Preparing for Holy Week

Holy Week is next week. 

Since our isolation/quarantine began, one of the most anxiety-producing events for faith leaders was wondering how we would “do” Holy Week, that week before Easter that we especially join Jesus with his walk to the cross.


As a former parish priest, I know how much time and effort is spent planning worship, proofing and reproofing and reproofing again worship booklets. Rehearsals. Cleaning. Decorating. Providing the sacrament of Reconciliation of a Penitent. Money spent on flowers. Foot washing. Stripping the altar. Stations of the Cross.

These are all good and holy acts. But as we wander in this strange land, six feet apart and behind closed doors, it feels that we have a gift this year. We can enter into an even deeper meaning of an intentional walk with Jesus.

Where is God’s invitation this year?

Starting with Palm Sunday.

Each of us can pray the Liturgy of the Palms. It’s in the Book of Common Prayer and no clergy are necessary. Then we can stop. Since we will be walking the way towards the cross with Jesus, we can sit fully with his triumphant-ish entry into Jerusalem without jumping ahead to hear the Passion Gospel. Because Jesus hasn’t died yet.

In preparation for Palm Sunday: Today, Tuesday in the fifth week of Lent—do you know how to fold a palm or branch cross (I never could master it despite how many times Jo Cassidy tried to teach me)? If you do, go outside and gather some leaves. In Houston, palm branches are actually not difficult to find. Fold crosses and mail them to people who might like a bit of love. The palm crosses will be there for them on Palm Sunday if you do it today or tomorrow.

Had you planned to give flowers for Easter worship? We can take whatever money we would have spent on flowers and use it to provide food for hungry people. Flowers for Food. Write a note to the people you would have honored by giving Easter flowers for Easter worship; let them know why you are so thankful for them and that someone hungry will have something to eat because you shared your love in a tangible way.

This is the time for us to be God’s people in a powerful way in a world that is starving for the peace that passes understanding.  Where is the invitation today?

Good morning God.

This is your day.

I am your child.

Please show me your way.



Lenten Crosses

The Forward Day by Day reminded me this morning that it is the feast day of Charles Henry Brent, Bishop. In all his busy holiness, perhaps his greatest gift is prayer, particularly a prayer for mission that is in the Book of Common Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

So clothe us in your Spirit that we reaching forth our hands in love

This is one of my favorite prayers, and this is the line that always resonates with me.

Today, when I am limited in how I can physically touch others with my hands, how can I specifically reach forth my hands in love? To bring others to the knowledge and love of God?

That’s a Lenten cross we can all bear.

Remembering: This is not my first rodeo

When I was still living in the Rectory, my home flooded twice. Those two floods and the after consequences were perhaps the most painful times of my life. When I had gotten through those two terrible, terrible events, only in looking back, despite the enormous pain, I knew they had been the very best times of my life. Certainly not while going through them; only afterwards when I saw the person I had become and the gifts I had received did I see clearly how God works through the very worst of times.

I bring those learned gifts to this uniquely terrible, terrible time knowing that even more gifts will be received. Certainly for me personally. Certainly, I pray, for a country (and world) where we will be more unselfish and generous and where we will seek to rise to the other’s best and to serve the common good.

On Saturday, my first Sabbath since the crisis hit, I took advantage of early hour’s shopping for those of us of riper years. It is the first time I’ve ever had to show my driver’s license to enter a store in order to buy groceries!

I was delighted to score peanut butter and coffee filters. The very best gift of all was church at checkout. Erica, my brave checker, and I had a good talk about God as she rang up my groceries. I came out of the closet and told her that I was a priest. She asked me if I could bless some oil for her because she was all out of holy oil. As God would have it, in the minutes it took her to find some oil on the nearly empty shelves (substituting almond for the out of stock olive), no one else came to her register to check out. There in Whole Foods we had a prayer service.

Later that day I decided to go to the nursery. My butterfly plant was covered in monarch caterpillars and they had stripped it to the stems.

My local nursery had gotten in a fresh supply of milkweed—limit four per person. Milk. Butter. Toilet paper. And now milkweed. Ah, life in a pandemic.

Martha and I had a chat as she rang me up. Her weekday job is working with seniors. She had bought some beautiful hanging baskets (on sale!) and delivered them (at safe distance) to the elder home-based folks in her church. As she told me about her ministry of far apart care, it was church, once again. At Another Place in Time.

When I got home, I realized that Martha had slipped a couple of extra milkweed plants in my car when she had helped me carry my purchases to my trunk. A passing of the peace, of sorts.

On Sunday, the loneliness of living alone was becoming heart hurting. I remembered something I’d learned from the two floods. It’s okay to ask for what you need—and then to receive what is given.

