And there are moments these days where all of these emotions flow through my own soul in a split second “roller-coastering” along with the highs of the joy and thankfulness of next breaths that so many in our world no longer have….
It is so easy for all of us to feel that nothing will untangle the messes in our world and in our own hearts so light can get through again.
But today I read Psalm 139 and I was reminded of these lyrics from a song written by Rich Mullins & a Ragamuffin Band back in the early 1990s called, Nothing is Beyond You:
Where could I go, where could I run Even if I found the strength to fly And if I rose on the wings of the dawn And crashed through the corner of the sky
If I sailed past the edge of the sea Even if I made my bed in Hell Still there You would find me
‘Cause nothing is beyond You You stand beyond the reach Of our vain imaginations Our misguided piety
The heavens stretch to hold You And deep cries out to deep Singing that nothing is beyond You Nothing is beyond You
Time cannot contain You You fill eternity Sin can never stain You Death has lost its sting
And I cannot explain the way You came to love me Except to say that nothing is beyond You Nothing is beyond You
If I should shrink back from the light So I can sink into the dark If I take cover and I close my eyes Even then You would see my heart
And You’d cut through all my pain and rage The darkness is not dark to You And night’s as bright as day
Nothing is beyond You You stand beyond the reach Of our vain imaginations Our misguided piety
The heavens stretch to hold You And deep cries out to deep Singing that nothing is beyond You Nothing is beyond You
And time cannot contain You You fill eternity Sin can never stain You And death has lost its sting
And I cannot explain the way You came to love me Except to say that nothing is beyond You Nothing is beyond You Nothing is beyond You
(Copyright 1998 – Liturgy Legacy Music / Word Music / ASCAP / White Plastic Bag Music / SESAC / De Cristos Music / BMI)
These words were such a sweet reminder that although we human-types have collectively made a mess of our world and wandered far from the Garden we were created for, we can never ever ever wander beyond our Maker’s reach.
One beautiful byproduct of this horrible pandemic is that the way we meet and gather is changing.
Yes, we all long for the time when the “6 feet apart” rule is ancient history and we once again can sit shoulder to shoulder at concerts, games, church services, etc. But have you noticed that when we’re shoulder to shoulder – we’re not face to face?
We’re doing a different type of gathering right now – and maybe that’s not all bad.
So… the other night I inadvertently conducted an experiment with 5 of us from my church’s small group as we gathered at my apartment community’s clubhouse for a little get-together. The room is so awesome and spacious that it is a “safe place” to gather during this strange COVID-19 pandemic season because there’s plenty of room for social distancing.
Anyway… before the group arrived – I didn’t set the room up in any particular way. I just told my friends, “Make yourselves at home.” One thing I noticed is that the furniture was neatly arranged in square formation sitting areas (barstools lines up at the bar, chairs around cute little square tables, and couches and comfy chairs in seating arrangements at about 90 degrees from each other).
I found it passingly interesting that we did not keep any of the furniture in tidy squares while actually using it. As we moved around the room chatting and enjoying food and drink throughout the evening, we always seemed to end up in loosely formed circles facing each other. It was just natural to do that. It was much easier to connect with each other that way than in the tidy and eye catching square formations throughout the room.
I didn’t think much about until the next morning when I picked up a book (moving it out of the way in my almost daily frantic search for the keys before work ritual). The book is called The Church Comes Home by Robert and Julia Banks. Because books are more interesting to me than searches for keys or commutes to work – I mindlessly flipped through the pages.
Well…. I “happened” to land on pages 36-37 and my eyes were drawn to these diagrams there:
A little backstory on why these pictures and thoughts of my small group gathering from the prior evening became significant to me…. You see, I think my life and the pages of days within it – good, bad, and ugly – has essentially been a quest for authentic community, a Ragamuffin Oasis. (Now you see where my blog’s title comes from).
Perhaps you are not unfamiliar with this longing for authentic community: a community that perhaps seeks not as much to form you as to hold you – as you are.
And…. having spent the largest part of my formative years at some church function or another – I think I automatically assumed that truest form of community and connection could be found at church. However, in my five decades I have not always found that to be the case.
In fact, though I’ve been a part of some incredible churches through the years of all different shapes, sizes, and denominations- I found, at times, that true connection with others was much easier to find in completely non-“churchy” environments.
I’ve been starting to wonder, though, if perhaps church itself isn’t the obstacle to authentic and relevant connection so very necessary for us to thrive. Perhaps our westernized institutionalized version of it is the problem.
