Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Easter and the Kaleidoscope of Struggle

When I was a kid I remember wishing particular holidays would last longer than the allotted 24 hours. I wanted to linger longer in the celebrations...and the candy...and the time off from school.

As an adult, I feel the same- although a little less candy and I am ok with the kids going back to school.

This is where I am grateful for the regular liturgical reminder that the high holy days are actually seasons. They extend beyond a singular calendar square and hold us for a prolonged period of time; they usher us into another time. Easter is no different. Resurrection is more than what happened; resurrection is happening. Easter is more than an isolated moment; Easter is the momentum that propels us forward and towards the Ascension and Pentecost.

And in these days, when every morning we brace ourselves for the latest news story to break about signs of death or terror or violence or churches and mosques and synagogues burned or bombed, we need the story of the empty tomb to be read on loop. As poet Julia Esquivel writes, in our internal and external "cyclone of a kaleidoscope of struggle" we need "to live threatened with resurrection."

This Lent, I covenanted to my own practice of mindfulness as meditation. As a part of that journey, I carried sacred phrases shaped by lectionary stories that could hold the space for me as I ventured towards and through Holy Week.  The labyrinth of characters became my own kaleidoscope of struggle. The discipline made the final inscription in the center, Christ Is Risen, all the more meaningful and, dare I say, holy. The resurrection did not just show up ex nihilo; rather, anastasia was welcomed in anticipation.

Now, as I lean into the Easter season, the pilgrimage continues. Each day, I venture around the narrative created. I linger a bit longer and hold on hope tighter, assured death has not the last word. I commit to read through this before I unlock my phone and encounter the daily newsfeed. Only then will I, and all of us, be able to weather the cyclone of the day and threaten it with resurrection.
Lenten Labyrinth towards Holy Week and Easter

From the dust of goodness you came, to the goodness of dust you return. / The way things are will not always be. / Lament, but do not longer; look for hope on the horizon. / Repent, turn towards what cultivates life. / What was lost will be found; what was dead will be raised to life. / Surrender cynicism and isolated self-interest; breathe in the fragrance of hope in the extravagance of love. / Wave hopes and dreams of deliverance; welcome liberation. / One day at a time; one story at a time; let hope come in time. / love one another. / Look upon the cross. / Watch and pray. / CHRIST IS RISEN! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Meditation and Mindfulness for Lent: An Emerging and Evolving Practice

Since Ash Wednesday, I have been clinging to weekly phrases as exercises of mindfulness and meditation. Each Sunday I mark a sacred phrase of meaning that integrates a call to life in the midst of a liturgical season of darkness and despair, which is very much a pattern of reality as a whole. This discipline is a hybrid of the contemporary practice of “loving-kindness” meditation modeled by Sharon Salzberg and the Ignatian discipline of centering prayer (more here, too). The essential aim is to latch onto a holy collection of words to slow down the mind, cultivate a non-anxious presence, and stimulate life-giving meaning:

"Loving-kindness is meant to be done in the easiest way possible so that the experience springs forth most gently, most naturally. To do it in the most easiest way possible means first to use phrases that are personally meaningful...Let your mind rest in the phrases. You can be aware of the phrases either with the breath or just in themselves—the focus of the attention is the phrases. Let your mind rest within them. The feelings will come and go."

There are a variety of phrases Salzberg recommends. Check them out here and on a recent podcast with The Liturgists here. For Lent, this is what has been emerging for me, somewhat based on lectionary scripture texts. I will post the final collection during Holy Week. Until then, maybe discern and discover your own phrases for the remainder of the forty-day pilgrimage from cross to empty tomb. May God’s Spirit meet you in the mindful meditations as you dwell in the love of God, neighbor, and self, the essence of what the Hebrew Scriptures call chesed or loving-kindness. 
From the goodness of dust you came[breathe] to goodness of dust you will return. (Ash Wednesday)
The way things are[breathe]will not always be. (First Sunday of Lent)
Lament but do not linger.[breathe] Look for hope on the horizon. (Second Sunday of Lent)
Repent; [breathe] turn towards what cultivates life. (Third Sunday of Lent)