I reached out to my Oregon family. I joined them for online worship with their local church, New Hope. We FaceTimed. And last night, my wonderful daughter in law sent me photos of their day.

And there on Austin’s daily schedule, call Grandma.

Praying Art with Edra Soto

One of the reasons we wanted to start the day at The Momentary was to see Edra Soto’s installation. On her walks around her Chicago neighborhood, Edra noticed a plethora of empty liquor bottles scattered literally with abandon. She began to gather the bottles, clean them, and create art with them.

She was leading a class in the afternoon for families at Crystal Bridges, and I wanted to experience her art before participating.

The day before, my friend and I had gathered in one of Crystal Bridges’ studios and painted with water color pencils. We were invited to draw a self portrait to post in their gallery.

I learned in college that children discover when they are about ten years old that their art doesn’t look like what they are seeing, and unless encouraged, most stop creating art. Adults often tell me that they aren’t artistic; they aren’t creative. This is the fruit, I believe, of the story we make up in our head when we are still children.

If we are created in the image of God our creator then, to me, it seems we are born to be artists. We are born to create. For too many of us adults, creating is as risky as dancing.

At Crystal Bridges, all who gather have frequent invitations to create. There is an art room always open, and each day offers some special opportunity for guests.

We couldn’t have had a warmer welcome as we entered the studio on Sunday afternoon to create. We were greeted at the door, and then Edra herself came to us treating us as valued guests and gave us instructions for our artwork project.

The museum had repurposed bottles from the museum restaurant, and we were given crafting clay to shape and then attach to the bottle to make our own sculpture.

I watched as Edra warmly spoke to each person that entered. She encouraged and celebrated all of our participation. The room was filled with every flavor of person.

A man with Down’s syndrome shouted a guttural hello each time the door opened. A dark complexioned baby in a stroller echolaliaed each of the man’s welcoming sounds. A group of people who appeared to be of very limited financial means and perhaps intellect came in and began to create.

There was the father who stayed on his cell phone the entire time. Grandparents with grandchildren. A few parents who watched as their children sculpted. People who created one sculpture together.

All were welcome.

As we finished, Edra carefully took each of our sculptures and photographed them as if they were precious art. I suspect to her they were.

The mission of Crystal Bridges with its always free admission, plopped in the midst of small town Ozarks, is to make art available to everyone. No exceptions.

This is God’s people gathered. It was church for me on the first Sunday afternoon in Lent.

Momentary. Lent.

Worship for the first Sunday in Lent was on Saturday evening at Trinity Episcopal, Bentonville. That allowed Sunday to be a day to worship with eyes open to the day.

We started the day at a new branch of Crystal Bridges, The Momentary, created from a repurposed Kraft cheese factory. In this expansive space, the State of the Art 2020 exhibit continued.

Viewing art is a type of prayer for me. The art in this exhibit had come forth from the depths of the artists’ spirits. Nearly all pieces were created in the past three years in response to the events each artist experienced in the new normal of our country. Walking from piece to piece, standing silently with each, was a Great Litany.

O God, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.
O God, the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.
O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.
O Christ hear us.
O Christ hear us.

Now it’s Lent

When my best friend was beginning to heal from her car accident, we watched a PBS documentary about a team from Crystal Bridges Museum who travelled the US discovering less than famous artists. Curious, we did a little research and found that an exhibit of 61 of the artists would be at my favorite museum in the world, Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas. During Lent! As part of my friend’s healing hopefulness, we planned a trip to see the exhibit seven months later.

So here we are. In Bentonville, Arkansas. For the first weekend in Lent.

Seriously injured by a drunk driver who hit her car and then fled the scene, my friend went from being couch bound to wheel chair to walker. As she was finally well enough to travel, she had to learn to navigate an airport via being wheeled by strangers.

Seven months later, my friend is able to walk independently to her airport gate and yesterday hit a milestone of nearly 9,000 steps. Museums will do that!

She is never pain free and is learning how to live in a new body.

It is how we are all invited to do Lent.

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start. (Nido Qubei)

And so we begin again. Perhaps with uncertainty. Fear. Suffering. Pain.

Perhaps with hope. Faith. Joy.

Most likely with a soup containing some of each.

Perhaps that’s why parish soup suppers are a mainstay of Lent.

Loving Reach

You stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that all might come within the reach of your saving embrace.

So clothe us in your Spirit that we reaching forth our hands in love may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you, for the honor of your name. AMEN

This is one of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. The image of the cross as Jesus reaching forth his hands in love, and our response to that reach as reaching out in love, is the center of my understanding of the cross as a symbol of my faith.

