Grace Without Borders

“But our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians.
What a profound statement. What a wondrous truth.
And there is no debate about that. There is no need for follow-up questions or 30 seconds for a rebuttal. We don’t need to go to any media website to confirm the veracity of Paul’s declaration. He’s not making something up in an attempt to win our vote in a primary. Paul’s assertion is not going to be trumped by anyone. His words are simply true.
Because this citizenship is granted by God, we don’t need immigration papers. We don’t need a green card. We don’t need a work permit. We don’t need the permission of Congress, the White House, or any parliament or national assembly around the world.
Nobody has to smuggle us across the border because there is no line on any map.
God’s grace is without borders.
God’s love has no crossing guards or checkpoints.
Nobody will ever build a wall to deny us entry.
We don’t have to live in the shadows. We do not have to fear deportation.
There are human organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders and Clowns Without Borders, who minister to the hurt and suffering around the world. They will go anywhere. There are no limits on their caring and compassion, no boundary on their desire to heal wounds—physical and emotional—that are created by human conflict around the globe.
These men and women provide us an example, in microcosm, of the unfathomable expanse of God’s desire to reach out to us, wherever we may be on this planet, in healing love and grace for our own wounds—whatever they may be.
Grace Without Borders.
That is God.
Love Without Borders.
That is God.
Just as there are no possible human impediments between us and our citizenship in heaven, there is likewise no border that can block God’s love and grace from reaching us. There are no crossing guards or checkpoints. No wall could ever keep God’s love and grace away from us. God doesn’t need a green card or a work permit. Congress, the President and any national assembly around the world are all powerless to stop God.
We are citizens of heaven but God’s love and grace reside with us already, wherever this life takes us. What a gift that is!
So…what might we give God in return for such limitless generosity?
Perhaps that might be by removing any barriers to our own love in this world, removing any crossing guards or checkpoints between us and our forgiveness for those who have hurt us, and tearing down any wall that might stand between our compassion and those who need our healing touch, a healing touch that might simply be a word finally spoken from deep behind the borders of our own heart.
Citizenship is a great privilege, but it also carries tremendous responsibilities.

Let The Ashes Remind Us Of The Flame

And so our lenten journey begins. Forty days across the spirit meadows and 40 nights over the soul mountains to the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee with its gentle waves reaching toward us even now in its widening embrace.
A high tide of God’s love and grace.
As brothers and sisters in Christ within the outstretched arms of a waiting, loving God, we each bring a spark of Christ within us to candle-flame the darkness and send it retreating from the face of our own flickering that summons strength for this journey.
Let us walk together now for these few moments through the bright eternal flame of the life of Jesus, right up to this very second.

And let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“Here is my servant who I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.
I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break
And a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.
‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean.’
Immediately the man was cured.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining.
And the curtain in the temple was torn in two.
Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’
When he had said this, he breathed his last.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore but they did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’
‘No,’ they answered.
He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’
When they did they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit…
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

And may our Lenten journey be guided by this inner light toward the resurrection cross of blooming flowers, the hallelujah garden of God’s love toward which our Good Shepherd leads us.
The world may surround us and mark us with its ashes, but there is a flame deep within us that the world cannot touch.
And it is inextinguishable.

Sometimes, I Wonder

“Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.”

—The Gospel of Mark

SOMETIMES, I WONDER

Sometimes,

when the moon seems skillfully slung

to skip across the rushing clouds,

I wonder whose wrist and fingers

give the crescent of light its motion

and if the heart behind the hand knows I’m watching,

wading toward the deep end of the sky,

up to my neck now

and wanting to swim

in communion

with the reflection of the sun

along the surface of the lunar song

being sung across the skin of heaven.

Sometimes,

the light splashes

and I feel its current all around,

lifting me for a moment so brief

that it seems unreal,

as if it were only a fantasy of my own desperate yearning.

Sometimes, I feel the heart behind the hand

send me skipping, too, across the clouds

in the wake of the singing moon.

And then my wondering turns to wonder.

