Tuesday, August 24, 2004

God Speaks To Each Of Us

I'm a little quiet today, so I'm going to let my favorite poem by Rainer Maria Rilke speak for me. This is from his Book of Hours, Love Poems to God. The translation is by Burrows and Macy. Do yourself a favor and buy this book.


God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by it's seriousness.

Give me your hand.



without the permission of the publisher, Rilke, Burrows or Macy.
:(, but offered in love,
God's raga

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Faithfulness

I went into the sanctuary. The lights were low, the music was soft, and the people of God, reverent. I don't know the song the band was playing when I arrived, but no one was singing. Kirk asked us to take a moment and, as he is fond of saying, "Do some business with God." Since I am becoming a frequent customer of God's, a little more business with Him seemed like a good idea to me.

I began to pray. I sat down and told the Lord how brave I was trying to be, and how hard I was trying to really have faith. I didn't cry like I did this morning at The Vineyard. I just told Him how much I needed Him, and was looking to Him for help. I sat there, whispering my heart to God, rocking back and forth, and knowing, in some tiny space inside of me, that He hears.

And then, the music changed.

The first notes stirred a memory from way back. It was longer than three years like when I remembered Better Is One Day. What is that song? It's not Sonic Flood, or Delirious, or Passion, or Matt Redmond--standard fare at Frontline Church. This was an old, old song and used the kings English. It was precisely what I needed to hear.


Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

At first I stood mute and dazed, knowing. This song was my gift, and God's voice was in it, speaking tenderly to me. My hands lifted, and a montage of God's love flashed in brilliant, Living color on the big screen in my heart. Wilderness, desert, sunshine and storm, I saw my walk with God as the continuum that it is, an unbroken circle of favor, mercy, and grace. My God. He's never, ever, ever let me down.

I tried to sing the familiar refrain, but my sobs prevented me, and so the Lord did something mercy full.

He sang to me.

He sang of His new mercies freely given, every day of my life. He sang of His hand ever extended, offering everything I need. He assured me of His faithfulness, like a gentle, attentative Daddy. I don't know if my face was so wet because of my tears, or the rain of His love, being poured out on me. After I while, I was finally able to sing back to Him:

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Even now as I write this, hours after service is over, the tears still shine in my eyes. He hasn't stopped singing to me, and He repeats His refrain:

Great is My faithfulness!
Great is My faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies receive.
All You have needed My hand hath provided;
Great is My faithfulness, child, unto thee!

"Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV

In the Love and provision of the God who is ever Faithful,
and eager to give us more than we are capable of wanting,
tenderly,
His raga

Friday, August 20, 2004

One Day

"How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty." Psalms 84:1 NIV

I was chillin' late tonight, reading an inspirational romance novel, and trying to figure out how to write one, when I came to a place where the heroine reads a passage of scripture. Psalms 84. I stopped. I was stuck with a longing so incessant that I put the book down and grabbed my Bible, but not before I heard the song in my head, and remembered.

That summer day, about three years ago. Kirk was on vacation with his family. He's my pastor on the rare occassion that I show up for church. You'd like Kirk. He leads worship in the summer in his bare feet. He wears t-shirts and khaki shorts when he preaches. He plays keyboard, and he loves Jesus.

There must have been several people on vacation that Sunday afternoon that Harvey called me to rehersal. I didn't always sing with the band. Maybe because I had those attendance issues. Duh, ya think? Most days I attend Frontline Church with a burdensome guilt and sense of shame and failure. I just didn't get it right. I never contributed what I wanted to on that very first day when I left home with a heart full of wishes that this would be the church I've dreamed of, prayed for. An artsy church, a ragamuffin church, and a church where I could be God's raga, and that would be a good, good thing. I remember that Ken said to me, "I hope it's everything you want it to be." And sweet Jesus, it was. And I still messed up.

That day.

Rehersal was a simple affair. Harvey led. You'd like him, too. He has the warmest eyes, and sweetest smile, and when he sings, you just know heaven gets quiet and listens. Harvey had his guitar with him, and a black man I'd never seen before. The man was a guest, and would sing with us that day. Back then my family was the lone black family at Frontline. The visitor was from Ohio, and had a strong, rousing, Ron Kenole kind of voice, with those soulful shades of rhythm and blues that you feel down to your toes. He was concerned because there was no drummer, and no one to keep time. But I had a set of rhythm sticks with me. I have no idea why I had them that day. It's not like I carry them on my person just in case someone needs an emergency beat. Maybe it was just one of those God things. I loaned them to him, and he was very happy.

