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Gospel of Mark, Lent, Reflectionary

That escalated quickly (Mark 1:16-28)

Lots happens in chapter 1 of Mark, and the words used to describe what happens show that they happen with speed and energy. Right away, immediately, suddenly – four fishermen leave their work to follow him, they all go to synagogue, a person with an unclean spirit screams at the sight of Jesus.

That escalated quickly. Will fishing for people always be so dramatic? Who is this guy? What have we gotten ourselves into, man?

In a time of both spiritual and material emergency, I wonder if we can take some solace in knowing the first disciples, despite being water-wise, had to immediately realize they were in over their heads. Suddenly they saw they were attached to someone unpredictable. Right away he was drawing attention; surely they had been seen with him?

The whole story of the disciples in Mark is about not understanding, asking the wrong questions, acting from wrongheaded impulses, and hiding from the truth.

But without being impulsive and a little boneheaded, I wonder if any of us would follow?

Holy One, help me see how I am like those first followers, and sweep me up with you immediately, suddenly, right away … before I can hide myself away. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 1:29-45. Full schedule can be found here.

Gospel of Mark, Lent

Change your hearts and lives! (Mark 1:1-15)

On this first day of Lent, our family woke up without our cell phones on our bedside tables. In collaboration with our 13-year-old, we agreed that in the hour or so between the arising of pets and his departure for school, we would not be sucked into social media, or email, or online news, or video games (him). A few exceptions were made for the adults – yes, the parish pastor in the house can be sure there were no texts or voicemails related to pastoral emergencies, and yes, I could check Facebook messenger for overnight messages from our daughter in Japan.

We have made some other commitments for this season of penitence and preparation, this study I have scheduled out through Easter Monday among them. There is one self-discipline I have not mentioned aloud to anyone in its particulars, which I guess means no one will know whether I “win” Lent or not. Whatever I’m not mentioning is a very small sacrifice in the larger picture of life, but a hard thing for me.

I’m pretty sure it’s not what Jesus had in mind at the end of this introductory portion of Mark’s gospel.

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:14-15, CEB)

In just 15 verses, this earliest of the gospels has referred to Isaiah, introduced John the Baptist, and given us a thumbnail origin story for Jesus that includes his baptism, an announcement from God that only Jesus hears, and a mere two verses devoted to his 40 day sojourn in the wilderness, in which Satan, wild animals, and angels get equal time. Now Jesus is ready to get to work, and he is not holding anything back!

Wait, isn’t this the gospel with the Messianic Secret? Won’t he tell the disciples to hush about who he is? Yet he is saying it from the word “now.” “Here comes God’s kingdom!”

He is talking about himself.

He is God, and God’s kingdom is walking into our midst in his person.

“Change your hearts and lives” has to mean more than any exercises we can manage for up to 40 days, minus Sundays. That doesn’t mean I won’t do them … small, measurable changes can support a changed heart and a changed life.

But what gets us into this in the first place has to be bigger.

Holy One, when I am tempted to think that following you is only two verses or forty days worth of commitment, help me to hear your voice in a new way, to change my heart and my life, and trust this good news. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible. Tomorrow I’ll be reading Mark 1:16-28. Full schedule can be found here.

Denial is My Spiritual Practice, Reflectionary, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Rheumatoid Disease

What’s she saying?

Early Tuesday morning, I started reading The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women, by Christine Valters Paintner, who some of you may recognize as the Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, an early member of the RevGals blogging community. I met her ten years ago when she was visiting Maine, and we had lunch together in a coastal town. We talked about our work, and when she spoke to me about living with Rheumatoid Arthritis, neither of us knew I was weeks away from the crippling flare that would lead to my diagnosis with the same disease.

In Chapter One, I read about Yin Yoga, and then I looked up when my local yoga studio offers it – Sunday morning, during church time – and then I thought about my lonely yoga mat rolled up behind the laundry hamper, and Jessamyn Stanley’s book, Every Body Yoga, with her great descriptions and photos of poses, and I put the book mark in and went on with my day.

(One of the ways I cope with having physical difficulties is pretending I don’t have them until I can’t fake it anymore.)

When I went to take a shower, the first foot in slid toward the far end of the tub. I grabbed for the bar on the wall but I could not stop myself, only hang on as tight as possible. Somehow I pulled the other leg in after me. Awkwardly arranged on the floor of the tub, with the water pouring down, I continued to hold that bar. I got my knees under me. Everything hurt, but nothing seemed to be cracked or split, and my head was still above the rest of me, other than that arm extended to keep clinging to what I considered the safest thing in my vicinity.

I spent a long time after my RA diagnosis trying to parse what happened to me, why I had to live with this particular condition, what it might mean for my vocation, my family, my life expectancy. I admire the way Christine writes about the wisdom of the body, but I find it hard to listen to mine. This week I don’t have much choice.

More like Yank Yoga...I’ve been joking about it, ever since I was sure I was going to be able to get up and out of the shower again. “I was reading about Yin Yoga, but that was more like Yank Yoga!” “I don’t think I’ll try out for that Senior Cheerleading class!” “I strained muscles I didn’t know I had!”

But it’s no joke that I was scared, scared enough to call my wife at her office, and scared enough sounding that she came straight home. It’s not joke that I’ve spent the past few days more aware of how my body feels than I usually let myself be. What’s she saying?

“Girl, slow down.”

I don’t want to hear that.

“I know, I know. You did a good job hanging on, though.”

I guess that’s something.


~adapted from my essay for the RevGals Weekly e-Reader~

Lent, Mark, Reflectionary

Mark read-along for Lent

Reading Mark duringLentI’m planning to read the Gospel of Mark during Lent and invite you to join me. You’ll find the schedule here.

