Sunday, April 22, 2018

Embodied Prayer on the Gospel of John

Today at The Light, we closed our study of the Gospel of John, and I wrote this prayer for our time of confession.  This style of prayer was inspired by a prayer we used during Advent from A Sanctified Art worship resources.  If you haven't used their resources before, here's a link!

We used the empty table on the right to consider who is sitting at Jesus' table as Beloved Disciples.  I'll invite you to consider that as well.  Who does Jesus love?  Who would he invite to sit next to you? Who is the last person you could imagine sitting at this table ... Jesus has invited them.  They might not except the invitation.  Jesus will not make you sit next to them if it is unsafe for you. Our Christian belief says that Jesus died and rose from the dead for all who do not deserve an invitation.  How might this change the way you look at the people who are different from you? The people with whom you have conflict?  The people you meet randomly each day?  How might we remember that we are beloved by Jesus, and called to share that love with the world?

I invite you to pray this prayer with us today:

As we remember and celebrate the stories of witness that we have read throughout the gospel of John, we lift up our prayers of confession today, praying with our bodies, minds and spirits.

If you have ever been like the Blind Man sitting on the side of the road, If you’ve ever accepted disappointment and lost all hope, close your eyes.

If you have ever been like the Woman at the well, ashamed of your mistakes and thirsty with desire, place a hand over your mouth.

If you’ve ever been like Mary and Martha, and sat weeping when Jesus did not answer your prayer, place a hand over your heart.

If you’ve ever been like Peter, angry with Jesus for not doing things your way, raise your fists and say, "why Lord?”

This is what it feels like to live in a world destroyed by sin and actions of hate. 

But remember how the story changed for Peter, Jesus completely turned his expectations upside down. Lower you hands and open them praying, “Use me, Lord.” 

Remember how Jesus came and wept with Mary and Martha and offered all around them the gift of new life. Place your hands in your heart and pray, "Restore my heart."

Remember how Jesus asked the Woman for a drink at the well, and offered her the gift of new life even knowing every bad thing she had ever done? Make your hands into a bowl and pray, “Jesus give me a fresh start.”

Finally, remember how Jesus gave sight to the blind man, wipe the mud from your eyes, and open them, praying, Thank you, Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Bowling

On Sunday, Robbie and I went bowling at the MAC! Yes, we both sat down at a wheel and made bowls.  Would you believe it? We have been doing a lot of strength training, but I had no idea it took so much strength to make a bowl on a wheel.  We threw down the ball of clay and started molding it. Well, that’s what I thought we were doing, but then I found out we weren’t shaping it yet, we were just centering it, and grounding it to the wheel.  “Aha…,” I thought. "There is something to this."  The bowl cannot be properly shaped, unless it is centered.  Centering is hard work. The clay wanted to go on it’s own way. At first I tried to force it, but that didn’t work. I tried adding water, and added too much. Once I had to even get a new ball.  Eventually, the teacher helped me, and I got my arms appropriately propped on my legs to keep it steady, and guided the clay to the center.  From there I could begin to open it and shape it, and create it for a purpose.  

I do a lot of centering prayers, but until recently, I have worked quite hard at centering myself and steadying my breathing.  One of my guided meditations pointed out that breathing is one of the most natural things our bodies do on their own.  We can literally breathe in our sleep, if we are healthy and living.  So, when I begin my centering prayer, I now simply become aware of my breath.  I know what you’re thinking… "Isn’t that how every yoga teacher begins their class?”  Yes, I know, I’ve heard it said a million times, and yet, there is something special in noticing and choosing to do something, once you realize what that something actually looks and feels like.

As I was reflecting on God’s role as the potter, I realized that maybe God could do the work of centering me too.  I pray that God would open my heart, I pray for God to shape me, but I usually take the responsibility of finding my center.  So, here goes.

Lord, I know I am fearfully and wonderfully made by you. Guide me once more to find my center.  Hold me close to your heart. Let your will and your ways keep me at peace, that I might be willing to be opened once more, shaped once more, filled once more and used once more.  You are the potter, and I am your clay.  I was never created to be perfect, but I was created to be flexible, beautiful, hopeful, and loved. Amen.

My ball became a tea/coffee/watercolor bowl.  Nourishment it will provide, once it is fired and ready…

Wishing you had a handmade bowl or cup of your own? Click here to find more information on the Empty Bowls Event, hosted by the Manhattan Nonviolence Initiative and others, coming up April 7th.

