Saturday, February 26, 2005

Melancholia

I make my way to Club Melancholia, and sit at a table close to the band.

God is here, looking like Duke Ellington, splendid in His white tuxedo. He plays the theme song "Melancholia" on His grand piano. He plays it over, and over.

I sit, and my feet graze the bottom of the table cloth. I'm all dressed up, with no one to dance with, but that's okay. It's as if this place were made for listening, while the flickering candle makes shadows on my face. I sway, almost imperceptibly to the music, but He notices, and repeats the refrain.

It's a lovely song with a simple, and yet complicated melody. Melancholia, full of secrets, rich with mystery--the sound of my deepest longings.

I don't mind the tune as long as it's Him that plays it. There are no words. I'm glad. I don't want to sing tonight. I hear the music, while sipping red wine, still hungry, because I've only pinched tiny pieces of bread from the loaf in front of me.

Smoke and song surround me like good friends. They stay until it's time for me to leave.

I step up to the piano, and give the Music Maker a long, lingering kiss goodnight. Then stumble, giddy from drink, back home.

Birth

We come
wailing

the mournful cries
of our mothers

muffled like birds
we hear above the waters
screeching

We are breaking

Our bones and wings
crumble like stale bread
our feathers fall
aloof

Stillborn
earthbound
sinners/babes

birth:
We have slid through
black passages
long as unwelcoming arms
cold as dank earth
even now, split memory
tasting of milk and honey
stilllinger with bitter blood
on our hungry tongues

Our screaming
mouths

remain
stained
scarlet

fill our
fallow lungs
with the breath of God

Thursday, February 24, 2005

You Are Here

When I was in undergrad school, my teacher told us a story about how she wrote the day she got saved on the front page of her Bible. She said she later crossed that date out, and wrote another, which indicated the day she really got saved. Then she had to do it again, and again. And who knows what revelation she had that's keeping her from still doing it.

Backsliding is a little complicated, isn't it? Are you backslidden if for a season you don't go to church, or don't pray, or don't read your Bible like you're Kay Arthur herself? Are you backslidden when your brain chemistry is a little scrambled, and you feel things you don't understand until the meds kick in? What about when you feel like you're going to kill your teenager?

Once I threw a rocking chair--a whole adult sized rocker, at my husband who'd said something less than flattering to me. I felt badly about it as soon as my rage subsided (many hours later), and I talked to the Lord about it. Was I backslidden? Surely Christian women don't throw furniture at their loved ones. It wasn't a great time in my life, kinda like right now. I had a lot of questions about the state of my spiritual life, and very few concrete answers. I don't really know if I was backslidden. I only know that almost everything hurt, like now.

I'm finding it's not real profitable for me to do what amounts to a lot of spiritual navel gazing. Wherever I am, there I am. Grace seems to follow me now, and it's bigger than the condemnation and guilt that dogged my heels in former days. I'm not crossing out the date that I got "saved" and filling in another. It seems more now, at 40, that I'm on one seemless journey that begin before the foundation of the world, and continues, throughout eternity. I'm in God's story, and He most certainly is in mine, and I can no more comprehend the story's 'real' beginning, anymore than I can comprehend God Himeself.

Nowadays, I hear God whisper in me, "You are here," and He is there, in the midst of my 'here', because He promised never to leave us or forsake us.

That's all I know.

That's enough to take a step of faith, and walk with God.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

I am Yours. Save Me.

I waited for Netflix to deliver "Luther" to me, with a curious blend of excitement and loathing. Excitement because I thougth it might be a really cool movie. Loathing because I thought it would possess the dismal production values, acting, and pontification of Left Behind: The Movie. God help us.

It wasn't like Left Behind: The Movie. It was terrific. God used it to speak to me--though that doesn't make it special. Billboards have spoken God's lesson's to me. Anyway, there was this scene where one of his mentors, an older priest, gave him a prayer. The prayer was:

I am Yours. Save me.

And right then and there I was in love.

I am Yours. Save me.

