Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Night Job - An Advent Reflection

Below is an Advent Devotion that I wrote for my alma mater's Daily Devotional. To read more, go to http://www.sfts.edu/alumni/2014_LnC_signup.asp.

The Night Job      

Luke 2:8-14    
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

I'm imagining some shepherds. Their clothes are "field" clothes; sweaty, dirty, worn. 
Their spirits are "field" spirits; a little lonely, tired, worn. 
They know that they have a low-level job in their community. It is one that keeps them outside of town. In fact, their task to watch a flock of sheep sleep (instead of sleeping themselves) proves their status each night.

The shepherds settle their creaky limbs onto the cold earth. They ready themselves to keep watch for any threat. If they've been working this job for long enough, their anxiety is low-level but constant. If they're new, their eyes are wide and red, scanning the dark.

And so when someone emerges from the dark and stands in front of them, they feel terror. They feel exhausted, pulse-racing confusion -- confusion over whether they can believe what they see. They look to one another, checking to know if they're the only one having this experience. And when they see one another equally recoiled, they ask themselves questions in rapid succession.

Am I really seeing an angel of the Lord? Has this angel, emanating a breath-taking glory, really come to us? Have they really chosen to come, not to the safety and structure of the city in the distance, but to our undesirable, dark, and open field?

And yet, she came to them. She approached them. Indeed, she trusted and entrusted them with a message.

And the good news for those shepherds is this. 
It is the adrenaline pumping through their bodies. It is the glory of God causing them to look at the angel from the sides of their eyes. 
It is the word "do not be afraid," spoken to those whose muscles are tensed from watching for trouble. 
It is the gift of a message for "all people." "All people" including them.
It is this word in their flesh. 

Marissa Danney
San Francisco Theological Seminary M.Div. and DASD 2014

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Beloved is Abundant

What is lent? What is the purpose?
 Lent can easily become the opportunity for self-righteous self-sacrifice.
 But I don’t think that we are meant to walk around with holy, downcast eyes, making clear that we have given up something wonderful because we are so much better than everyone else. That seems to be more problematic than helpful.
 Sunset over Tiburon
 What is helpful to me is the belief that the world and all that is in it is infused with the Divine Presence. We are made in the imago dei – and the light-life of the Divine is burning within us.
 Instead of self-righteous self-sacrifice, I find that the purpose of lent is to intentionally turn from anything that seems to be clouding the Divine light within us. It is to bring to justice our perception of the Divine in ourselves, in others and the world.
 This is internal work that cannot be self-righteously displayed. And it can be done through sacrifice and/or through adding new practices to our lives. But our goal is to become more aware of the abundant presence of God in our lives.
 It seems like it is really hard for us to tap into that reality.

The writer(s) of the Song of Songs seems to be fully connected to abundance and gratitude for it.
 They savor using all of their senses:
the taste of honey and milk under a tongue
the sight of the beloved, ruddy and radiant
the sound of the voice that they long for
the smell of a lush garden
the touch of stately limbs, like branches of a tree

They write of the lavish beauty that they are encountering.
They write of excess, of being drunk with love!
They write of searching and longing for that abundance.

How the world is infused with the awe-inspiring Divine! And how the writer of the Song of Songs swims in that tangible Divine Presence.
Sunrise in Tiburon
May Lent be a time of giving up the things that skew our sense of the Divine filling our lives with beauty.
May Lent be a time of taking things on that focus our attention on the abundance of God’s presence.

The presence that is delightfully at the heart of everything. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thoughts on Identity or "The Greenhouse"

I am a SWF (single white female.)
I am straight.
I am an actor.
I am a climber.
I am a seminarian.
I am a Christian.
I am a New Yorker.

He is a SWM (single white male.)
He is bisexual.
He is a 7 on the Enneagram.
He is a fireman.
He is an alcoholic.
He is agnostic.
He’s a Californian.

We love these labels, don’t we? We could choose just one from a list and use it to sum ourselves up to someone else, or sum someone else up to ourselves.

Each category contains subcategories. For example, “I am a climber,” means that I love being in the outdoors. It means that I’m physically fit and that I’m up for adventure and activity.

One local restaurant capitalizes on statements like these, and I love going there. When I order my lemon and ginger tea I get to say to the server, “I am effervescent.” And for a moment… I am filled with the identity of effervescence. But when the server walks away I giggle because I am not entirely effervescent.
I just have my moments.

 The Celtic theologian John Philip Newell discusses in his book “Echo of the Soul” that our core selves are in the image of God. Surrounding that core self is a lot of other stuff: our egos, our flesh, our labels, and sometimes our masks.

Yet, this life that burns within us at our deepest is the same life that comes from God, our Source of Life.

Our Source of Life can be called many things.
                        “Holy One”
                                    “Heavenly Father”
But primarily, God is mysterious. And therefore, we are also primarily mysterious.

As Newell says, “Our own being is rooted in the fathomless mystery of God’s being. Our truest identity is deeper than name and definition.”

It is as if the seed of God is planted deep within us and we are both gardens and gardeners. As Meister Eckhart says, “When I began to see the soul in this light, the important thing became not saving the soul but entering it, greening it, developing the divine seed that waits realization.”

