Mary, womb of the Word

Mary, womb of the Word

womb of the world

womb of danger rebellion –

of yes when no is much safer

cocoon-catacomb of small growing glowing life

imperceptible and


from no life to new life

from nothing comes the Way the Truth the Life the

Word with see-through skin

the Word a tiny body that needs

the sac of waters to breathe to

eat to excrete

that pregnancy – already

the most dangerous mysterious wild thing was

made more mysterious more wild

by the very presence of godde incarnate

flesh against flesh inside organs

muscles bone hormones

skin to skin

skin to sacred skin

sacred skin to sacred skin

and the baby smelled his way

to her

knew her

already the very flesh of god.

A True/Painful List of Things I am Grateful For Today

“Have an attitude of gratitude.” It’s hard to think of a saying I hate more.

The instruction to find things to be grateful for feels half-hearted. We often use it as a way to minimize our suffering. When we’re going through something terrible, no matter how dark it feels inside, we often say – “but I should be grateful for what I have.” In my experience, the command to “be grateful” is a tool we use to distract us from the complex, often painful true emotions we’re processing.

So I made this list today, on Thanksgiving in 2020. It’s a list of things I’m grateful for, and a recognition that those things don’t fix any of my sadness. The two – gratitude and grief – can exist at the same time.

1. I am grateful for my first marriage. It was full of pain, and hurt, and so much longing in the dark hours of the night. It was also full of jokes and good beer and homemade pizza nights and hope. It’s been five years since the day I walked out, and the feeling that I did something wrong, that I failed, is still tucked into a corner of my heart. The rest of my heart is grateful that I listened to my body, which was leading me to wholeness and health, away from that marriage. I’m grateful that we had a big beautiful winter wedding in the church where I was baptized, that hundreds of our friends came to celebrate, that my grandparents were there. I’m grateful I got to wear an expensive white gown and a cathedral length veil and that our friend played the organ and that we used the lectionary texts for that weekend, Christmas I – in the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Somehow that text spoke to me then about beginnings and endings, and it still does. I’m grateful that my first marriage ended. I’m grateful that the pain of that ending has been the shit-pile of compost that has nurtured my life for five years since.

2. I am grateful to be carrying our second child, to feel him move frantically inside me, pushing pushing, already running and living his own life. I am grateful that this pregnancy has been the absolute opposite of what I expected. I’ve been disappointed most of this pregnancy – disappointed that my friends can’t feel the baby move inside of me because we’re all still separated; disappointed that I can’t travel to my hometown, take this baby to Kansas City, my birthplace, before he’s born; disappointed to not be having a daughter. When you’re pregnant you’re supposed to say – “boy or girl, I just want a healthy baby!” But that’s not what I want. I have always pictured myself having a daughter, and the day I found out we were having another boy, the disappointment that had been hovering around my shoulders the whole pregnancy settled right into the space behind my eyes, the space behind my heart. I feel less connected to this baby than I think I’m supposed to. But that’s real, and I know other mothers must feel that too.

I’m grateful that my body knows what to do – knows how to create a cave of growth and nutrients and warmth for this new life. I’m grateful for my body, even though this pregnancy I’ve felt less connected to the miracle of womanhood and more angry that my body is changing without my permission. I feel more like a machine just doing its job, giving everything it has to this new person who has already disappointed me. It’s hard to say those things, but they’re true, so I’m grateful to say them.

3. I am grateful to live in San Diego. I will never get used to the sight of the ocean in the distance as I drive up that one hill on my way to work. I am grateful that my son always asks “go ocean now?” and wants to “dip feet” in the water. I’m grateful that he cries when we leave the water, wants to be near it. This makes me grateful that I grew up as far from the ocean as possible, close to fields of prairie grass and muddy rivers and farmland. I’m grateful that I grew up with ice storms that would cut the electricity out for a week, force us to huddle together in the living room and light candles and walk through quiet, dark streets covered in snow. I grew up with summer thunderstorms heralded by a never-ending chorus of cicadas, that I would find the carcasses of cicadas in the backyard and collect them. I’m grateful I grew up with fireflies. I long for my child to grow up with those experiences, too. His childhood is so different from mine. This fills me with longing and grief, which live right alongside the gratitude for eternal sunshine and accessible beaches.

4. I am grateful for my addiction to Instagram, because it reveals to me my brokenness, my loneliness in real and tangible ways. As I scroll past endless content, my heart is trying to tell me that it needs something, needs soothing and comforting. It’s true that I often don’t give it the soothing comfort that it needs – usually I just spend an hour scrolling, looking for something that will fill me up. But even when I fall into the void of Instagram, a part of me knows that it is an opportunity to listen to my deeper self – the self that needs quiet, and space, and lit candles and art making and quality time with friends. Even if I don’t give my inner self what it needs, I’m at least grateful that it’s speaking up.

5. I am grateful for my work, for my role in the community of my church. I’m grateful for those moments when I wonder – what is the point of all of this? Does any of this – this writing sermons, this setting up chairs on Sundays, this effort to nurture healthy community, this to-do list that never ends – does any of it matter? Does the gospel matter? I’m grateful for those moments of doubt, because they are real.