It's almost paradoxical isn't it? Like ragamuffin diva. How can you be His, and need to be saved? How can you be a ragamuffin, AND a diva (when I used to chat with the community on Brennan Mannings website they challenged this. I couldn't be BOTH! But I'll bet Brennan would say that I could.)

I am Yours. This is the kind of prayer you can pray with a martyrs zeal. I am Yours. You may even pray it with a teensy bit of pride. Spiritual pride. Can you imagine such a thing? Of course not, surely I just made that concept up. I am Yours. Heady stuff. If you have the nerve to believe it.

Next, you get the one-two punch of "Save me." Ouch. We like to think once we read that Jack T. Chick tract "This is Your Life" and it literally scared the hell out of us, or we read and actually understood the 4 spiritual laws, and God has a wonderful plan for our lives, and we prayed the prayer on the back, or we responded to the altar call, or we filled out the little card, we are saved. And saved is good, so let's just going on about the business of being His, and not deal with delicate matters like asking God to save us on a regular basis.

That's so much tidier.

But, apparently Luther's relationship with Jesus wasn't tidy. Neither is mine.

I remember the Word of Faith churches I attended, and their disdain for the concept of being called "sinner' after one had found the Lord. The Jesus prayer, "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner", wouldn't fly in those churches, no matter how much good it did the poor pilgrim. We may get the Jesus Christ, son of God part right, but who needs mercy? We have everything!

We even changed the words to Amazing Grace. It saved a SOUL like me. Who wants to own up to being a wretch? Later, I'd watch spokespersons in this movement claim that Jesus wore designer clothes. Who wants a plainclothes Jesus? It's just not Prosperous.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

I am Yours. That's the easy part, if we can only bend knee and will enough to accept His magnificent gift of grace, but to asked to be saved after one is saved? Isn't that redundant.

I hope not. Because I want to be saved. I want to be saved from my stubborn self-absorbtion, and my fear. I want to be saved from my laziness, and the meaness that sprouts like weeds that constantly need to be plucked (painfully) out of me. I need to be saved from pride, and vanity, and lust, and talking too much, and not talking enough. I need to be saved from everything.

The prayer makes me think about the nature of our salvation. Maybe we thought it was a one time deal. Maybe we thought we could get saved, lose salvation, and get it again, like something you could pick up at the Works of God store. Or maybe we thought we could lose it forever, and spend our lives (deaths) like ghosts in the world, lacking substance, and grieving our losses evermore. Maybe we got it wrong.

Maybe we can be His, and ask Him to save us. I like the idea. I like to think this salvation thing is largely relational. We are His, and in Him, the Person of Jesus, we find salvation daily, hourly, and in any moment that we can lift our voice to Him saying:

I am Yours. Save me.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Bead and a Prayer

My anniversary was Valentine's Day. This is what I gave Ken: a kick butt suede jacket, his favorite color, that left him standing at the mirror admiring what I already admired. He was happy. But me, I was in the clouds.

This is what he gave me: Anglican prayer beads. They came from Full Circle Beads www.fullcirclebeads.com. I'm so happy. They are made of rose quartz, pretty, pink and delicate, with a sterling silver clover tip cross.

I haven't prayed with beads since I chanted with the Hare Krishna's. Fortunately, most of that unfortunate period is blocked from my consciousness. I only remember that the food was good and free. Want to win souls, feed them every Sunday. And my prayer beads, or mala, was made of sandalwood.

I don't know what I prayed. I don't know how I prayed. I do remember that the beads smelled good and that for a long time after, everytime I smelled sandalwood I thought of spiritual things. I've wanted to pray with beads again, but we didn't do that in the churches that I went to, and so I squashed this desire that I was so drawn to.

Until recently. Praying the Divine Hours gave me the courage to claim traditions in my Christian Heritage that may not have been part of what I've practiced so far. I'm moved by the classics, and have dabbled with the sign of the cross, the stations of the cross, centering prayer, and of course, contemplative prayer with beads. This just makes me so happy.