I have cultivated my divine seed. She has been growing within me, and I have been so proud of her that I have built an impressive green house around her.
That way, when anyone approaches they will see that there is something truly profound inside. On the windows of the greenhouse are written pious prayers.

And yet, I am finding that my divine plant at the core of my garden is beginning to press against the roof of the greenhouse. A small crack has formed in the glass. I could make a hole through the top of the roof… but something in me says that it’s time to carefully dismantle this impressive structure and give my divine core some fresh air.

On second thought, could someone pass me that sledge hammer?

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Woman

Unshakably strong
Deeply feeling

She is a visionary
She weeps with her loss
       and lifts her head with her remaining strength
              to greet the next blessing

She explores and she learns
She relearns and relearns

She is fierce in her loving
She is brave in her vulnerability

She is pragmatic and
                           wildly creative

She delights in the beauty of a moment
                    and leans into momentary change

She is water
She is chaotic and powerful
She is gentle and playful
 She moves with grace and
                   fills in every crevice 
She changes the landscape
She is still as a pond

She holds life and creates possibility

She lives with rock and earth
and plant
and animal
       always grateful for their different way

She springs forth
            and finds her end
                                  in God

-Marissa Danney

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The "death" question

In the past two weeks, two sudden deaths have occurred that have been both in my community, and affecting my community.

And so the "death" question has come up again for me.


When I first heard of each death that was the first question that popped up in my mind. And so I quickly asked others who might have more information... "Why?"

And yet, I found that my question wasn't satiated with information.
"Why?" continued to be the question on my heart as I tried to wrap my mind around these young and sudden deaths. There is a deep and existential "why" that occurs when we realize the evanescence of life.
As Joan Chittister says in her book There is a Season, "The function of the death of the self is to throw a thousand question marks across the sky."

I won't try to answer the "death" question, because I don't have the answer. I think any attempt at answering is an insult to those experiencing the loss. It is a question that comes from deep loss, and that must simply be allowed to be.

So, if there is death, the kind of death that can come when we've just begun our life's work, or are just finishing our degrees... then my new question is a "life" question.


How can we live in a way that makes this brief life worthwhile?

The answer that I've discovered so far is this:
Life becomes worthwhile when we live not afraid of little deaths within ourselves.

If we live without a fear of personal deaths, we will enable ourselves to die a hundred little dyings that allow us to live more fully, and better the world.
We must be willing to risk ourselves for the betterment of the world - for ourselves, and those beyond us!

Joan Chittister also says this: "Tomorrow can triumph only when we can put to death in ourselves everything that is not life-giving today... We cannot rise until we are willing to die a little."

If my life is to end as swiftly as I have seen others end, there are many things within myself that I hope will have died already:
  • My desire to please others which can compromise my convictions into conformity.
  • My fear of rejection by those who I want to love and be loved by, that freezes me into passivity.
  • My acceptance of social rules like "women need to be a certain way" or "you're too young to be significant in society", or "you need to be in a romantic relationship with one primary person in order to have value," which are all lies.
  • My tendency to trust the laws and rules given to me by authority because I don't want to get in trouble.

I wonder if our country could be a better place if it too asked the question "What would we want to die within us before our country died?"

This reminds me of Ani Difranco's song Subdivision. In it she asks, "What will it take for my country to rise?"

Many little deaths. Many unknown paths being tread.
Courage to have the death of what is not life-giving be a part of life.

Chittister says,
"Dying is one of life's most difficult processes, however.
Its demands sap the soul of all our old rationalizations,
all our well-used excuses for saying one thing but doing another,
all our pretenses at a goodness that is more social etiquette than social virtue.
It cuts us off from the very things that have brought us to the point of where we are.
When we begin to die to things in ourselves that once were time-honored and socially acceptable,
the danger is, of course, that when the process is over we will no longer even know ourselves...
Every little death we die turns us into something new and washes us up on the sunlit shore of a different psyche, a person called by the old name but unknown even to ourselves."

So, what do you want to die within you?

 In the words of Socrates, "The unexamined life is not worth living."

And so I am brought back to the recent deaths of two beautiful people. What is so tragic about these deaths is that these women did not fear the little deaths within them. They defied social norms by working in prisons, and with the homeless. They loved others and pursued a better world.

They lived lives worth living, and for that I am grateful.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Pulse of God

A portion of Rumi's poem, "Okay, I'll Do It."

How can you look so needy - 
God is growing in fields you own.
He hangs from trees you pass
every day. He is disguised as
that peach and pine cone.
Every sound I hear - He made it.

This is so easy to see and hear in the majesticness of New Mexico, and seemingly harder in the developed world of Silicon Valley, California. And yet, this pulse of God is rhythmically vibrating beneath the asphalt under our feet and hanging from the carefully planted trees that line the sidewalks.

Monday, September 10, 2012

and again!

Welp, I've moved again.

Geez. Unless you've only got one pack on your back, there is no way that moving won't be a pain in the butt. Alas, once it's all done, there is a flood of relief.

Now it's time to find some favorite activities and hang outs in my area. And with out a car - no less!

Wish me luck.