Sunday, November 30, 2014

Inducto: Advent From the Underside

Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, meaning coming. It is the season for the Church year when people of faith wait in expectation and hope to celebrate God to entering fully into our human existence. A Coming into the depths of human experience and existence  of God who chose to be born to a poor, pregnant-out-of-wedlock,  teenage girl on the margins of society rather than into the life of a properly married couple living a well-to-do life that included attending a respectable religious institution.  At the heart of this world changing, every-life changing event was a young family displaced by world events, struggling far away from the support of family and familiarity of home. A young family cast so low in the society of those days that their baby was born in a stable among the animals and cold. God chose to be born into a family from the underside of society and culture and religious institutions, to an uncertain young couple where, perhaps, even actual paternity of the baby born on the night we celebrate as Christmas lay as a shadow between the proud, overwhelmed, joyous new parents even as the wondrous events we still celebrate today were unfolding around them.

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 40)

“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own;  but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly  call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

Several Advents ago, I was praying with Paul’s letter to his beloved friends in the church at Philippi for some months preceding. Somewhere in the small and subtle movements of life and faith, it came to seem important  that I prepare for the birth of God into human life and living in some way that took me beyond the grace and beauty, the joy of family and friends, the blessed Advent celebrations of my local congregation.  Grown into adult life, Jesus, fully-man and fully-God, told us we can come to know him by caring for the “least of these,” for our sisters and brothers on the underside of society.  It seemed well that Advent to heed Paul’s example of growth in faith and intimacy with Christ pressing forward beyond my own familiar comforts and customs “towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

From this, I came to prepare  that Advent for the birth of God among us through season of praying and coming to know the commonality of our human lives and our shared need for deliverance with those on the underside of our society--Advent from the Underside.  If Jesus would be born in these days and this place, he would be born to some among these people. How could I come to know him in the intimacy of love and trust, faith and joy that can only be known in the experience of the fullness of our need of him? What would he teach me about loving him and others as he loves us all? Advent from the Underside.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014


“Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

So today, I am grateful for all that I have, for family and amazing friends, for my work which calls me to join those huddled at the foot of the cross and to the garden where Christ speaks our names, and, for a life time’s graces of stewarding hounds and horses and kitty’s of many sorts.

Today, I am grateful for all those I have lost, for the graces of the journeys of grieving them, and, for that which was mine but is no longer and for gifted strengths that lay beyond.

Today, I am grateful that my strength is not mine but is in Christ who offers new life and hope beyond all that I am and all that I have. Amen.

And, well, I have to be grateful this Thanksgiving morning that Foxhound Kelly is happily occupied scrubbing the very last molecule for peanut butter out of the empty jar.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Celebrating the birth of God among us in the year that the number of homeless children in the United States has surged in recent years to an all-time high, amounting to one child in every 30

According to the Washington Post: “The number of homeless children in the United States has surged in recent years to an all-time high, amounting to one child in every 30, according to a comprehensive state-by-state report that blames the nation’s high poverty rate, the lack of affordable housing and the effects of pervasive domestic violence….

“Child homelessness increased by 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2013, according to the report, which warned of potentially devastating effects on children’s educational, emotional and social development, as well as on their parents’ health, employment prospects and parenting abilities….

“The report by National Center on Family Homelessness —part of the private, nonprofit American Institutes for Research — says remedies for child homelessness should include an expansion of affordable housing, education and employment opportunities for homeless parents, and specialized services for the many mothers rendered homeless because of domestic violence.”
All of which leaves me wondering and at prayer:  How shall we celebrate Christmas as a family this year?

 Perhaps, better for prayerful consideration: What do we want to teach our children this Christmas about who this baby Jesus really is?  What do we want to teach our children about how everyone of us can come to know him a bit better?  How can we help them come to know Jesus, resurrected, alive and well and walking among us?  What do we want our Christian lives of faith to say to our nation that, this Christmas, lies deep in error, pining? What do we want our Christian lives of faith to say to say about the birth of God, a year when child homelessness has raised 8%?  