We sang, and there was the steady pulse of the clave. Clack. Clack. Clack. Harvey's guitar wailed, and our few voices, rose past the cathedral ceiling and right to the Throne. This was before we got The Warehouse, with the hip, round, post modernesque tables, and church had the feel of a weird, but intimate nightclub. That day we were in the borrowed sanctuary of Calvary Presbyterian, and there were wooden pews and stained glass windows. Although it was small, and the lack of air conditioning made us sweat like we were rolling around on a rotisserie, it's classic structure offered a familiar solace, leftover from my days as a teenage missionary, back in the Church of God in Christ, when church was CHURCH.

That man, whose name I can't remember, taught me a Matt Redman song that day:

How lovely is Your dwelling place/O Lord Almighty/For my soul longs and even faints for You/For here my heart is satisfied/Within Your presence/I sing beneath the shadow of Your wings/Better is one day in Your courts/Better is one day in Your house/Better is one day in Your courts/than thousands elsewhere.

And I sang. I sang with my whole heart at that rehersal, hours before service began, and there was no audience of eager worshipers to hear. I sang out from the place within that wasn't ashamed of my life, my poverty, my depression, and years upon years of losses. It was a me and Jesus moment, and the disappointing past and present disappeared for a time, and my spirit danced like the sound vibrating in the air. Dear Jesus. Better is one day in His courts.

One day.

Not even a whole day. It was one perfect, chainless, freedom drenched moment, and it wasn't even time for service yet. That's what I remembered when I stumbled upon that scripture in the novel I was reading tonight.

I'm being evicted from the house I live in. My prayer for this weekend is constant: "Lord, let the landlord who interviewed us today say yes." Fear wrings my stomache in knots, and as often as it does, I pray to my Father, hoping his mercy will keep homelessness at bay, and praying as David did in the same psalm that inspired that song, that God would look in favor on His anointed one (84:8), this ghetto prophetess whose best thing is the words she gives that come from Him.

But even as I pray, hoping the threat of homelessness will pass quicky, I remember the courts of the Lord. The lovely dwelling place where God and his people gather, and I find hope in that remembrance. There is always a home for me in Him. And surely, He will provide a place for my family. But more than a home for my family, there is also a home for my soul. It makes me want to beat back these blues that keep me away, and take a chance and let myself be loved and in fellowship with my church family. No fear. No disappointment, just a new mercy and a new beginning. Yeah. I'm going to go to church. I've had enough thousands elsewheres.

I'll let you know how it goes.

In the shadow of his wings, singing.
God's raga


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Touch

Mark 5:21-34 The Message (Go and read it!)

I followed behind Him, back from the crowd, shame covering me like a coat of ashes. I shuffled along in time, like it was a funeral procession. He seemed so far away.

Bleeding.

There was something rotten between my legs. I couldn't touch myself without the blood staining my fingertips. Oh, God. To bleed and bleed and never die? How long can I live this way? No one ever touches me, and I don't touch. I'm unclean. My scent announces my foulness before I arrive. Oh dear God.

This sorrow is all I have left. I have spent all, and nothing--nothing gave relief. I just want a little respite. A taste of freedom from this fountain of sewage corrupting me. One moment clean. I press closer to Him, and men and women turn their faces away from me. They know. Jesus, they know and move away from me. But it gets me closer to You.

I push closer, and shoulders and faces, and bodies give way. The word splits my skull open unclean...unclean...unclean. I grab my head, trying not to hear. Trying to pull my head together and bind it with spit and snot and tears. God! Heal me or let me die. *Nobody* touches me. I am

UNCLEAN.

I stifle my scream, trapping it in my mouth. I close my eyes and push through this womb of people toward God.

Pushing, fighting my way, I am angry and offensive, but He is not far. That awful word propels me to Him. Unclean. I push like a force is drawing me until I am there, in the shadow of the God-man. I'm just behind Him, close enough to touch.

What do I do? What do I do with Jesus, this rabbi who the law says I can't touch? I can't defile Him. I'm not worthy to feel his flesh beneath my fingers, but His clothes--just a touch of His clothes. My hand flies to His hem and I can't stop myself until I feel the cool, nubby texture for just a fraction of a moment.

This time I do scream, but this noisy crowd, they don't hear. I am infused with a something ineffable, uncontainable, breaking me into a billion pieces. I feel like light, and I am powerless, as my scream turns into a bubbling laughter like a brook, clean and fresh and pure. Oh, Jesus. I fall on my face, and the crowd presses on toward Him, leaving me behind. They don't notice me, but I don't care. I am clean. And this all happens so fast that I could hardly registered what He did.