When I saw those pictures – the first one
looking like most of the churches in the United States: pews or chairs in tidy front-facing rows with a stage or pulpit up front – I found it interesting that the home church/”early church” pattern of gathering was in natural relational circles.
And, in our informal gathering the other evening and many prior to that outside at a local park (we really have been trying to be good little social distances while trying to create community at the same time), we just naturally formed a circle where we could easily connect with each other. It would have seemed counterintuitive to for one of us to stand in front of the others and everyone else line their chairs up it a neat row facing away from each other and toward the “leader”.
So, why then has our “normal” as churches and other organizations that supposedly have the purpose of creating community been to set up meeting places that automatically take our gazes of each other and toward some stage?
Perhaps this is just one insight and example of why church has become so irrelevant to so many.
Because our current social-distancing circumstances have prevented us from gathering in our normally abnormal traditions, perhaps we are uncovering our true “normal” – our true North of connecting naturally and authentically embedded deeply in our souls by our Maker.
Also, I know a lot of us complain about Zoom meetings and such. But perhaps the reason why all those faces in those “Brady Bunch squares” make us weary and “creep us out” a bit – is that, with the exception of a select few in our inner circles, we haven’t spent a lot of time actually taking in the faces of those around us.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” –Hebrews 10:24-25
Perhaps we (church-goer types) have been “assembling” for generations – yet not really together…. All in one auditorium but never really connecting.
Maybe one blessing birthed from this pandemic season will be that we get our “together” back.
One of my current reads is Small Victories by Anne Lamott.
In her opening chapter, she quotes this poem…
And it had captured me.
Perhaps true beginnings can only happen when we are at the end of ourselves.
Our Real Work
-by Wendell Berry
It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Remember…. you simply can’t be strong enough to handle everything you’re going through… everything your community and world is going through.
There is only One who can redeem even the darkest places in us. And, we don’t have to grapple, fight, and wrestle to reach Him. He is constantly and compassionately reaching out for us….
Just be held.
PS: I’m redesigning my blog a bit to hopefully help it be a birthplace for my future book: Ragamuffin Oasis: Finding our places you Just Be.
You can help me fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a writer by clicking that little subscribe button in the corner of your screen so future posts can drop in your email inbox. I have a much better chance of being taken seriously by agents/publishers if my “subscribership” proves that what I write is already being read.
Plus, you can use the comment space on the blog posts to add your thoughts and feedback and join in this ragamuffin journey. We’re all a little raggedy – but have amazing stories to tell.
Hopefully, together we can leave all of our vain striving for perfection in the past and create a safe space for each other to just be.
When I say “Black Lives Matter”, I am not referring to any particular organization.
For me, a white woman who was taught a very inaccurate version of history and life while being raised in communities rather lacking the beautiful diversity intended by our Maker, Black Lives Matter is a much needed movement.
It is a movement away from a white-washed version of history, society, and law and a movement TOWARD truly becoming
Just to clarify….
When I say #BlackLivesMatter, I am not referring to any particular organization.
For me, a white woman who was taught a very inaccurate version of history and life while being raised in communities rather lacking the beautiful diversity intended by our Maker, #BLM is a much needed #movement.
It is a movement AWAY from a #whitewashed version of history, toward truly becoming “One nation under God”.
Maker God, help us become true allies by revealing even a trace of the disease of racism infecting our hearts so we can be healed of it.
What is the reason for my blog name change from TracyMauro.com to RagamuffinOasis.com?
In my people-pleasing days, being (or at least appearing) perfect was absolutely everything. But as I have had to face my own past traumas and oh-so-many imperfections in order to survive, I have realized that thriving in life is not about reaching some up achievable state of perfection.
However, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not about pretending to never be “raggedy” or hiding when you are. It’s about finding a place – a community – where you can truly be loved, grow, and thrive… imperfections and all! That place, my friends, is a Ragamuffin Oasis!
And, on our journeys to find that Ragamuffin Oasis, there’s a real good chance we’ll help create one for other ragamuffins (a.k.a. all of us) along life’s road.
Please remember to click the “follow” button and submit your email address so we can continue sharing our Ragamuffin stories together. Who knows… some of those stories you share in the blog comments may even be included (with your permission, of course) in my future book by the same title!
I love it when the wind rocks the chair on my balcony. I like to think that my Mom dropped in from Heaven to sit with me for a bit. I know she would love that spot if she were still alive.
