This week we are invited to carry—and spill—the light. We learn this from the courage of a woman in The Church of the Exceptional, and from the light she carried. Her story from Jimmy Carter’s book, Our Endangered Values.
I am grateful for her gift of light, yes, but even more for helping us to change the paradigm about making a difference.
David Orr’s reminder, “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind.”
Yes. And we miss this if we see making a difference as something to achieve. Or attain. (Or numbers on a card as if scored by Olympic skating judges.)
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus reminded us. And yet, we read it as a command rather than an affirmation.
Here’s the deal. Jesus never said, “Create the light. Contrive the light. Design the light. Engineer the light. He never even said, ‘Be good at light shining.’”
He said simply, “Let.” Meaning “allow.”
Meaning, get out of the way. The light is already there.
Inside of us.
So. I am in awe, and so very grateful for simple small courageous gestures of kindness and compassion and empathy and inclusion. And spill is a good verb because, as Nelson Mandela reminds us, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
Simple small courageous gestures. “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” Thank you Henri Nouwen.
And a fun story this week… Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 103-year-old nun who became an icon during Loyola Chicago’s 2018 Final Four run (college basketball), is publishing a memoir titled “Wake Up with Purpose: What I’ve Learned in My First Hundred Years.” Between the lines: Sister Jean wakes up every morning at 5am, prays, then reads the Gospel on her iPad. “I guess there aren’t too many 103-year-old nuns using iPads these days … But I’m pretty comfortable with modern technology. I’ve always said, ‘If you’re not moving forward, you’re going to get left behind real quick.’ Adaptability is my superpower.” Sister Jean (Thank you Axios)
Little things do make all the difference. Like our story this week, of one woman’s resilience carrying a candle of hope.
But here’s the deal: these moments of light and of grace may not always come from places, or people, I expect. What a wonderful opportunity to let go of the boxes of presumption I carry.
Speaking of such boxes… I can tell you that in the church of my youth, I was weaned with an aptitude for intolerance. We knew exactly whom God didn’t care for. Who was on the outside looking in. And we made no bones about naming names. We shunned people. We damned them to hell.
When I grew up, I knew in my heart it wasn’t right, but I confess that under the guise of walking the fine line, I stayed silent too long.
I cannot do that anymore. I know what fear can do. And I don’t want to live that way.
I don’t regret any choices I have made, but I do regret the things I didn’t do.
When I chose not to speak out, I was wrong, because I read the faces of the crowd to see what placates.
What I am learning is this: Perhaps the very people I exclude, are the ones who carry the light—the candle—that will allow me to see. That will allow me to see the Grace of God. Yes, and the expansive reach of God’s acceptance. To every single one of us.
Whether I like it or not, it seems that the kingdom of God will be radically and scandalously inclusive. Think of that. God loves broken people and people who have been marginalized and downtrodden and who don’t fit into boxes. God loves infidels, idiots, those shunned and the heathen. Now that, that is one radical hospitality. That is truly a Church of the Exceptional.
The good news? This Grace cannot be confined or contained or constrained.
We don’t dole it out to the deserving.
We spill it… to anyone and everyone.
And one lit candle makes a difference.
Today (in the Christian church), we begin our Lenten journey (Ash Wednesday). An invitation to remember where our identity is tethered. Permission to detach (or empty) ourselves from those things we may cling to, remembering instead that humility is not such a bad thing (human and humility are derived from the Latin word, humus, meaning earth). Bottom line: we have no need to impress or prove or earn, knowing that our wellbeing (or identity and worth) is imbued with and sustained by the very breath of God.
And… Happy Birthday John Lewis “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
I’m writing this later than expected, due to a shift in my travel arrangements today, beholden to snow and ice annoyance. And I’m smiling because my inconvenience means little to the big swath of people in the US constricted, under winter weather alerts, as a massive coast-to-coast storm hits the country with heavy snow and high winds. So, stay safe, and if you travel, please take care.
I hope to be in Anaheim, CA tomorrow, preparing for my talk, “What sustains and replenishes you? How do we stay spiritually hydrated?”
And writing this, I realize that sustains and replenishes is not a bad topic for any day, say, when weather restrictions weigh heavy on our mind and spirit.
This week we’ve been invited to choose, steady, daily acts of gentleness and kindness and inclusion and healing. “Carrying a candle” one step in front of another.
Heroes are ordinary souls who carry the weight of ordinary life. And heroism is born in every act of kindness and compassion and inclusion, no matter how small. Because in a world cynical and afraid, it takes courage to be kind and generous of spirit, and to fight for compassion and mercy and justice.
So… back to sustain and replenish… let us not forget this: care of any kind—compassion, generosity, communication, reconciliation, service, ministry, teaching, giving—begins with and is nourished by self-care.
Or in the words of Charlie Parker, “If it ain’t in you it can’t come out of your horn.”
Care begins with the power of pause. Care begins with the intentional choices we make about being present.
This is about the invitation to embrace passion, grace, play, laughter and wholeheartedness. If we practice this power of pause, it spills into our relationships and our work. And our acts of kindness. And our music.
There is no doubt that I take my garden for granted, with its power to heal and sustain, where Sabbath and sanctuary tether and refuel the heart and spirit.
But it is a reminder that health—physical, spiritual or mental—is not a guaranteed destination.
It requires attention and mindfulness. In other words, it is requisite to pay attention (an invitation to the sacrament of the present moment).
Which makes me wonder, what does it take, for you, to “stay hydrated” emotionally and spiritually?
I’m in Anaheim, CA, readying for the Religious Education Congress, a gathering with a few thousand of my closest friends. And smiling when the California friends tell me how chilly it is here. I think it’s 50. And my Michigan and Minnesota friends find that just a wee bit amusing.
This week we’ve been invited to carry—and spill—the light. Remembering that “spilling” or care of any kind—compassion, generosity, communication, reconciliation, service, ministry, teaching, giving—begins with and is nourished by self-care.
My topic this weekend: the permission to stay sustained and replenished.
And here’s my confession (maybe you can relate)… in my diagnosis of any emotional or spiritual dehydration (exhaustion), I too often ask the wrong questions, “Can’t you try harder?” “Is this the best you can do?” And, “What’s wrong with you?”
So. it’s paradigm shift time… I (we) need new questions.
Gabrielle Roth reminds us, In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions.
When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?
Meaning that at some point I inculcated myself with the notion that it wasn’t enough… to just dance, to sing, to be enchanted, to sit still, to just carry a candle, and yes, to share and spill the light.
And Jimmy Carter has been on our hearts and minds this week. This is what he wrote after his encounter with The Church of the Exceptional. “I believe that anyone can be successful in life, regardless of natural talent or the environment within which we live. This is not based on measuring success by human competitiveness for wealth, possessions, influence, and fame, but adhering to God’s standards of truth, justice, humility, service, compassion, forgiveness, and love.”
Prayer for our week…
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Taken from Selected Poems by Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks –Penguin Classics, 2004.
Photo… “This iris caught my eye as I was on the long gravel driveway of the family homestead after sharing Valentines’ tacos with Mark’s mom. I jumped out of the car to take a picture… I think this was heaven sent.” Bev Klopfenstein… Thank you Bev.. (Mark is Bev’s husband who died in 2022… we all miss you Mark.)