Make Room

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

In the sixth month Gabriel the messenger was sent by the Holy One to a hamlet in Galilee called Nazareth, to a young girl engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The girl’s name was Mary.  Luke 1:26-27

Seeker,
Who awaits you in these greatly troubled times?

How do we make room
for hope in the gloom,
and peace to smooth the way in the dealings of our day?

How do we give voice
to understanding and compassion
where heartlessness is always in fashion?

Will you attend that age-old parable
of messengers from the heavens
and signs in starry skies;

of wisdom setting out to meet humility;
and a maid who made room
for unimagined possibility;

of a refugee-God,
brought to birth in poverty,
and swaddled in squalor;

of a liberator nestled amid beasts of burden
in an occupied land,
and hope hosted by a wandering shepherd band?

Will you re-tell that ancient teaching tale,
of flight in the night
from lustful power

that fears the vulnerable,
and dreads the promised restoration
which is most surely coming?

And might you make space
for contemporary connections,
and parallel parables;

of unlikely welcomes and unsettling visitations
of fear and flight, of hearts roomy and ready,
and promise wrapped in powerlessness?

The gift of greatest efficacy and power that we can offer God and creation is not our skills, gifts, abilities, and possessions. Mary offered only space, love, belief.  Loretta Ross-Gotta

The work of Advent consists of this: make room!
Attune your heart to hope, long-expected
by hungry souls and broken lives.

Clear the clutter, quiet the noise,
turn off the soundtrack,
douse the twinkling lights.

Put away your lists and listen
to cries from the earth
that break the heart of the universe.

Set aside presents to be present.
Leave behind plastic pretense
to stand beneath the sky and ponder the Maker of a trillion galaxies,

who cares yet for the smallest places,
and seeks out the dark recesses,
bearing the gift of tenuous new life.

For into each unfolding moment
with or without us, the Christ arrives,
looking only for room and readiness.

Let us not be lost
to the cancer of consumption,
or adrift in self-fulfilling dreams of doom,

or decorated by distraction,
and driven by the appetite for acquisition,
dismissing the catastrophe playing out before our misted eyes.

All we need, to embody this Christ-becoming
is space, in humble, generous hearts
and spirits ripe and willing.

A message of hope sent to enlighten distress.
A promise of peace meant for conflict-torn places.
For Christ becomes flesh in the midst of our mess.

As water sinks to the lowest point and love finds the sorest soul,
Christ seeks out the broken,
bringing to birth restoration that makes the wounded whole.

The slimmest hope is hopeful still.
The slightest flicker glimmers for all.
As earth from darkness rolls away, will you re-turn your life today
to reflect the new light coming?

joe

Live Small

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt before him and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Mark 10:17

Seeker,
What would it cost you today to live a little more simply?

Change!
Change!
I need your change!

From the recessed doorway
a voice cries out
to the bustling any-town street.

Shapes of purpose-full people
blur by—
unheeding, unseeing, unaware.

You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes… Matthew 13:14

Change!
Change!
I need your change!

Captivated by the call,
a youngster, open-hearted,
turns herself around.

With bright-eyed encouragement,
she addresses the bundled body
that cradles a crinkled cup.

“Don’t despair,
change is coming!
We are working for change!”

“I need your change!”
the voice persists
with urgency.

Blushing,
the kind student leans in.
“I’m sorry… you must be hungry!”

Thrusting a handful of coins
into the cup, she adds,
“Perhaps a sandwich, or another cup of coffee?”

To her great surprise,
the hooded head
slowly shakes in disappointment.

“No…
I need YOU
to change your life!”

…and what does the Holy One require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

It rightly begins
with being just—
the pathway to the repair of relationships.

Looking, listening, asking,
with ready willingness
to be turned around.

This world redeemed
ever needs to be reorganized,
by loving-with-sleeves-rolled-up.

Such feeding, healing, forgiving
gospel work
is only realized in kindness.

For justice
sees and celebrates
our kin in each and anything.

First, be just! Next be kind!
But then we must change
so much more than just our mind.

