Friday, September 15, 2006

Beauty and Bread

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.
— John Muir

Last weekend Barb and I traveled to Mountain Home Lodge a thousand feet above the town of Leavenworth in the North Cascades of Washington State. Given my work as Pastor it is rare that we get this kind of time away.

The view from the Lodge is breathtaking and we spent one morning just sitting on the deck, reading and soaking up the sun. On Sunday morning we took a long walk up into the hills behind the Lodge.

For these two days we did not touch a computer or read any books connected to our work. We immersed ourselves in Sabbath rest and savored our surroundings, the lovely Lodge meals, and each other.

The words from John Muir, quoted above, were in our room at Mountain Home Lodge. Now back home I’m applying them to our community of faith at Queen Anne Christian Church.

In the City of Seattle our church building is located just within the high-density zone. Next door to the church a large hole in the ground will soon be filled with four new town homes echoing work taking place all around us on the Hill. It causes me to wonder about what it means to have at least one building on the block where gracious space is cherished and upheld.

My sense of Queen Anne Christian Church, indeed any church, is that our strength is in the unexpected spaciousness where rest is encouraged and an urban place takes on an aspect of nature through art and holiness.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

What Are You Doing for Thanksgiving?

In early August, our daughter-in-law Amy asked my partner Barb, What are you guys doing for Thanksgiving? Because we were preparing for house guests in the next few days her question just sat there. Now, as I’ve finished reading Radical Gratitude by Mary Jo Leddy, Amy’s question came back to me in a different way: What am I doing for thanks-giving?

Radical Gratitude kind of sneaks up on you. The book itself is rather slim. The cover shows a photograph of a ceramic vase holding wavy flower stems that support a yellow daisy-like flower. From all appearances this will be a snap to read. Leddy begins like this: What we say with our words is so much less important than what we mean with our lives. Only our lives give weight to our words. I believe that each one of us has at least one significant word to say with our lives . . . A particular grace.

With that introduction she painstakingly traces her understanding of the roots of our chronic discontent, our perpetual unhappiness, the nagging feeling that we are not enough and can never be enough. She has a particular word of grace for the middle class whom she describes as stuck between in a state of endless striving and mindless consumption: people who have gotten to where they are by their own wits and individual merit, people who do not find it easy to band together in common witness and service.

A keen observer, Leddy leads us along a path of unfolding revelation, evocative stories, and heart-opening prayer-poems. She lays out the dangers and pitfalls of our economy and dissipative living that touch so much of our lives. Intertwined with hard news she also gives us good news and hints at the vitality of life lived fully in the embrace of God.

The final section of the book leads us to clean, clear water and fresh pastures for our souls. Here she offers simple practices that might revive in us a sense of thanksgiving and gratitude.

This book took time to read: it was not easy. It’s not that the vocabulary was difficult, rather, I found myself straining to take in her words with my heart as well as my mind. I found myself painfully convicted by her words and descriptions. I found a balm for my weary soul and an invitation to stop struggling and simply live out of a different way of being—radical gratitude and profound sense of mystery.

About four and a half years ago, Amy allowed Barb and I to witness the birth of our first grandchild. When Margaret Rose Greenleaf emerged from Amy’s womb an involuntary cry welled up and came out of me. While I didn’t say these words I remember thinking: how is it possible for this baby to have come from deep inside her mother? How was it possible that I was born? How is it possible that any of us are born? Each moment is this miracle!

For some time I walked around dazed, amazed at what I seen, thankful for all of life, willing to throw myself in front oncoming traffic, if needed, to safe-guard the life and future of granddaughter Maggie. This, I believe, is some of what Leddy would have us live out as particular words of grace—offerings of thanksgiving—set loose in the world.