Spirit on the Move


God’s Spirit acts not only through the leaders of the church but in and through any person the Spirit chooses.  God’s Spirit acts not only in the church but outside it, in nature and in people of other faiths and people of no faith. Maybe that's why, in much of Christian history, the Spirit has been the ignored(or suppressed) member of the Trinity.  To an established hierarchy hanging onto power, the Spirit is dangerous.  It is God acting outside the approved channels, shaking things up, making us rethink our ideas about what God expects of us.  Some people think they own the franchise on God and they will dole it out to the rest of us.  The Spirit terrifies those people.  They can't control it!

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Brea Congregational UCC
July 1, 2018

Spirit-Led and Humble

Numbers 11:24-30.  Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He assembled seventy men from the elders of the people and stationed them round the Tent. Then the Lord descended in the cloud and spoke to him. He withdrew part of the spirit which had been conferred on Moses and bestowed it on the seventy elders; as the spirit alighted on them, they were seized by a prophetic ecstasy, for the first and only time. Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, who had been enrolled with the seventy, were left behind in the camp. Though they had not gone out to the Tent, the spirit alighted on them none the less, and they were seized by prophetic ecstasy there in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses that Eldad and Medad were in an ecstasy in the camp, whereupon Joshua son of Nun, who had served since boyhood with Moses, broke in,  ‘Moses my lord, stop them!’ But Moses said to him,  ‘Are you jealous on my account? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would bestow his spirit on them all!’ Moses then rejoined the camp with the elders of Israel. 

Who is in charge of a UCC church?  It’s not the pastor, or the moderator, or the church council, though they are each entrusted with certain responsibilities. We have no higher authority, no bishop or presbytery or pope.  What we have is a bit of bible that was lifted up by the founders of the UCC, that some UCC churches have put in their mission statement: Christ is the head of the church. (Colossians 1:18)

This means that we are being the church when we are following Jesus’ teachings, seeking to live into the Kin-dom of God.  I think we all can get behind that.  Good church leadership, whether from a pastor or a lay leader, or a congregational meeting, is leadership that puts Jesus’ teachings into practice.  It also means something more.  God is active in and through this community, inviting and guiding us to fulfill our mission.  Jesus said that wherever two or more are gathered in his name, he is there.  And our tradition says we can be “inspired,” filled with God’s spirit, as we do our part, small or large, to put Jesus’ teachings into practice. 

No one of us has a special line to God. All of us have the responsibility to think and pray and discuss how we in this church can faithfully serve God. That's the wonderful freedom, and responsibility, of our congregational way.

How do we act responsibly?  First, we fill our own cup.  Seek the spiritual resources we need to be free of fear and full of faith, hope, love.  And then what do we do? Because Christians describe God as Trinity, we can:
            Do God's will, 
                        (Or, as process theology would say it, co-create with God,)
            Be a follower of Jesus, or
            Be led by the Holy Spirit.
These are three different ways of expressing the same thing.  I have a fondness for the language of the Spirit, because back when my scientific brain could not wrap itself around human metaphors for the sacred, I could picture a Spirit, like the Force from Star Wars.

Our reading is about some new leaders getting filled with the Spirit, back in Moses’ day. Some people think the Holy Spirit first came to earth on Pentecost.  The Spirit first appears in our bible in Genesis chapter 1, hovering over the waters at the dawn of creation.  What was new at Pentecost was the realization that God's Spirit comes not only to special people, prophets and leaders.  All of us can expect a share of the Spirit.  

So, God’s Spirit acts not only through the leaders of the church but in and through any person the Spirit chooses.  God’s Spirit acts not only in the church but outside it, in nature and in people of other faiths and people of no faith. Maybe that's why, in much of Christian history, the Spirit has been the ignored member of the Trinity.  To an established hierarchy hanging onto power, the Spirit is dangerous.  It is God acting outside the approved channels, shaking things up, making us rethink our ideas about what God expects of us.  Some people think they own the franchise on God and they will dole it out to the rest of us.  The Spirit terrifies those people.  They can't control it!    

But how do you track this Spirit?  We can never prove God did something.  That's why we have the Christian Faith, not the Christian Fact.  So we can never be one hundred percent sure that it's God inspiring you or me to do this or that.  Yet we have to use our best guess. We make space for God’s spirit to act in and through us when we come together with open minds, and learn from one another, and listen. 