…and walk humbly with your God.

For sure,
that third invitation
is the hardest turn of all.

…when I experienced the warm, unpretentious reception of those who have nothing to boast about and experienced a loving embrace from people who didn’t ask any questions, I began to discover that a true spiritual homecoming means a return to the poor in spirit to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. Henri Nouwen

Live humbly,
simply, slowly!
Keep company with the lowly!

Declarations like these
we seldom see
engraved on marble monuments.

Though it might sound straightforward,
such radical redirection
does not come easily at all.

When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right. Shaker Traditional

May you
content yourself with little.
May you choose a less complicated life.

Share freely
all life’s blessings,
and you shall taste well-being.

And may we all learn to live small,
because large living is costing the earth—
a price paid most dearly by the littlest lives of all.

…blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Matthew 13:16

joe

Wholehearted

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

… you shall love the Holy One with all of your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and with all of your strength …  Mark 12: 30 

Seeker,
What merits your wholehearted attention these days?

We are living through a time of extremes,
where the so much taken by so few
leaves too little for too many;

where understanding and forbearance
are held hostage
by fanaticism and fear;

where hateful brutality
comes garbed as religion,
and callous cynicism dresses up as freedom.

Yet, it is deeper into this disturbing wasteland
that we are beckoned,
to bare our hearts to a plea;

the keening chorus
of tenuous life,
sorely afflicted:

echoed in the churning storms
and crackling glaciers
of warming-wasted oceans,

amid the chafing cries
of God’s children cast adrift
on treacherous seas.

Within this refrain lives
the deepest longing
of Our Long-Suffering Lover- aching for healing.

May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.  John O’ Donohue

It begs us to leave hearts ajar
and comforts behind,
that would only harden the crusty edges of our care.

The wilderness of compassion hides seeds;
dry and dormant, anticipating catharsis—
the melting of hearts, the changing of minds and lives.

Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separated from.  Terry Tempest Williams

These packages of possibility hold blueprints for peace
that blossom with the merest inclination of reverence,
and precipitation of tenderness.

In a world such as this,
who has the courage
to be vulnerable first?

Who dares confront
untruths, terror and taunting
with the hot truth of tears?

Who is strong enough to be gentle,
willing enough to embody the paradox:
only the broken are made whole-hearted?

Vulnerability is the only reliable measure of courage.  Brené Brown

Though in her manifold dimensions
universe looks like chaos,
at her core mysterious, she is profound connection,

light itself, ever-outreaching,
craving communion—deep calling out to deep
in a singular cosmic sacrament!

Will you quiet your soul,
steady your voice,
and ready your loved ones for wholehearted living,

so that lovingly we might stand together,
before the haze of hurt and hatred,
misguided mockery and the reckless ruination of holy life?

It is when we love the most intensely and most humanly that we can recognize how tepid is our love for others. The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy too because it is a foretaste of heaven. When you love people, you see all the good in them, all the Christ in them.  Dorothy Day

Will you weep and keenly wonder,
at the state of God’s good garden,
and wounded humanity—body-broken of Christ?

Wholehearted living— compassion practiced—
is a narrow gate into Mercy’s expansive realm
that evaporates separation to draw us tightly together:

the dominated with the divided,
the gated with the segregated, the distracted with the discounted,
the privileged with the persecuted people of God,

together at last
under the cross we all bear,
brimming with pains and joys we can share.

joe

Last and Lasting

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

Come unto me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble-hearted, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.  Matthew 11:28-30

Seeker,
What do you leave behind for those coming after you?

As I grow down, creaking and groaning,
I find my (much-diminished) self,
ever-closer to the ground.

Bent a bit,
and increasingly inclined
to question rather than resolution,

I am more at home
with the lyrical than the literal 
in any and everything: rhyme without reason.

Truth, that once seemed
to fit so neatly
into my travelling haversack,

seems so much larger,
that I can no longer
get my heart, let alone my arms, around it.

Still, wisdom comes to visit,
gracing my committed incoherence
with room enough for wonder and woe to cohabit.

