Permit me, Lord: a prayer for 2021

 
 
 
 Permit me, Lord

 Permit me to love you, Lord
 in spite of weary, bedraggled form—my own. 
 Permit me to love you, Lord
 in ways that stretch the narrow, fearful hardenings in my heart.
 Stenosis of dismay
 temporarily halts my pursuit of holiness.
 Help me to run—swift pursuit;
 your open arms stretched wide
 between twin pillars of Christ's Kingdom,
 righteousness and justice never failing.
 May incense arise, my known 'poor spirit,'
 bent now to pour oil
 and light the flame.
 Reverence and need entwine, curl heavenward
 their soot a cure for my unknowing.
 I exalt your holy name,
 my Lord and my Redeemer.
 Amen 
 and amen.

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

“Matthew 5 (ESV) – Blessed are the poor in.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 9 Jan, 2021. https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/mat/5/3/s_934003.

Wise Man

 
 

 Wise Man
 Do you want to be a wise-man
 behold the light
 that marks Christ's coming?
 Dare to migrate...
  
 Do you want be a wise-man
 pursue the One
 who brings the light
 first spoke it into being?

 So you want to be a wise man???
  
 Summoned before the face of oppressive power
 and reckoning
 choose to depart by a different way
 choose to be governed by justice and righteousness?
  
 Might I be a wise-man
 Believe you are who the prophets foretold.
 Oh, Holy Prince
 your peace transcends temporal security.
  
 Mighty Counselor
 we kneel at your cradle of wisdom.
 May we be wise—and willing
 journey far to rejoice in the light of your presence.
  
 "Opening their treasures they offered Him gifts..."
 Wise men.
 Grant that I might unwrap such gold, this frankincense and myrrh
 'Knowing You to be immeasurably who You say You are.'
  
 Might I, newly wise
 fall
 knees to earthen floor
 and worship the newborn King.
 
 jfig     12/2020 

Dear Reader,

Last week, the song ” Do you Want to Build a Snowman,”  from the movie “Frozen” kept popping into my head. Followed by  the wise men. Surely one could find more fitting comparative verse for the Prince of Peace! But the real question of this poem points toward a place of child-like longing that lingers forcefully in many of us, What part do you want to play in the story of Jesus? And the morechallenging grown-up question, What relationship with him, do you wish to have?

The content of this poem is carefully gleaned from Isaiah9:1-7 and Matthew 2:1-12. It stops me in my tracks to read the prophecy of Isaiah 9 moving toward conclusion with, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” ( emphasis mine) To not only end there, but to start there; to uphold there.  What do you think establishes peace and why?

“Isaiah 9 (ESV) – Of the increase of his.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 14 Dec, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/isa/9/7/s_688007&gt;.

With

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him… John 1:1-3a

With

In the beginning...
our begging souls long with time-distilled
thirst
for what, we toil to know.

In the beginning...
before light and darkness shaded the landscape
with ~ rooted essence
of God's first transcendent Word.

In the beginning...
the deep land of mankind
sprawls parched
looking over her shoulder; remembering.

Living water
some spring trickles deep in my soul.
Craving more
With

One's thirst awakens
in search of seed of all creation
Longing for company ~ the Divine spring
With a germ that nurtures life.

jfig     12/2020

Dear Reader,

In the darkening winter days leading into Advent, an astonishing amount of light has shone. Beautiful days of sunshine and frost’s sparkle. Small gifts of kindness that burst onto 2020’s scene of blatant uncertainty. Scripture passages that speak of thirst have stood out to me with references to mankind’s misguided attempts to fill life’s deep needs with distractions that do not sustain. Still, they are part of the journey; but what part? Our longings, reconfigured in pandemic, point to deep thirsts within. Thirst, and the scriptures that evoke it thematically, seem ponder worthy for a season. I’m trying to learn to ask the questions and let them echo a bit, rather than offer pre-packaged answers that do not resonate with where you might be in your story. Thanks for showing up here, I’m delighted to have your company. jfig

“John 1 (ESV) – In the beginning was the.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 5 Dec, 2020. https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/jhn/1/1/s_998001.

If you liked this reflection, you might also appreciate Christian Lindbeck’s sermon on John 1:1-18; accessible here: Light in the Darkness | Week 1 – Hillcrest Church (hcbellingham.com)

Unveiling

 
 
 
 
 Unveiling
 Such beauty waits beyond the slash heaps
 One climbs their ruins—no small feat
 for one feeling small.
 Yet reddening corpuscles absorb air
 those that have not carried oxygen
 for long seasons of treachery.
  