The cross is Love reaching out.

Love reaching out in the midst of suffering and when surrounded by anger and hate.

Love reaching out in the midst of hunger and thirst.

Love reaching out in the midst of fear and loneliness.

Love reaching out in the midst of meals shared.

Love reaching out in the midst of friends and strangers and enemies.

Last evening I went to an art exhibition at the Harwood Museum in Taos of Dean Pulver’s work. Dean is the husband of my dear friend Abby Salsbury whose pottery fills my home. Dean’s art medium is primarily wood with a little metal thrown in on occasion.

When I visited Dean’s studio last Epiphany, he was creating work that was part of the exhibit at the Harwood. There was one piece in process that placed me in a deep pause. To me it looked like a cross.

As Dean and I talked, he told me that building a cross had not been his intent. This led to a thought-filled conversation about the layers of personal meanings of the cross. I told him how I felt so often what I hear people say about the cross feels more like a useful personal weapon than the endless and forgiving and healing love of God.

The curved arms of Dean’s art with its ever moving shadows, depending on the cast of the light, spoke to me of God’s multidimensional love. It is beautiful.

The finished art was on exhibit at the Harwood. Once again I was paused. My heart and eyes filling with emotion of its power.

Dean had named the piece Reach.

The light once again played with the structure casting multidimensional shadows expanding the range of the cross.

Each arm is a curve, openly pulling us to its center. It feels like a safe and open enclosure I could nestle in and be held and rest. It’s not soft but it looks comfortable–in the root meaning of the word, comfort, that means with strength. I could sink into its heart.

I looked back on Dean’s Instagram account. It records his process for creating the art we saw completed at the Harwood. I was paused yet again when I saw the special joinery he had to create to connect the two arms of this piece.

Cross upon cross. Cross within cross.

Reaching out in love.

Note: Cross at the top of the blog from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Kilgore, Texas.

Gospel Living: Home

I’m having some good thinking days.

After a very busy couple of weeks at work, traveling from Alvin to Jacksonville and places in between, with the bonus of three appointments with the oral surgeon because of a broken tooth, this long weekend trip to New Mexico was a once again reminder of what a fine tour guide God is. One way or another, God gets me where I need to be.

The husband of a dear Taos friend has an exhibit at the Harwood Museum and tonight is the VIP reception–and my best friend and I are considered VIPs! This was all it took for us to plan a trip to our “home” since 2009 at the Casa de los Abuelos (of the grandparents–how perfect a name is that?).

There’s so much that feels familiar about this “thin space” and like so many trips home, we don’t know how much we need to be there until we arrive.

One of the reasons this feels like home is the warm hugs, smiles, and greetings we receive. People we’ve known for one year or over ten are so very pleased to see us. From the baristas at Coffee Apothecary to Marie at Marie Fleur Salon to a welcome text from my sweet friend Abby, it feels so good to be welcomed not for what I do but simply who I am.

This is what Jesus wants to offer all of us. His heart as our home. Our hearts as his home.

Today surrounded by snow outside, fire in the kiva, fresh coffee with beans locally roasted, I’ll spend some time in God’s heart through prayer–so that the remainder of the day I’ll live with my home in God’s heart.

Itinerant Preacher

I’m in Kilgore, Texas this morning. I drove over 200 miles yesterday afternoon through peak, for Texas, East Texas fall. After breakfast at the Hampton Inn, I’ll pack up and go preach and celebrate at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Afterwards, I’ll meet with the leadership of the church and listen and dream with them about what God might have in store for them. Then I’ll drive back home dreaming and imagining about how we all can better partner with God and God’s mission.

I love my job.

A year ago today was my last Sunday at St. Mary’s, a place I’d loved and called home for over twenty years. A place where I’d drive three and one half miles each Sunday morning to preach and celebrate and listen and dream.

I loved my job.

In the year of my pause from my relationship with St. Mary’s, what one parishioner described as a gap year, I have only been back once, with permission, to attend the funeral of a beloved parishioner. It is the way of rector partings.

Yesterday, I wrote the Senior Warden and the Interim Rector for permission to worship on a Sunday morning at St Mary’s during Advent. As God would have it, it’s a rare Sunday that has not already been scheduled, and I am open-calendared.

A baby with whom I have two decades of family connections is being baptized, and the parents invited me to attend. I officiated at the baby’s parent’s marriage and prayed with others for years for this precious girl’s birth in into the world.

If given permission, the third Sunday of Advent, I’ll drive the twenty or something miles from my new home, past my old home, to a parish that is now one of the over one hundred fifty I now serve. I’ll worship and pray and dream. And live some of God’s great yeses to prayers.

I love my life.