In Love in Holy Week

As you can probably tell from my lack of posts, this Lenten season has not been a particularly devout one for me. The week before Lent was a blur after Molly’s surgery and Ash Wednesday coincided with her re-admittance to the hospital. The day made no impression on me until late that evening when a hospital chaplain stopped by and offered to pray with us and offer us ashes. Tim and I accepted gratefully, but when Molly indicated she wanted them, I almost knocked the bowl from the chaplain’s hands. Something deep inside me was repulsed by the thought of marking the body of my suffering child with a sign of her mortality. It seemed morbid and inappropriate, but I let it pass and it did Molly no harm. Still, it wasn’t an auspicious beginning to the season.

The next day, however, something my former pastor Nancy Corran preached to our community came back to me. She said, “If your life is a Lent this year, if you are suffering in a desert already – physically, mentally, emotionally, financially – whatever it is, don’t feel like you have to pile more on. Let your life be your Lent and let God Love you through it.” Those were some of the most profound and compassionate words I had ever heard a priest say, but the privilege of my life had always precluded me from taking her up on her offer. This year, however, I decided it was time. My life was Lent enough.

But Holy Week is here and Molly is back at school. She hardly needs any medication and can manage most things on her own. If you weren’t watching closely, you’d never know she was six weeks out from surgery. And so I began to wonder what I had learned during my “life as Lent” experiment. Jesus’ forty days in the desert showed us that a Lenten practice isn’t about a transaction to be completed, but a transformation to be undergone. He went in to the desert a newly baptized man, but emerged a man on a mission. What about me?

While there were no great changes of heart, my sense of mission has deepened this Lent. More than ever, Love is the ground from which I want to ”live and move and have my being.”

Last night, I read the Passion account from the Gospel of Mark and I was struck by the fact that the word “Love” is never mentioned. 1 John 16 may remind us that “God so Loved the world…” but in the eye witness accounts, Love fades away. Instead, fear, betrayal, pain, cruelty, guilt, and abandonment each take their starring turn. Love may be the motivation for Jesus’ actions, but it’s never explicitly stated and if there is one thing I have learned from all my years of study, it’s that we can’t see what we aren’t told to look for and through it all, Love is what we should be looking for. Any time I see a story about Jesus where Love is not mentioned, I know it’s not the whole story and I have to look again. God is Love and so for Jesus to be unloving, or unmotivated by Love was not possible.

Love is what sent Jesus out of the desert ready to serve humanity: Love of God, Love of self, Love of neighbor. They were all one in his heart and mind and it is that Love, that deep internal knowing of perfect relationship that allowed him to walk through the desperate time we call Holy Week. Jesus’ Love is what makes it holy, because he was wholly committed to Loving us and showing us what Divine Love looks like.

This week, it’s so easy to fall into the pattern of worshipping Jesus, for who he was and what he did. But he didn’t ask us to worship him; he asked us to follow him. He didn’t want admirers; he wanted disciples, women and men who were willing to do what he did, however imperfectly, (because that’s the only way we do can anything). Perfection is the enemy of the good and that was never something Jesus wanted to get in our way. We just have to read the post-Resurrection accounts to see that’s true.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t tell the painful and tragic story of Jesus’ death on the cross. I’m not saying we shouldn’t acknowledge our own culpability in his death and ask for forgiveness. I am saying that maybe we could use this Holy Week to try to Love as Jesus did.

On Holy Thursday, how can we humble ourselves before our friends and family as a sign of our Love for them?

On Good Friday, how can we allow ourselves to not need to be right, or defend our positions and reputations?

On Holy Saturday, how can we rest and just let things be as they imperfectly are, instead of rushing to make everything all right already?

On Easter Sunday and every day after, how can we celebrate the truth that death is not the end of the story and that Love conquers all?

Today, I’ll be washing feet. Tomorrow, I’ll be shutting up. Saturday, I’ll be unproductive and Sunday, I will be smiling and singing Alleluia. I hope you’ll join me.

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Here are some of the other posts I’ve written about Lent and Holy Week in year’s past.

“So Long Sad Lent”

“Rethinking Lent”

“The Day Before the Bad Day” 

“It’s Holy Week in Belgium” 

 

The Day Before “the Bad Day”

It’s Holy Thursday, a day I’ve always loved. Holy Thursday was the day before “the bad day,” the day we captured and killed Jesus, the day before the whipping and crucifying and dying. When I was young, I used to get a migraine every Good Friday. Our mom would pull us in – from twelve to three in the afternoon, the hours Jesus hung on the cross – no TV, radio, or friends, just quiet playtime or reading, in solidarity with Jesus. It was like our own mini, pint-sized crucifixion. I used to dread that time. As the inevitable call to come home crept closer, I could feel the headache coming on. Later, there would be a church service, a dark, somber affair, with great drama, a reenactment of Jesus’ suffering and death, a time for compunction and weeping for all that we had done to put him there, followed by a simple meal at home. I don’t remember those evenings after church. I imagine they weren’t joyful, lighthearted, or boisterous, our usual routine. I imagine we slipped off to bed, each to our own quiet reverie, overwhelmed by all that we had seen and experienced.