Those of us with a spiritual bent may claim quite dramatic encounters with the sacred, as Spirit or otherwise.  Those of us who are more logical-minded may see this Spirit stuff as metaphor for opening ourselves to fully use the wisdom and sacred values in and beyond our conscious thought.  In either case, making room for God’s spirit makes a congregational meeting very different from a business meeting of a company or a governmental body.  We consciously seek to follow Jesus, co-create with God, be led by the spirit, right in the middle of Robert’s Rules of Order.

Our bible reading is from the time when Moses was leading the people through their forty years of desert wandering.  Moses had so many people to look after.  He had practically a small country, or at least a mega-church, because there was no separation of church and state at that time.  At the end of each day’s wandering, Moses set up his bench and became the peoples’ governor, judge and mediator. He had to do this late into the night, because there wasn’t enough of Moses to go around for the number of people who had questions to be answered and disputes to settle.  When it became clear that he was exhausting himself in a way that wasn’t good for anyone, Moses finally decided to call upon seventy people to help him.  At one point the bible says God told him directly to get seventy helpers, and another time his father-in-law told him.  No contradiction there; Spirit works through people to guide us, and the Spirit often has to tell us more than once to get through to us.  In the case of choosing the seventy leaders, God was guiding Moses to create structures for governing this growing group of people who needed good governance. Seventy district court judges, or clan heads, who could rule on the day-to-day stuff and save Moses’ energy for the big stuff. And Moses gathered them together, a curious thing happened.

The whole group of seventy new leaders (almost) went up to the tent of meeting, and Moses gave them a portion of God's Spirit. Don’t ask me how that works.  What did God's Spirit do for them?  It sounds downright Pentecostal:  ecstatic prophesying.  I'm sure there was shouting and dancing too.  That may not be how our cup gets filled, but it worked for them. 

Moses delegating leadership was a difficult transition.  Before, you could bring their concerns directly to the mighty Moses, even if you had to stand in line all night.  Now you just brought them to your Uncle Daniel.  But everybody knew that something important had happened to Uncle Daniel that day in front of the tent; they saw it.  This visible sign that these new leaders were in touch with God helped everyone trust them. 

Eldad and Medad (don't you love those names), didn't even go up to tent of meeting with the other sixty-eight, yet somehow they got the Spirit too. But some conscientious people reported Eldad and Medad to Moses, those troublemakers.  And Moses said why are you complaining? You’re complaining that God’s spirit filled somebody in the wrong place?  You're worried about somebody with God’s spirit undermining my authority?  I'm not.  I wish all of you could have God’s spirit.  Now we know we can.

A lovely Jewish tradition says the reason Eldad and Medad did not go with the rest of the leaders up to the tent of meeting is that they were so humble.  And because they were so humble, God chose to fill them with Spirit longer than any of the other new leaders. We might say they got their egos and their own plans out of the way so God’s spirit had room to act. 

I trust the decisions and processes of this church because I trust that we are all led by God’s Spirit, and enough of us are paying attention to that leading.  No one of us knows the way forward in detail.  Yet with sound processes, as humble and Spirit-led people, we will discover it.  

We are also led as individuals.  Where is God’s Spirit guiding you to serve this church or this community?  How is Spirit leading you you to be a parent, or grandparent, or activist, artist, caregiver, or friend?  The same principles apply to our whole lives.  

Please keep pondering with me:  How can we co-create with God?  How do we follow Jesus, inside and outside the church?  How can we follow the guidance of the Spirit?.  I am glad we have this community to learn together to be Spirit-led.  That's the way I want to live, and I hope it's the way you want to live too.  Amen.

The Face of Jesus



Immigrants from Mexico and Central America are being called animals, painted with a broad brush as criminals, by our president. Muslim is made synonymous with terrorist.  This instills fear.  Fear is the point; fear rallies voters.  Labeling immigrants dangerous criminals is a quick and false solution to the social and economic problems our country faces.  That is scapegoating.  Let’s name it as scapegoating.  Blame an innocent “other” to unify people around hate and fear. Fear and scapegoating are at the heart of our post-9/11 immigration policy; they didn’t start with the current administration. And our laws have long allowed brutal treatment of immigrants.

May we weep in repentance for the soul of our country.  May we bear words of comfort to those in fear, and words of challenge to those who scapegoat and hate.  May we truly trust that love wins in the end, and call upon that love to help us make our immigrant neighbors welcome.  May we see in immigrants the face of Jesus. 