He turns. "Who touched my robe?"

The disciples said, "What are You talking about? With this crowd pushing and jostling You, You're asking, "Who touched Me? Dozens have touched You!"

But He went on asking, looking around to see who had done it. Looking for me. I stood, slowly, carefully. I took soft steps toward Him, and my heart beat so fast and my hands trembled so that I held them both together. How could I be sorry? I am clean.

I am before Him. God-man. I look into those wide brown eyes and crumble at His feet. "I just wanted to touch your clothes. I'm so sorry, Rabbi. I just wanted to touch the bottom of your robe." I poured out my story; my issue of blood, my deep wound, my loss and my devastation--all of it, lay in a pile at his feet. The God-man listened, until I could not take His gaze for another moment, and offered him my tears to go with my story.

His hands are rough carpenter hands.

I feel Him, and I am amazed because someone--because He, is touching me. He is holding my face in His hands. Touching my head with His. Touching. I had already been made clean, but He made made me whole, with the touch that eluded me for sooooo many years.

His voice washed over me like a flood, and his breath and laughter warmed the contours of my face. "Daughter..."

Did you hear? He called me daughter, and before I could hear the rest of what He said, my heart stood at attention, shouting, "Abba." Daddy. The God-man, He has made me daughter.

"Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you're healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague."

Live well. Live blessed.

He knew. I came for healing and He gave me wholeness. I wanted a touch, and He gave me a relationship. He gave me Himself, my Abba. My Love. I held Him, and held Him, until the crowd pushed between us, and as I watched His silhouette disappear into that throng, I still held Him.

I will never let Him go.

Call Him.
Abba.

Embracing the Daddy God.
His raga.





Thursday, August 12, 2004

Television Ministry

I went to church. It was Great Faith Ministries in Detroit, and Bishop Wayne T. Jackson is the pastor. Yeah, I called his name. It was like *that*. I'm still a little upset about the whole thing.

This was about ten years ago. Ken and I were doing, what the old timers call 'cuttin' a fool'. There are other names for what Ken and I were doing, and we shouldn't have been doing any of it because we weren't married yet. This raggedy lifestyle was getting to me, and Jesus was having a problem with it, also. So, off to church I go, and I don't even know why I chose this church. I wasn't a member, and it wasn't even close to home. Maybe I was just hurting, and the place looked real good on television.

So there I was. The service was good, and the preaching was decent, but my favorite part was coming.

Altar call.

Let me tell you, raga can work an altar. It's something about them; they get me all down to my toes. It doesn't matter who's doing the calling during an altar call, when that altar opens up, they become Jesus, and Lamb of God, I come. I'll practically run the Lord over I get up there so fast.

Jesus called, and I ran to that altar like I was on fire and didn't remember to stop, drop, and roll. This was a special altar call. It was for fornicators like myself, who desperately needed to have that demon cast out, and replaced by a squeeky clean marriage angel, or something. I'm a little unsure what it was now. I'm a charismatic, and anything is liable to happen in church. In any case, whatever they were passing out on that altar, I needed a lot more than that nasty you-know-what demon.

I laid out before the Lord. I got to lifting my hands in the air, snotting and crying, and sorry for my sins. I'm serious. This was painful. I was hurt. I was hollering and screaming, and if it had been a different kind of church, one of those nurses that really aren't nurses would have gotten a hold of me, and got to ministering with her little smelling salts or something. I'm all folded up and beat down, crying out to the Lord. There was a young worship leader singing. His name is Fred Hammond. Yes, that one. You know this wasn't fair. An altar call for fornicators and luscious voiced Fred Hammond was singing "I am healing." Over and over. I came undone.

But the Lord met me there, and indeed, I was healing.

About a week later I get a phone call from one of my school mates at the Christian College I attended. "Turn it on channel (such and such), girl." This seemed like an innocent request.

Negative.

If you thought I was upset on that altar, you should have seen me when I looked on television, and there I was, snotting and crying, tore up from the floor up, in living color. When I regained consciousness, I became my own Edvard Munch painting, only my Silent Scream wasn't silent. You can choose your sin, but you can't choose the consequences. I was on television, looking crazy in front of Wayne T. Jackson's veiwing audience.

Oh God!!!! How many people is that??? Don't they show that in Ohio??? Oh. MY. GAWD!!!!!

