“We work out our faith with these other broken men and women around us in the pews.” (Tish Harrison Warren)
Dear Church of the Ascension,
I have visited your church two times. My husband and I live in New Jersey, but he works in Pittsburgh three days a week and has an apartment in the Strip District, not very far from you. About once a month, I make the reverse commute and we spend the weekend in Pittsburgh, a city I have come to love and enjoy beyond what I thought possible.
It’s on these weekends that we have walked through your bright red door, been greeted by your people, sat in your pews, listened to your choir, watched your children gather at the feet of your rectors, opened the scriptures, kneeled in prayer and shared bread and wine. It’s on these weekends that we have been outsiders peeking in on how you navigate this complex world of “church” in the new millennium.
I have some confessions to make to you this Palm Sunday morning, a day where I will be entering into the doors of another church, one where my view is from the inside out, not the outside in, one where we’ve loved and served for many years, one that is also maneuvering the mosaic of “church” in 2019.
Back to my confessions.
Today, I confess that I only visited your church because I was mildly obsessed with Tish Harrison Warren, having soaked up her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, not only once at a cursory level, but in depth with my women’s group. When I found out that she had moved to Pittsburgh and was a writer in residence only a mile away from my husband’s apartment, I was determined to visit you. I felt a little like the paparazzi, as I recorded her talk with the children, received communion from her and talked her ear off as she was greeting parishioners. It was not my finest moment, but as she reminds me in her book, we are all “limping to redemption,” and I am included in the “all.”
Today, I confess that something changed inside of me that first day. I wanted to come back. Not just because of Tish, although her talks that day fed my soul the love that it so longed for, but because as I watched and wondered about this community that “practiced” very differently than what I am used to, it seemed kind and gracious, filled with love for those on the inside and those on the outside (me included), the kind of love Jesus talks about every chance He gets.
Today, I confess that I came back with my husband, this time my motivation not to see Tish (I didn’t even see her that day), but to be filled again with this love you have to share. I confess that as I sat there, tears welled in my eyes as the message of God’s love for me was communicated from beginning to end, almost as if it was a calculated move on your part. Here is just a glimpse of the words that leapt from the white booklet and the hymnal I held in my hands:
We started here…
“O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.”
“Come down, O Love Divine, seek thou this soul of mine.”
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to lay aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
to lay aside His crown for my soul.”
“Jesu, my love, my joy, my rest, Thy perfect love close in my breast…”
The middle was filled with this:
And we ended here… “O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!”
Whether it was deliberately planned by your leadership, God knew what I needed that day, my heart was more open to receiving the love and goodness of God, or ALL of those in sweet combination, my “outsider” self felt beautifully connected to you and your people, and especially to the loving heart of God.
Today, my last confession is one of thanks to you. Thank you for being a beacon in the middle of my beloved adopted city of Pittsburgh. Thank you for giving this outsider a place of belonging. Tish reminds me in her book that “God loves and delights in the people in the pews around me and dares me to find beauty in them.” I have found the beauty in you. Your beauty is one that has given me inspiration for my inquisitive mind, daring hope as an anchor for my soul, but most of all, deep, deep love for my longing heart, a beautiful and firm foundation that I carry with me into this Holy Week ahead. Thank you. We shout HOSANNA (“Come Save Us!”) together today!
“This is my Son, Whom I love. In Him I am well-pleased.” (God the Father)
How do you wake up each morning? Slowly, stunned and disoriented? In a panic, your heart racing? Do you set an alarm and jump out of bed or hit the snooze button over and over? Do your thoughts feel dull or does your mind immediately race to all that you have to accomplish? No matter how it happens, there seems to be a tiny window between being fully asleep and fully awake, those brief moments (or even seconds) when it’s somewhat in the middle of the two. Experts call it hypnopompia (which roughly means “to lead out of sleep”) or liminal space. It’s the precious time before you’ve accomplishedanything.