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Brea Congregational United Church of Christ
June 24, 2018

Bad News, Good News (about Immigration)

Rom. 12:9-21  Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.  12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 
            14  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


The Good News of Jesus Christ is a jewel with many facets. At its heart is the reality that we can love because we first were loved.  We can name what is broken in us and invite healing and transformation, because we all are broken and we have been invited into healing and transformation.  We can face terror and heartbreak and not lose heart, because at the heart of the universe is love, and love wins in the end. If love hasn’t won, it’s not yet the end. 

Now for the bad news.  On Thursday June 14, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used a bible verse to justify the separation of young children from their parents at the border.  The verse he chose is immediately after the portion we read.  Those would appear to condemn the actions he was trying to justify. He said, "I would cite to you the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order."

The first verses of Romans 13 have been cited throughout the ages to short-circuit Christian resistance to every unjust law or regime you can imagine. Romans 13 especially popular among those defending the Fugitive Slave Act in the run-up to the Civil War. It was used repeatedly in the 1930’s to justify Hitler.  And it was used by defenders of South African Apartheid and of our own Jim Crow segregation.

Sessions’s suggestion that Romans 13 represents some sort of absolute, inflexible rule for the universe has been refuted by religious authorities again and again. Augustine said that “an unjust law is no law at all.” In Romans 13, Paul was pretty clearly rejecting a significant view among Christians of his day: that civil authorities deserved no obedience in any circumstance.

Even if taken out of context, in Romans 13 Paul is the shepherd telling the sheep that just as they must love their enemies, they must also recognize that the wolf is part of God’s world. In today’s context, Jeff Sessions is that wolf, and no matter what you think of his policies, he is not entitled to quote the shepherd on his own behalf.  Maybe those desperate women and men at the border should suck it up and accept their terrible lot in life and defer to Jeff Sessions’ idolatrous grasp on evil laws. But for the sake of all that is holy, don’t quote the Bible to make the Trump administration’s policies towards immigrant families sound godly. (Paraphrasing and quoting Ed Kilgore, “No, Jeff Session, separating Kids from their Parents isn’t ‘Biblical.’” New York Magazine, June 14 2018)

Bible and religion are justifying cruel and bullying behavior in the public sphere regularly these days. That is bad news. People hearing it conclude that the Christian religion is bad news.  

If you take the bible literally as a guide to behavior, you will get mixed messages about a lot of things, and truly scary messages about a few things, with one notable exception.  As I read it, the bible is crystal clear, and speaks in one voice, about how to treat immigrants and refugees. Leviticus 19:33-34 (which I read to the Brea City Council): When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.  Matthew 25:35: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  And many more. The most compelling bible passage for me is the Good Samaritan, a story about a foreigner going out of his way and spending lots of money to help aforeigner who probably considered him a lesser breed of human. 

Our call as followers of Jesus is clear. Welcome the stranger, the immigrant and refugee.  Not just when it’s convenient.  The number of people seeking safety and opportunity in the United States is overwhelming.  So we can acknowledge the tension between the call of our faith and what is easy or practical in public policy.  But if our faith is real, we don’t abandon it because it’s “impractical.” 

America’s identity has been as a land of immigrants, a land of opportunity. That identity always had some cracks in it; ask African-Americans how they got here, or Native Americans about their child separation, among other crimes. But until recently, we were the country that took in more refugees and more legal immigrants than any other.  Emma Lazarus’ words for the Statue of Liberty are so radiant because they mark a nation’s aspirations that are in tune with the Good News of Jesus. 
            “Give me your tired, your poor, 
            Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
            The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
            Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, 
            I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

14% of the American population is foreign-born. About 3% are undocumented.  In Orange County over 30% of us are foreign-born. 99% of us are the descendants of immigrants.  Religion aside, how dare we slam shut that golden door after we have walked through it?  But our religion is not an aside.  “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” 

The architects of this recent child separation sought to deter refugees by being stunningly cruel, and advertising being cruel.  That’s new. But those “child cages” are not new.  They were built during the Obama administration to temporarily house unaccompanied teenagers, who started coming to our borders in large numbers in 2014. Those children were fleeing horrific violence and economic collapse in Central America.  They still are.