If you are blessed to have your Mom, your wife, your kids with you on this weekend – celebrate each other well – with not a drop of love held back.
But as for the rest of us: those of us who never had children, or Moms whose babies wait for them in heaven, or those of us whose Moms, wives, or those who have otherwise nurtured and loved us well no longer walk this earth with us… know that you are not forgotten and love and prayers rise up for you.
You see, to be a mother – a nurturing, life-giving one – isn’t limited to the physical bearing of children. And a mother’s love lives on long after the temporary separation death brings has occurred.
So my prayer for the rest of us on this weekend is that though it may be bittersweet – it will still be beautiful. May precious memories surround more than grief weighs you down. May you be reminded that your inestimable worth is not determined by your ability to give birth.
I say to you… to me… Happy Mother’s Day. On this weekend that is for many so bittersweet – May we sense the full and nurturing Presence of the One who died to set us free. And know, that when you have those moments when the tears begin to creep, He, too, understands and with you weeps.
Being cautious and considerate of your community in no way indicates a lack of faith.
Case in point: A religious group in Korea insisted that their congregants press on and attend church functions regardless of common sense precautions or government restrictions. That same organization has now been identified as the epicenter of the spread of the thousands of cases of COVID-19 in their country including the tragic deaths of some their own members.
I am not saying it is wrong to still meet – particularly if your church has the facilities and capabilities to offer thorough disinfection before and every gathering and people are not packed in too closely together. But please don’t judge faith levels – even your own – according to whether or not you decide to hold or attend gatherings right now.
The Jesus who told us “In this world you would have trouble” would not have us proudly prance around as if we’re immune. Rather, our Maker would have us walk humbly and love deeply with sensitivity about the situation and dependence on HIM rather than rely on our own stubborn ability to “press on with business as usual no matter what”.
Perhaps the realization that we are not in control begets the greatest faith of all.
What if closed church doors prompt a remembrance that being the Church has nothing to do with a building? What if the Coronavirus Pandemic teaches us that God’s love extends way beyond just those who gather in buildings or have organized programs? Perhaps that is the good that will come out of this horrible virus. Didn’t someone say once that “all things work together for good?”
So let’s give each other in the faith community grace as we navigate how to be a faith community in the midst of this pandemic. I mean, it’s the first time in most of our lifetimes we’ve had to deal with anything like this. There’s no script here.
What’s the worst thing that could happen as far as faith communities go? We get even more controlling and “judgy”.
The choice of whether this empowers us to love more like our Maker or further impedes our ability to genuinely help those He died for is ours.
Words like “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10a) have always been fascinating to me.
But it has only recently that I have been getting a better understanding of the importance of being still.
You see, I have recently moved to a little apartment that overlooks a river. This river has been teaching me much about life, our Maker-God, and the importance of being still.
In the picture I took this morning, a part of the river is stirred and far from still because of storms moving into the area. Another part of the river is calmer – much more still. Rhetorical question: Which part of the river is more clearly reflecting the light?
Maker God, continue to teach me these lessons on how to be still so I can better reflect the light of Your life to help brighten and warm the cold dark places of our world. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
So… the other evening I was “breaking bread” (actually it was sushi – but same concept) with a few friends from my faith community.
As we sipped our wine and enjoyed half-priced Sushi night, we began to talk about worship. One of my friends mentioned how very much she enjoyed participating in communion every week and that even watching the others in our congregation being served the Sacraments is such a Holy Moment.
Another friend chimed in that truly Holy Communion is one of those “thin places“. Of course, we all were immediately intrigued and asked him to explain more about “thin places”.
He explained how C.S. Lewis (one of my very favorite thinkers and writers) would write and speak of the thin places – where heaven and earth intermingle. I made the comment that I wish we could just live in that thin place – where not so much divides and keeps us from connecting to God and each other.
It’s just that I’m not always quite sure how to get there – much less stay there. I’ve experienced thin places throughout my life – from early childhood memories of my Mom and church pianist playing beautiful songs about the Blood of Jesus while communion was being served and wondering how wordless moments could be so powerful to breathtaking nature encounters when I’ve been absolutely certain that Maker painted a particular sunrise or sunset just for me.
But, even in the much-mystery that clouds our every day lives and deters us from entering those thin spaces – I will still seek to learn what an abiding life (see John 15) – that sweet communion with the Maker of our souls -truly looks like.