in the land of the living

I keep thinking about prayer. I keep wanting pray in this space, to tell you something, to lean over and bend knees and heart with you. 

This is what I pray over us, we who live and move in the ragged tumble towards heaven, on the outskirts of certainty, we who have thrown off the confidence we used to wear so timidly – 

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. – Psalm 27.13

In the land of the living. The goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, the present, the here and now that builds and begins and springs forth under our feet. I cry it out in between stoplights, as I cross under the highway in the middle of fearing that I will never know the goodness of the Lord because I am not enough. 

I pray this wildly over us, abandoning for a moment the usual lilting words, the customary blog post format, the worries that you’ll think less or differently of me – 

I pray that King Jesus, in whom we are more than conquerors, will cast forth from you all that keeps you from the hope of the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 

I pray that Jesus will show up, right in the middle of wherever you are, disrupt the everyday where we become so good at avoiding him, and remind you that nothing in this world and nothing to come, nothing in heaven or on earth, can separate you from Him: 

not exams nor papers written late into the night

not a messy house nor a missed deadline

not a broken heart nor a mending one

not what you have nor what you don’t 

not fighting nor going silent nor raging nor the thing you shouldn’t have said but you did nor the thing you meant to say and forgot nor the misunderstanding nor the awkward afternoon nor the time wasted or well spent…

None of it can separate you from the love of God in Jesus.  

I would have lost heart tonight between stoplights. I would have lost heart in the beginning of doing a new thing and being so afraid of failing at it – I would have lost heart in the promises of God, right there three blocks away from home -

But I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 

We will see this goodness, this year, this month, this week, because we are in the land of the living and we are walking with a God who covenants with a people the promise of His presence. We are in the midst of God, of the goodness of God, of the love of God. I believe you will see it stretched wide and loud over your life. I believe you will find that God comes into the midst of you, disrupting the comfortable patterns, the way you think at stoplights or when you’re folding laundry, the quiet despair that creeps into our days that what we do is not enough. 

I believe the goodness of the Lord will be seen in this land of the living.

I pray that we stumble into this believing until it has nestled between our bones. I pray that we call out to God to keep His promises to us. I pray that we get on our knees often, preaching the power of the love of God, preaching the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 

I believe it tonight; that I will see this goodness. I’m whispering it over us.

Love,
hilary

there is no safe gospel

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13.47-50)

I read this in a room full of light, warmth trickling across my palms on the table. I’m wearing a favorite grey dress. I’m in a circle of thoughtful and kind people, and we are bending our heads in morning prayer, coffee cups nearby, open notebooks. I’ve been asked to read the Gospel lesson.

I read that there will be a separating of the righteous and the evil, that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And the warmth seems to evaporate from me as I let the words spill forth, proclaimed into the spaces between our rolled up sleeves. The Word of the Lord is living and active, we say – and I speak and Jesus stops me, my comfortable dress, my comfortable coffee, my comfortable posture in a comfortable room full of light.

This is an uncomfortable parable.

I start to pray in something between a condescending and a wishful-thinking tone of voice, something he is unamused by. I tell myself I am just asking why he preaches to us in stories. But the truth is I’m asking, Why did I have to read that parable? Why couldn’t I have gotten to read the one about the pearl of great price or the mustard seed or the treasure in the field? 

It isn’t just that I wonder why he teaches in parables -

it’s that I don’t really want to proclaim the teachings that I don’t like or understand

that I don’t really want to be linked to something uncomfortable

that I don’t really want to be that close to some of the teachings because speaking them out makes me uncomfortable.

Jesus just looks back at me.

My junior year of college I memorized the first chapter of John in French, a project for a French class. I recited it in a brightly lit room in the morning, wearing a comfortable dress. If I close my eyes now, the words can sometimes still appear – my favorite sentence -

Le lendemain, il vit Jésus venant à lui, et il dit: Voici l’Agneau de Dieu, qui ôte le péché du monde. 

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

There is no safe Gospel. There is no encounter with the Word that will leave us comfortable. Comforted, perhaps, but only first through the upheaval of our worlds, the collapse of our presuppositions, the relinquishing of our desire to have the easiest story to tell. We cannot claim Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of world if we are clinging to a tamer, easier version, without the uncomfortable parables or the uncertainties or the radical promises or the hardest questions. The power of the declaration is in how unsafe it is, how transforming, how world-shaking.

I cannot say, Voici l’Agneau de Dieu, qui ôte le péché du monde if I am always searching for a way to make Jesus safer, or find Gospel passages easier to read in a brightly lit room in morning prayer.

