A Travelogue of the Interior

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From the Rabbi: My Favorite Biking Experience

My favorite biking experience took place in Bossano del Grappa, Italia in 2008.

Altopiano_di_Asiago

Altopiano di Asiago

Each morning scores of Italians would fly by and we would hear the hum of the gears. We did five rides of varying degrees of climbs. The most spectacular was a 50 mile ride with about 3500 ft. elevation to the wondrous town of Asiago. At the end of each day I would withdraw by myself for some quiet time by the river just below our little family run hotel. There is simply no better way to vacation for me than to exercise through Italian scenery and reflect by the river’s edge. But the sweetest moment came on the last day when I borrowed the hotel bike and headed off in my flip flops, pedaling to find some flowers for our host. Not finding the flower store, I stopped to partake of some gelati when…

“A Wave of Beauty”

While biking up river seeking fiori…to no avail
a gelati bar binds me to a group of lively old menPICT0061
who just descended the Forza climb
each one dapper draped in red and white
take their repose at the bar
but just before they cross the threshold
a young beauty makes her way up the hill
on an old bicycle oblivious to the all bravado
she catches their eyes and seizes their hearts
with more emotion than they can constrain,
until one relieves the strain and shouts, “Belleeeesimaaa!”

Laughter roars as they make their way into the bar,
but one lingers long enough to see her face once again,
she turns, smiles and yes, even waves.
That insignificant gesture sends shock waves
through his beleaguered bones
and infuses the old man with such vitality
a warrior’s cry thunders from his lungs
summoning all his friends, who pour out into the street
to hear him recount the story
with wild hands waving as only Italians can do,
they surround him in their huddle of gregarious congratulations.
It was as if he had won the lottery, or had won her hand in marriage.

What is it that captures a man’s eye?
in its purest form it is not lust
but elegant beauty,
young, graceful and innocent
that makes us boys again
Flowers failing search
even across the ponte
one closed store after another
sends me home empty handed
until the old italian stallions
bike past me
and I, for a few moments,
trail behind
drafting their sleek peloton
as if one of them.


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How does a Christian magazine end up posting a letter defending statutory rape?

A week ago, the Christianity Today (CT) imprint, Leadership Journal (LJ), published a letter written by a man in jail for statutory rape of a teenage girl in his youth group.

It was published as a cautionary tale for pastors and other (male) church leaders lest they too “fall into sin” which, in this case, was positioned as an extra-marital affair between consenting adults. Only at the end of the letter does the reader learn with horror that the female participant was in middle school when the abuse began.

Within hours of the article being posted, a huge — and I mean huge — backlash walloped CT and the Journal, and after an appalling 5 days (the editors’ first instinct was simply to delete all negative comments), the letter was replaced with a genuinely awesome apology and retraction (it is included in the link above) demonstrating that finally, after countless emails, blog posts, comments and tweets, the publishers understood just how warped their point of view was that allowed them to publish a rape apologia couched in Christian vernacular and supported with Bible stories.

A number of bloggers have written about the ordeal — some of them sexual abuse survivors themselves, others who have grasped the consequence of gender discrimination in the church and the ways in which warped theology contributes to a climate wherein abuse thrives. One blogger in particular caught my attention and it is to her ideas that I wish to add.

She unmasks the nuance that had the predator/prey relationship been between an adult male and a teenage boy, CT and LJ would never have published the letter. It would have been so obviously despicable, unrepentant and narcissistic. The same holds true had the rapist been an adult female pastor, teacher or coach and her victim a teenage girl (or boy). We are crystal clear in these scenarios that these are not “extramarital affairs” or “consensual relationships.” We are crystal clear that one person is a target of sexual deviance and the other a predator who manipulates others for their own gratification.

So why — how — did the editors at CT/LJ miss this?  Why could they not see the same dynamic in this situation?

Surely a part of the answer is that in many Christian circles, a relationship between a dominant male and a submissive female is normative. It is proffered as the ideal model for marriage and the operating model for church governance.