So today, while talking on the phone with Mary, my beads came in the mail, and I didn't even wait to get off the phone before we were praying with Julian of Norwich. After our call, I sat there, and prayed with the beads alone. There are 33 beads in all, and a cross. The beads are divided like this: Four cruciform beads that form a cross (kinda like the four directions.) Seven beads in between; the weeks (seven for spiritual perfection, completion). A cycle of four weeks in the circle. Many pray around the circle 3 times--one for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is what I did:

Holding the cross (here you invoke God's presence):
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The Invitatory (this is the first bead after the cross. The one before the first cruciform bead.
O God make speed to save me
O Lord make haste to help me
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, Amen.

The Cruciforms
God of your goodness, give me yourself,
for you are enough to me.
And I can ask for nothing less that is to your glory,
And if I ask for anything less, I shall still be in want,
for only in you have I all.

The Weeks
All shall be well, and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well,
Or
In His love He has done His works, and in His love,
He has made all things beneficial to us.

Try praying that several times and see what happens. You may find yourself flying on a wing, (and a bead) and a prayer.

Try it. You'll like it.

Thanking God for His myriad ways of meeting us,

God's raga

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Found in the City of God

I met Phyliss Tickle at the Vineyard this morning. My girlfriend Bobbie, moved by my angst, sent me information about what's going on in my own town that I was clueless about (thanks, Bobbie). I went with that familiar blend of hope and wonder, and maybe a little fear. I just knew, like you know the sound of your name when it comes out of the mouth of your true love--I knew it would change my life.

So where was I this morning?

Standing on a precipice hovering above Orthodoxy. I was about ready to surrender everything this Pentecostal wanderer ever thought she knew about the faith, and jump into an ancient path that my only experience with was the summer I gave myself (with many failures) to fixed hour prayers. I prayed the prayers of the Divine Hours until I met God in a new way. And meet God I did. He would not let me forget the experience.

Let me backtrack a bit. I was never one for ritual. I'd been taught to distrust tradition. In my charismatic zeal and arrogance, like many others, I poo pooed away any experiece of God that required actual discipline. These things were dead, and God was alive. He was the Fire of Pentecost blazing through my life. He was New Wine, and the old was to be discarded.

So, I chased anointings, looking for fire in wild Holy Ghost filled preaching. I looked for signs and wonders, healings, growing out legs--I don't know what was with that whole leg growing phenomenen in the eighties. I watched the "faith" ministries I admired on television crumble in a refuse heap of scandal and shame. Many of the miracles I coveted were manufactured, and not by God. I grieved the God I knew could do anything, and the liars that were compelled to help Him out, for profit.

I sought the big, God of wonders in so many places, that I grew weary and distrustful. I grew quiet and sad. I grew older, and more broken. I swept into congregations with the best of intentions, and shrunk away later, feeling like an utter failure. Something was broken, and I didn't know what it was, and certainly not how to fix it.

It was at the mention of a prayer book by Jen Lemen that the concept even came to me. Prayer book? What a strange and wondrous thing. Not long after the idea whetted my appetite, did I discover The Vineyard was following fixed our prayers, and I went, and Pastor Ken gave me the book for free.

In the Divine Hours, I met God in the Lords prayer. I met Him in praying the Psalms, and in Morning Prayers, and Noon Prayers, and Vespers and Compline prayers. God of fire. God of Pentecost, bursting through His Word, meeting me along with millions of others all over the world, one continuous link. Prayers to the Throne without ceasing. Prayers inside of the Beloved Community.

Praise God.

So, where was I this morning, when I walked in the cold to the Vineyard, to hear Phyllis talk about Place? Oh, God. Would she talk about church? Would I crawl away in guilt, feeling the sting of failure and loss again?

But she didn't talk about church. She talked about that place where our story begins. She talked about the moment when Abraham was to sacrifice his son. This was the precusor to our salvation. This was the incredible HINT that would give away the rest of the book. She talked about that holy mountain, that later became home to the Temple, built up, and torn down, again, and again, which is the very place that Abraham's sons of Ishmael have built their temple. She told us how this place, is our place, too. It is not just for Jew, or Moslem, but also for us who have believed on the Son. The Son that was the real sacrifice, which Abraham's offering merely foreshadowed.

