Mystery, magic, and everything nice

Awards for my service as the High Priest of Kansas City Chapter No. 28, Royal Arch Masons and Worshipful Master of Ivanhoe No. 446, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons in Missouri, along with a special gift from some wonderful parishioners at St. Andrew’s.

Easter Season is wrapping up as we have celebrated the Ascension of our Lord and are preparing for Pentecost. I have to admit, Pentecost is one of the principal feast days on the Christian calendar that fascinates me the most. Filled with mystery and magic, we learn of the Holy Spirit’s mighty wind in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Speaking in various languages they didn’t understand, which caused the witnessing crowd to react accordingly – many thought the Apostles were just drunk! And doesn’t that just sum up our human experience with magic and mystery? We are quick to write off things we can’t explain, forever seeking the answers to every question we are asked. The very idea that God works in ways we do not or cannot understand is a great mystery that I have always wanted to solve!

In my life, I’ve been accused of being a “doubting Thomas” because I always wanted to sum up every mystery in life by asking “why?” Maybe it was all those mornings in my very young life, watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, as he took us on field trips to places like the pasta-making factory, as we learned how the world worked. This foundation probably led me to join my local masonic lodge several years ago. The promise of understanding how the world worked and how I can get to know myself better has always been alluring!

As we draw Easter to a close for the year, I am preparing for my summer internship as a chaplain in my local hospital. The “summer intensive unit” of Clinical Pastoral Education, as it’s formally known, strikes a bit of fear in me – it’s that word, “intensive.” I’ve seen intense before as a firefighter, and it shouldn’t be so fear-inducing, but this time it’s different than looking to alleviate the danger. Knowing how powerful the Holy Spirit is, I am about to enter into a sacred space with people who are suffering and hoping for healing. The very idea of these people looking to me for comfort as a conduit to their God is indeed intensive when I pause from my crazy schedule to ponder what lays ahead.

As I have prepared for this summer, I have realized that knowing the Lord involves a real understanding of learning how to manage the feeling of great happiness and deep sadness at the same time. As God’s people, we suffer and rejoice simultaneously… and that’s really hard! So, here I am, really happy for the world as we really reopen from this Godawful pandemic and rally sad for those who are struggling so much with various illnesses and maladies.

One way the Holy Spirit has nudged me in recent days has been through my Masonic fraternity. The connection to these good and gracious people always sticks with me in my travels through my spiritual formation. I just have not had the time to spend with my brothers of the lodge and sisters of the Order of the Eastern Star as I would like. But I have had a chance to stumble into some beautiful moments where I am reminded how they glorify God’s marvelous works through everyday people.

My first account was the sad news of one of my mentors’ passing in my “Star” chapter. Rita was a force to be reckoned with, and she never missed an opportunity to express her passion for doing the right thing. As we prepare for her funeral, I prioritized a chance to be with my sisters and brothers of our chapter last week. At that meeting, we began to remember her in a way she would see fitting – we introduced a new sister into our masonic family. No fuss, and certainly no fanfare, but plenty of warm feelings in the room, just as Rita would have wanted, we admitted a young lady who transferred to our area from Arkansas.

Last Friday, I was blessed to receive a family heirloom from some wonderful parishioners at St. Andrew’s. Jackie and Gordon passed on a beautiful set of masonic cufflinks that belonged to Gordon’s uncle, William Lawrence, a World War II Marine who had an outstanding reputation of generosity and a proud association with freemasonry. It’s an honor to keep his cufflinks in good working order, as I will wear them at future lodge ceremonies.

Then, last night, I had space on my crazy-hectic calendar to enjoy a meeting for my royal arch chapter of masons. We witnessed nine brethren continue the journey of the craft as they became mark master masons. I was astonished as the most excellent high priest, who’s the head of Missouri’s chapter, traveled to Kansas City to present me with a couple awards for my service last year before the Coronavirus took over our lives.

I had forgotten entirely about my accomplishments as I led Kansas City’s royal arch masons. Being awarded for our achievements under my leadership and my distinguished service was quite an honor and surprise. Last night was a much-needed boost of loving appreciation from my brothers as I head off to my chaplaincy learning opportunity this summer.

So, as we prepare to enter the season of Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit works her magic on us humans, I am left feeling a deep sense of gratitude for where I have traveled and an appreciation for the wonders that lie ahead. I am getting better at understanding that the mysteries of life may never make sense to me, but I can say I’ve learned to appreciate the joy of wonder.

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Rounding Third Base

Rounding third and heading for home!

There’s a point during the Lenten season’s journey when I desire to get out of it. I don’t have a specific reason that I feel “over” my repentance – because I certainly do not ever think that God owes me anything for my prayers of forgiveness. It’s just a feeling of being ready to rejoice in the renewal of life, the birth of spring, opening day at The K, the resurrection of life on earth if you will.

It starts with Saint Patrick’s Day, almost in the middle of Lent. Not very much of me is Irish, but I do have quite a bit of Welsh in me, hence my surname, so I’m Celtic, but not Irish. Really, I love Saint Paddy’s Day more for the excuse to braise a corned beef, drink a pint of Guinness, and listen to some fantastic Celtic music! This is where the longing for a reprieve of the season of repentance begins for me.

This year, as I have said before, Lent feels like it never quite went away from last year’s liturgical trip around the sun. Pandemic inflicted isolation from worshipping and celebrating with other humans in the same ample space has really put a damper on my desire to “tone it down” for this year’s season of fasting. So we hit the calendrical demarkation for Saint Patrick, celebrated a bit, and then couldn’t put the idea of celebration and joy away for the remaining 17 days of this season.