I was the featured broke down heifer on the altar. It would be different if I possessed the kind of delicate beauty that actually looks pretty crying. I looked like doo doo. And it was plain to everyone who saw it. Especially to me. The camera stayed on me. Honestly, it was like they knew they would never have that kind of high drama again. I know that tape is going to come back and haunt me one day. I just know it.

I've hated television ministries ever since.

Coming to an altar near you (and please, no pictures).
God's raga.

Called Out

Matthew 15:21-31 (The Message)

I took me a while to find Him. I came over hills, with my bare feet raw and blistering. The heat was unbearable, beating a sistah down. Heavy as a mother's heart.

I just need Him to help my kids. It has to be Him. There is no one else.

I see Him, and there is that hope and expectation rising in the midnight that is my life, full-bodied and immense, like a pregnant moon. He will give me what I need. I know it. I don't know how I know, but I trust Him. The Deliverer. The God-man. Before I am all the down the Hill I'm calling Him.

"Mercy, Master, Son of David!" I go on and on about my kids. I just need a mercy. The simplicity of Him seeing me.

I am taken aback.

He is not listening. He is ignoring me.

I don't understand. I have heard the reports of what He has done. He is Reckless Compassion. Why has He turned His face from me? His reaction fuels my desperation.

"Mercy, Master." I scream it until my throat hurts, until I am restrained, and He does nothing to stop the rough hands snatching me away from HIm.

I beg His men to help. "Don't you see? Don't you understand I need Him? Only Him?" I am cloaked in shame, but I can't help myself. Words tumble out of me and I realize I am babbling. I am no longer woman. I am panic. "It's my kids. I need help. I can't..." I look at the twelve. They have traveled, and they are tired and foul. There is no mercy to be found in them, and their cloying complaint rushes past me like an odor in the wind.

"Now she's bothering us," they say. "Will you please take care of her? She's driving us crazy."

Jesus refused. Oh, Dear God. He refused.

What do you do when Jesus refuses you? When he throws up His hands that look empty to you, but tells His followers, "I've got my hands full dealing with the lost sheep of Israel."

I don't belong. I am not His choice. I know it, and so does He. He doesn't have time for me.

It is only reasonable that I fall hard to my knees.

And then the words that kill me. Jesus calls me out:

"It's not right to take bread out of the children's mouth and throw it to dogs."

Ouch!

The words are a spinning vortex, stripping my insides. Heart, brain matter, blood and guts chip away, making a soup of my interior. I am terrified. Reduced to nothing. Did Jesus just call me a bitch? Every hurtful thing ever said to me becomes a part of this destruction . I am blasted in two, and I can't distinguish what is memory, and what Jesus is saying. My split mouth utters, "Mercy." But no one hears.

What was I thinking? Did I really believe I could approach the God-man? What arrogance in me. I am like the ones I've heard He called stiff necked. I haven't even considered my own sinfulness. I have no right to the Tree of Life. I am filthy next to Him. I am the things that are said about me.

But I still need Him.

I was quick. "Then make me your pet. Feed me from Your own hands."

I take his hand, boldly. I am unworthy, but my need is bigger than my pride. I want Jesus to own me. I remember the thieves and whores and accountants he has loved. Love this dog. This other from You. I kiss His hand. His words are true. I don't even bother to cry.

And some amazing thing takes place.

I feel the gentle touch of His surrender. He gives in to me. He lifts my face. He looks at me, as if I am His pleasure.

"Black woman, your faith is something else." That's what He said to me.

I laugh. I hear in Him the voice of my great-grandmother. My faith is somethin' else. He receives me. "What you want is what you get!" His voice is Power and Light and Assurance. I feel Him knitting me back together. My bones and organs are solid again. I am whole because He sees. His hand is still in mine. My children are well. I know this like I know that He has taken me. He owns me now. He is my master.

I kiss His hand again and scramble to my feet, until I am running, flying over hills, my feet strong and sure. Empowered by His Love.

Behind me, in valley I left behind, is the clamour of the healed. There is the sound of joy, unashamed. The mute are speaking, the paraplegics are walking around, and the blind, are memorizing the lines of His face.

What will you do with what Jesus calls you?

In love,
God's raga





Thursday, August 05, 2004

raga prayers 2

Confession


This is my confession:

I will not be afraid today.

I have wrapped myself in fear,
black and thick like fur,
and slept in its insufferable embrace.

But I will not sleep in fear today.

I have felt the sting of suffering
stabbing my flesh,
bloating it with grief,
as if there were no You.