Monday, March 05, 2018

The Little Voice

Last week on Facebook, I posted this picture of my physical transformation over the last 6 months which really just shows the strength I have gained physically and mentally.  A few people asked how I did it, and a lot of that comes from my faith.  I wouldn’t say it is in the faith that God would provide me the strength, but rather that God made me strong enough in the very beginning, and I’m still learning to tap into that power.

I am, and always have been, a self motivator. As long as I can remember, I’ve always had at least one little voice saying, “Go Kate, you can do it, I know you can.”  Sometimes the voice gets a little mean. I make a mistake or whine or drag my feet, and she says, “What’s the matter with you! What were you thinking! You have to be more and do more if you want to show them what you’re worth!”  It’s great to know your worth and what you are capable of doing, but my greatest fear is probably that I am not worthy of the work in front of me, or that I am not enough.  Because I am human, this fear will always have friends in the world and the little voice loves to mock me with their words or expectations. My worst emotional and physical experiences have been when the little voice had echoes of real people in my life or actual situations which only serve to prove the point: I am not enough.

Theologically, I can “Jesus juke” the little voice by saying, “Jesus is enough.”  But sometimes the little voice is so loud, that I’m speechless. I start to believe it.

When Jesus looks at us, he sees our failings. He doesn’t ignore them, because they are a part of us. They have formed us for better or for worse. But he has also formed us, and he knows what moves us, he knows what motivates us. He knows the deepest desires of our heart. He can use this to shape us and mold us into the best version of ourselves. When I change, I echo Gods work. God’s work is not making me enough for the world, God is enough for us all. God’s work resonates and travels when I open up my life to be an echo of grace.  I don’t have to be the copy or exactly enough for the world, I am called to be a mirror, a reflection, an echo of the one who has more than enough love to go around.

How do I ask the little voice to echo God’s voice? I think I just did. “Go and do likewise,” she says. “Go as far and as hard as you can. Jesus will make up the rest. He always has, and he always will." Even when it looks like he doesn’t come through on the route you want, he has been working with a bigger picture, and even though my puzzle piece is not enough, he will come to meet me and help me make that perfect and holy match. That is the promise of the gospel, not that God will make me enough, but that when I open up to reveal that gap, God’s beautiful love shines through and in the cavern of my inadequacy there is an echo of the little voice of God, “You are loved. You are precious, and you are spectacularly made for this.” 

I may not be perfect, but I am fearfully and wonderfully made. And so are you.



Amen.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Snow Labyrinth

This week I had the opportunity to walk a labyrinth in the snow and ice at Heartland Presbyterian Center. Was it dangerous? Possibly. Did that stop me? Of course not. I think it made it all the more thrilling. In fact I think of the Labyrinth as a typically safe place to pray and meet with God, so perhaps my excitement was in my desire to have a more “challenging” or “authentic” trip around the maze, because life has many risks we have to meet as we turn and follow and turn and follow.

This may have been the most complicated pathway I have ever taken, and I’m not just talking about the snow and the ice. Some of the labyrinths I have made are simple. The limit of space limits the number of turns, and therefore limits the chance to get lost as your feet easily know where to go. When the labyrinth is simple, the walker must set the limits and complexity to meet with the Spirit, giving the walker more control.  When the labyrinth is more complex, you don’t always know where you are going or how far you are from the center and it seems to be going around and around without going anywhere until suddenly you find yourself at the center. At several points in this labyrinth I had to ask myself, have I been this way before? I kept going back and forth and really got lost in the focus needed to walk. The snow and ice added an extra challenge. About halfway to the center I came to a crossroads, because I couldn’t tell whether the pathway went straight or turned to the right. My practical sense figured it out, but for the moment I felt this great parallel with life. We may come to a standstill, not knowing, and sometimes we may choose the wrong pathway, or a path that leads us further away from our goal, but we don’t have to wait to meet our goal for an encounter with God. God is there at every turn, God walks beside us, before us and behind us at every straight, clear or blocked pathway. 

I continued to the center, I continued praying and all the while I continued listening.

I heard the Spirit say to me, “You cannot and do not know all things. You may find rest in knowing you are loved by the one who does, and that one who controls all things acts out of deep love and hope for you.”

Whether it’s the state of our nation, the concern for our families, the hopes for our relationships or the day to day goals of making an impact on the world, may you also find rest in the unrelenting love of your Creator. 

