Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Miracle

In theory, I would find a way to worship most Sundays apart from St. John's at congregations offering services around my worship schedule. Serving in a metropolitan area offers these perks: collegiality, collaboration and the opportunity to worship in the pews.

As coffee hour slowed, I locked up and headed northeast to El Milagro, a Spanish-speaking Lutheran church in Minneapolis. My cousin is in town and I'd been meaning to explore this place with her. I drive by El Milagro (The Miracle) every day and seeing it reminds me of the times I have worshiped in a language I don't understand. A Xhosa church in South Africa had me beating my hand on a percussion pad and trying to make my mouth click as we sang hymns with melodies I must have known in another life. Bangladeshi Christians had me dancing on Christmas Eve and rocking to the rhythm of what felt like the Lord's Prayer.

The sound of tambourines met us as we entered and we followed our noses to incense in the sanctuary. My cousin understood much more than I could translate, but the liturgy's grace kept me in tune. I had preached that morning and knew the texts well enough to hear words like "wash" and "seven" and "compassion". Our leprosy was being healed.

During the prayers we were instructed to turn to our neighbor and grace her with the sign of the cross on her forehead. We were to pray for resurrection in each other's lives. It was easy, but so difficult. I traced Berit's baptism on her skin and spoke words I meant, that could not be released without the teary eyes of a big sister/cousin. Oh, how I love you. And how I love this miracle of resurrection. And how I love that you are tangled up in that miracle with me because of this cross we paint on each other. These are the words I thought as I held her face and professed my prayer.

The meal was an enormous chunk of soft wheat bread that took three bites - three swallows for my body to believe in Jesus' body - his promise and presence for me. The sending hymn had us all in the aisle, singing and clapping and holding hands with brothers and sisters. A miracle indeed.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fresh Air

There are certain times during the day I avoid the grocery store because it is crowded and crabby, but Wednesday night was not one of them. There were so few of us that we actually saw each other. I watched a teenage boy hoist a gallon of milk into an old woman's cart for her. A grubby man in fingerless gloves smelled the oranges carefully, one by one, undisturbed by other shoppers.

Something about my faith permeates these moments. I watched those tempted by the bakery decided whether they needed late night donut and wondered about the woman buying more cat food than human food.

When I have time, I like to get in the longest check out line and read the latest tabloid magazine while I wait. I glossed over photos of Chris Brown and Rihanna, heroic Capt. Sully, and the new mom of octuplets. When it was time to load my groceries onto the belt, I noticed the drama unfolding in front of me. A toothless woman in a blaze orange hoodie was near tears, trying to explain the injustice in her life to the cashier and was making frantic gestures toward the bag boy. I had to drive four hours down here and they want to know about insurance but you you don't think about insurance when you find out your son has colon cancer and I don't know what I'll do because I can't even afford the stuff I'm buying here and my food stamps are all gone...

While every bone in my body wanted to hug and hold the woman to keep her from flailing and justifying her suffering, I held back and watched how others stepped forward. The cashier made wise, deescalating comments. The woman in line between us rubbed her back gently. The bag boy filled her cart quickly and efficiently.

Even after receiving her receipt and becoming somewhat obsolete, she stayed, desperate for someone to really hear her. She moved close to the bag boy, who did not have the mental and social skills to deal with her intensity and looked like he might break down with her...or at her. I watched his anxious eyes, deciding whether he should stay and bag as his job requires, or find the safe space his parents and teachers have probably taught him to seek.

Why don't you take a breather outside while we bag our groceries? I'll find you out there when I'm done and we're all gone. Then you can come back and have a fresh start and room to do a great job.

So a stranger and I bagged each other's groceries while nodding at the broken woman and asking about her son. We stood there sorting cans between our carts until she could breathe again. My comrade drove her cart with one hand and continued to rub the woman's back as she guided her out to the parking lot. I found the boy leaning against a strong column rubbing his eyes.

We stood in the fresh air for a moment, watching the dirty snow on the sidewalk and listening to buses pull away from their stops. I'll go back now, he said. And he did. I waited there a moment, listening to the automatic doors open for the boy and looking for the blaze of orange in the parking lot. A breath of fresh air and then diaspora.

I drove home thinking, Lady, I know we have trouble seeing you and hearing you the way you want to be known. But someone does it perfectly and constantly. There is one who feels what you feel when you are driving four hours, when you are buying cans of beans, when you are scattered from the people you just found the strength to tell.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sustain Us

I've been wading through the first few chapters of Mark a lot lately. This year, most of our gospel readings come from this author and our Wednesday night bible study is also living in his account's urgent secrecy.

Each gospel author finds a unique way to move from Jesus' baptism into the wonder and danger of his ministry. Mark tells us that Jesus commissions the disciples and sends them out with the power to heal. Lest we believe these miracles are received with pure jubilation and awe, he then tells about the beheading of John the Baptist. This Word is not for the faint of heart. There will be consequences and the fear ripples through crowds.

But Mark doesn't leave us in the fear. In fact, he doesn't leave us anywhere for very long. We don't have time to digest the gruesome news before Jesus is with the disciples in a deserted place, surrounded by the curious and the faithful. They have followed out to this field and wait, like sheep without a shepherd.

The disciples are concerned that they'll grow hungry and suggests they be shooed away to get food in the nearest town. Instead, Jesus surveys the pasture filled with hundreds of people who do no know what they hunger for. He sees a pasture filled with proof - he needed to come for this very reason. He can feed them.

The bread and fish are nothing fancy. Jesus does not use them with the intent to stuff everyone silly. But with grace and gratitude, he looks to heaven and breaks it, offering enough for all. And as they take and eat, each person becomes part of something great and bigger than his and her own story. Sanctified.

This week, the Feeding of the Five Thousand reminds me of this view in rural Iceland. The pasture was expansive and standing by the waterfall had me looking around with gratitude. This place was formed by a god who knows what we need and finds subversive ways to feed us. In that moment, it was a deserted place and the mist of rushing water on my face. It was the bright sun of a long summer day and the satisfaction of a granola bar squished in my backpack.