I am grateful, however, that Good Friday was the only day of the year where the image of Jesus’ death, and our complicity in it, was emphasized. The substitutionary atonement theory existed, but not as a major theme in my life. We weren’t told daily that Jesus died to pay for our sins, that the difference between our guilt and God’s greatness could only be overcome by the blood of God’s own son. Though it was on full display once a year, it was quickly followed by beautiful, glorious Easter Sunday. Before dawn, we were up and dressed and eating candy. By 6 a.m. we were singing Alleluia en masse on the church lawn as the sun rose in the East, secure in the knowledge that death had lost its sting. The risen Jesus had gone to prepare a place for us in the dazzling glow of the glory of God.

For some readers, my Easter memories might sound similar to your own, while others might think my family sounded like religious nuts. Who exposes a child to a reenactment of an ancient death penalty and tells them (or allows them to be told) it’s at least partly their fault? It all seemed so normal at the time…

But what is normal now?

That’s the question I ask myself continually. What is the new normal? What is right for today? What have I taught my kids? What do they know, or believe? More importantly, what do their hearts tell them?

I have raised them in Church, with religious education and the Bible. They know most of the prayers, and have received the appropriate sacraments. I did these things as I felt called, honoring the tradition I was raised in, the very one that set me on my journey with God.

I pray their hearts tell them that Love is the answer, that connection and compassion are the keys to happiness, that authenticity is the only way to be a person of integrity in the world and to be authentic means that you need to know who you are. The only way to know who you are is to be still long enough to find out, to be willing to listen to the urgings of your heart, the still quiet voice inside you, and when you hear that voice, you have to be brave enough to act on it and be willing to fail, to know humbly that no one has all the answers, but that questioning the status quo, the way things are, is the only way to keep growing. If you aren’t growing, you are going backwards. And, oh yes, in case you forgot, Love is the answer.

And by Love I don’t mean that sickly, sweet, destructive emotion that is depicted in almost every TV show and movie produced in Hollywood. Love is the ability to keep your heart space open when everything in you wants to shut down and say, “No, not this.” Love is the ability to be brave when you want to run away, to do the right thing when the wrong thing or even no-thing is so much easier and safer. Love has the power to change the world, because it is the root of compassion, justice, equality, hope, humility, commitment, faithfulness, and tenderness.

Do my children know this? Probably not yet, not entirely, but I am sending them the message every chance I get, including tomorrow, Good Friday, “the bad day,” when I will ask them to attend a service with me. What I hope they see, when we commemorate the death of Jesus, is not a death that “had to happen” because we sinned. I reject that premise entirely. But rather the underlying truth of the universe it reveals:

Something has to die, so that something new can be reborn. It might be a dream, a relationship, a belief, a tradition, or even your very sense of self, but what follows can always be better than what came before if you Love. If you hold your heart space open, if you don’t shut down in bitterness, or fear, if you forgive reality for being what it is, Life will begin again. Love always wins.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called God, “Love energy.” Love is the Alpha and the Omega point, where we came from and where we are headed, but we will get there a lot faster if we participate in the process. By choosing Love ourselves, we can live an Easter miracle each and every day.

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P.S. If you remember my Holy Thursday tradition, it continued this year. I am so grateful that at their ages and stages, my children still participate in this ritual of tenderness and blessing. You can read more about our annual foot-washing here and here.

Christmas Cards and Holy Fools

Ready for our close up, Team Kirks comes together for the filming of our 2014 Christmas video.
Ready for our close up, Team Kirks comes together for the filming of our 2014 Christmas video.

Dear Friends –

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Cheers to the Winter Solstice!

For the last five years, our family has chosen to send out a Christmas video in lieu of a traditional card. It always seems like a good idea until I start receiving beautiful pictures and messages from across the country. The cards communicate so much joy and holiday perfection that it makes me want to disseminate pretty pictures of my family too, instead of posting a bizarre video on Youtube. As long as the Internet exists, so too does our foray into absurdity. However, as C.S. Lewis once said, “We are embarked” and for the other four members of my family, there is no going back. Every year, it takes patience, creativity, humor and teamwork. This year, it also took a little more trust, at least on my part.

As I age, I tend to feel ever more foolish during the filming process and critical of how I look in the final product. This year, it’s more ridiculous than ever. But as Tim wrapped up the editing process, and I began to fret about what people would think, I read a reflection from Richard Rohr, O.F.M., one of our favorite spiritual writers and advisors. It was about being a “holy fool.”

According to legend, every once in a while, St. Francis would do something really ridiculous to embarrass himself in front of the people of Assisi. He paraded down the street in nothing but his underwear. He played seesaw on the town fountain all day long. He spoke to animals loudly and without shame. He never wanted people to see him as “more” than he really was.