Amen.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Pastor Kati’s Recipe for Wednesday’s Ashes



You’ve probably seen people with ashes on their forehead in mid February, and maybe you’ve even worn them yourselves.  Have you ever wondered, “Where do your ashes come from?” or “Why do you have soot on your face?  You know that flu powder doesn’t work on muggles.” Okay, maybe only Harry Potter nerds like me think about that.  So, for the curious at heart, enjoy my personal process and response for our congregation to the question, "Where do your ashes come from?"

The short answer is that most of the ashes we use are from palm branches used in last year’s Palm Sunday service at First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, Kansas.  This use of the palms connects our yearly tradition of remembering the events that lead up to the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus.  The ashes in the shape of a cross mark the beginning of our time of remembrance, as we set aside this time to draw closer to Jesus through acts of sacrifice like fasting and giving of our time for study or service.

The long answer holds more significance for me.  So much of our faith seems like a mental or emotional exercise, and I feel like Jesus calls us to be more physical.  I want to experience Jesus in my bones, in my hands, right here, right now.  So, I love this physical way to remember why we are here on earth and what is to come for us in the future.

Ingredients

A Bit of Earth
The faithful who told the story of our creation said that God formed us from the dirt, calling us literally earthlings or mud people. So, when we say “From Ashes to Ashes” we are saying we are connected to the earth, we come from the earth and when we die, we will return to the earth.  Why were we created?  The faithful said we were created to keep God company and to care for God’s creation.  The soil and the ashes remind us that we were put on this earth to be in relationship with God, with each other and with the land, the animals, the oceans the universe, everything we see and hear, our purpose is to enjoy it and be a part of it.  So, we begin with some soil from the ground.

Ashes ground from burnt palm fronds and paper
As fire consumes the leaves and paper, Jesus absorbed all of the betrayal and suffering of the world when he died.  During his ministry, Jesus consistently asked people to leave their old life behind, and pick up the new way of being and caring for others.  In earlier times, when people would cry out to God they would cover themselves with ashes and rip their clothing to show the intensity of their anguish and struggle.  Centuries before Jesus walked the earth, the prophet Joel instructed God’s people to “rend their hearts and not their clothing,” meaning that if they want their lives to change, they should tear or transform their hearts instead of just focusing on their outer selves.  

At the Light last Sunday we wrote down the parts of our lives that are pulling us down, absorbing all of our energy like darkness and shadows, keeping us from receiving the “Light of Christ.”  So, the second ingredient will be ashes from our struggles in this world.  The ashes of the palms signify the struggles of our ancestors of faith, and the ashes from our papers on Sunday signify the struggles of our modern day.

Olive Oil
Oil makes the ashes stick, so there is a sort of practical need for it, but at the same time, God’s people loved to use oil as a symbol of blessing from God. So, when I see the ugly dirt and ashes reflecting the light around us, I am reminded that through all of the struggles and death and pain that we endure on this earth, God promises blessing, renewal and most of all resurrection. Sometimes I add a little scented oil to extend the feeling of blessing to one more sense.

Mix ashes and dirt and then add oil to desired consistency.

Then we mark the symbol of Christ’s suffering, the cross, on our hands and foreheads. This cross, combined with the evidence of our suffering and the promise of hope, becomes a visual representation of God's power to bring new life out of death.

So, why do I looking forward to wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday? Every day I live to tell of God’s power to bring life and renewal out of suffering and death. On this day, I get a special excuse to help more people literally wear this promise on their skin.  So, meet me on Ash Wednesday, or visit your local pastor, priest or congregation.  

May the glistening ashes remind you of the mysterious and majestic power of God. Amen.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

The One Who Chose Me


Robbie and I truly had a religious experience at Universal Studios, and I say that because I believe the Holy Spirit was there, present with us, sending us words of hope and knowing.  As soon as we arrived in Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter we went straight to Ollivander’s to get a wand.  We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but inside the shop someone told us we could either select a wand from the shelves or visit the Wandmaker and the wand would choose you.  So, we went to the Wandmaker, of course.  