When I was growing up, I picked up the message that the “ideal” Christian wife was younger than her husband, less educated, less professionally accomplished, embraced her calling to be submissive, and above all desired to be shaped by her husband’s wishes, ideas and leadership. The “ideal” Christian husband was the exact opposite: he was older than his wife, well-educated, had professional or pastoral aspirations and above all desired to be the spiritual authority and leader in his home. Authentic partnership and mutual submission were nowhere in the story line, although looking back I find it funny how few of us actually lived out this leader/follower narrative. Either we were terrible church-goers or God was particularly merciful. I’m thinking it was a combination of both.

Lest you think this mentality has gone the way of all flesh, look no further than the embarrassingly popular Duck Dynasty patriarch and his encouraging of child marriage to see this idea alive and well. The clear message from Phil is that a man should marry a girl — 14, 15, 16 tops — so that he can mold her into a well-trained, subservient wife. Her humanity and the giftedness and calling of God on her life are irrelevant at best, and more likely simply non-existent. She exists solely for him, the argument goes, because Genesis says so. He is entitled to her.

(As an aside, are you aware that the Duck Dynasty patriarchs are putting out a Bible? Yep. Thomas Nelson is publishing a new King James version with commentary from Phil and his son Alan. Words fail). DC FF Bible

As sex scandals continue to rock the conservative evangelical world, comparisons are being made to the Catholic abuse scandal of years past. I am convinced that part of the reason we all reacted so vehemently to the news of widespread sexual abuse of altar boys by priests was precisely because we could all understand deep in our bones just how powerless, how un-equal, how un-consenting these boys were. We didn’t have to be told that a teenage boy does not willingly, naturally become a sexual submissive to an adult male for the purpose of that man’s pleasure. But we have to be told this very thing when a man’s victim is a girl. Especially if she is a teenager.

So here’s where it hurts: we could see the horror of male clergy abuse of boys clearly because it violated our worldview, wherein boys are agents in their lives and have full and unfettered rights to their bodies. When they are made powerless (we even have a word for that: emasculated) we can see straight away that something is horribly, egregiously wrong.

But girls, in this worldview, are powerless by design, by divine edict. Their bodies belong to their male protectors, the men who are entitled to them. It is their God-given role to be powerless, to require male leadership in order to thrive, and so when girls are victimized, we don’t recognize it as such. At first blush it looks normal, maybe slightly off but only slightly. The man was a little too old for her. She was maybe a little too young. Things will even out eventually. 

(Interestingly, there is no equivalent word for what happens to a girl or woman when she is robbed of agency or power — linguistic relativity would argue that this is both a reflection and a cause of female powerlessness).

I am not the only person to wonder if this horrible rape-apology letter would not have been published had there been women on the CT/LJ editorial board. Strong, opinionated, educated women, women who were viewed by their male peers as equals, whose voices were weighted equally in shaping editorial decisions.

For me, this week-long decent into a necessary yet excruciating discussion of sexual abuse in the Church that I love so much has reminded me again why I am a proponent of women’s full equality in marriage and church. The Bible I read says God made men and women to complement each other (no, I am not a “complementarian”). We are not the same. We see differently, experience differently. We are shaped by different forces in our culture, by our biology and the ways we were nurtured. Equality does not imply sameness. To the contrary, it is our difference that is our strength. We need each other — in marriage, in friendship, in church governance, in ministry.

In our equality, in our diversity, as peers, in partnership, we bear God’s image and accomplish God’s first, formative call on our shared humanity:

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.


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From the Rabbi: The Most a Poem Can Do

Bringing Four Worlds Together 

Slide1Stanford professor John Felstiner, reflecting on Paul Celan’s poem Es Stand, commented that the most a poem can do is to bring four worlds together through its metaphors or images. “And when it does,” he said, “the poem becomes explosive.” These worlds are the natural (creation), the spiritual, the political/geographical, and the personal.

When we apply the four worlds of the poet to David’s psalms, we can begin to appreciate their enduring significance through their many layers of memory. First, there is the historical situation that places them in the context of David’s story. Second, we find Israel using David’s psalms in new situations with different liturgical settings. Third, these prayers take on greater significance as they give shape to Jesus’ prayers. Finally, as we are “in Christ,” David’s psalms become our prayers.

I experienced the explosive power of the poem on my second visit to Romania in 1989.