 Treachery the lie
 that small ones have no strength.
 None of our strength is our own...
 'Tis gifted or granted, imagined
 for purposes far beyond
 even our most benevolent inclination.
  
 And yet, cells have not forgotten
 how to carry this breath of life.
 Lift the veil on beauty's unfolding
 her wonder un-reconciled to loss.
 Maker has seen to that
 with measured infinite supply.
  
 None of our strength is our own...
  
 jfig     10/2020 

This poem derives from figuratively carrying Psalm 27 around in my pocket, for long legs of life’s journey. You can access it here: “Psalm 27 (ESV) – Of David The LORD is.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Oct, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/psa/27/1/s_505001&gt;.

As one feeling small, I might hide. I do hide – afraid of what others will think of me.  But the Maker hides me with his very being; miraculously conferring holiness, strength, life, hope upon this fragile frame. Psalm 27 says that the Lord hides us in is tent, the place where He dwells. The Hebrew root is shineth. The Lord hides us in the awesome and devastating place where his being radiates with glory and majesty. Really???

Midst both my own journey, and the privilege of walking a bit with others, I often grow impatient (and fearful). Why does healing and the transformation that comes with it take so long? How are we to endure?  This poem is in no way meant to minimize the pain you might be in, as you wait. It is meant much like a prayer, to stand in the gap with and/or for you, and look for the light of Jesus’ coming to rescue those He lovingly created in his image. I pray He will lift you into the strong beauty of His Presence, and keep you safe.

 Lord God, sometimes we cannot believe for ourselves, that there is any reason to hope. And yet, here we are – still breathing the breath of life, that only you could have breathed into us. And so, we wait together, not just for you, but upon you, with the belief that you are who you say you are. Sustain us in hope, even as you sustain us by your mighty hand, we pray.

Luke 4:18,19

Grey

What if the dawn is grey
holding on to dying threads of darkness?
Alabaster beckons...
but first, we must know how to hold its worth.

Clouds transpose; lifting and boiling
not violently - they are pale
but changing nevertheless
some with great rapidity.

If we humans then, are momentary
one dare not miss the momentous occasion
to observe the sacred: translucent wisps in eternity.
Stand - still and reverent to acknowledge what God has done.

"God, you say. Where is He?"
He holds the clouds
sometimes covering what we cannot bear
(were never meant) to see.

"Peel back," He roars
Can you not fathom
the righteous bedrock
of my creation?

A gentle tutor:
"Beauty is kindred to peace...
My hope, will not disappoint...
Think on it."

Aaah, and much of the time, my friend
hope is pale, pale grey
It's time-hammered pewter a translucent pane
mercury glass between God and man. 

jfig   11/2020

This poem is dedicated to my cherished friend Donna, a gift-bearer of HOPE.

For more in-depth reflection, this poem draws from the following passages: Job 38-42; Philippians 4:8-9; Isaiah 5:12; and if you are feeling brave, Romans 5:5 and preceding.

2020:Beacons

Darkness is not prevailing

Covid 19 fell like an avalanche
wiping out practices of life as we knew them.

Racial unrest surged—
the dam broke:its torrents of pain and violence
carving tortuous new paths through community.

Brick and mortar rubble:
fires and tornadoes, and air-sucking anxieties
darkened the atmosphere.
But darkness is not prevailing.

Real people unfolded wallets and schedules from their safety nests
the kindling of kindness burgeoning in their chests
as match to wick
kindness set candles of compassion aglow
in the darkness - like question marks.

Kindness is the middle child
sweetness by which the Spirit of Holiness tutors us
in how to live
and grow
hemmed in, yet disconnected from one another

Middle child in the house down the street
kissed the Stone called Selflessness, and asked
Mommy, how can I help?
Nickels and dimes gleam in the grand scheme of things
winging like iridescent butterflies.

Hidden neighbors, hungry for righteousness (it's taste not wholly familiar)
felt the palpable thirst of colored skin
and asked the Keeper of the storehouses of snow and hail,
Won't you fill the deep racial crevasse?
Shovel in hand, Won't you fill...?

A stick cross middles the hill 
marginalized outside of town;
outside of belonging or protective walls, outside of resources.
A lone transceiver picks up the signal of hearts in distress. 

Kindness kindles
Compassion roars into flame - jumps another crevasse.
It is finished.