Always.

The Corner Of Your Smile Inside Me

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”

—the Gospel of Mark

I remember being a child in Nazareth,
sitting on the flat roof of our house under a night sky
so filled with stars
that I thought the darkness would turn itself inside out.

But there is more darkness in the world than is found in the night sky
and I prayed that one day, no matter what,
the light would turn all of that other darkness inside out.

That is still my prayer, God.

But I also prayed that the light would somehow turn me inside out, too.
And then one day you did.
The light of your love turned me upside down and inside out.
It still does.
Astonishing me.
Especially when I need it most.

And so here I am in this deserted place,
under the star-pricked sky,
feeling almost like a child in school
who has precisely followed his teacher’s instructions:
Make an imaginary night sky
by poking small holes in dark construction paper
to let the flashlight shine through from behind
like midnight constellations.

Almost.
Because I am the child
who chose to tear away the dark paper
and let in all of the light, instead,
forever shining your love into the souls
of those who’ve gone away now
with their healing and their scars,
leaving me weary but warily exhilarated
at the luminous possibilities of it all,
brushing the hammers and the nails aside
—even though they always return—
and living the life you dreamed I would,
feeling the corner of your smile widening inside me,

and a joy deeper than rumbling laughter
reflected in the moonlight sailing on the waves below.

And Jesus Sang With God’s Voice

“Just then there was in the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’”

—the Gospel of Mark

Suddenly all of the dissonance is gone.
But I cannot hear a thing.
Nothing at all.
Without the dissonance there isn’t a single solitary sound.
Nothing … but … this … other … thing.
This other thing that is not dissonance.
How can that be?
The dissonance said that it was here forever and then, just like that, it was gone.
I stumbled and fell, unbalanced without the dissonance, deafened by this new sensation of a world no longer shouting at me.
No dissonance to guide me.
No hope of escape from this new …
This new what?!?!?
The sky seems to fall.
Seems to kneel and touch my face.
Reaching out as far as it can to caress my cheek.
As if heaven, itself, is brushing my face with its lips.
Redeeming me, healing me, with a kiss.
Why would heaven ever want to kiss me, of all people?
The dissonance said that heaven never would.
Why would heaven ever care?
The dissonance swore that heaven never would.
And what did heaven do with all of the dissonance that used to fill my ears with its chaos?
The dissonance swore that it was the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So help me God.
So … help me what?
Why would God ever care?
The dissonance screamed that God never would.
Why would God ever want to brush my face with a kiss of even the smallest caring show of affection?
The dissonance promised that God never would.
But maybe—just perhaps—the dissonance wasn’t telling the truth. Not the whole truth. Nor any of the truth.
Because there it is.
Again and again and again.
A sudden harmony.
A harmony that wraps me up so entirely and so wonderfully that it makes me feel as if I were the only thing that it ever wanted for Christmas.
The only thing that it ever wanted for Easter.
The only thing that it ever wanted any day of every week in any month of every year.
A harmony that sings for me with such wondrous melodies that I am deafened.
So deafened that this time I hear everything that the dissonance was trying to cover up with its noise.
All of my senses listen.
I hear everything that I see within the light inside your eyes.
I hear everything that I feel in your healing touch upon my skin.
And all that is in the ember warmth of your voice speaking words that I never thought I’d hear.

When I See My Reflection In Your Waves

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

—The Gospel of Mark

Four-fifths of our world is covered in water.
Eighty percent of the planet Earth.
The currents and tides touch every continent.
Water that washes over all soles.
If I were to touch the last gasp of even the smallest wave at Virginia Beach I would be sharing that vast expanse of water with someone doing the same thing on the shores of Nigeria.
The wave wouldn’t care about the color of our skin.
Or where the beach was.
Oh, if we could only become more like those waves.
Just reaching out toward ever soul.
When I look down into the smallest stream at my reflection, my face is mirrored by water that will one day join the great oceans and seas that cover the earth.
Water that will mirror the face of every man, woman or child who looks for their own reflection beneath a sky that knows nothing of race or ethnicity.