While we were studying the David/Jonathan story, several agents from Romania’s secret police (the Securitate) were searching for us in the forest in order to arrest our hosts for housing us (it was illegal to have foreigners in their homes without reporting it to the police) and conducting a Bible conference. In the midst of their intrusions into our camp, four brothers (all were named Jonathan, as if by divine coincidence) put their lives on the line to protect us from the police. img124

I had never experienced this kind of sacrificial love before. It was as if the ancient David/Jonathan story was being re-enacted right before our eyes. At one point I took my position on a secure height to watch for any agents who might be coming up the road, while the Romanians took cover inside a large tent to worship and study God’s word.

Sitting in silence I began meditating on Psalm 27. David’s metaphors broke my soul wide open.

When evildoers assail me
      to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
      it is they who stumble and fall. (Ps 27:2)

On four different occasions, the Securitate came to devour our souls, but each time they stumbled and fell. And then I read further in the psalm:

                  For he will hide me in his shelter
                        in the day of trouble;
                  he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
                        he will  lift me high upon a rock.
                  And now my head shall be lifted up
                        above my enemies all around me,
                  and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of  joy;
                        I will sing and make melody to the Lord. (Ps 27:5-6)

As I was reading these verses, I could hear the voices of the Romanians singing their songs of praise concealed “under the cover of his tent.” The David story and song that had shaped Jesus’ story, was now shaping our lives in this new setting on a hillside in Costeşti, România. I was overcome with the joy of having a small part on the stage of God’s wondrous drama of redemption.

This explains why certain hymns or spiritual songs evoke strong emotions within us, while others may not. When specific lyrics give voice to significant experiences in our lives, or to emotions we haven’t yet been able to articulate, or evoke layers of memory and accumulated emotions, they can stir our hearts to the core.

The hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” has always been a favorite of mine. I came to appreciate it first for its lyrics that give voice to trust and contentment at a time of loss. My appreciation was heightened when I learned the occasion for which it was originally written.

But it wasn’t until I sang it with a couple grieving over their six-year-old son at Stanford Hospital, that its power became explosive. As Timothy had only hours left to live, we lifted our voices to sing the hymn. I didn’t remember the second verse, but the nurse taking care of Timothy did. And she did not hold back. With her full-throttled voice she boomed out the second verse. When she did, it was as if angels came into the room and flooded us with a peace I can only describe as transcendent. Suddenly the hospital room was transformed into the gate of heaven. I watched in awe as a mother held and caressed her dead son. Then Timothy’s nurse washed his body with as much dignity as if he was Jesus. The sting of death had disappeared, totally.

That Sunday at church our worship leader had selected the hymn not knowing what we had experienced earlier in the week. As the words rang out, I looked behind me and saw Timothy’s mother singing, tears streaming down her face. We made eye contact in the secret acknowledgement of what God had done that week. Such is the power of the poem.

[1] John Felstiner, Paul Celan, Poet, Survivor, Jew (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 268.


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Jacob’s Ladder at Sacre Coeur

Two evenings ago, sitting around the dinner table, the Downings had a epiphany: we only had one day left in Paris.

One Day.paris-metro-map

Our lollygagging over croissants and coffee, our wanderings in the time-stopping halls of the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre, not to mention strolling through the back streets of Saint Germain des Pres, had conspired together to tee us up for seeing, well, none of the tourist attractions in this city. We were stricken.

So, we quickly drew up plans to see the entire city the following day, because that always works.

No, seriously, out came the city map and then the metro map and we figured it out. The following morning we would start early (ok, 10a but that’s early when you go to bed at midnight!) and head straight to the top of Paris – crepes in Montmartre and the gleaming white Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.

Friends, I was On A Mission: my Type-A personality was in full tilt, my determination pinned at 100%. We would see it all, take it all in.

It was in this state we arrived at Sacre-Coeur. It was a spectacular, cloudless morning and we stood for a while at the aged wall that surrounds the courtyard, tracing the Seine and searching the topography for familiar landmarks.

Finally, we wandered in and the girls stopped dead in their tracks, necks craned to take in the expanse. I realized a few minutes in that there was actually a mass being held, though to be honest, the droning voice of the priest hadn’t really broken through my consciousness. The faithful sitting in the pews were indistinguishable from the tourists getting off their feet for a few moments.

tumblr_lrnzeadrwb1qbb2lbo1_500

Sacre Coeur and the Sacred Heart of Jesus

But then, something brand new happened, something I’ve never heard in all my visits to landmark churches both modern and medieval all over Europe: an angel started singing.