Jerusalem is ours.

The old is ours, and the new, and the Beloved Community is to embrace both in a full bodied, faith. Faith of our Fathers, Faith of our own, forged by the Living God, who is still in the bread and the wine of our communion, and still in the Wind of the Spirit, ever new. Then Phyllis gave me something that I will never forget. She gave me Revelation"

"And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the Glory of God."

"But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord god Almighty and the Lamb are it's temple. The city had no need of sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illumined it. The Lamb is it's light."

Where is my place?

It is in the City, and He is the light of the City. He is my Place. My Home and My God. My City. I need never feel homeless again. I am part of the Beloved Community, I am His. He is mine.

And we belong to each other, you and me.

That's what Phyllis taught me this morning, and I had to thank her.

I stood a long time in the line, waiting for her to pray with me. I thought of what I wanted to ask God for. Of wanted I wanted to give to Him. In the end, when I stood before this woman--a wildcat, funny, and vibrant, with glowing skin, and hands gnarled with arthritis. I could only say two things when she smiled at me.

"Thank you for the Divine Hours," I said. "It changed my pentecostal life."

She exploded with a boisterous laugh and held my hands. "What a lovely thing to say."

And then what I wanted from God. "I just want to be the woman He wants me to be."

"You will be. Prayer will take you there. You are very beautiful," she said.

And I didn't know what to say, because I wasn't expecting her to say that. I mumbled thank you. I can't help but think of U2 as I write this. Bono singing "...in the City of Blinding Lights. Oh you look so beautiful tonight." Thank you, Lord, that she said that to me.

Then, she stood close to me. She dipped her fingers in oil, and crossed my forehead. She proclaimed that I had been given the Mark of Christ. She prayed the ancient prayers to grant me Peace. She told me to go, and serve the Lord for the rest of my days.

And I did go in peace, beloved.
And I will serve the Lord for the rest of my days, no longer homeless, but safe in the Holy City that is Him. Part of the Beloved Community.

Even so, come quickly, Lord.

in faith and joy,
with Orthodox Roots,
and Holy Spirit wings,
rags

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ghetto Pilgrim

"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
a long way from home."

from an American Negro spiritual, "Motherless Child",
J.W. Johnson and J.R. Johnson 1926

Where do I belong?

When I am brave--which is not nearly as often as I'd like to be, I ask myself this question. What is my spiritual heritage?

This is what I remember: my great grandmother, Ma Brown, was a Holy Roller. That's what they called Pentecostals back in the day. It wasn't a term of endearment. She was looked upon with a certain spooky awe. She was capable of "catching the Holy Ghost", you see--as if God, feeling whimsical, took occassions to "throw" the Holy Ghost, or spread it like a virus.

I remember the way she would pad through the house with soft, but weary steps, her walker thumping out the steps before her. She smelled of Ben Gay that took the edge off her aching joints. I remember her prayerfulness; always praying--though she was in the habit of saying "shit", the only expletive I recall coming out of her mouth. It's funny that I remember that about her, along with the prayers and spiritual songs. I find it oddly comforting. She was a church mother, a wonderful thing, and needful, especially in this day and age. I didn't go to church with Ma Brown. By the time she came to live with us she didn't get out much. She was sick, and old, and finally died, still trusting her Jesus.

Next was the Baptist church I went to with friends. I don't remember learning anything, but I did read more than a few JTC tracts. They scared me into saying those "sinner's prayers" at the end each and every time. Shoot. I'd still pray 'em if I came across a Jack Chick tract today. So, maybe I was "saved" at a much younger age than I realize.

Then came the methodist chuch. We went there, and the choir director taught me how to sing, "Day By Day" from Godspell. I think I felt a little nostalgic about that, and got the movie not too long ago. A fun, hippie musical version of the gospel, if you can get past the glaring omission of Jesus not rising from the dead at the end. What a shock that was to grown up me! I had to add my own musical resurrection in my head! Again, I don't remember really learning anything about Jesus, but the songs were groovy, and I got to pass notes to Keysha and oogle over that cute Derrick.

