Monday, August 22, 2011

In my house

In my house
mice and fireflies
get along.

By Kobayashi Issa
(1763 - 1828)
English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Mother's Zinnias

Standing quietly by the fence,
you smile your wondrous smile.
I am speechless, and my senses are filled
by the sounds of your beautiful song,
beginningless and endless.
I bow deeply to you.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Happy Birthday Mom!
poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, title by me, inspired by my mother's wonder at her zinnias on this her birthday.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Is it true?

Is it true you
know each bird
that flies and falls,
each backward facing
hallux and frontward
facing toe, each layered
feather on each wing?

This very child,
her gameness gone,
her sweet cheer,
her beak closed not
on seeds, but death –
this very one,
if it's true,
you see and know.

And each and every
newborn's fuzz,
each graying hair,
each sprouting beard,
each rosebud offered,
each and every
offering made –
you see and know?

Is it true you see and
hear each bullet fired,
each vow torn, each victim
and each burn, each
dance, each note, each silent
tear, the sound of every smile?
Then tell me ‘cause
I need to know
how true is it – as I’ve
been told, that
even more than this,
you love and that

Linda McConnell

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Monday, August 08, 2011

Loss cannot be thought

Loss cannot be thought. It is, quite simply, fallen into
as a hiker in Yosemite might. Loss cannot be thought.
It pours over your head and puddles and rises up past
your calves and groin and breast and stops short
of your mouth and nose, or not.

Too morbid?

Then it is like the sunshine bathing the leggy dandelions and the red
geraniums now already receding into the shade of the house.
It is like the distant highway sounds,carried into the bedroom
on the breeze. One has no say about any of this.

Loss is fallen into. It cannot be thought and it is not personal.
It does not depend upon your agreement or your disagreement.
It does not depend on you. It is independent.
Loss knows it's own way and easily has it's own way and
the river knows and the dandelions and geraniums know
and the packets of sound waves and the breezes know
what I am going to tell you now.

Submit. Submit.

@Linda McConnell

Where did the Sermons Go?

Linda's Sermons can now be found at:

Please visit this site for poetry and prose.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Neither Heaven Nor Hell

I grew up outside the Episcopal Church – outside the Book of Common Prayer – outside a three year lectionary cycle – outside the church calendar with it's seasons and colors. I knew nothing about the Season after Pentecost, for instance, and that green was the associated color. The idea that there would be formally written prayers for virtually any situation imaginable, was unimaginable.

We made up our prayers – out of our own hearts, out of our own experiences, and out of our own courage and conviction. Instead of Prayers of the People, we prayed our “Joys and Concerns” out loud and spontaneously. That made for some rather simple prayers – but they were, for the most part, deeply heartfelt. They were also, often – too often – centered on family, friends and self. And it's true - our Heavenly Father wants us to tell him what is on our heart and our mind, and to pray deeply and fervently for those we love.

Belonging to a “free” church is a heritage I treasure – But perhaps because of that background, I am even more conscious of the treasury of the Book of Common Prayer, and the lectionary and colors and all the rest that goes along with being a “liturgical” church – because each of those things takes us beyond our personal joys and sorrows and plunks us into the wider sphere of the grand diversity of biblical witness, the depth of church tradition, the heritage of the saints who have lived faithfully in a variety of circumstances, and in the world around us.

The structured format of the prayers of the people causes us to lift our eyes up from only personal needs to also look into the eyes of hungry children around the world. We are compelled by the structure of the prayers themselves to look outward to the needs of creation, to the decimation of species and to political and social needs – to continue begging of God that our leaders would be inclined towards the ways of justice and compassion, rather than self-centered interest.

But the truth is, whether our prayers are inward and silent, or out loud and informal, or out loud and formal – they are nothing but clanging brass if our hearts are not turned in the direction of love and if the Holy Spirit is not present – praying with us and through us and for us. It is an illusion to believe that the powerfulness of our words, or the beauty of our phrasing or the poetry of our position before God can weave any spell that would make God bend his ear in our direction and do as we have asked. God does indeed care – more than you can imagine – and God provides – in ways you cannot fathom. But you cannot command his caring and provision, whether your prayer is homemade or formal. What you can do is ask for a discerning heart that wants what he wills and trusts in his ultimate goodness and never failing love.