It took me a moment to figure out what that unearthly sound was, as it rang out in the acoustical masterpiece that is the copse. I searched the platform and there she was, a small nun, about my age, blue habit, barely tall enough to reach the microphone at the podium. But her voice, crystal clear and unaccompanied, floated and danced, ascending and descending Jacob’s ladder as Heaven came down.

I stood there listening … entranced. I stared, not at her but at the immense mosaic celebrating the heart of Jesus, and tears sprang to my eyes.

Who would have thought a busy day in Paris, an on-the-go day, a day I had all planned out, full of tourist attractions, would begin with a surprise encounter with the living God?

The “old” me would have felt a twinge of guilt at having “forgotten God” in all the hubbub and busyness and stress of traveling and the allure of sightseeing.

The “new” me – OH I like her so much better, am so grateful for all God has done in me to birth her, this “new” me stood there with tears in my eyes and gratitude swelling in my soul that God would find me there, fill a thin space with His presence, sing life into my soul – a song that would carry me through the rest of the day and infuse everything with grace and beauty and truth.

I am so very, very grateful that I am not required to create opportunity in order for Him to accompany me on my journey, although I am welcome and invited to do so.

This Person who I love – He found me once, a long time ago and has been finding me over and over again ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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A few more links on personal narratives and trigger warnings

Here are two very well-written pieces that circle around the ever-growing popularity of “trigger warnings” and more broadly, the contributions and limitations of personal narratives, especially when considered up against the Scriptures in the life of a Jesus-follower.

Trigger Warnings and Trust, by Alan Jacobs

Why We Shouldn’t Trust Our Stories, by Alastair at Alastair’s Adversaria

Enjoy!

k

 


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“Men want significance and women want security.”

Ella, ever the gadfly in our house, is doing a book report on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.eowyn-wiki I can’t believe anyone reading my blog does not know the story, but just in case, it traces an epic quest of 9 male characters (4 hobbits, 2 men, 1 dwarf, 1 elf and 1 wizard) through Middle Earth to defeat an overpowering evil. Along the way, Tolkien incorporates a very small number of notable female characters: 2 elven queens and 1 human woman (and an embittered hobbit, but she’s beside the point).

In the movie version of LOTR, the female characters are bold, courageous and determined, but the one that captured Ella’s imagination was Eowyn, a noblewoman who disguises herself as a man so she can ride into battle against the great and growing evil, even at the risk of death.

Ella’s identification with Eowyn got me thinking about a phrase I heard routinely at church as a teenager, this little ditty that, “men want significance and women want security.” This statement was evoked as a way of instructing us girls that since we were created by God to want (and need) security primarily, we would find our deepest satisfaction in marriage and homemaking. Likewise, we were not — and ought not try to be — like men, who had a deep, God-given need and desire to participate in an epic story and struggle valiantly with their fellow brothers-in-arms — to give their lives for something significant. You can see the chalk outline then of the male/female model, where the men engage in epic battle in the public square and the women wait at home for the return of their conquering hero. This idea is illustrated quite clearly in the hugely popular (among Christians) Wild at Heart and Captivating books by John and Stasi Eldredge:

In an interview with Beliefnet, they explain,

“In fact, in “Wild at Heart,” I (John) said every man wants a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. And in “Captivating” (Stasi) -every woman wants to be romanced; every woman wants to play an irreplaceable role in a heroic adventure, not just to be useful but to be irreplaceable; and every woman longs to have a beauty that’s all her own to unveil, both an external beauty and an internal beauty as well. To be the beauty and to offer beauty.

The woman in this scenario, it should be noted, was part of the man’s spoils, his reward for having fought the good fight, so she had certain essential obligations to look the part. By extension, as I have heard many times in my short, happy life, when women refuse to be the prize, when women take up arms (metaphorically and physically), it demotivates men and deprives them of their masculine prerogative.

Some of my friends loved this narrative and Could Not Wait to fit themselves into it vis a vis marriage.