Reading through Luke and writing about it was a great discipline for me last year. As a preacher, I found there were certain sections found in the Revised Common Lectionary that I knew well, and other parts to which I had never paid close attention. I *think* I know Mark better, but I look forward to finding surprises and new insights.

Christmas, Ministry

Cassoulet for Christmas: a word for cooks and preachers

My father-in-law from the first go-around was a wonderful cook. Creating delicious meals was his avocation. I came poorly prepared into that family-by-marriage, having grown up with a dad who literally did not know how to boil water and a mom who fed us dinner from terrible 1960s recipe cards. (Isn’t that tomato aspic … Christmas-y?) Julia Child was that lady Dan Ackroyd made fun of on Saturday Night Live; and who was James Beard?

My father-in-law had taken cooking classes at Beard’s brownstone in New York City.

My kids grew up eating impressive holiday food, and I learned what I could along the way, until I became a pretty good cook. But this is the first Christmas I will take on a dish that is more of a multi-day project: Cassoulet. I’ve made a detailed grocery list, and I’ve marked out which parts of the preparation need to happen on which days, making allowances for the somewhat inadequate gas power of our stove here at the Manse. (Let’s just say you can’t use the burners at the same time you’re cooking something in the oven, unless you don’t care what happens to the latter.)

I’ve been thinking about it for months, and I have wavered more than once, only to be reinforced in my intention. My former sister-in-law photographed the Cassoulet pages in her dad’s Michael Field cookbook and sent them in a Facebook message. A friend who used to be a caterer offered up her gigantic Le Creuset Dutch Oven, the kind of pot you don’t buy for something you may never make again. A Twitter buddy assuaged my anxiety with a better-explained timeline for the recipe courtesy of Bon Appétit.

And I read the Cassoulet recipe in my circa 1982 copy of Joy of Cooking, which told me that this peasant dish – what? – from France was pretty much a combination of every kind of meat a farm family could have pulled together for a special meal, plus beans. Surely, with proper forethought, I can make this happen. My Cassoulet will not have all “the meats,” but it will have enough, and my sons will stand in the kitchen with me cooking for days, and if all goes well, it will look something like this.

Pastors and preachers bring so many things to the feast at Christmas: our personal histories, and our faith traditions, and our study of scripture, and long-held local practices. We do our best to find a recipe for worship and proclamation that combines revolution with respect, commentary with candlelight, and carefully-planned mood moments with space for mystery to break forth. I know you have done your work, planning the way services will unfold, balancing the words and the music, always considering timing, and taking seriously your responsibility to say enough but not too much about what it means for God to come into the world, in the flesh, to be one of us. In some ways it feels as impossible as the countdown to Cassoulet, doesn’t it?

While I am cooking, I am also praying for pastors and the congregations they serve. I have confidence in you, and in your recipes.


Adapted from a message I wrote for the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

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Advent, Reflectionary, The Inner Landscape

Winter Wonderland

The monthly specials at my favorite office away from home, Cornerstone Coffeehouse.

I write this from the draftiest location in my favorite local coffee shop, overcrowded as everything seems to be in the onrush of Christmas. I spent the morning reading blogs written by clergywomen, mostly, and thinking about all the pastors I know while drinking a holiday-themed beverage called “Winter Wonderland.” My morning included a trip to the Post Office to send off one overdue package, one present I hope will come as a surprise to the recipient, and a padded envelope full of stocking stuffers for my daughter in Japan (the cost of the postage affixed thereunto being something I will have to explain when I get home).

My responsibilities are different from the past few years, as I am not serving a church, and I’ll admit that feels strange. I wonder if it isn’t true that having to craft and curate experiences for other people gave me a sense of purpose that made the mixed-up world feel closer to manageable. After all, if I accomplished Advent wreath liturgies and multiple bulletins for special services with all their moving parts, I had control over my little sliver of the universe.

Beautiful artwork by Hannah Garrity of A Sanctified Art, amateur coloring job by yours truly.

This Advent I am busy with other things and missing the familiar ones dearly. I am trying to look at my faith life as a regular person’s faith life. I’ve been coloring in the devotional booklet put together by the wonderful women artists of A Sanctified Art. This morning’s reading was from Psalm 80; those words and I have a long history of meditations, sermons, devotions I have written. They have lived inside my head.

Our meeting today was different. I don’t need to unpack them for anyone else, or embroider them for any liturgical or homiletical need to be met. I was able to let the words and the colored pencils work their way with me. In the loss of a familiar role, there is the luxury of being no one in particular this Advent.

Of course, I am sharing *that* thought with you. As the other preacher at my house said on Facebook just this morning, everything is sermon material.

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The Inner Landscape

No one but God knows

Last year not long after the election, we bought a faux birch tree with lights on it.

We brought it home and put it on the wide window ledge in our kitchen/dining room and plugged it in and admired it.

We never turned it off again.

Day and night, winter and spring and summer and fall, we have been waking up to the lights on that tree and coming home to the lights on that tree and eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner by the lights on that tree. It has been in the background of innumerable photographs; right now our ginger cat is sitting under it with his paw in the water dish.

Yet it has never become something we don’t notice.

As night impinges on day in these dwindling weeks before the Solstice, the little tree reminds us that even in a sad and terrible world, in a devastating political and cultural season, glimmers of goodness exist and there are means to defy the despair evil wants us to feel. By the lights on the little tree, we will call our representatives, and make donations to religious and civic organizations doing good work, and wrap packages and write cards for people we love, and play games and read books and hold hands and pray with them, too.

We will kiss, and we will cry, and we will rage and prepare to burn the whole thing down, and we will refill the cat’s water dish.

Jesus told the disciples that no one but God knows when the hour and the day will come.

In the meantime, I’m not sure what else any of us can do but stay awake and be ready for the moment when something we do or say can make a difference.

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