The Department of Homeland Security, DHS, which includes Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, was created in response to 9/11/2001.  9/11 is when we began to fear immigrants.  Back in 2003 the DHS stated, and I quote, “Moving toward a 100% rate of removal for all removable aliens is critical to allow the ICE to provide the level of immigration enforcement necessary to keep America secure.” Did you catch that? They are saying that anyundocumented people are a danger. That’s called scapegoating.  Blame all your problems on some innocent goat, or people, and then drive them away to solve your problems.
                                                                                       
All removable aliens. 11.7 million people, including about 2 million Dreamers, people who arrived as children, many of whom know no other country, and have no way to become legal residents, and 5 million more people who have been here for more than five years and are parents of American children, and also have no way to become legal residents. 

Jailing immigrants started back in the 1990’s.  Under the Bush and Obama administrations after 9/11, detention camps were built and filled, but the work was being done quietly. I overlooked it; did you?  Some of the pictures of youth in cages that we’ve been seeing date to 2016.  Stories of infant separation date to 2012 and before.  I overlooked it; did you?  Immigrants did not overlook it.  They have lived in fear since 9/11, though that fear has heighted under the current adminstration. ICE wasted no time in taking advantage of a more supportive administration to tighten the screws.

At the beginning of this year, a staggering 800,000 people awaited a hearing on their immigration status.  There are 300 judges to hear those 800,000 cases. Over 40,000 people awaiting hearings were in detention at any given time in 2017, including families with small children.  Detention is a nice word for jail. We can guess the numbers are much larger recently since “zero tolerance” means automatic detention at the border instead of escort back to Mexico. Tent cities?  You bet. And billions of dollars.

Since 9/11, immigrants have been jailed all over the country, in tent cities, warehouses, for-profit prisons, and the James Musick jail in Irvine. My friend Betty Guthrie works with an organization called Friends of Orange County Detainees.  She told me that people with legitimate cases for political asylum go to jail when they present themselves at our border. Family separation happens every day when parents are jailed for being undocumented. Their children go to family, friends, or the foster care system; nowadays family and friends are often afraid to take them in for fear of being jailed themselves. Detainees have no right to legal representation, even if they claim asylum from danger in their country of origin. No legal representation. This is because deportation and asylum hearings are not criminal hearings; they are civil matters; misdemeanors. 

They are civil because undocumented entry into the U.S. is not a crime. Let me say that again.  Undocumented entry into the U.S. is not a crime!  Asylum seekers are jailed for months or years because of a civil violation. If they have around six thousand dollars and the knowledge required, asylum seekers can get released on bond.  But if they challenge their case, they have to stay in jail during the challenge, which can take years. Two-thirds of immigrants have no legal representation for their hearing.  People without representation are ten times as likely to be deported as those who have representation. People with money have a decent shot of eventually getting legal status; poor people almost never do.

If you have anything on your record and you have so much as a parking ticket and your skin is brown, forget it. Not showing up to a scheduled hearing.  A teenage indiscretion.  None of us here have those I’m sure.  A parking ticket.  Now you’re really a criminal.  

Last July I met the family of Liliana Cruz Mendez. She was a resident of Virginia for more than ten years.  In 2013 she was pulled over for a broken headlight, and that gave her a “criminal record.” She was granted a stay of deportation.  In July of 2017 she went to her annual ICE check-in, and from there straight to detention in another city without time to phone her family.  I prayed with Liliana’s husband and two children. It was heartbreaking. Despite rallies and great news coverage for her case, and the governor of Virgina pardoning her broken headlight ticket, she was deported to El Salvador within days. But the laws that allowed it to happen are also evil.  Liliana won’t be eligible to even apply to legally immigrate back to the U.S. for ten years, when her son will be 20, and her daughter 14. 

Immigrants from Mexico and Central America are being called animals, painted with a broad brush as criminals, by our president. Muslim is made synonymous with terrorist.  This instills fear.  Fear is the point; fear rallies voters.  Labeling immigrants dangerous criminals is a quick and false solution to the social and economic problems our country faces.  That is scapegoating.  Let’s name it as scapegoating.  Blame an innocent “other” to unify people around hate and fear. Fear and scapegoating are at the heart of our post-9/11 immigration policy; they didn’t start with the current administration. And our laws have long allowed brutal treatment of immigrants.

That is a whole lot of bad news. Ironically, good news begins to happen when we, who have been blessed by this country’s welcome, begin to taste the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters. We must see and feel and name what is broken before it can be healed and transformed. 

The need is truly overwhelming.  We may not be able to be as compassionate a country as our faith tells us to be, but we can do so much better.  In fact, we might want to get good at welcoming refugees because climate change is coming.  In case we are whining about being overburdened, contemplate the fate of Lebanon. That country of four million has taken in one million Syrian refugees.