To be honest, the very first thing I’ve done for a long time is reach for my phone. After all, the “EstherGizer Bunny” has much to achieve and I can check my emails, weather, social media, to-do list and FitBit sleep status right away (I actually have to sleep correctly too…what are we coming to?). I can start my day on the right foot, alert and organized. I can even check off some of those pressing tasks on my to-do list with my pillow still under my head. I have no time for this liminal space. It’s no wonder I wake up with heart racing and in a panic. Who wouldn’t?
Until about a month ago. I started to read Tish Harrison Warren’s book, Liturgy of the Ordinary. She speaks of these fleeting, fuzzy moments upon waking. “Whether we’re children or heads of state, we sit in our pajamas for a moment, yawning, with messy hair and bad breath, unproductive, groping toward the day.” We have yet to do anything. Who are we in those moments? Who am I in that space, without my never-ending to-do list and my hope to “get-‘er-done?”
Tish brings me back to the story of Jesus Himself. A gentle reminder. He lived 30 years as a regular guy in a regular town in a regular job. No one would say His life was earth-shattering. 10/11ths of His life on our spinning globe are barely recorded. Certainly not much of any import. And at the end of three decades and before his “big three years,” as He was being baptized, a simple dove flew over Him…DON’T MISS THIS…and the voice of His Father shouted words of APPROVAL over Him, “This is my Son, Whom I love. With Him, I am well-pleased.” This was all before what many would deem “world-changing.”
He was APPROVED of and loved before He ACCOMPLISHED anything.
This beautiful and hard-to-soak-in new idea is redeeming my hypnopompic time. I spoke with a friend who sets an alarm clock 20 minutes before the “real” one goes off so that she can spend that cozy, quiet space resting in the notion that she is completely loved and approved of by God before she earns anything. Amazing! It’s all the same for Jesus, my friend and FOR ME!
I am APPROVED of and loved before I ACCOMPLISH anything!
So tomorrow morning (and hopefully all the mornings after that…or at least more of them) before you get your head together, before you check your phone and respond to some urgent request, before you shower and primp, and before you head into your day’s activities where you will accomplish many things, take those fleeting, fuzzy moments (and hopefully I will too) receiving God’s unending and unchanging love and APPROVAL for you.
Soon enough, you will be about your morning. Brushing your teeth. Checking your phone. Helping loved ones out the door. Putting a load of endless laundry in. Heading off to your endeavors. Your day will be filled with all kinds of earning: your paycheck, your friends’ approval, your spot in the grocery store line, your promotion, even your own standards.
As we wake with messy hair and bad breath, let’s “lead ourselves out of sleep” with the gentle, loving approval God wants to pour over us as we start our day.
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have placed my trust in you. Show me the way to go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Psalm 143:8)
From my heart to yours.
As always, feel free to like, comment or share! Especially out on social media (or here)!
“Honeymoon experiences cannot be sustained. We must always return to the ordinary.” (Richard Rohr)
I am still trying to wrap my head and my heart around the fantastic, incredible, extra-ordinary, unbelievable, “other-worldly” experience I had in Rwanda. There really are no words in our English language able to capture it in its fullness. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve had these times as well where it feels like it’s too almost too sacred to share.
I go from energy to exhaustion within the same moment. I am energized because a new village has clean water to drink. I can see and hear the girls jumping rope with their new gift from America and dancing as water pours out from the brand new pump. However, I am exhausted because people are still wearing their same dirty clothes day after day and school girls don’t have access to feminine hygiene products, much less a private place at school when it’s their “time of the month.” They have to stay home for the week, thwarting their learning and the prospect of a better life.
My heart wants to go back and stay here all at once. Here in New Jersey, I have people I love, conveniences (like wifi that actually works consistently), and a bed that welcomes me (without a mosquito net). But in Rwanda, there are new friends that I love and already miss, the simplicities of a slower pace without the constant dinging of cell phones, and a night sky filled with unhindered stars shining brightly.