We are the embers of this eternal flame
from which hope is born, and reborn

Kindling of kindness finding the margins—Hope is reborn.

jfig   10/2020

Often we feel marginalized, either in our distress; or in our ability to help. I've experienced both this week, my energy dampened by weariness and discouragement. When I sent out a quiet distress signal, asking people for help, it was the small measures offered with kindness, that made a huge difference and reset my outlook. An email saying I am praying for you, a shared moment of laughter, a flower intentionally put in my hand and another gently taken from it all pulled me back from the brink of despair, and filled me with both gratitude and hope. There was some chocolate, too. But since it is still in the wrapper, it was the kindness of the gesture and NOT the chocolate that made my heart happy. 
We are all on journey, some aspects long and wearying, others glorious and exciting. You may get to travel only a short leg with someone. Remember the kindling. Another's matches may be all wet.

Ephesians 2:4-7 says that God gifts to us the riches of his mercy and grace...in kindness toward us through Jesus Christ.
Lord Jesus, might we, by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, celebrate and emulate God's gifting of kindness toward us, and thereby become couriers of his mercy and grace. Amen

Trajectory

Trajectory
 
 
Persistent ripples
scribe the surface of Bagley lake
evidence
that life breathes,
expectant,
beneath the season's fleeting veil.
 
Painstaking intent
flows along ages-old trajectory.
The Foundation of the world stretches ancient fingers
toward the fullness of time.*
Beginning to the end;
the end itself—endless.
 
Float, if you must
beneath this moment's sky
her sun not wasted.
Nor is winter's gloom,
though we tend to hasten time.
Who knows where our Spirit God hovers?**
 
jfig    9/2020
*Ephesians 1:4-10; **Genesis 1:2

Ephe. 1:3,4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

In August, my Covid19 hiking buddy and I made it to the Mt. Baker Wilderness Area to circumnavigate the string called Bagley Lakes. Though not the most acclaimed hike in the area, its raw beauty still spoke volumes. Questions surfaced, just as they have in the past: are these really lakes, or just snowmelt puddles; and what is the difference? You can see right to the bottom – old logs and a dearth of fish. So what is the point, if you see the air for two of twelve months, with no trout nor tadpoles, and the rest of the time are covered up as if you didn’t exist by layers of ice and snow? Two things refuted my skepticism: Even though the water was crystal clear, the ripples were determined, not just from the wind, but from underneath. In its abbreviated season, the free-running water was determinedly going somewhere. And (2) in retrospect, we felt ourselves a part of the scenery, not merely observers. We could see where our footsteps had traced just 30 minutes prior; right there exactly. We were part of this day’s wilderness story, in a way that my companion visibly understood.

The reminder that any season, whether brief, seemingly benign, or harsh to the point of devastating, can still be part of God’s purposeful trajectory is hugely comforting to me. We don’t get to measure the seasons; they seem to take measure of us. But we can look across the valley to see where we have been; experience some surprise to see others who trudge there now. We can revisit the pages of story: how God’s triune company and unwavering intent have transformed us en route. I hope the thought that your story is not outside God’s trajectory, is comforting to you as well. Sincerely, jfig

Learning to listen: She Only Said It Once

She Only Said It Once

Her ‘voice’ barely registered

skimming along the fibers of my optic nerve.

Nevertheless

she spoke.

A concise, comprehensive gesture—

it’s in there.

 

In my haste

to keep us moving toward task completion

(that trajectory of necessary stuff

like getting to work, being prepared)

In my haste

I assumed

she ‘spoke’ of something else,

missed my question.

 

Thank God, I did not scold

just kept parroting my question.

But she only answered once.

 

Twenty minutes later…

when I stopped looking everywhere else,

and listened to her,

she forgave me;

but that is her story.

jfig   7/2020

 

My daughter Brie, is 22 years old. Clinically speaking, she is nonverbal, as well as discernibly developmentally delayed. In practice, however, she is at times profoundly articulate. This was one of those times.

Brie works two days per week at a farm supply store.  Stellar job coaches, engaged co-workers and graciously committed administration support her efforts. It is almost magical. Brie enthusiastically wears a vest that identifies her as part of the store family and the legacy that goes with it. She excels at go-backs, and job-site morale. Work was item #4 on the day’s list.  We couldn’t find her vest.

As we prepared (in advance, I might say) for her work shift plus line-items 5 and 6, I said, “Brie, it would help if you found your vest for work. It is almost time to get in the car.” We  finished putting on shoes and I left to load up activities 5 and 6. When I came back, she sat in the same spot, closing the zippers on her overnight bag ( she likes fasteners). No sign of the vest. It is not in its place in the closet. Not to worry, I think I have seen itWhere did I see it last? Vest or no vest, it is time to get in the car. As Brie buckles in, I ask her, “Where, ” and she makes one clean gesture toward her bag. Meanwhile I am looking: Perhaps it is in the horse bag, or still in the car from Monday…This may seem inane disorganization to you, but we take really good care of that vest. I could not find it in any of the places I had ‘last seen it.’