Next. I'm fifteen, and Penny drags me to a revival at the Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ, the very church where my great grandmother was a church mother. I will never forget that night. The first time I was engaged by a sermon, the first time I responded to an altar call, the first time I felt the rain of the Holy Spirit fall on me. Cleansing, healing, making me His own. The only thing I wanted to do was preach the gospel. A year later, I was an ordained missionary.

It get's really funky from here on. There was the church with the young pastors who were too young. And a succession of insane churches that I still bear scars from. There was the Word of Faith churches, and the no church, and chanting with the Hare Krishna's, Zen, African Orisha's and almost everything else. There was thirst, and hunger, and starving for God. There was Rumi, and whirling dervishes, and Black Hebrew Israelistes, and Jesus, at long last.

I went back to strange, unaccoutable churches with abusive pastors. I went to a wonderful Full Gospel Baptist church that had services every night of the week just about. I went to a Unity church for about two seconds. Back to C.O.G.I.C, and then I don't even know. I ended up in a great church, perfect for ragamuffins, where I was the only black person. I still go to that church, when I go, which is not often. I don't think I've been there for three months. I started to tell my pastor I'm just not coming back. I keep failing. I keep starting, and then pulling away. It may be because I am truly crazy. A doctor said I had a social phobia. It could be the dark depressions that batter me. Or it could be, I simply don't see enough of me there.

These are the traditions and churches that I experienced the most deeply, but there is also the tradition of my parents who did not raise me, who were Catholic. There was the tiny part of my ancestry that is Jewish, and the larger part that is Irish. There is the Native American in me. All of these part of my spiritual heritage. None of them, speaking to me clearly, calling me back home.

I kept looking for community. Searching. Seeking, and I kept finding myself with the distinct feeling "I don't belong here." In my most honest days, I can say it: I haven't found my home. I haven't found my family.

I don't seek perfection. Just a place where I don't feel like a freak. Crazy girl, dark and moody. Crazy girl, blissful and ecstatic. She reads classics and not Harrison House propaganda. Her nose is pierced. Her hair is dreadlocks. She is black. She is passionate. She needs to be alone, as much as she needs people.

Lately, I've craved orthodoxy and liturgy. I've desired the forms that have sustained the people of faith for generations. It's like I've stopped trusting the free-form worship style I am accustomed to, and desire to find God in form. I feel like I'll explode, and I need a divine hours, or to genuflect, or light a candle or cross myself just to keep from falling apart. I used to think God couldn't be found in such things. Now, I pant for those expressions of intimacy with God. But I look to those things, and cannot see my own black face.

Where is the temple for this spirtually homeless black woman? Is it in the Jewish synagogue? Jewish is a small part of my heritage? I look at icons of blue eyed white Jesus' and wonder why he isn't an olive skinned, dark haired Easterner? I have a real hard time extracting a usable faith from embracing an image of my own oppressor. I am sorry to say this, but it's the truth.

Most days, I wish I could go to Chicago and live with the Jesus People. They seem to model what I love. Excellent teaching, love of art, engaging culture, serving with love. And they are truly multicultural. But they are in Chicago, and I am in Ann Arbor, avoiding the obvious, and not saying what I really mean. I want to go where I can see people who look like me, and people who don't look like me, conservatives, and Jesus freaks, monied, and poor, a mosaic of all cultures and people, with one Love. Jesus.

Until then, I remain this ghetto pilgrim, asking God to show me how to worship. Asking for what is truly mine, and knowing, as switchfoot so gracefully sings, "I don't belong here." Still carrying my cross and a song.

Dear God, what am I going to do? I want to go to a "church" so badly.

In grief, long and abiding,
rags

Sunday, February 06, 2005

That Day that Points to Day

It was that day.

That day that points to Day.