I miss the excitement of my team and our trip yet I am happy for the silence of my kitchen in this moment. There couldn’t have been a better group of people to travel with. Our persons varied widely: silly and serious, introverts and extroverts (#meandnatalie), newbies to world travel and those who have lived all over the globe, young parents to grandparents, singles and married. We laughed at ourselves in all our Americanness and shed tears for and with each other, sharing how our hearts had been changed forever because of this precious time spent. We danced in the afternoon and sat bleary-eyed at the early breakfast table, We played soccer and sang praise songs, gave hygiene lessons and carried pipes. We did our best to be utterly flexible while our “used-to-being-in-control” selves took a much-needed break. Yet, now, I am happy for the normal, everyday life where I can take stock of these moments and process how I have been shaken on the inside, never to be the same. It’s just my computer and me in my kitchen in my home, all activity quieted for the moment.
I met some of the brightest and kindest people serving their local community with Living Water International. Graciously, they allowed us the opportunity to actually hold the drill rig in our own non-calloused hands. I danced with local church leaders who care day-in and day-out for the poorest members of their villages. I stood in awed silence as one woman prayed for me as she squeezed my hand intermittently during the time given to the task. I spoke with a government sanitation minister about her efforts to have working toilets in the schools (the funny thing being that the toilet in her government building actually over-flowed after I used it). Tears flowed as I left them behind, yet hope sprang because they continue to do the work after I am gone. We are connected not in body anymore, but still in vision and heart.
I want to do something more, not waste my experience, make it count. I don’t want to go back to my ordinary life of sending emails, brushing my teeth and getting my car fixed. I want to buy a cow for three people that I met. I want to write blog posts that the world will read. I want to make a slide show, a scrapbook, something so that I won’t forget, and neither will others. I want to capture it and hold on tightly.
But when it comes down to it, I am probably not buying a cow for anyone. It might be not the wisest thing to do. I also have had a really hard time writing down exactly what I experienced even though I have tried many moments. Even looking at my pics and videos (and I know some of them are here in this post), they just don’t do the trip justice. I’ve tried to share them, but they don’t really capture the beauty of the rolling hills or the sheer joy of the people met. You know. You get it. You’ve had these experiences too.
Processing some of it out (at least for now), I realized that I just want to build a shrine out of this mountaintop experience like the three disciples did when they saw Jesus being transfigured during their literal mountaintop experience (READ IT HERE) . After all, they had just encountered something fantastic, incredible, extra-ordinary, unbelievable, “other-worldly.” I’m with Peter. Why not build at least some tents, something more permanent, so everyone could live there? Why not have at least a blog post, a video documentary, something concrete to hold on to so that no one would ever forget?
But Jesus surprisingly and gently says to them, “Don’t talk about it right now.” As Richard Rohr reminded me this week (Check out his whole article HERE), “Jesus knew that talking too soon would only weaken the experience. Silence seems necessary to preserve the sacred and the mysterious.”
Obviously, I have not been completely silent (I am Esther Goetz after all). Here you are, reading this blog post that I have written. It’s my third one (here are ONE and TWO). However, I have found myself fumbling for thoughts, words and images to share here and with family and friends. And no matter what I’ve tried, I sense that I’m holding back and not really wanting to speak about it very much. Now I have a small glimpse as to why. Richard Rohr is wise. Jesus is even wiser. He has invited me on a sacred journey meant just for me FOR NOW. He has lovingly thwarted me from “building a shrine” and living there in the extra-ordinary, mountaintop place. He has reminded me that yes, the fantastic has its purpose. It shakes us to the core. It shouts loudly to our souls. It changes us forever. Thank God for the fantastic.
However, we can’t stay there. Nor should we. Even though this week, I have really wanted to. Coming back off the mountaintop back down into the ordinary is just as crucial for us, for me. It must be. Most of our time is spent here. Our hushed, behind-the-scenes, gentle, seemingly dull moments are not wasted. They are essential. For it’s in those very ordinary moments that turn into days that form weeks and months and years, that a lifetime of long-lasting redemption takes place. We are truly changed forever.
Thank you again, Rwanda, your people and your land are beautiful. Your redemption story is almost unfathomable. Because of the light you shine, our world and my heart are much brighter!! Again, I say, Murakoze Rwanda!!!