” I know you are excited about your overnight bag (item #6), but right now we need to find your vest…” By this time Brie and the bag were in the car, and I was still talking to the air about finding the vest – for twenty minutes.  Finally, we had to leave, so I grabbed the back-up vest, lacking her radio headphone safely stowed in the pocket; when it dawned on me that Brie had answered my question. Once. And I had failed to listen. I  underestimated her listening and her capability and the completeness of her response – repeatedly.

Woe to me, when I am too busy multitasking to listen to a quiet, less frantic, vulnerable voice. Whoa to me when I am too busy getting the job done, to regard and listen to another who is participating in that work.

 In practice, Brie is sometimes profoundly articulate: some of my friends would say, Jenny, you are being too hard on yourself. She couldn’t say it out loud, and that would have eliminated the disconnect. (It has been a twenty-two year decoding journey.) But that would miss the point. She can’t answer me in words. Or in sign language. Or with a voice box. She can’t answer me in the kind of voice that I am most used to hearing. She answered me with a gesture, with the means at her disposal, and I failed to listen.  If I listen, with understanding, only to those who speak in ways familiar or readily comprehensible to me…perhaps I need to change my pattern of listening.

Some further thoughts: I probably understand Brie in real time,  better than anyone else on the planet (except perhaps my husband.) If we are invested and willing, yet still falling short; how narrow is her window for being understood?

How reflective is this incident of my finesse in listening to others who speak in a form to which I do not gravitate, of matters less readily understood? I am not comfortable with loud, angry voices. I am not attuned to all forms of oppression. I can tell you I do not like assumptions being made based on the color of my skin. In Brie’s case, as a parent, it is my job to ask Brie to be respectful and appropriate. To work on maturing. But it is my job, my choice, my privilege, to listen. Am I willing to miss critical information because I cannot fully appreciate the way it is delivered? Or will I choose to learn something new, in order to understand, to facilitate someone else’s better today?

Am I in charge? Not really… How willing am I to listen to others’ good ideas about effective solutions?

In spite of all we thought we learned from the early months of Covid 19 about caring for one another, and what I thought I knew about prejudice; I am invited anew in 2020, to pause in my frantic hurry to where I am going, and listen to those whose stories are different, whose needs are different, whose dreams may be different, but at the core, sound strangely familiar. To choose to listen, for the nuances behind the content and method without assuming that those voices sound strange to my ear because they are somehow less capable or accurate. To first lose the oppressions in how I listen, in order to lose the oppressions in living.

jfig     lessons of 2020

Grace in 12s: a reflection on pain

Wiggle Room

When pain is raw

out there pulsing on the floor

like a live thing—

wiggle room is scarce.

 

When pain thunders deep and wide

echoes reverberate

beneath one’s breastbone,

the fortitude to engage grace—

give and receive

is spare.

 

When suffering is long…

we don’t really know how long,

do we?

unless one asks, or has been there

trudging alongside

seasons of the journey.

 

Mud and muck cling to one’s shoes

and laughter bursts

at hidden ridiculousness.

Oh, God, let us

keep sharing laughter

in journeys long and deep.

 

When pain is raw

the wiggle room to extend honor

grace-filled speech and action,

is narrow – barely squeezing by

CAUTIOUSLY: so I don’t tear open wounds

that might just begin to heal.

 

My power to heal

to effect and sustain change

is only so great as the source from which I draw it.

Come to the well, dear sister.

Come to the well.

I am talking to me.

 

jfig     6/2020

RW pic grace &amp; fire

After a career-long of assessing and addressing pain, it remains apparent to me, that each person’s pain, is enough. That our service is not so much to avoid or get rid of it, but to hold it with and for one another, in order to strengthen what remains. To carry it for seasons, in often less than capable hands, through the grey dusk of mourning,  while we wait together for healing to come.

It is not hidden in scripture, that God commissions his followers to heal. I love the passage in Luke 10:1-11, regarding this commission:

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. Luke 10:1(ESV)

Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’  Luke 10:8-11(ESV)

I love that we are sent – invited to go – where Jesus himself is about to attend. I love that we are invited to bring Jesus close to the hurting. I’m reassured that we are given permission to leave when we are not wanted. That we are not meant to carry away with us, the weighty dust of, ‘You are not welcome here.’ That we are meant to leave with the attitude of our message intact: Nevertheless, the kingdom of God has come near.” Jesus also reminds his followers, (vs. 20) that the thing to be celebrated, is not the ‘works’ they have done, the authority they have wielded over demons. The thing to be celebrated is that they are among the company of those who have received grace unto salvation. The thing to be celebrated is grace. So far as I can tell, none among any of us is given the authority to say who receives grace unto salvation. None.