We waited in a hallway with other people for about ten minutes, and my mind started to wander…”Would they come get us one at a time?  What wood might I expect? What kind of power would I want?  What am I looking for from the wand?”  Hope.  I wanted something to embody hope for new beginnings.  I played around with the idea of unicorn hair, but part of me felt like unicorns were too pretty and happy for the kind of authentic hope I’m looking for.  Then I thought about Harry’s Pheonix feather in his wand.  The pheonix could be a great metaphor for our lives as we have risen with life out of the ashes of death.  Then something inside me thought about the dragons, and their passion and fire, and something struck a chord with me. The love and power of a dragon could display the kind of hope I want.

Suddenly the assistants were leading us down the hallway… “so we’re doing this as a group,” I thought.  We turned a corner and there was the Wandmaker, writing in his book by the dim light of his magical lamp next to him in a room filled with wands all the way up the very tall walls.

I started to step up to him, and one of the assistants pulled me aside.  “Everyone please fill into the room with the shorter people in front, so everyone can see.”

I don’t remember what happened next, but before I knew it, the Wandmaker was looking at me and called me forward to receive my wand.  He measured my arms and talked about character and the many ways a wand would choose you.  I knew he was an actor, but he felt more like a sage wizard.  The room, his voice, the air, it all felt real…so magical.  He pulled out a wand of rosewood and unicorn hair and gave it to me. “Give it a flick,” he said.  Shelves popped out all over the place…just like in the books!!! When Harry was trying out wands!  “No, no, no, that won’t do.”  Then he pulled out a wand of oak with a phoenix feather, “Ok,” I thought, “This could be it.” He asked me to say, “Wingardium leviosa.”  With my best Hermione impression, I waved my wand and said the words. LOUD BANGS, and flickering lights.  “I wonder…” said the Wandmaker….I almost jumped out of my skin. “Here is a wand made of ash wood with dragon heartstrings.”  When I took the wand in my hand the light shone all around me.  It took everything within me not to burst out crying and weeping, because here in my hand was the true embodiment of the strength I desire—the heartstring of fire which rises from the ashes.

I never thought I would own a wand, and yet how many of us are yearning for someone to choose us and offer us a physical and metaphorical gift of meaning in life.  I have chosen and held many instruments in my hand: flutes, conducting batons, kazoos, books, paintbrushes.  This gift feels different.  I know it has no physical power outside of the park, and yet, in my hand I am reminded of the dragon heartstrings that God fixed within my soul.  

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” says the Psalmist about our Maker. I have been chosen by God to do big things, and so have you.  The magic comes when we believe in the Maker’s ability to love us, know us and do marvelous things through us.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Beauty in the Bark


Photo Credit: me. Yep. We went to Florida. So, the next few posts will most likely reveal some of our reflections during our amazing adventure in Orlando. The first "attraction" that struck my curiosity were the varieties of palm trees and palmeados. My knowledge of palm life cycles has become a mix of observation and YouTube videos of palm experts talking about how to grow one at home. What fascinated me was this longing to know why some trees are short and others are crazy tall? Why do some have a full trunk of woven branches and others just have just the top basket? Do they prune themselves or do gardeners pull off the palms to reveal their bark? I wanted to observe them up close so I could paint them, and in the midst of that longing to know more about them, I realized I was actually looking with wonder for my own self growth and “pruning.”  

In my last year of rising strong, I haven’t been sure how to put words together about where I go from what has happened to us.  Moving “forward” or “on” doesn’t seem to fit. I know that roses are more beautiful when pruned, and every challenging experience teaches us and strengthens us, but how do you move on without putting something behind you or letting go of that person you have lost? You can let go of the pain, you can receive forgiveness for your regrets, you can express grace for the shame in your life.   And then what do you do with this fact that God let you fall, you were not protected and you carry yourself differently, feeling a bit more fragile and a lot more tender.

I’ve been looking for an image of wholeness which honors brokenness and tenderness with beauty. I think that’s what drew me to look closer at the palm tree.  What I instinctively noticed as beautifully woven bark was actually broken branches, remaining on the tree. The striking rings on the tallest trees, also show the marks of palms grown and lost.  The beautiful and distinctive trunk reveals the history of the loss of life and broken branches. Like a beautiful tapestry or a growing palm tree, this masterpiece of our personhood continues to change shape and twist, to grow further out and further up, like our ever expanding universe. 

The pain and loss we have endured adds to the beauty and the grit of our character. Our experiences hang on like those broken branches, and we will continue to reach out with new branches, trusting that no matter what life prunes from our tree, the resourceful and imaginative creator will continue to add to our beauty and the Breath of Life will keep us dancing in the wind.