eating in spite of broken friendships, tragedy, or danger.  Continuing to show up at the table at the appointed time, even when you aren’t sure if your eating partners will, is a way we can be present for each other the way that God has been present to us already.

The wizards’ parties were a way to show their love and commitment to each other–it’s a celebration of their relationships–as well as a place that can offer a familiarity and safety in the midst of upsetting circumstances.  Whether you are with your loved ones at a glorious spread on fine china in a well-appointed dining room, at a diner late at night hunched over pie and coffee, or huddled around a fire outside eating something that the campfire burnt, it’s what happens in the moments you share, more than the food itself, that you remember and that encourages you–feeds you.


Last week when we were moving, dear Husband was positioning the 26-foot U-Haul truck in our dear little driveway.  Charming little street = tight angles for a huge moving truck.

He was a good way up our neighbor’s driveway (angling the truck to make a straight shot toward our front door) when the angles got askew and he began to take out the neighbor’s driveway-bush with abandon.  Lots of loud snaps and crackles, the smell of fresh wood…  Wife with wild arms like those air-filled monsters at car stores.

The new neighbor bounds out (what a way to meet someone!) and says, “Don’t worry about the bush!”  I was a bit taken aback, but recovered quickly, “We’ll replace it!  We’ll pay for it!  I’m sorry!!”  He says, “No, I’m serious, don’t worry about it!”  (I still haven’t caught on, stuck as I am in my sarcasm bubble)  “I’m so sorry, I’m Emily, it’s good to meet you.  Like I said, we’ll pay for it.”  “No, really, I mean it–we’re going to prune it anyway, it’ll be fine.”

It took far, far too long for me to believe that the man actually meant what he said.  How have we wrapped ourselves up in the bubble wrap of sarcasm, that we cannot discern true kindness and vulnerability?