“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 (ESV)

Raw pain demands our attention. We look at our smallish hands, stunned…how can we, as individuals, as a society, hold this much pain?  “Nevertheless, know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.”  Oh, that I might be a bearer of the kingdom… with smallish hands.

The story in Luke 8, where Jesus, in the middle of a crowd, is called to the bedside of a dying girl, speaks. The child is ‘about 12 years old.’ Jesus is detained in responding. He chooses to be detained, to engage a woman who grasps his robe, pleading for help. She has been bleeding for 12 years. As long as the young girl has been alive. Each person’s pain is enough. Jesus attends to all: to the girl and to the woman; to the father oppressed by fear. He draws each of them up with kindness. He also has choice words for the ‘advocates’ in both situations. Please see Luke 8:40-56

“Luke 8:1 (NLT) – Soon afterward Jesus began a.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 11 Jun, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/luk/8/1/p1/s_981001&gt;.

Jesus, may I be one who bears the news of your healing presence, as you draw near to those who are hurting. May I quiet myself enough to realize where you are about to make yourself known; what town you would have me visit. Open my eyes, not just to the pain of the one who is dying a distance far-off, but also to one who is bleeding out along my path. Help me choose to carry kindness, the comfort of your impending presence. Give me caution to not fan the flames of false heroics, nor torch anyone with my words, or actions,  but to look for the fire of Your Spirit in the night sky, and follow where you lead. Follow you toward hope and healing, toward freedom and abundant life. Gird me with patience to hold the pain of others, its hot unwieldy expressions; that together we might see the healing dawn of your powerful grace; watch you resurrect life from the ashes of our self-absorption and hatred, our disdain for others, and woefully, for You. We need you, Lord Jesus. We need you, Father God. We need you, Holy Spirit. Bring your healing love that honors and resurrects life in the tiniest of increments. Come Lord Jesus. Amen

“Luke 10:1 (ESV) – After this the Lord appointed.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 11 Jun, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/luk/10/1/p1/s_983001&gt;.
“Scripture quotations marked ESV are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001, 2007, 2011, 2016 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Photo: Corinthians 1:8-11

 

Questions in the Margins: Hold You in My Heart

This poem is written to and for persons of color, your family and friends, in response to expressions of persistent pain and suffering you experience due to racial injustice.  In the Book of Philippians, Paul and Timothy write, “I hold you in my heart,” to the believers in Philippi. Believers who at least symbolically, were among those Paul had previously persecuted, even unto death. This poem is loosely patterned after that prayer.  Philippians 1:1-7

Hold you in my heart

 

I hold you in my heart

reaching out blood-tinged hands

across the barriers of history

to gather broken pieces of your soul

out of the ashes.

I don’t presume to

‘put you back together’

but to hold your story

as the sacred missive it is,

and lean with you toward

One Who Can Heal.

 

I hold you in my heart

defenses momentarily unlaced

by a glimpse – mere glimpse

of your suffering,

the color of your blood

draining ochre into the soil

on which we now stand.

Stand?

Nay, walk…

for this is a journey;

wretched soil for all of us

to leave behind.

 

I hold you in my heart

examining the color of mine

to ask where it might celebrate—yours.

wake late to the dream

birthed out of your nightmare;

that the passages that carried you through the night to freedom

might tunnel through the dark once more

bring me to your door

in a fellowship of love, art

music, work, laughter

and the overarching  grace of Christ’s righteousness.

 

I hold you in my heart

(it takes such a long while to quiet its thunderous beating)

I purpose to wait;

to not simply acquiesce

in verbal acknowledgement of complicity,

but to wrestle with the discomfort

until I can hear the faint, strengthening beat

of life’s muscle in your chest.

This is a labor of love.

 

I hold you in my heart

Your freedom is not for sale

Truth is, one cannot buy, nor sell, freedom;

Our freedom was purchased

before black or white or red ever set foot on this shore.

But I would like to scour stains

of what it has cost to realize your freedom,

by the washing of your feet;

pour the oil of joy instead of mourning

into the fissures in your soles

that black feet might dance once more.

I hold you in my heart

jfig  6/2020

RW joy hearts

jfig     6/2020

The journey to acknowledge white privilege has been messy for me.  If it were not for confidence in the grace which Paul describes, I doubt I could engage the difficult questions. #stillonjourney

Scripture reference is Philippians 1:1-7 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001, 2007, 2011, 2016 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.