This is what Paul was pointing towards - this discerning heart that wants what God wills and trusts in God's goodness and love. He was convinced that all things work together for good for those that love God – not because he’d had a bad time and then things got better – but because he saw everything that happened through the lens of the cross and resurrection of Jesus - this trust that Jesus had towards his Father even as he shouldered the cross down the stone streets of Jerusalem. Paul lived through eight attempts on his life, countless beatings and being jailed, hunger, loneliness, betrayal, being shipwrecked. He was eventually martyred in Rome. So – he is not saying that if you love God enough, with enough fervor, and if you pray just right – everything is going to work out hunky dory.

It may seem odd – but I find that comforting – because it reflects reality. And as I get older, I find that I want truth more than anything else – I find myself more and more attuned to what is authentic and what is not, what is real and what is not. Children are like that as well, I’ve noticed. So I like that Paul tells the truth – sin brings death, following Christ can be difficult, suffering is real – And I like that his vision is very deep and thoroughly grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus – because it leads to this other truth that Paul is adamant about - this truth that has been tested and lived out by so many saints and believers through the ages - that there is nothing – no dire circumstance, no hardship, no illness, no loneliness, no bad choice, no personal disappointment, no bad business deal, no boss, no public failure, no dark dream, no anxiety, no economic meltdown, no crazy congress, no power on heaven or on earth – that can ever separate us from the love of God through Jesus Christ.

It is easy enough for this truth to get obscured and lost amidst the daily ups and downs of life. It’s easy to forget that God is unequivocally for us, especially when outward appearances don’t easily reflect that depth of divine love. The parables are helpful to restore our vision. Because Jesus tell us that the presence of God’s kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed – almost imperceptible, found in what might seem like insignificant gestures of kindness and goodness, in fragile beginnings of understanding and compassion – in unlikely places of hope. We tend to look for the big and the obvious. But Jesus tells us that the presence of God’s kingdom is more like the 2 tablespoons of yeast that leavens an entire loaf of bread. You must pay attention or you will miss it.

Paradoxically, God’s reign is also large enough and perfect enough to contain the wheat and the weeds, the good and the bad, your prayers and mine, handmade and formal - all are undergirded and empowered and held in the hands of his perfect, unconditional, utterly trustworthy love.

Photo of Dominus Flevit Franciscan church, Mt. of Olives, Jerusalem, by author

Friday, July 15, 2011

Blackberry Bliss

Ever been to Jamba Juice? My favorite is Blackberry Bliss. And there's all kinds of add-ons – protein powder, vitamins – I usually get one - it's free! - and it makes me think my drink is healthier.

Now, I’m going to make a really awful comparison – so please don’t boo at me too much – but - Jesus is not protein powder – He’s not an add-on to an already full life. He’s the Blackberry Bliss itself.

Because the biggest thing about Jesus is Resurrection. The biggest thing about Jesus is what God can do - The biggest thing about Jesus is that there is nothing that sin can do to us or through us or with us that God cannot redeem and raise up to new life. There is no barrier to new life in the Spirit – and by that I mean, and Paul means, new life through and through – in your body, in your mind, in your spirit, in your soul. God can, and does – all the time - create something out of nothing - create in you and in gatherings of believers, an entirely new order of being. At the baptismal font, an Ontologically new order of being is created – grafted into the eternal vine that is Christ, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that never leaves, regardless of what life brings.

This is happening now. It’s happening to you and to me and it’s happening in the world around us. The Lord of Life is free and on the move – and there is no power in hell or on earth, or above the earth or below the earth, or in the halls of the greatest powers of the nations or the multi-nationals or the militaries or the police states or at the heart of gang violence or in war plagued places, where the Son of Man, the Lord of Life, is not raised up by the Eternal and Everlasting and Almighty Power of Life and Love. God claimed Jesus as his own Son and there is nothing that can undo that and no power that can sever that connection and flow of energy and life.

And you and I belong to that same Source. That same Eternal and Everlasting and Almighty Power. The biggest thing about Jesus is Resurrection – and it’s the biggest thing about you and me as well. We are Resurrected and Resurrecting people.

We do not belong to the powers of death and sin – sin being that orientation of mind and life towards self over and above all others, preservation of self over everyone else. Sin destroys community and it eats up soul spirit. And it is a fact of life. You cannot escape it because it is woven into you – there is no moral judgment about that – it just is – it just is as surely as your feet are below your head. When I say there is no judgment about that, I mean that there is no God pointing his finger at you because of it. You are born into it – you cannot help it.