How about this: This Advent, as we prepare for the birth of God’s Son among us, let’s ask our children and families to set a %, 8% would be a good jumping off point for the discussion, to set aside a % of the resources we spend on gifts and family celebrations to donate directly to homeless children and/or to organizations trying to remedy child homelessness through: expansion of affordable housing, education and employment opportunities for homeless parents, and specialized services for the many mothers rendered homeless because of domestic violence?

Isiah 9:6-7: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”


Sunday, November 16, 2014

We Commit Togeather to be the Church in Service to the World

Commitment Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Lake Forest, IL.

How will we run the race that is before us?
Together as the Church of love and service to the world.


Tiny Houses for Homeless Persons

Read about how Madison, WI and several other communities are creatively providing housing for homeless persons here. And vsit the website of inovative home builders and activests Occupy Madson here

Be inspired.
Build homes for those who don't have them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Prayer for the Leadership of all the Churches

I was talking with a friend about the very public troubles his denomination is having—public to the level of the NYT. And, here is what I heard myself hoping for him and his family and all those he loves in his church, and for the leadership of his church: “I hope the people who are really driving all of this behind the scenes are those who love Jesus and your church the most. They are the hope of your children and your grandchildren.” And, they are the hope of witnessing Jesus to the world.

 Then there was some very internal trouble in my denomination where opinions have been hot and heavy. And, I found myself praying that my church, the PCUSA, and for all churches which are going through so much change and turmoil at this time, that those who are really driving things behind the scenes are those who love Jesus and your church the most. They are the hope of our children and our grandchildren.  And, they are the hope of Christ’s witness of grace, blessing and forgiveness to all the hurting, longing, suffering, lonely hearts throughout the world. Amen.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Perhaps There Were Two Services of Ordination?

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you…” (Jeremiah 1:5a)

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,           you did it to me.’”(Matthew 25: 34-36, 40)

God calls each of us across the lifespan through hundreds of thousands of movements and experiences, joys and struggles, in the places and, most importantly, in the people that mark our lives.
None can hear and respond to God’s calling without being changes and inspired, challenges and formed, confronted and encouraged.

Such is the media through which the Holy Spirit speaks, the holy mingling of God’s grace with the stuff of our everyday living; the alchemy God’s Calling, the mystery of our truest knowing our own deepest gladness meeting the greatest hungers of our world.

In putting together my service of ordination, I prayed to keep my heart open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. And, I kept central in my thought my work among the longing, anxious, grieving hearts who come to the hospital, where I am Chaplain specializing in mental health and perinatal bereavement, to find health, hope and healing for their living.   

The service, celebrated on All Saints Day, was dedicated to the glory of God’s Calling in all our lives, and to my parents, William and Frances Symonds, raised among the Saints Eternal over three decades. By God’s good grace, the service somehow wove together a the President of a Lutheran (ELCA) congregation—the most holy man I know; my Jesuit Spiritual Director of 15 years; dear noble friends, a Buddhist Bhikkhuni and Bhante; a reformation hearted Mormon Bishop friend and coworker; Presbyterians of every sort and station; all leaning upon the good and solid bones of traditional Reformed worship and the great and classic hymns of the Church.

As I was driving to my beautiful and blessed service of ordination my mobile rang. Could I come see a woman whose baby died a while back?  On that same drive, a text message from a friend, could I recommend a therapist for a family member? The following day, a phone call from an old friend I haven’t seen in years who I had invited to the service, could I recommend an inpatient treatment facility?

Then on Tuesday, there was a beautiful email from a friend that had traveled with his wife from Chicago to attend my ordination service. Attached was a script of a one-man play wrote, and performed on Monday, about the real-life journey in faith and prayer, healing and friendship of the past 28 months of his beloved wife’s journey with stage-4 cancer. The play celebrates the fact that she is now cancer free; it celebrates in his gratitude to God and the rich tapestry of blessed prayers from friends representing more religions than the Parliament of Word Religions that he credits for her healing. The conclusion of the play, my friend wrote, was inspired by my blessed and beautiful service.