As tears flow more readily than reasons,
explanations evade me for the monstrous misery I witness;
swept away in a deluge of compassion.

What to tell my dear, growing-up children,
after over half a century of wondering and wandering;
looking back more frequently than ahead?

It sounds so simple and simply too hard;
that love is where they came from
and all that keeps us going.

as we live in the light and the love of those
who came before us…
…we will be remembered
in the way others still live, and still live on, in our love.  David Whyte

And, with the evaporation of absolutes
in the harsh light of mercy,
judgement and dogma dissolve.

Though I can’t quite put my finger on it,
I think, somewhere I must have surrendered;
lost or let go these last illusions of control.

How frightening, to be so free;
lightly-burdened;
co-responsible for everything, yet in charge of nothing.

Could this be
the uncharted territory I always sought, 
while playing in the safe confines of the sandpit?

What now remains— last and lasting—
before the long slumber                                                                                                         envelops for good what stood for me.

Now, daily to marry grateful wonder with woe,
and find, in that blessed arrangement, stepping-stones
to help in my stumbling toward the wholeness called well-being.

May it be so for you, fellow pilgrim,
as you make your way home,
much more deeply into here; far less concerned with hereafter.

And in your seeking, may you be found
and found out, as a wise fool, whose supple heart,
cleaved by loss and love, may never close to mercy and mystery.

Rest and be thankful!

joe

Autumnal Graces

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

Very truly, I say to you, unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears abundant fruit. John 12:24

Seeker,
Have you heeded the beckon of the fall?

If you happen to live
along the northern curve of our planet,
you get to watch as we wobble into winter.

And with each autumn come lessons;
a harvest of graces
to color our lives and carpet the ground.

Let sky be glad. Let earth rejoice.
Let the seas and all that fills them roar.
Let the fields and everything within them exult.
Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy… Psalm 96:11-12

As trees turn to fire,
Nature announces her blazing revolution,
in showers ocher and orange gold.

If ever were offered three wishes—
as in the tales of children—
then my desire would be for autumn’s golden graces.

Three unexpected gateways to wholeness,
revealed in letting-go,
falling-down and giving-back.

What return shall I offer the Holy One
for all the goodness given to me? Psalm 116:12

If I could wish three graces for those I dearly love,
it would be these alone:
gratitude, tenderness and humility.

Fruit of wonder,
gratitude is gateway to joy,
turning lack, loss and letting-go into gilded gift.

Fruit of forgiveness,
tenderness opens the way to healing,
transfiguring pain into passion—love’s long shadow.

Fruit of failure,
humility is the low door to wisdom
growing us back down to earth.

Mirroring the setting sun,
these autumnal lessons are poured out
in resplendent hues, for us to pore over.

Like all presents, they come to life in the give-away.
For every golden gift withheld surely turns to lead
and weighs us down with worry or woe.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise…
We are prophets of a future not our own. Ken Untener

Perhaps there is a burden you are carrying.
Perhaps someone worries you.
Perhaps a situation weighs heavily upon you.

Welcome then, autumn’s invitation
to grow by smallness and surrender,
by putting down, by giving away, by letting go.

There is no happiness without thankfulness,
no healing without hurt,
no wisdom without diminishment.

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not. T. S. Eliot

As this season slowly strips the landscape bare,
to surrounds us
in stark splendid death,

may we in thanksgiving
share the harvest, 
and scatter the seeds of dreams to come.

And savoring the bounty of sunshine, showers,
soil and sweat, may you seed peace, sow forgiveness,
leave the leaves and let go!

joe

A Fuller Flock

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

As he went ashore, he saw an immense crowd; and he was deeply moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.  Mark 6:34

Seeker,
Who restores your trust in the kindness of humankind?

Listen, learn, be led!
This is how we come to know
who to love, how to serve, and as a faithful flock be fed.

On the crosswalk
I saw him
step right in front of me.

Head bent, as in prayer,
dark-hooded, ebony-faced,
bravely he flashed a look.

In one eternal instant
brown eyes met grey,
and what might be menacing appeared monastic.