Monday, March 25, 2019

God's Next Is Now: Reflections for Third Sunday of Lent

“Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” 
(Luke 13:9)
Let it alone until next year?
What makes this gardener think anything will be different, better, or more fertile for growth 12 months down the road? Is there something special about this round of manure to be spread? Why the call to wait and see?
It is quite evident that we find ourselves at a pivotal crossroads as faith communities, nation, and larger world. Yet, when change is happening at a rate difficult to measure, the temptation for the church is to rest in the familiar and spread supposed-fertilizer on old mission paradigms, paternalistic charitable practices, and concerns for church programs that primarily target those who are in pews, which are becoming more and more vacant. So when tenders of our congregational vineyards suggest pruning what we or those before us planted so to make space for what is new to spring, it is far easier to say, “Let it alone until next year. Can’t we just spread some manure on it one more time and see if we can make it work?”
The answer is a resounding, “No! Next is now.”
Maybe this is the intended irony of Luke, as he quickly moves from this unresolved parable to Jesus’ healing of a woman from a debilitating spirit. Jesus refused to wait to work towards liberation and love, “Woman you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God” (Luke 13:12-13).
Jesus knows what is next is now. The question is, do we?
This Sunday’s lectionary is fitting, as we find ourselves again grieving a horrific act of violence that claimed the lives of those gathered to worship and pray- this time 50 Muslim sisters and brothers in Christchurch, New Zealand. The name of the community where this act of terror and white supremacy took place only adds to the horror. It reminds us their suffering is our suffering; the sorrow of our Muslim neighbors, near and far, is also a burden carried by the Church of Jesus Christ. The same was true in light of what occurred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh (2018), the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas (2017), the Islamic Center in Quebec (2017), Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina (2015), schools like Marjory Douglass in Parkland, Florida (2018), and the list goes on and tragically grows. This does not even take into account the lives claimed by gun violence and demonstrations of hate in our neighborhoods throughout Greater Philadelphia. As we look around, we see more than enough barren fig trees, even memorials to the lost, and know something has to change in our language and legislation, political and faithful witness.
In light of the urgent realities of our polarized and fractured world, we must continue to ask a lot of questions, ponder critical and expose hard truths, confront racism, exploitation, phobias, and various isms, build ecumenical, interfaith and community coalitions, and talk a whole lot about where the Spirit may be leading our churches at this crossroad of faith in the midst of the complexities of the twenty-first century world. We may even need to uproot immediately, instead of spreading dung on them, those systems, patterns, programs, and practices that do not generate life and instead perpetuate the marginalization and oppression of any person or people. As the Confession of Belhar reminds us, “The church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged.” We must resist the temptation to wait until the next year, next tragedy, next shared story of devastation and death to do the hard work necessary to bear the fruit of God’s alternative dreams for a world made whole and good again.
In this season of Lent, we are invited to grieve, mourn, pray, light a few candles, and even confess the ways we are complicit with the sin of a broken world. Yet, we are called to lament not to linger. Our lamentation must lead us to mobilize in the immediacy of our present, to refuse to spread manure on trite rhetoric and call it progress. We must repent and trust the Spirit to awaken us to new, courageous, and risky possibilities today, in the stench of death, assured new life will spring if we have the eyes to see, ears to hear, and faith to follow Jesus towards the immediacy of liberation and the urgency of love.
After all, God’s next is now.
This post was originally shared as a reflection for the Presbytery of Philadelphia as a part of weekly Lenten devotionals: https://presbyphl.org/gods-next-is-now-by-rev-greg-klimovitz/ 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Jesus, Jubilee, and Questions Worth Repeating

A sermon delivered at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Clifton Heights on Sunday, February 4, 2019.

"We need Jesus to come to our sanctuaries, read from the scroll, take his seat among us, and nudge us towards localized expressions of jubilee. We need the Spirit to come upon us- to help us dream of a gospel not only about life beyond the grave, but also one fulfilled today, in our time and place, the spaces between birth and death, after the creedal comma where we live, struggle, hope, and linger alongside our near and distant neighbors. Faithful saints, we need Luke 4 repeated among us more than once every three years of the lectionary cycle, to remind us our jubilee can only be fully realized when intricately woven within the jubilee of our most vulnerable of neighbors."