But me. Oooh no, this narrative made me crazy — C.R.A.Z.Y. Even as a young teenager, I knew deep in my soul I had very little desire for security (as it was conceptualized anyway) and even less desire to be someone’s prize. I was drawn to all the stories of epic questing and never, ever imagined myself in the role of fair maiden. My go-to childhood superpower? Flight. Way better than Spidey sense or a Lasso of Truth.  I wanted wings more than roots. If there was a mountain to be skied, I was at the top of it. If there was a boundary, I pushed it. If God was offering something, I was first in line even if I was uninvited by the powers that be. The edge has always been my comfort zone.

Even as a child I wanted to see the world, and I still do. When I get cranky and irritable my husband starts making travel plans, because he knows how essential it is for me to breathe fresh air and set my sights on something new, set myself against a task yet untested.  I am beyond fortunate that he’s that way too, and so when life throws us lemons we let the lemons mold and rot in the fridge, and we pack up the kids and hit the road.

I see the same hunger in both of my daughters, although scarcely can they identify it yet. What captivates them: challenge, risk, adventure, the open road. Julia will go on epic quests in the interior of her own imagination, and I guarantee you she is the hero in her own story, and rightly so. Of course, we all of us love to come home after our adventures, sleep in our own beds, get reacquainted with the cadences of daily life. It is not either-or for me, for my daughters.  It is both-and.

There are those who would argue (and have) that what feels to me like an innate desire to engage the big wide world and play a part there, to be significant, is a socially conditioned response fomented in the 60s by radical feminists and is (thus) not the way God made me. Who knows, maybe they are right. I guess someday I’ll find out if I became the person God imagined before the foundations of the world, or instead became some silly, deformed cultural cliche. I, for one, have more confidence in God than that, though. I have confidence that He is able to do all He sets out to do, that He is able to complete His work — even in me.

Perhaps it is security that gives us the courage to quest and seek a role in God’s epic adventure. Perhaps it is the desire to contribute in some significant way to a story larger than our own that drives us to form the securest of bonds with kindred spirits, those born of blood and those born of faith and covenant too.

The more I think about it, the less the bifurcation irritates me, and the easier it is to simply dismiss it out of hand. The truly stupid part of this idea, sold to me in those formative teenage years, is that any one of us can be cleanly located, because of our gender, into one or the other little, tiny box. As if God has boxes at all.

God made each of us in His image and called us to wage war against evil and bring heaven to earth — what role could possibly be more significant?

God made each of us for Himself and named us — brother, sister, daughter, son — what relationship could possibly bring greater security?

Let the Owen Strachan’s of the world keep on deriding women like me. I’m sticking with Eowyn.


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Poetry Friday: “Follow”

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Supper at Emmaus (Caravaggio)

Follow

Can you love who you do not love
even crushed beneath the
weight of your own pain?

Can you swallow evil down
bile turning to acid yet
not vomit it out?

Can you hold rejection in your own hands
while it blisters and burns
trusting Me to heal the scars?

Can you let Me kill you with the hope
I’ll raise you from the grave
and not forget?

I think I knew from that first moment
Dove resting on My head
How it all would end
Not the horror of it, mind you
No one could have foreseen that.

Can you feel the welts rise on your back
from the lash that loves to
separate flesh from bone?

Can you hold your tongue amid snarls of accusation
when you know better
when you know all there is to know?

Can you face the man who thinks he is your enemy
grip the table as he strikes you in your face
see him convulsed in confusion and fear?

Can you let your tears mix freely with your blood
without needing to explain
from whence they came?

Can you follow Me there
where theology fails and
evil plays every card?

Can you live without answers?
walk an untrod path?
die for a man’s choice to hate you?

Will you follow Me there?

Then take My hand
end My loneliness
walk with Me
to the cross
the tomb
wait for Me
to rise
journey with Me
to Emmaus
hear it all explained
until the ground
beneath our feet
turns to gold
in the New Jerusalem.

I am the Lord’s servant
May it be to me according to Your word.
Tho’ a sword pierce my soul
and my heart shatter,
do not send me away.
Let me go where You go
show me what it means to be 

Your beloved.