Let me tell you a story about this...

When my daughter was five, she was invited to a birthday party. She knew about birthdays and she was very excited. When her daddy picked her up, she got into the car and burst out crying. When he asked her what happened, she said, between sobs, that there were lots of presents – but none of them were for her. We explained that the presents were for the birthday girl and that when it was her birthday again, she would be the one getting presents. She said, “I don’t want that other girl to get presents. I want all the presents.”

We learn, of course, that it isn’t nice to want all or most of the presents – and that we need to share. But deep down – when we’re not getting presents and other people are – there is that little voice in us all that refuses to believe – believe in the sense of trusting- that we are one body in Christ – and that if you get something good – it is just as good as if I got something good. That when Jesus said to love others as yourself – he surely meant others as yourself – that we are that fundamentally related. This desire to consume more than we need and almost always at someone else’s expense is built into us – until we enter a new way of being – a new order of being.

And that new order of being that we are born into through the action of the Holy Spirit in us – it changes our orientation – it changes our mindset – it changes who we are from the inside out and from the outside in.

We begin to see differently. Not all at once of course …. We still live in a world that sees things as separate and some people as lesser than and others as greater than but gradually we notice that we are more and more content with whatever our lives have brought to us, and more and more at peace with our bodies and our neighbors and our spouses and our lives. More and more at peace.

As we are working through this letter to the Romans, I have to say - it's really growing on me. This letter is a practical working out of the resurrected life in a community of real people who are beginning to come apart over matters of race and class and gender –just like we find ourselves in our own culture. This letter is about the practical working out of what it means to be a forgiven, healed, renewed, restored, resurrected people who belong to God and who are “in” Christ – and our reading today begins with this astonishing amazing truth about this new order of being –

There is, Now, in Christ, No Condemnation. Take that in..... No condemnation for those in Christ....

Yes – you want all the presents - or at least more of the presents. Yes – you lied on your taxes. Yes – you cheated your brother when you were older and were supposed to be taking care of him. Yes – you don’t know what you think about Jesus, and you doubt his resurrection. Yes – you took the shortcut the wrong way down a one way street.

But you can turn yourself in, and feel the full relief of it – you can know intimacy with God again. Even though there most likely are consequences - there is no condemnation - no secret burden that needs to be carried. No torment from which you cannot be free, no corner of guilt or shame that needs to remain in the shadows, sucking away at your energy and your joy.

Now if you can delve down into your mind and into your soul – and find no shade of guilt or shame that you’ve covered over and hoped would just disappear eventually – you are truly an Enlightened Being or just terribly unconscious – but for most of us –well – the news that there is No Condemnation – well, it knocks me over.

It’s more than astounding, really. It is terribly, terribly freeing – and that may be, in fact, why we prefer to run back to imposing rules and breaking rules – because it is a terrifying gift to be really and truly free. It is a huge responsibility. I mean, now what! What are you going to do with this freedom? This awesome freedom that is yours, in Christ.

Mary Oliver asks the question this way – "tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" This one wild and precious life that has been given to you by God, redeemed for you by Jesus – and the central truth about this precious life of unbounded freedom is that the Holy Spirit dwells in you – abides in you. So you don’t have to retreat into fear about making mistakes or not making the perfect choices – God has already forgiven you – you are already free – and you can go down a different road, or continue on the course you are on – either way, and always, you have the Holy Spirit of God within you and within this community to guide you and to listen to you and to love you – eternally.

When you came in - you were given two pieces of paper. One is there to write some hindrance, some burden, some condemnation that you have secreted away, that is in like a thorn in your heart – and destructive to your joy - write it down – and if you’re brave enough to claim your freedom in Christ, you can throw it away in this trash can. During the Confession, during the Absolution – or during the Peace that follows – you can throw it away. There is Now NO Condemnation in Christ – that is the truth - it can be your truth.

The second piece of paper is to imagine what you might do with your one wild and precious life – with your Freedom in Christ . That paper is to keep – put it in your pocket or in your purse and bring it out from time to time – to remind yourself that the biggest thing about you is resurrection and freedom.

And all of this is in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver - one of my favorite poems!
Romans 8: 1 - 11