I have to give up my search for the safe Gospel.

I’m still wrestling the parable of the nets, still going back again and again for an explanation, for understanding, for the right way to read it.

And in the midst of that wrestling, not on the other side of it, not beyond it, not anywhere but the sweating tired mess of giving up the idea that I’ll wake up to a comfortable, non-radical Jesus, and trying to learn what it means to preach this unsafe and life-changing Gospel in my life, in my heart, in the world -

Voici, l’Agneau de Dieu, qui ôte le péché du monde. 

Behold.

Love,
hilary

the gift is given

It’s a slow morning, the kind that you take a long time to wake up fully, not sure if your dream has shifted into sunlight or if you’re still in the midst of it. There is a quiet to this kind of morning and an unrest, too, and the heart is full, always, achingly, full.

I’ve been trying to sit with the Bible more lately. I’m a lover of the liturgy, prayer book guidance to the Word. I’m more likely to trust what someone else appoints for me to read than I am to trust my gut telling me where I need to go. So when I sit, alone for a few moments, on the familiar porch, and God says, read about washing the disciples’ feet, I’m almost too quick to resist it.

Isn’t that always the giveaway? We find a reason not to, a reason it’s out of order or our sermon series has us meditating on something else, we must consult a calendar and a guide to be in the Word the right way?

So I slink towards John, chapter 13.

And Jesus got up from the table.

He got up from the table and took off his outer robe and took a basin and knelt and washed their feet. These, whom he loved until the end, these, whom he cherished. These, who knew so little about what they had seen. These scattered sheep. He washed their feet.

“You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

I am only the first few steps along the cracked cement of understanding, and I’m holding my arms out to balance myself as I read out loud these words.

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 

Is there anything more beautiful?

Is there anything more precious than this? That we were taught by his way of living. That we were known in the washing of our feet, and this morning I need Jesus to wash my feet again.

I need Jesus to show me how he will come into the midst of everything that is still a mess inside me and he will hold it tenderly, he will change it, he will do this wild act of grace on my heart and set me free. I need Jesus to make the lesson alive in the doing of it, not just the thinking or the idea-making or the understanding-seeking that so often and so quickly becomes misunderstanding. It wasn’t about the prayer book appointed reading today, it was about Jesus coming to me and taking off his robe and washing my feet.

And I do not understand one thing about this love but that it is gift and it has been given to me.

These mornings I go to the Word because the Word is life because the Word is a lifeline in the days where the joy meets the ache and it collides in my heart. These mornings I sit and shrink away but I keep going back because I am sold out to this Jesus, who washes the disciples’ feet, who tells us again and again to love as he loved us, we whom he calls friends, not servants. I go back, again and again, to King Jesus because King Jesus is life, because he is freedom, because he is the fullness of beauty, because he knows me.

And I do not understand one thing about Jesus’ love but that it is gift, it is washing my feet, it is meeting me on my familiar porch, with such tenderness, with such freedom. It is gift, and it has been given.

Love,
hilary

go free, prisoner

I find myself looking at Jesus out the window of the borrowed Highlander in the midst of Waco.

He is there clearly in my mind, maybe car windows can be like the iconostasis some days, that piercing window into heaven, that stirring up of your spirit to meet the Spirit.

It’s just a few days before Pentecost.

I have been in the midst of telling Jesus that I am trapped in my mind, lost in the sea of obligations. I have been telling Jesus with the bold and arrogant assumption more often made by the accustomed Christian that Jesus is mild-mannered and so tolerating this rant, and that eventually the emotions will subside and I’ll go on, and Jesus will go on, both of us mostly unchanged.

Let me tell you something: that is not Jesus.

Instead I hear the thought ripple – no, that’s too gentle – rip into my mind, hurricane wind, not just a little bit of fire in the voice. I am telling you, go free, prisoner. 

I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jesus, the easiest lie, the lie of pretended incomprehension, because a God that we say is so beyond our knowing surely cannot be speaking so clearly to us, to me, as I stare out the car window hoping against hope that I can find my way around the words.

I am telling you, go free, prisoner. 

It takes nothing less than the Spirit to shake us out of our assumed ignorance back into the obvious truths, the who we are before and afters. Because I am so much of the time a prisoner rattling the iron walls when the door behind me is swinging open and it is Jesus who stands there, arms open, waiting. I am the too busy noticing my own struggles to see that the shackles are at my feet, that the sun through the window is the first day of the week and I’m living in the time of the resurrection.