The one after groundhog day, but before the first bud of spring bewitches you with it's perfect beauty. It was cold, but the bright sun awakened such an ache in me that it didn't matter. Freezing was impossible. I had my red cashmere hat and scarf-the one with the pink and purple stripes, and my orange suede gloves. I had my walkman, and Bono rocking me through the streets downtown.

Sometimes, God is silent. Sometimes you press your face against the pane of dark glass, searching for Him and all you see is black, and night, and you know the stars are already dead--just gas, fouling the sky, and in the way.

But then there's that day, the one with the startling sunlight. The one with blue sky, the color of a lover's eyes giving you that look that makes you feel beautiful anyway. The sky that is no longer white, competing with the snow. And the snow, surrenders and lies on the surface of everything, just melting. Making love to the earth. You want to fling your coat over your shoulders. You want to throw your hands in the air. You want to run for no good reason, and you smile at everyone. You give the wino a dollar. Maybe two.

Ah, beloved, it's almost just spring, when the world is puddle wonderful like e.e. cummings sang. Lift your cup to the Lord, and say fill me, fill me, fill me.

And wait for the rain.

It's coming.

I feel You, Abba.

The winter emptied me.
Strickened me.
Forced me to sleep.

But, it's almost time to awaken, with wide eyes and no shades;to press my hands up from the thawing soil of my grave

and bloom.


Saturday, February 05, 2005

Hush Song

"Be still and know that I am God." (Psalms 46:10)

be

still

shhhsh
what ifs
if onlys
whys
whens

be

quiet

this is the moment of
surrender
hands lifted
fingers unfurled
like petals
in offering

this is before
yes and amen
the quiet fissure
in time/space
between
heaven/hell
that you can hide in

breathless moments
make poems worth reading
this is the

space

between the lines

the gaps
that make words of letters

quiet.

be here
to hear
or...

Be

quiet:

this is the breath
before the yes
between annuciation
and conception
of Christ
in you.

Abba singing
His hushsong
saying:

nothing

nothing

sweet nothing.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Only Way To Die

"I tell you the truth, unless a kernal of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed, but if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12:25,25 NIV)

My friend Mark and I have been having a lot of conversations lately. Mark mentioned that one of the things God is teaching him is about dying to self. As Christians, dying to self has many implications--from the practical, to the sublime. Our conversation stayed with me, as did the concept of being crucified with Christ. For me, it's a daily struggle.

Mark is a very gifted musician. Check out his work at www.markwashere.com. He's not famous yet, and I've often wondered if it frustrates him--not having his work out there like he'd like. I know I struggle with the desire to be more widely published. That's the thing about art. You don't do it for yourself. It's made to share, but there's such a delicate balance between the gift and the desire to serve the Lord, and the seduction of wanting the gift and the work to serve you. We want our songs to be heard, and our books and poems to be read, and yet, they belong to Jesus, really.

I wrote this song for Mark. It's about that very struggle.


Maybe, It’s the Only Way To Die
Words by ragamuffin diva
Music by Mark Chappelle Coston

Here I am
Again Lord, on my knees
I’m giving you this
For the thousandth time
It’s all I’ve got Lord
And it belongs to you,
This little light of mine.

Take this gift Lord,
And use it as You will
When times get hard Lord
Please help me see
That all my songs and the
Melodies I sing
They belong to You
They’re not of me.

Chorus:

Yeah, I want to see my name
In the big bright lights
But sometimes
I just want to die
Sometimes, I want to live forever
Maybe it’s the same thing
By and by
Maybe that’s the only way to die

Take my heart Lord
Break it, that’s Your will
When the curtain closes, Lord
Let me know
That for all my music
And the sweet joy that it brings
You’re the star
Of this here show

Chorus:

Yeah, I want to see my name
In the big bright lights
But sometimes
I just want to die
Sometimes, I want to live forever
Maybe it’s the same thing
By and by
Maybe that’s the only way to die

Change:

Use me
Use me till there’s nothing else
Empty me
'Til I’m long gone
I am yours Lord
Save me, save me please
Maybe, that’s the only way to die

Repeat Chrorus

The only way to die
It’s when we die that we can fly
The only way to die