So where’s the Good News? Good news happens when we name our unjust immigration laws and cruel policies for what they are, scapegoating, and when we advocate for justice.  Like: Don’t imprison immigrants, and don’t make minor infractions into criminal charges. Good news happens when Friends of Orange County Detainees visit asylum seekers in the Musick jail so they know they are not forgotten, and when angel donors raise thousands of dollars to release an asylum seeker on bail, or even give enough money for a parent to phone a child from jail.   Good news happens when volunteers host legal clinics for immigrants.  Good news happens when we as Christians speak out to counter the twisted narrative of fear and scapegoating that has overtaken our country, when we speak out for Jesus’ law of love, and his imperative to welcome the stranger.

Are you scared of America being overrun by immigrants?  Well here we all are!  It happened a long time ago.

I can’t put a bow on this sermon; the topic of immigration is big and confusing and messy, but I can give you a lot of footnotes.  May we weep in repentance for the soul of our country.  May we bear words of comfort to those in fear, and words of challenge to those who scapegoat and hate.  May we truly trust that love wins in the end, and call upon that love to help us make our immigrant neighbors welcome.  May we see in immigrants the face of Jesus.  Amen.

Holy Rest


A story is told of some American missionaries who were traveling to a remote location somewhere in Africa.  The last part of their route had no roads, only narrow trails.  They had to walk.  These missionaries had quite a bit of baggage, so they hired a group of local people to be their porters, and carry all that baggage.  Together they hiked across rocky plains and they forded streams, they walked narrow paths with dangerous drop-offs, and they camped each night.  For three days, the Americans set a brisk pace, stopping only when it got dark, getting up early to head on down the trail. The local people followed along.  

On noon of the fourth day, they stopped for lunch in the shade by a river. After a half hour the missionaries were ready to hit the road again.  The local people were all sitting on the baggage under some shade trees, watching the river and talking quietly.  They ignored the calls and hand-waving of their bosses.  The Americans got frustrated.  “Tell them it’s time to go,” they told their translator.  After a brief consultation, the translator came back and reported, “They say they cannot go any further until their souls catch up with their bodies.” 

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Brea Congregational United Church of Christ
June 17, 2018

God’s Rhythm

Psalm 127:1-2  Unless the LORD builds the house,
                        those who build it labor in vain.
            Unless God guards the city,
                        the guard keeps watch in vain.
            It is in vain that you rise up early
                        and go late to rest,
            eating the bread of anxious toil;
                        for God gives sleep to his beloved.

Mark 6:30-32   The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.  31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.  32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 

A story is told of some American missionaries who were traveling to a remote location somewhere in Africa.  The last part of their route had no roads, only narrow trails.  They had to walk.  These missionaries had quite a bit of baggage, so they hired a group of local people to be their porters, and carry all that baggage.  Together they hiked across rocky plains and they forded streams, they walked narrow paths with dangerous drop-offs, and they camped each night.  For three days, the Americans set a brisk pace, stopping only when it got dark, getting up early to head on down the trail. The local people followed along. 

On noon of the fourth day, they stopped for lunch in the shade by a river. After a half hour the missionaries were ready to hit the road again.  The local people were all sitting on the baggage under some shade trees, watching the river and talking quietly.  They ignored the calls and hand-waving of their bosses.  The Americans got frustrated.  “Tell them it’s time to go,” they told their translator.  After a brief consultation, the translator came back and reported, “They say they cannot go any further until their souls catch up with their bodies.” 

Does anybody else besides me routinely set a pace for living so that your soul has trouble catching up with your body?  Our culture teaches us that more is better.  More work, more play, more self-improvement, more bargain hunting, more achievement, more volunteering, more efficiency, more, more, more…  Letting your soul catch up with your body is not part of that program.

The bread of anxious toil, the psalmist calls it. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s good poetry.  When we are running from one activity to the next, how will we make room for the sacred?  For caring?  For wisdom?  How will we recognize and appreciate the gifts we are given? Tending relationships takes time. How will we listen to the signals of our own bodies, our hearts, telling us what we need to thrive?

As we transition to summer, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that we can take holy rest.  Time for pondering and praying, for receiving the beauty of the earth and the love of our friends and family.  Rest is not a luxury.  Rest is biblically sound, and medically sound, and ethically sound.

Burnout can come from working so long and hard that our bodies crash.  But more often burnout comes from feeling anxious and discouraged, despairing and disconnected from what matters.  From not attending to our souls.