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From the Rabbi, on Mother’s Day: From “Tears in the Night” to “Wiping Away Every Tear”

Having ended my last blog with my poem, “Tears in the Night,” I thought I should recap God’s grace over the last 38 years to “wipe away every tear.” My grief for Jessica was not only due to the shortness of her life, but also the fact that I was not able to connect with her for her short six days of life or in the days that followed her death. With both our children the hospital offered to take care of their bodies to spare us the agony of having to make funeral arrangements. Little did I know then how much I would regret this “gift.” As a pastor, I am called to bury other people’s children. I stand beside them as they silently place their children in the ground and say their painful goodbyes. The grave of their son or daughter is forever marked with a stone. That stone becomes a sacred place of memory to which they return on a regular basis to remember, to mourn, to worship, to cry and to laugh. For years Emily and I had no place to go.

Where did the Sower plant the seed?
I long to know,
but it is hidden from me.

Years passed and then my friend Jim Zeigler, a counselor at Alta Mesa Cemetery, discovered that Jessica’s ashes had been scattered at his cemetery. He called me to get all the information about our children, and then had a gravestone specially made for them. Slide05Their names and dates are now etched in stone in our backyard. Underneath their names is the verse from David’s psalm:

Weeping my lodge for the night,
but a shout of joy comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:5

How do you thank someone who goes to such lengths to carve your children’s names in stone? One tear wiped away.

After we had been restored with sacred space, God gave me the gift of my daughter’s voice. Whenever I teach the Psalms, I always have my students share their personal psalms at the end of the quarter. It is the highlight of the class. On one occasion at Western Seminary, a young woman named Jessica stood to read her poem. Before she began I asked, “What is your middle name?”

She smiled and said, “Lynne” (my daughter’s middle name).

“What year were you born?”

“1976.”

“What month?”

jess

Jessica Lynne Morgan

“November.”

Now I can feel my gut tightening and my tears beginning to swell.

“What day?”

“November 30” – the exact day my daughter had been born.

As Jessica read her poem, I was in speechless wonder that, for just this one day, I was able to hear my daughter’s voice. There may be joys that equal it, but for this father none surpass the elation of hearing a daughter’s voice. One more tear wiped away.

Time would fail me if I were to recount the scores of conferences, retreats and schools where I have had the joy of teaching the Psalms and the power of the poem––locally, Southern California, Texas, Colorado, Canada, Oregon, Washington, Romania, Albania, Croatia––and on each and every occasion, after teaching on David’s lament for Jonathan, I offer my poem to Jessica. Funny thing about poetry, the words never get old, worn out or banal. The metaphors remain as rich and carry as much emotion as the first time they were uttered. And the love that I experience for my daughter is enriched and deepened in the presence of God’s people in ways I couldn’t have imagined. The key is you have to be free to cry. Many more tears wiped away.

God’s grace was still not done. In the spring of 2011 my dear friend Jim Zeigler died of ALS. Jim was deeply loved by our church and community, so much so that we had to move his memorial service to a church that could accommodate over 1000 people. The service was one of those rare times where time stood still, the worship was dense with a palpable presence that released our tears, and every word was as heart spoken and tender as our beloved Jim. A residue of God’s presence from Jim’s memorial carried me into the pulpit the next day. My text I had planned that week was 2 Samuel 1, to be concluded with Jessica’s poem. However, after Jim’s passing I wasn’t sure it was appropriate to do my daughter’s poem. But Karen (the one you all know) encouraged me and said, “When you read her poem, make sure you breathe in between the lines to let her in.” I took her advice and it worked. A special tear wiped away.

The next day our pastoral staff left for a retreat at Lake Tahoe. We were led by Jim Gaderlund, a fellow pastor and gifted spiritual director. The first night he led us in a reflective communion time. Before we took the elements he told us to take stock of where we have been. If we were hurting, we cold select a rock from a selection he had arranged on the table and place it on the altar. If we were rejoicing, we could select a flower from a large bouquet he had bought and place it on the altar. When my turn came, I decided I wanted to express my appreciation to Jesus for incredible gift of healing he had granted to me since the death of my daughter, Jessica. From the bouquet I selected a large yellow daisy and just before I set it on the altar I kissed it. Immediately after I kissed it I had the strange sensation that I had just kissed my daughter––Jessica’s presence was palpable. I couldn’t hold back my tears and felt compelled to tell someone, but I thought, “Who can I tell who won’t think I’m crazy?” When communion ended, I grabbed my friend and co-pastor, James, and said, “I just kissed my daughter!” Now more tears, but these are ones I don’t want to wipe away.

