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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Incarnation

I don't know if you are familiar with Kirsten from Barefoot and Laughing. She used to be a contributor to the Wednesday Festival, back when we did it a different way.

She's been living with Stage IV melanoma for a while now, and I continue to be blessed by her writing as she journeys. She was first diagnosed in seminary and is preparing for a very special ministry. This piece is her Christmas reflection, on Incarnation. As we continue through Epiphany, I present it to you, the gift it is.

I hope that you will add her to your prayer list and perhaps your RSS feeds. (Sometimes these are the same thing, for me.)


I haven’t taken time to write; I’ve been doing other things. I’ve missed this, though, and need to get back to it.

I’ve been thinking about incarnation. I can talk about resurrection until I turn blue; I was diagnosed the first time in Easter season 2008, and every time I’ve gotten good health news, or felt better, I’ve been full of energy. “Alive. Again. Yeah.” But I’m realizing, incarnation is really where I need to be.

Not just because today is Christmas, although I think Advent helped me see it. I wrestle with resurrection because I want my faith to be deeper than my body’s experience. But I can’t put it in a headlock and force it to be what it doesn’t know how to be yet. You get there by prayer and practice, not by being frustrated at yourself.

My body has been through so much hell. I have no assurance that I’m done. I need to be gentle with my body; not force it to understand what it doesn’t. I need to hold with reverence, where I have been. I need to honor where I am right now.

Incarnation. Word made flesh. Emmanuel, God is with us. The holy contained in an infant’s body... in mine? Love. A mother, a baby, a stable.

I’m exhausted, because A and I went to midnight Mass in Sacramento and got home at 2 this morning. I got up and drove to Pleasanton to hear a friend and mentor preach; ended up getting to serve with her. And I have images from both of these sermons in my head.

I wanted to sit quietly with Brian’s last line; it just felt wrong to get up and read the Creed on autopilot immediately after that. “There is no place in you where God is not being born.” No place. In your own dividing cells, and in the cells dividing too quickly, there is God. In your breath, in the very fact that you are alive, there is God. In your uterus, which hasn’t bled for five months because of what chemo did to you, there is God. In your hair, already grown in, there is God. In your hope. In your zest for life. In your strength; your knowledge that you will be well even if you die, there is God. In your love for humankind’s forgotten, God lives in you.

Carol’s image of baby God this morning, wriggling down into your heart. God had tried everything to be in relationship with us. Nothing worked. Finally, a baby. This is how God gets into us. These toes. This cry. That giggle. Here we are. This child needs us. We love, and we are opened. This is how God makes a home in us. We don’t need to clean house before God gets here; we don’t need to worry about our dusty corners. God will do that. We just love, and let ourselves be loved.

(She said it way more expressively; I’m exhausted, and pulling at shreds.)

I wove that around in the car on the way home, with the Velveteen Rabbit. Love makes real. You don’t have to look perfect; it’s fine if your fur is rubbed off. I know that in my own life; the fearfulness that used to be, that kept me from being honest with myself or anyone else. I know what happened when I was diagnosed, living in the seminary fishbowl. People responded to terror with kindness. I began to heal. Talking bred connection, trust, more healing. Honesty created love.

I still get wound tightly around things that matter so much they scare me. I’m thinking of the process specifically. Am I good enough, together enough, eloquent enough for the people asking me these questions? Can I stand with the people I serve, in their scared places? Can I face the things that still hurt me? Can I answer these questions in the spirit that they’re asked, not being more unnerved by the all-eyes-on-me interview feel of it all?

I want that so much. I know that time is a question, with my body, with this illness. Can I speak truthfully and freely when it matters?

I listened to Carol preach this morning, and I kept wanting to take my shoes off. I was barefoot through most of last night’s liturgy. I find I do that when I’m looking to touch what’s real. Faith, life, God within me. Feeling through the soles of my feet helps me get there. I say it’s a holy ground thing, when people ask aren’t my bare feet cold in church. It is. And sometimes the truth is closer to, “God, where are you?”

I left my shoes on, because I’d been drafted to LEM and didn’t want to lose track of my shoes. (In her own church, she asked me to carry a chalice almost whenever she saw me. I'd come up from the congregation and do it. Today was a different set-up; I was vested and processing. I didn’t know anybody but her and the rector. I couldn’t quite be that casual.) I noticed how tight my laces felt, and then I noticed when. Whenever she said something that made me think of my own anxiety, there I was in tightly tied shoes. I knew where she was going; God meets all of that with love. But I still kept wanting to play with my shoelaces.

I was watching someone preach, who is close to me as a friend and in my formation. I was listening to her, and I was reflecting on our relationship. We talk about things that are hard for me, fairly routinely. Health. The process. Time. Family. She meets me where I am, with love. We do it over and over. This is not a one-time conversation. But it really does loosen the strings that bind me too tightly. (A does the same thing, and did it hugely when I needed her to, before I ever got sick. Having people—plural—who let me explore my edges of trust and safety and love is incredibly powerful. After awhile, the edges aren’t edges.)

She asked me last time I saw her, what would I be doing if I didn’t have to worry about ordination, finances, or anything else. I took it as a vocational question, and answered accordingly. That wasn’t what she meant. What did I really want to do, right now in this moment? If I didn’t have to think about what anything meant or mattered.

I think what I said was make stuff, bake bread, and hang out in Friendship Park listening to homeless people tell me stories. I’ve found knitting again, because I’m so tactile and the fibers feel soft and strong and good. I love making things that I or other people can wear. (I wish I liked sewing, but I’m awful at it and it gives me headaches.) I’m into baking bread again; I love getting my hands in something that’s alive, and that feeds us and that tastes good. And I’m totally committed to homeless ministry. That community knows me and trusts me; trusts my church partly because of me. They know I love them. But right now I want to take my work hat off; back up and just listen without thinking of resources and skills, get to know people.

I was thinking about all of this, while I was listening to her preach. And I think I know what the next step is. Incarnation is all about love. Love of self, love of community, noticing the sparks of life that give you joy and thanking God for them. Being alive and at home in your mind, body, and heart. Noticing your body when it feels well and strong and alive. Loving the people you love. Really, it’s about paying attention. About responding to the needs and loves and wants around you as you would respond to a baby in your arms. About really, profoundly being here.

Days off, at home, or up to my elbows in bread dough are good. But I’ve been spending too much time on my own. I need to reconnect the face-time relationships I had before I got sick, whether I jump back into projects or let those be for a time. I need to go back to the park. The 9:00 service at church. Thursday night dinners and lectio. Community Night sometimes, next semester. I need to find the people whom I love, or whom God wants me to love, however you want to put that. And I need to love them.

I’ll be gone most of January, but it’ll be all about reconnecting. I’ll be at the Ranch for the week leading up to Epiphany. Home for several days, then down south on a road trip to Riverside. I have seminary classmates who met each other there, who are having their relationship blessed. I’ll spend some time with them and other SoCal friends. A side trip to Arizona to see a high-school friend who visited me last summer. Then home, and back into the thick of things here.

It sounds so self-centered to write it, but I think the questions for right now are, “Where is your body? Where is your heart? Does what you’re doing right now give you life?”

Then find that life again, and live it.


  1. how very poignant and raises many questions for me. Thank You. I pray for continued healing for you Kirsten.

  2. The Incarnation is my primary understanding of the love and nature of God. And a mystery with which I've wrestled repeatedly in my blog:


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