The Holy Spirit of God doesn’t fill our sails to narrow our journey.
The Holy Spirit fills our sails to broaden the reach of our heart.
The reach of the love for which Jesus gave his life; the truth that Jesus died for: God is love and God loves us all.
On every beach.
On any shore.
Every square inch of earth.
Be it desert or oasis.

There is something we’d be wise to understand:
If we are good enough for God—and God’s love declares that we are—then we are good enough.
Period.
For anyone and everyone.
Period.
Kings, queens or presidents cannot take that truth away.
Nor any act of Congress.
So, that has to mean that we are good enough—we must be good enough—for each other.
Period.
Or … that’s the way it should be.
Unfortunately, we are separated from each other on this planet by more than water.
We are separated from each other by ourselves.
Jesus knew what he was doing when he asked us to follow him and become fishers of people.
There are over 28,000 species of fish in the world.
We could never catch them all.
But there is only one human race.
Fishing for each other should not be—would not be—such a difficult thing.
If we’d only try.

What The Voice Of The World Won’t Say

“Nathaniel said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’”

—The Gospel of John

The young boy heard The Voice Of The World shouting, “Can anything good come out of this child?”
The Voice was talking about him and its tone seemed to answer the question.
No, The Voice Of The World quite clearly felt, nothing good could ever come out of that child. And The Voice Of The World made certain that the child heard the answer.
But the child wasn’t the only one listening.
Jesus heard, too.
And Jesus wept.
Tears flowed for this child and for all of the children of God—no matter how old they were—who’d heard The Voice Of The World so often question, challenge and demean their child of God selves.
Challenge them with war.
Demean them with abuse.
Question them with callous indifference.
Swallow them with disease.
And enslave them with poverty.
Before abolishing their very existence with death.
The Voice Of The World shouted so loud that even the waves in the sea seemed to retreat, leaving the beach where children once played behind, turning it into a desert.
But the tears of Jesus were like rain.
And Jesus lifted the child.
Jesus lifted the child and told him something else.
Raised the child up.
Jesus gave him another word that The Voice Of The World had tried so hard to erase.
Resurrected the child with four simple letters that Jesus carefully arranged:
L…
O…
V…
E…
Love? the child wondered.
Really?” the child asked.
Me?” the child pleaded.
“Come and see,” Jesus answered.
And so the child, carried in the loving heart of Christ, followed.
Followed despite all of the odds that the world said were stacked against every child of God.
Followed despite all of the statistics of probability the world declared would defeat all children of God.
Followed.
Miraculously.
Because Jesus carried him.
Because Jesus carries you.
Because Jesus carries all of the children of God to the truth of God’s love for them all.

And we are all children of God.

No matter what the World says with its hammers and nails.
No matter what the World tries so desperately to make the children of God believe.
A child risen.
The child in us all.
The child that God wants us all to be and believe to be our truest self.
Just who we are and just as we are.
Loved.
And nothing but loved.
“Come and see,” Jesus told Nathaniel that day so long ago in Galilee.
“Just come,” Jesus tells us every day, “and see.”

The Straight Line Of Love

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

–The Gospel of Mark

The alarm sounds early.
Sunrise is nearly two hours away and it’s so cold outside in the darkness beyond this windowpane that even shivers are frozen solid.
Seven degrees.
Then five.
Three.
Now two.
The electric candle on the window sill shows how busy the cold had been while I slept. The storm window is filled with jagged, deliriously crooked strokes of ice that point in every direction.
Were the windowpane a compass, and were I to follow its directions, I’d be lost.
Hopelessly and forever lost.
Out beyond this pane, where I cannot see, I know that the maples and oaks are bare in the darkness, their limbs and branches holding tightly to the secret of spring as if their lives—as if the existence of everyone—depended on it.
I remember last night, standing out in the cold, filling my lungs with its freezing and the darkness with my breath.
I remember the night before and the night before that.
I remember all of the nights put together as if they were all one long, never-ending night.
I remember the stars making the night sky look like it was breaking out in a rash of ice.
And I wondered if one day I would fall through the ice into the sky.
Or somewhere else.
I sit here by the window now, looking at the stained glass cross that is hanging from the window latch; its green and orange, its yellow, blue and purple declare all that the darkness tries to hide in its cold silence.
And I know one thing for certain: when the sun rises, the light will shine toward me, into the frost and through the cross, in the straightest possible line.
With that truth deep in my heart, I suddenly see the miraculous beauty of the frost painted across my windowpane, lit up by the candlelight, the artist all around me, showing me the blooms of winter.