But grace has defeated suffering today.

Rilke writes that You desire us to
"Embody You.
Flare up like flame,
and make big shadows You can move in."
But my shadow is too small for You
And Your Godness will obliterate
the little that is left of me.

So let me follow you,
into the black night,
as lovesick as the Shulamite
running to Your deep shadow,
until I find You,
and give myself away.

I belong to You.

Your Love has made me wanton.
You have made me Yours.
You are my provision.
You are All, Alone.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

raga prayers 1

There was a time when I was far from You,
but You weren't far from me.

I was as mournful as a lamentation
You made my sorrow an incantation.

You did not forsake me.

I thought I missed something,
but You were Everything.

I thought I needed an African God,
You showed me, that You were God of All,
and all the God I need.

I thought I needed ecstacy,
and read the poems of Rumi.

They reminded me of You.

I missed Your name upon my lips,
I missed Your christening touch upon my flesh.
I missed Your breath,
breathing life in me,
being the Life in me.

I missed my hands outstretched to You,
and Yours outstretched to me.
I missed needing You,
and missed You needing me.

This is freedom:

I am my beloved's,
and He is mine.
I am my beloved's,
and His desire is toward me.

Nothing can separate He from me.
We are a blessed WE.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Stories

Matthew 13

I am sitting on the beach with Jesus. The dying of the sun leaves the sky ablaze in a brilliant wash of orange, purple, pink, and a stubborn, resiliant gold. I long for one of His stories, and I look at Him. My eyes widen in anticipation, and He laughs at me. He knows I am a story junkie, but He waits.

"There are others, " He says. Of course there are. There are always others who want to hear from Him. That's okay with me. Loving them doesn't mean He loves me less. He is a free flowing fountain of grace.

There are so many. A multitude of His delight, ready hearts, began to gather. There is the hard press upon Him, and it forces Him into a boat, but he uses it as a pulpit. He is very low maintenence like that, and He begins His stories.

"What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed..."

Did you see?

Did you see the God-hand ruthlessly scatter His seed in the wind, flying it on a mercy. Behold, it is reaching the four directions.

Did you see seed land on well-worn streets to be trampled on, unseen by weary traveler's feet?

Did you see seed fall in the rough, tumble of gravel, longing for growth, never knowing there were no roots, until it whithered, unconnected to soil, life, or vine.

Did you see the seed that fearlessly submitted to the sun? It gave its body to be burned, but did not love. It was a sacrificial offering to nothing, missing the secet of life altogether.

Could you testify against the weed, who assaulted the quiet spirit of the seed, choking it dead, leaving its useless carcass. Even the vulture didn't want it after that. Did you see the story?

Then He asks, "Are you listening to this? Really listening?"

And we ask Him, "Why do you tell stories?

He answers, "You've been given insight into God's kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn't been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understanding flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity disappears. That's why I tell stories, to create readiness; to nudge people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they're blue in the face and not get it."

He sighs, "I don't want Isaiahs forcast repeated all over again." And He speaks His word to us:

"Your ears are open, but you don't hear a thing.
Your eyes are awake, but you don't see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears so they won't have to listen;
they screw their eyes shut
so they won't have to look, so they won't have to deal with me face to face,
and let me heal them."

This seems to make Jesus sad, and I reach out and touch His shoulder. I feel guilty, because He has found me in the prophet's words. I am a blockhead, but I am here to let Him heal me. I am here to look at Him face to face. He won't have to feel disappointed about that. So, I say to Him, "Please Jesus, tell us more stories."

This makes Him so happy, and He laughs again, a fine, booming laugh that spills out of his eyes as much as it does his mouth. He grasps my hands and says to me, "You have God-blessed eyes--eyes that see! And God blessed ears--ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance."

When he releases me, I feel something rough and grainy in my hand. It is seed. I hold tight to it, listening to His stories, storing wisdom from his explanations. I am so glad to be with HIm. I am so blessed. I whisper, "Thank you Jesus. I love you, Jesus." He smiles at me. He loves me too, but He doesn't miss a beat. He keeps telling HIs stories.

The seeds are tiny, but He doesn't despise small beginnings. I will plant this seed on rich soil. It will be a tall tree of grace, feeding many. At least that is what I pray. That is what I hope, walking away from the crowd, HIs face before me in my minds eye.

I am healed. I am delighting in Him. I am seeking rich earth.

I am ready to begin.

What will you do with the seed He has given you?

God's raga