Obviously, I’m no saint, but I can learn from the quest of the “holy fool.”

When you are a “holy fool” you’ve stopped trying to look like something more than you really are. That’s when you know, as you eventually have to know, that we are all naked underneath our clothes, and we don’t need to pretend to be better than we are. I am who I am, who I am, who I am; and that creation, for some unbelievable reason, is who God loves, precisely in its uniqueness. My true identity and my deepest freedom comes from God’s infinite love for me, not from what people think of me or say about me….

If you watch this year’s Christmas video, or scroll through the past years, the characters in the videos aren’t the “real me,” but they aren’t any less me than the woman I am sweating at the gym, studying theology, or cooking dinner. The videos are simply the most embarrassing versions currently on film.

The real me is who I am as I am held by God in Love. When I remember that, it doesn’t matter what kind of “fool” people take me to be and I have the courage to hit the Send button to my Christmas card list (and ultimately to all of you).

If I were going to say anything about my family, beyond what you can see in the video, it is this: I am proud they have the confidence to be “fools” for at least one more year. From Tim to Molly, they know who they are and they know they are loved. What more could a mom ask for?

I hope that over the next two weeks, there are more times of joy and peace than sadness and stress and that somehow, at some time, you get to play the “holy fool” and experience the freedom it brings.

Team Kirks Christmas 2014  – “Give It Away Now”

In case you have time on your hands and want to watch some old foolishness, you can click on these links to see past years’ folly.

Team Kirks Christmas 2013  – “Sabotage”

Team Kirks Christmas 2012 – “So What You Want”

Team Kirks Christmas 2011 – “Carol of the Bells”

Team Kirks Christmas 2010 – “Merry Christmas, Yo”

A Precious Eight Feet

Ruler CollectionThe most precious eight feet in the world (to me anyway) can be found in my home on any given day.

No, it’s not the width of the king-sized bed I share with my darling husband, (no matter how much joy and satisfaction I find there).

No, it’s not the length of my lovely Pottery Barn sectional where I get cozy with my kids and watch reruns of Happy Days and The Cosby Show, (even though I love having them next to me like a pile of puppies, each of them vying for a snuggle, or a gentle hand on the back of their neck).

It’s not even the depth of my backyard pool where I go to sink and stay as long as I can on hot, summer afternoons when I don’t want anyone to find me. (That’s where my training as a lifeguard really comes in handy. I can hold my breath for a looong time.)

Rather, the most precious eight feet I know are usually smelly, and frequently in need of washing. I rarely find all eight lined up together and when I do, six of them are usually kicking at each other.The most precious eight feet I know belong to Tim and our three kids, the four humans I love most in this world.

I know this is an odd topic, but I hope you’ll bear with me. I don’t have a foot fetish, but there is one day a year, when I celebrate these eight feet. I plan for this day with great care. I look forward to holding the ticklish flesh and bone in my hands and bestowing a little time, love and attention on each one and by extension, to their owners.

Now if this sounds intimate, and a little creepy, you’re might be right. Even as I write, it sounds a little weird to me too. But I am sure, when Jesus stripped to the waist in front of all his friends, it might have been a little awkward and creepy for them as well. On that Thursday night, their teacher, spiritual leader, and best friend all rolled into one got semi-naked and insisted on washing their feet. They didn’t want to let him do it. It was uncomfortable and unheard of and yet, since he set his mind to it, inevitable. They argued. They pleaded, but eventually, they gave in. Thankfully, my family did too.

On the Thursday before Easter, I settle them into an easy chair one at a time and use my favorite soap (Bliss Lemon & Sage – It’s the only day of the year I share!) to wash each foot from toe to heel. I cascade jugs of warm water down their shins and let it splash over the sides of the bowl. (My friend Patty frowns with displeasure.) While my hands are busy, I remind them why I love them. I recall stories of the good things they’ve done this past year, and the challenges they’ve overcome. I play a song that I’ve picked out just for them, one that speaks to what I see in them, want for them, or wish they knew. I ask them to forgive me for the ways I’ve let them down: for the lost patience, broken promises, and unreasonable expectations.  I dry their feet gently, massage them with lotion (more Bliss!), and kiss them before I send them on their way and invite my next two feet to come over and sit down.

Even though I was raised in a traditional Catholic home, Holy Thursday has never meant as much to me as it has in the last few years since I started washing the feet of my family. I cannot transform bread and wine into anything more than a simple meal. I have not performed miracles and I do not expect to rise from the dead. The closest I may ever get to following in the footsteps of the son of God is washing the feet of the ones I love. It may not be much, but I will take the similarities where I can find them.

I know this ritual is not for everyone and I don’t think it will be for us for all time. I expect my kids will eventually get too old and put their feet down, literally and figuratively. But for as long as they will let me, I will celebrate the only day of the year when those precious eight feet belong to me, at least for a few minutes.