The Endless Sound Of Light

Gleaning In The Fields Of Light

By Ken Woodley

In the beginning, the Gospel of John tells us, was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And John tells the truth.
But there is more.
Forget the past tense.
The Word still is. The Word lives. The Word surrounds us. Taps us on the shoulder. Knocks on the front door of our hearts. If we don’t answer, it knocks on the back door.
If we still don’t answer, it knocks on a window. If it must, the Word will slide down our chimney and do something far more meaningful than fill our stockings with toys.
The Word wants to fill us with joys.
Joys to the world.
Joys for the world.
In the beginning, the Gospel of John tells us, the Word was with God.
And John tells the truth.
But there is more.
Forget the past tense.
The Word still is with God.
And God is trying desperately to whisper in our ears. To speak softly in our hearts. To fill our soul with resonant words of love. If we don’t listen, God finds other ways to speak:
With songs and books and paintings and poetry and the bloom of flowers and the absence of leaves on the trees because those bare limbs speak with assurance of spring.
In the beginning, the Gospel of John tells us, the light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
And John tells the truth.
But there is more.
Forget the past tense.
The light still shines.
Darkness still cannot overcome it.
But the darkness tries.
The darkness tried in the beginning and the darkness tries today.
The darkness tries to distract us when the Word taps us on the shoulder or knocks on our door.
The darkness tries shouting to drown out the soft whisper of God.
The darkness tries to banish the light.
But still the Word speaks to us.
Still the Word is with God and God is with us.
Still the light shines all around us.
And still the darkness cannot overcome it.
The light-filled Word of God speaking love to us will never be silenced or extinguished.
Just as it was in the beginning, it is now and it ever shall be.

Another Night Before Christmas

’Twas the eve before Christmas, when all through the night
not a creature was stirring in fear or in fright.
The stockings were hung in a world full of cheer,
knowing that peace and that love could be here.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
no nightmaring vision haunting their heads.
Their mothers and fathers were safely inside
and no reason at all for any to hide.
When up on the hillside there arose such a noise,
of angels and shepherds all singing of joys.
Away toward that manger we walked through the snow
as if there was no place that we’d rather go.
The moon hung like a stocking high up in the sky
but a star shone far brighter and seemed so nearby.
There were swords turned to plowshares just waiting for spring
as we drew ever nearer a bell-sounding ring.
The chime, we discovered, was deep in our heart,
a carol of music that never would part.
For as long as we wished, we knew it would stay
if we made it a place deep inside us to play.
Closer we came to the manger scene now,
immune to the cold in some way and somehow.
There wasn’t a wise man, no, nowhere in sight,
just ordinary folks feeling love’s holy might.
There was no barn and no stable, no building at all,
but the child still within us did answer the call.
The babe in the manger would find shelter there,
in our hearts, in our souls whenever we care
For others who hurt, for others in pain
and give of ourselves, with nothing to gain
But a turning of cheeks when the anguish is ours
and a field full of thorns then blossoms with flowers.
No room at the inn but room inside we
who give birth to the message and meaning we see
In the love Jesus promised God has for us all,
whether we stand or whether we fall.
Angels we have heard on high
and angels we have felt so nigh.
There is goodwill at this season to cover the Earth
as a present at Christmas for this sacred birth.
But a gift to keep giving across the whole year
would be deeper than cups or bowls of good cheer.
Away in that manger, no crib for a bed,
but born every day in our footsteps, instead.