The antidote to burnout is not just rest, but holy rest, time spent remembering who we are, and whose we are. Our worth does not come from what we produce.  We are not human doings.  Our worth is assured.  We are children of a God who loves us beyond measure.  We don’t have to earn that love by working harder or faster.  We are human beings, not human doings.

I learned my adult faith from Methodists.  Their founder John Wesley said:
            Do all the good you can,
            In all the ways you can,
            To all the people you can,
            Just as long as you can.
That’s a great slogan.  In practice, it can be exhausting.  Methodists keep busy.  They have more committees than UCCers.  They have many collections for many good causes. Their regional meetings make our regional meetings look short.  When I talked to my good friend Joy about what her Methodist church in Newport Beach (same size as ours) has been up to, I felt jealous.  Then I thought about it a little longer, and I felt relieved.

I will be brainstorming this summer what we can do to have fun and learn and love and serve God.  You are allowed to remind me I am no longer a Methodist.  You are allowed to say “no thanks” to my bright idea when you need time for your soul to catch up to your body.  You are allowed to do what you do around here not for efficiency; but do it for love, with heart, with passion, with imagination.

When we slow down, it can happen that some things we were running from catch up with us.  Fears, guilts, disappointed expectations, griefs.  They were there all along though we were too busy to recognize them; they were stealing our freedom and our joy. 

This is how I usually realize that my soul needs to catch up with my body, when I can’t enjoy what I’m doing.  When I finally feel bad enough, I stop and ask myself, “What’s going on here?”  I discover what it is that’s been making me eat that bread of anxious toil, and then I can give it over to God. It’s me avoiding that one thing I really do need to do, or worrying about how to fix that thing that it’s not my job to fix. When I slow down, pray about it, talk it through with a buddy, and sleep on it, what I need to do and what I need to let go become clear. I get peace, lightness. I see that path forward. I longer eat the bread of anxious toil.

When we get in touch with the huge needs in the world, we can feel guilty if we’re not stepping up for every good cause.  How can we relax when climate change is accelerating?  How can we take time off when our democracy seems to be unraveling? And what about the migrant children?  It can tear us apart. Yet our anxiety only reinforces the climate of fear that oppresses us all.  We can exhaust ourselves without accomplishing anything.

In order to show up for the deep challenges of our time, we need to be firmly rooted in our sacred identity as children of God, co-creators of hope and healing.  We need to hang on to our souls for dear life.  We will burn out or tune out unless we find God’s rhythm.  It takes time to grieve.  It takes time to pray and do my homework, sleep on it, and wait to discover: what is one small thing I can do that might make a difference.  Not fix the problem.  That’s way beyond my pay grade.  If I imagine we have to fix these things, I will burn out. 

But we are not alone. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for God gives sleep to God’s beloved.  And we are each of us God’s beloved. God is with us, in us, ready to help, if we slow down and listen. Also, find a buddy or a mentor, because it’s easier to hear God with a little perspective on the issue.  Asking for help takes time too!

God would love to collaborate with us to create something wonderful.  In order to do that, we might have to make space in our busy lives, set aside our preconceived ideas, and listen.  Maybe for a still small voice.  Maybe for the voice of a wise companion. And maybe listen to our own heart.

And what will you and God create?  Maybe just a peaceful heart.  “Just” a peaceful heart. Maybe you will create a Spirit-filled space to listen and love and just be.  “Just” be.  Maybe the seed of an idea that will be a long time growing into something you can’t yet imagine.  Maybe you and God will create the courage to do one small thing that is most needed.  Or the wisdom not to do that thing that really won’t help. 

Meditation is one tool we can use to slow down and let our souls catch up to our bodies.  Jesus said, Come away to a wild place all by yourselves and rest a while.   In your mind’s eye, picture a place in nature to rest, and imagine yourself there. Let it be a beautiful place, a sacred place.  A place where your soul can catch up to your body; where you experience the sacred and find hope.

Here is a poem by Ted Loder that I have on my phone, for when I need it:
Gentle me,
Holy One,
into an unclenched moment,
      a deep breath,
            a letting go
                        of heavy expectancies,
                                    of shriveling anxieties
                                                of dead certainties.
that, softened by the silence,
      surrounded by the light,
            and open to the mystery,
I may be found by wholeness,
      upheld by the unfathomable,
            entranced by the simple
                        and filled with the joy
                           that is you.
Amen.