I do this with the story of how eating became harder, or how I don’t know how to stand up for myself, or how I am too people pleasing or too quick to worry or how I don’t know when to allow myself to feel grace because I worry that if I give myself room to not be perfect I’ll collapse altogether. I rattle the walls of the prison of I should be better or I should do more or I am not good enough at 

and then there is Jesus, calling for me – go free. 

Me, in that car, driving through Waco, and there is Jesus, caring so much more than I imagine he does. Not mild-mannered, not indifferent, not unconcerned. No, I meet Jesus who says, Go free, prisoner, and who keeps calling out to me, who is relentless in the message that my heart is no longer bound anymore, but freed. That there is no need to rattle the walls because the door is opened, because life is beginning.

Just a few days before Pentecost I hear again the old story, the Gospel of the radical concerned grace of God – that God will not be mild-mannered or indifferent with us, but come to us, driving through Waco or when we are in front leading worship or as we glance back at the iconostasis, and Jesus will keep saying, go free, prisoner. I have loved you, I have freed you, you are urgent and important to me, you belong to me. 

Oh, how the Gospel needs preaching again and again to this tired heart.

And oh, how good God is, to still come shout it over me.

Love,
hilary

for when God has time for you

He pulls me onto his lap in the chair he always sits in to type out the emails, the tasks, the daily-to-do’s that pile high in the cramped spaces of our lives.

It was a series of comments about this or that thing not fitting well anymore, this or that salad I should have could have eaten, this or that friend I probably should have texted again but didn’t…

He held me there when I started to pull away, back into the familiar chaos of the busy, making the customary excuses to avoid the quiet place – you’re busy, I’m busy, no one has enough time, this will be too unwieldy, this mess of my heart and don’t you want me to just buckle down and get myself under control? We only have this many days until everything changes.

“What would Jesus say about that?” He repeats the question twice before I make eye contact, and again once I do, holding my waist still.

I gulp, oxygen suddenly a precious gift, because it’s the Name, Jesus, that still undoes my heart at its sounding. I am not sure how to breathe anymore because my husband to be asks me what Jesus would say to me. He doesn’t try to fix it with his words, just keeps his hands fixed, because I am going to run away from Jesus if he doesn’t help me anchor myself there. Because he knows, and I know, that Jesus has something to say to me.

“I don’t know!”

I get angry, the second kind of reaction. If not flight, then fight, and it comes out biting and cold and full of frustration. I don’t know, which means why are you asking, which means can we please not do this and can we please not encounter this.

But this life does not obey our fighting or our flights, and encounter is gifted to us in the worst times because the worst times are the needed times.

I don’t want to answer this question, because the answer is this: Jesus would say, Come here. I have time for you.

I have time for your mistake

I have time to talk about all this chaos, this wedding, this waiting, the days when it feels impossible to do the work I give you

I have time to breathe next to you

I have time to hear you

I have time to remind you that not everything you have ever done is wrong

Jesus is Lord of time. Who am I to tell him he doesn’t have enough of it? Jesus is the Word made Flesh dwelling in the midst of us. Who am I to tell him he doesn’t want to spend time with a sinner-trying-to-be-saint like me? Jesus is the tabernacling, ever-drawing-us-nearer Physician of the soul and body. Who am I to tell him that he shouldn’t be interested in healing me?

My husband to be keeps his hands on my waist while we sit in that all-too-familiar chair, and keeps me there, so that I can answer this question. What would Jesus say to that?

And fellow wanderers, worshippers, lovers of leaving, caravaners on the road and you who are lost in the jungle and you who are scorched by the sand in the desert at noonday and you who walk so calmly and you who ask the fourth question of God when we all stop at three and you who doesn’t know how to believe God has time for the sinners, for the people who should know better and still break -

Jesus says,

Come to me.

Love,
hilary

when we are not competing

I go to the gym and almost start to cry. There is a row of treadmills and a row of elliptical machines, pristine from the spray-and-wipe-down routine religiously followed by most of the gym-goers. I don’t know where to start, and so I choose an elliptical machine, a familiar one, and I plug in my headphones.

But I can’t shake this worry that starts after about minute 3 that the soccer girls next to me are much better at this. I can’t shake the worry that the woman to my left is decidedly unimpressed with the level I put my resistance at and that she is better because hers is over 30 and mine is just 22. I keep my eyes fixed on the orange blinking lights, minute by minute, and amid the shouts of encouragement from the first string center forward to the striker who are running faster than I will probably ever run in my life, I start to calculate it – more loved based on calories burned or miles run, better person, more virtuous version of herself, actually excellent, more good and beautiful than me.