I’m not a statistic
I’m not the inches in somebody’s column…
I am at odds with all that requires me to be a symbol.
I insist on being real.  Kathy Galloway

Fear breeds mistrust,
presenting parasitic opportunities
to make some predators and others prey.

How many of your younger sisters and brothers
are daily endangered in predatory cities?
How much life is threatened by soulless predation?

And who will tend such troubled souls,
and attend to lives without opportunity or refuge?
Who cares for the trafficked, fragmented flock of the Holy One?

Beware pastoral pretenders, trapped in trappings,
who wield authority by blaming and shaming,
lambasting the lost, ignoring the wounded.

We too become predators
when we allow diabolical dread and rapacious greed
to divide us and lead us astray.

The Holy One is my shepherd, I shall not want. Psalm 23:1

Engaging deeper expectations, prophetic people meet rejection.
Persecuted by the presumptive powers they threaten,
they are caricatured as wolves.

Such prophets are not people ahead of their time.
They are simply single-hearted souls
who have penetrated the signs of these times.

Called in crisis,
they sound alarms with urgency,
but only because there is much to be alarmed about.

How can modern Christianity have so solemnly folded its hands while so much of the work of God was and is being destroyed? Wendell Berry

Focused by the lens of faith,
their surgical critique illuminates what is not,
to highlight what and who we might become.

Prophetic people are truth-dwellers.
Gathering the scattered, they refuse to inhabit the gloom
by choosing to walk together toward what can and will be.

With the medicine of mercy
they brew a tonic of hope
and begin to rebuild what has been ruined.

May you embrace every prophetic opportunity
afforded you this day
to be folded back into this fuller flock.

One light; many candles.
One sky; many stars.
One sea; many rivers.
One Love; many hearts. Noel Paul Stookey

joe

Life is Motion

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

…a messenger from the Most High appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt,
and abide there until I tell you…” Matthew 2:13

Seeker,
If you had to, how far would you go to find safe haven for your family?

Ever-emerging, erupting, evolving;    
explosive creativity from boundless devotion;
life is miracle in constant motion.

No calculus or static system
explains this transubstantiation; 
energy and matter in infinite re-formation.

Day unto day pours forth speech, night unto night declares knowledge.
No speech, no words, no voice is heard;
yet their song resounds through all the earth,
their words to the edge of the world. Psalm 19:2-4

Blizzards of spiraling galaxies,
upheld in cosmic flow,
slow-dance to eternal rhythms that none can ever know.

Our swirling dust-mote planet,
in radiant eddy bright,
makes her endless circuit around a lonely light.

All on earth is mobile;
flowing river of relations;
as tides and seasons come then go without a destination.

See the Earth as a point compared with the vast circles it describes.
Stand amazed that this circle itself is only a tiny point in relation to the course traced by the stars revolving in the firmament; that the whole visible world is no more than an imperceptible speck in the ample bosom of nature. Blaise Pascal

Ponder mass migrations
that very few will see,
of wildebeest and caribou, butterfly and bee.

On grassy plain and foaming fathom,
clouded sky and forest floor,
living things on epic journeys stream and teem and ever soar.

Have you glimpsed those fast formations
riding high on tides of air,
undulating skeins of cranes that float from here to who knows where?

A blade of grass is commonplace on Earth; it would be a miracle on Mars…
And if a blade of grass is priceless, what is the value of a human being? Carl Sagan

And then our own dear story  
about a vagabond race,
compelled by such a sacred ache to find our one true place.

Empires forged now lie fragmented,
shards of shifting states, after waves of exploitation,
spoils of conquest, war and subjugation.

Who dares stem humanity’s migrant stream
or shut out the refugee in flight,
that hopes for hospitality; shelter from the storms of night?

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land… Warsan Shire

No barbed-wire boundary,
line or law, can make us alienate
those who arrive, in Christ disguise, to stand before our gate.

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. Leviticus 19: 34

Now let the hinge of mercy creak,
and do your very best
to make a space at least for one, and pray for all the rest!

I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Matthew 25:35

joe