We are all members of God’s family. I am left wondering, if there were not two beautiful and blessed celebrations of my ordination last week: one in the Church which ordained me to Ministry of Word and Sacrament, Teaching Elder and one in the world where the mystery of my truest knowing and my own deepest gladness kept meeting up with the greatest hungers of our world.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dementia: In Life and In Death We Belong to God

One of the beautiful ordination gifts from my magnificent sisters and brothers in Christ at Presbyterian Church of Barrington was a copy of John Swinton’s Dementia: Living in the Memories of God.  Perhaps the adjective “beautiful” strikes some as odd or gratuitous in relationship to a book on dementia, perhaps some have wondered if it wasn’t all together a bit of an odd gift to begin with for such a joyous occasion.

Swinton is an ordained minister in the Church of Scotland and a RN with decades of experience in mental health nursing, also an ambitious researcher and a prolific author.  He was a keynote at the University of Chicago Conference on Medicine and Religion when I presented there several years ago. About 5 minutes into his presentation I developed a deep and enduring intellectual crush.

When I did my second Clinical Pastoral Care (CPE) internship at the Colorado State Psychiatric Hospital, back in the “bad ol’ days” before dedicated memory care units, those who suffered most with the indignities of dementia in its most combative and assaultive forms were consigned until death to the Geriatric Forensic Ward.   My learning struggles that summer would bring me to know, deep in the marrow of my bones, the existential fallacy of Descartes.  We, who are created in the image of God, are so much more than our thoughts. Swinton reminds every one of us of abiding holy truth of our species: though we may forget—our family, our friends, our surroundings, to feed ourselves, even to know ourselves—God never forgets us.

Swinton asks us, among many things, to consider (I’d say in prayer and discernment) the final line of the tender and grief riddled poem Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his Nazi prison cell: “Whoever I am, Thou knowest, “God, I am Thine.” When we forget all that we know of ourselves and our world we are never forgotten. We are always known by the One who gave us life. As Presbyterians we affirm this deep and transcendent truth of our living in the Brief Statement of Faith: “In life and in death we belong to God.” And, so I am grateful to proclaim and affirm with my sisters and brothers at PCB the final lines of that same Brief Statement of Faith, as we join togeather: “With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sounds from the Deep Silence

This antique singing bowl from Tibet was an Ordination gift. One that brings great grace to my ministry with persons with serious menatal illness. When I was a little girl, a part of the baptismal liturgy used these words to consecrate the water used in the Sacrament, “Almighty God, please set apart this water from a common to a holy use such that by your good grace….”

Yesterday, in our group therapy room gathered broken hearts and minds, seeking healing’s grace.  There I played the tone and healing vibration of your beautiful bowl.  Struck once, twice, three times; the last fading slowly into the deep silence that existed before the creation of the world. With it our space and our hearts and minds were set apart from our common to God’s holy use. Words of strength, words of life and the triumphing of human hearts and minds over the forces of grief, despair and death were slowly, tenderly and tentatively shared.    Struck once, twice, three times; the last fading slowly into the deep silence that existed before the creation of the world, our space, our time, our hearts and minds called back into our common uses, renewed and healed  to  some new and holy purposes…  listening, longing for the fading, lingering tone that echoes in the deep and holy silence of the Still Small Voice that whispers to us all. Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ordaination in the PCUSA a Great Interfaith Celebration

God is in all things.

God calls us across the lifespan through hundreds of thousands of movements and experinces, joys ans struggles, in the places and, most importantly, with the people that mark our lives.

There was a bagpiper and  Buddhists, a  Jesuit, a Moderator and Stated Clerk. Teaching and Ruling Elders from four Presbyteries. If you know me, you wouldn't be surprised.

The Table was set, Jesus invites us --to share bread and wine, to discern the graceful presence of the Risen Lord in times of consolation and desolation ("thank you" Ignatius Loyola), to hear the Spirit's voice in "Scotland the Brave" and in the ancient sacred chants of Sri Lankan Buddhism, nestled in between the notes of a most beautiful rendition of “Precious Lord,” in the faithful prayer of my friend and colleague, a former Mormon Bishop, who every day witnesses for grace and hope in the midst of old outdated structures, and, in the coming together of people of deep and traditional faith with those who seek and doubt and object…. All to celebrate what God has done, is doing and will continue to do among us all. As Ignatius said, “God is in ALL things.” With all thanksgiving and gratitude to God. Amen.