So when we broke out the palms this last Sunday to begin Holy Week, I really felt the excitement that Easter was near. Then the creeping guilt that I have been in far too good of a mood leading into the most tragic story about Jesus’ sacrifice for our freedom. I know God’s not upset with me for my optimistic feelings – God understands. God knows what we went through in 2020!

But, it’s the very idea that this pandemic may be coming to an actual end in the not-too-distant future. In Kansas City, infection rates are continuing to decline, and optimism is in the air. It’s a very similar feeling of optimism when we see the batter knock the ball into center-right field, and it rolls past the outfielder! The batter has swiftly rounded second and now third base, heading for home, attempting an inside-the-park home run.

We aren’t quite at the point of rejoicing for goodness, quite yet. We have another 5 days for that, but we are starting to get up out of our seats and cheer. We can see that a call of “safe” by the umpire at home plate could happen, just like we can see God calling us safe because of Christ’s coming sacrifice.

A Swift and Holy Wind

Cinnamon on her way home from the vet after receiving a hopeful outlook.

I’m sure everyone has heard the proverb about spring weather, “March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb.” After the first week of March, I can say that age-old saying isn’t just precise about the weather – this could be a forecast for my spiritual climate, as well. I have been weathering a proverbial storm with just enough awareness to realize that eventually, all difficult things will pass.

If anyone knows us, you know that our dogs are a big part of our lives. They teach us so much about ourselves that we are truly grateful for their presence and love. There are few things more challenging to handle than seeing someone or some-dog you love struggling with pain and discomfort.

That has been the case this last week with our little girl, Cinnamon. Since early January, she has struggled with a bad case of digestive problems. This sickness isn’t anything new for her or us – but this time, it’s been different. She had not recovered in the usual time that we expected, and she was getting worse.

This last week, her problems came to a head, and it was time to take her in for a “near emergency” visit with her veterinarian. Upon arrival at the animal hospital, the staff had the same concern and quickly performed an ultrasound test. They found things that didn’t look healthy; Cinnamon had a liver and gallbladder that looked like a cancerous infection had developed.

We were sent home by an extremely-concerned doctor with new medications to try a last-moment effort to thwart whatever may be plaguing Cinnamon. Upon checkout, we scheduled a full-diagnostic cancer screening for the following Monday morning. We headed home with a sinking feeling of sadness, and I found myself emotionally preparing for the worst.

It wasn’t death and the end of Cinnamon’s life that had me feeling dread; it was the thought of her being in pain and torment while alive. My whole life, I have always thought of myself as a “fixer”; you know, someone who will drop everything to help anyone struggling or in need. It’s kinda the Modus Operandi of any trained firefighter. I couldn’t “fix” Cinnamon and her pain in this particular case – leaving me at a loss over what to do.

The last-minute decision to get Cinnamon to the vet meant that I had to cancel my attendance at a church committee meeting – and I’m very uncomfortable coming across as unreliable! When I sent my regrets through email, I let everyone know the unavoidable issue we were facing with Cinnamon. My comfort zone isn’t letting others know about my struggles or that I may not “have it all together,” but in this case, like so many other cases, I needed to share.

The reception of prayers from the group was what Cinnamon and her two human parents needed! Comfort and healing indeed came from a Holy place over the next couple of days as we awaited her full-diagnostic. Had I not shared with others, she wouldn’t have received the love and spiritual intercessions needed to aid her recovery. When she was fully screened on Monday, the vet could tell she responded well to the new medications and was, in fact, healing! We all were astounded.

Today, Cinnamon continues her rehabilitation, showing improvements daily. I have had such a clarifying moment on the importance of intercessory prayer, I’m left amazed, yet again, at the power of appealing to God. Sometimes we simply need reminders like this, and sometimes we need a swift and Holy kick in the butt!

If Lent is about creating space for God, sometimes that space created isn’t in our daily routines’ convenient and expendable margins. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit blows in and upends those comfortably set boundaries – forcing us to pick up the pieces and reexamine how we constructed our margins to begin with.

Lent 2021, One week into “going further in.”

One week after challenging Ash Wednesday participants to “go further in, ” I can say that my Lenten practices can be summarized with one word, “difficult.” The idea of an obstacle shouldn’t be a real surprise to anyone who regularly attempts to create space for God’s presence in this late winter/early spring annual practice. After all, many of us give up meat on Fridays, or something more disciplined, like chocolate, for these 40 days.

So far, eight days into 2021’s Lenten season, I can say that I have struggled with my time management. I find that suddenly I have a lot less on my schedule than I’ve had in recent memory. And that’s left me with a real desire to stray from my required reading for school and play around with one of my hobbies — graphic design.

Maybe it’s because I’m seeking out unexpected pleasures in a distraction, or that tempting pleasure is coming on stronger from a darker place? Either way, naming my struggles here is a level of accountability that I haven’t done in the past, and that has to count for something.

Creating space for God to be more fully in my life surely isn’t going to come easy for me. This practice is just that, a practice. This means that sometimes I will be on track. Other times I will veer off and start to focus on the better shade of purple for the church’s live streaming graphics, the design of the aesthetics for Holy Week, or learning the next level of equipment to grow the online service experience; you get the picture…

I suppose that by keeping myself honest in my effort to stay on track, I am, at least, supporting my desire to know God’s love for me better. I know I could stand to love and allow myself to be loved better, and this is a start.