On the eve of Mother’s Day I thought it appropriate to include one more Jessica moment. Emily and I never had celebrated Jessica’s birthday until 2011. Two of our grandchildren were coming for dinner, and being that it was Jessica’s birthday, she thought it would be fun to celebrate her birthday. Since God had allowed me to hear Jessica’s voice, I thought Emily should as well. So I composed a letter from Jessica to her mother. I called my daughter, Jenny, and asked if she would come join us for dinner and give her sister a voice to her mother, which she did.

November 30th, 2011

Dear Mom,

Today is my 35th birthday and I heard you will be celebrating with dad and my little sister, Jenny, along with my nieces, Mary and Emmy, and my nephew Wesley. So I asked papa to get you some yellow roses to remember me by. Yellow is my favorite color, because it matches my blonde hair, but most of all, because it reminds me of you. You probably wonder what I look like. It’s hard to describe my glorious, new body – but I look a lot like Jenny, but with Katie’s curls. Lucky for me I didn’t get daddy’s nose, but like all your children, my eyes are blue.

As you celebrate my birthday I want you to know what a blessing you are to me.

Though I was tragically taken out of your arms to be by my brother’s side, my little life was shaped and sheltered solely by a mother’s love. For nine months as I bonded with you i n the sweet shelter of your womb, my delicate frame was knitted together by God’s loving hands. I was wondrously made, and all my days ordained for me, were written in His book, before even one of them came to be. You took such good care of me, even though you could not see my face. I know you and dad worked hard to prepare a special place for my arrival, with new wallpaper, a refurbished crib and a changing table.

When I arrived, you held me with an indescribable love and tenderness. For three wonderful days I had the privilege of gazing into your eyes as I nursed. The feeling of security and well-being you provided was so compelling, I quickly learned to trust God in the trouble that lay ahead.

Those were painful days, I know more for you than me. You wanted to see me grow up, to crawl, to walk, to sing, to play soccer, to date, to give me away, and to see my children. But, as daddy wrote, it ended much too quickly:

            My eyes could not gaze on your little tent,
            which would all too soon
            be broken down and laid to rest
            in the earth, rather than upon a breast.

As you and daddy were engulfed in sorrow, I lay down to sleep and awoke in a new world where heaven fills the very air you breathe. I began to grow and explore its never-ending beauty with my brother, David. Like him, I never experienced the pains of sin or any of the cruelty that happens on earth. I only knew a mother’s love.

But there is more. I got to see another side of things, that perhaps you could not see. When you prayed for me, heaven became silent for about half an hour. Then I heard the deepest groaning and sighs that were beyond compassion, followed by a sudden burst of energy and commotion. Angels were summoned and sent with an urgency I have rarely seen. Out of the death of dreams, seeds of hope were planted in human hearts and corporate prayers were offered in faith. A baby born by Christmas, who would have thought? The gift of another daughter for my broken-hearted mother.

As I peer into your world 35 years later, I can see the fruit of a mother’s prayers. Did you ever dream of being entrusted with so many gifts? One son and four daughters, three granddaughters and two grandsons! Not to mention the scores of preschoolers who found shelter under your wings.

In Hebrew your name means “mother.” And I, Jessica Lynne Morgan, am forever privileged to be known as your daughter.

Love,

Jess


1 Comment

Reblogged: “Me ‘n NT” by Bronwyn Lea

I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HERE.

But life conspired against me and instead of spending an evening learning about the Psalms from the inimitable N.T. Wright (“Tom” when he’s being a man of the people), I spent the evening pushing my kids to do the homework they Simply Cannot Do Anymore. OMG, when is this school year going to end? WHEN!!??

Anyway, the next best thing to actually being there? Getting this recap on the evening by my new and fabulous friend, blogger Bronwyn Lea. Give it a read and see what Tom Wright had to say at his San Francisco presentation on the Psalms.

Me ‘n NT.

Thanks Bron for the write up!

-k