A little while ago I read this post from the lovely woman over at Scissortail Silk, about we aren’t each other’s competition, not one more standard to measure against in this already overmeasured world.

And I am fired up and I start this post, my blog says, at the end of March. I think, we are not competing, and I wanted to write and say it out loud, that we, the bakers and butchers and lawyers and authors and midwives, we are all in the ragged band of beautiful making our way towards heaven.

We are all, I want to tell you, the raw art, the rare creation. We are all, not in the diluted universals we always use, but in the particular concentration of mitochondrial DNA and endless cells recombining and holding us together, in the concentrated, intense, fiercest way – we are all and each the uniqueness we cannot fathom.

I wanted to say this when I first read those true words – we are not each other’s competition – but somewhere I lost the message. I went out into the world thinking I had the voice of a prophet and I still preached a fear of the bathroom scale. I still proclaimed scarcity.

It can be hard to remember that the work of becoming well is a series of hills you fall down, and the falling and rising, they live together. And so I marched out in March thinking I could wear the banner of the not-competition, and it is May, and I am still sewing the pieces together.

But here is what I know, what I preach next to you, in my nervous ponytail making our way through the jungle of the kingdom of God:

God is too particular about us to compare.

God is too intent on us, on the molecules of being, on how we move and lie down and arise, to watch the numbers at the gym and mark us in a rank of better to worse, against each other.

If it is true that God wrestled with Jacob, if it is true that Jesus appeared to Mary and called her name, Mary, like that, each syllable resounding with news of the resurrection and life -

then we cannot be competing.

Because as Jesus calls her Mary, so Jesus calls me Hilary. So Jesus calls you, calls the striker and the first string center forward, calls the Zumba class ladies and the lawyers and butchers and authors.

If God is really wrestling with each of us, our bones pressing against God, our lungs stretched to keep breathing the air that gives the life as we wrestle with the Lifegiver,

then we are not competing.

We are each the beloved, particular, wrestlers with God.

We are each the remarkable made alive again.

We are each so singularly loved that God laughs at our comparisons, touches our hip socket with His laughter.

And so shall I be delivered.

Love,
hilary

i bind unto myself

There is a feeling, deep in the pit of my stomach, when I sing. It’s not there when I sing just anything, though. I can belt out “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” at a Cabaret night in high school or sing along with Jack Johnson that senior year beginning in the fall with the lazy sunset and the cabin where the seniors got to spend the last night, without it. It isn’t just the love of opening my mouth and hearing my vocal chords spill over into the air, into the room, into your hearing.

It only happens when I sing hymns.

I used to think them too old, but I didn’t grow up in the youth groups and the guitar lessons, the right chords to Hillsong and Chris Tomlin. A friend who went to a congregational church did, filled with stories of the ski trips and missions trips and summer bible studies, filled with games and the healthy junk food and the praise songs, that got you up off your chair and swaying, as you closed your eyes and, it seemed, something wondrous happened.

I was an Episcopalian becoming Anglican, thinking about Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and I didn’t know those songs, only the old hymns, the 1982 blue hymnal hymns, the tunes we would plunk out on the piano or I would offer to sing into the few standing microphones we had at the church. I wanted to sing with some kind of lark angelic sound. I wanted to bring others near to God with my singing, make something happen in the seats, in the church, out in the world. But I didn’t think hymns could do that.

But St. Patrick had a hymn – we call it St. Patrick’s Breastplate – the hymn of “I Bind Unto Myself Today”. It has seven verses and verse six has a completely different melody than the others, and verse one is short -

I sang it first tripping over the words and syllables in a small church in New England where the altar was hidden far back and the priest climbed stairs to the pulpit to preach, and then again in St. John’s Hall, where the praise band played it with guitars and a drum set as we set a kitchen table groaning with altar cloth and frontal piece and those gifts, through and by the Spirit the Body and the Blood, where we made the space alive with our voices and cupped hands. I sang it unsure then -

and then again, and again, I have watched that hymn follow me across state lines and countries, through empty fields where I only remembered one half of one verse in England or along highways and -

you see, when I sing it, the words coming and going like water, when I sing it, close my eyes in church or stand in the shower or just hum bits of it to myself in the car, I realize -

the hymn binds me to Christ.

This song is an act of prayer, this song is an act of worship, this song, this hymn, with all its mystery, the cadence of its sounds, this binds me to Christ.

I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three. 

The feeling in the pit of my stomach is less about my singing, more about my spirit.

I bind unto myself, today.

Love,
hilary