6. I am grateful for the park near our house. I am grateful for it because it is located right off the 805, a super busy highway that’s constantly moving, constantly loud. Taking my child to our neighborhood park and feeling frustrated that it’s right off a busy highway has helped me wake up to some of the privilege I have lived with my whole life, and for that awakening, I’m grateful. I always lived far away from any busy roads, was always safe in our neighborhoods, didn’t have to hear the roar of traffic while I played for hours on the swing set. It wasn’t until we bought a house we could afford, close to a busy highway, that I realized that was an unrecognized privilege I’d lived with. I’m grateful that my son couldn’t care less that his swing set is right next to the highway; he just wants to swing and swing for hours.

7. I am grateful for my friends all over the world. And, I can hardly stand the sadness of realizing that I haven’t seen many of my closest friends in five, even ten years. I feel pangs of guilt and shame when I realized it’s been over a year since we talked. I’m grateful for those feelings of missing them, because it means that our connections are still real, still part of me. I’m endlessly sad that we have lived whole lives apart from each other, that we don’t know each other’s daily lives the way we used to. I wish we could share our lives the way we did in high school, in college, when we lived together.

8. I am grateful to be a parent. I’m grateful that it comes naturally to me in some ways, and that in others ways I totally suck at it. In the moments when my two-year-old wants me to play with him and I’d rather do anything else, I’m grateful for the simultaneous feelings of frustration and love. I’m grateful for the times (every day) when he throws things just because he knows he’s not supposed to; I’m grateful for the anger that rises up in me as I wonder – why can’t he act exactly like I want him to? Those are the moments when he is doing the necessary work of becoming his own person, and I have to do the work of being my own full self, and let him be his own full self. These moments are painful and I’m also grateful for them.

That’s the list for now. What are you really, truly grateful for? Does the gratitude cover up the grief? Or might they exist alongside each other?

Read Matthew With Me

How much experience do you have with reading the Bible?

Whether you are very familiar with the Bible, or if it’s totally new to you, here is a way to jump into scripture today.

This Easter season, read the Gospel according to Matthew with me and St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea!

To join us, sign up for weekly emails here.

This week, we are reading Matthew 1:1 – 6:18.

Here is a podcast you can subscribe to – each day you can listen to a section of the book and a reflection about that reading. Each episode is less than ten minutes! It’s an easy way to follow along with this journey through scripture. You can also find this podcast in the Podcast app or wherever you listen to podcasts – just search “The Good Book Club.”

Want to join me?

What is Holy Week?

Next week is Holy Week!

You may wonder, what does that mean?

The three days leading up to Easter day are the holiest days in the church year. Holy Week is an invitation to each of us – an invitation to walk alongside Jesus, an invitation to immerse ourselves in God’s story of loving the world.

This week, to get ready, watch this video that tells the story of Holy Week and Easter.

Then, use this prompt to journal, or to start a conversation with someone:

What do you already know about Jesus’ journey during Holy Week? How might God surprise you this Holy Week? What parts of the Holy Week story might ring differently this year?

Get ready to celebrate Holy Week at home this year! Click the button below for a booklet with resources to observe Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil at home.

Make a Sacred Space at Home

We are learning now, more than ever, that the church is not the building where we gather; no, the church is us, the people of God, wherever we are.

But still, you may be missing the sacred space of your church right now. You may even realize that you miss your school, your desk at work, or some other space that you didn’t realize was sacred until now.

Holy Week will be upon us shortly, and this blog will have resources for you to celebrate Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday at home!

We can prepare now by creating a sacred space in your home. We are currently in the church season of Lent, so now is a perfect time to make a space for prayer.

The key to creating a sacred space at home? Keep it simple. There is no wrong or right here – the invitation is to find a quiet corner of your house, maybe a bookshelf, the top of a side table, and intentionally place a few holy items there. Here are some suggestions:

  • A cloth
  • A cross
  • An elemental symbol: a candle, a bowl of water, vines/greens, a small bowl of oil

Perhaps there is a sacred image that is important to you – an icon, or a photograph, or perhaps some art that your child draws.

The important thing is that each item is special to you.

Here’s a picture of my sacred space at home. I collect rocks, crystals, and shells, and I love to have a living thing in my sacred space. I also love to light incense – could you incorporate all five senses in your sacred space?

My sacred space is set up on a small side table in our living room.

Take time today to create a sacred space at home. You can do this by yourself if you live alone, or with family. Children will intuitively know how to create sacred space – they already collect special things, and find magic and meaning in everyday objects.

Once you have set up your sacred space, take a picture and send it to me! You can email it to me (marylynn dot standrewspb at gmail dot com), or send it to me on Facebook. I’ll create a collection of all of our sacred spaces.

Here’s another great resources for making an altar for home!

Quarantine Count-Up

In a matter of days, everything has changed. We are sheltering at home in California. We are trying to do church in new ways (thank you, Zoom and Facebook).

One big challenge for me right now is that there is no way to know when all of this will end. When will we be able to go to church again? When will we be able to invite friends over for dinner and share a hug? When will our preschool be able to open again? These days stuck inside feel endless, and I feel hopeless.

When I was young, I loved Christmas. Every year I would make a paper chain to count down the days until Christmas – sometimes starting with 50 days to go. I would tape the red and green links above my bed and every day I would rip one off, watching the chain get smaller as we inched toward Christmas morning.

I’ve been wishing that I could make a count-down chain now for this new situation.

But the problem is, we don’t know when this will end.

So I decided to make a quarantine count-up chain instead.

Every night at dinner (we’ve done it for three days so far), David and I take a strip of paper and write the date on one side. On the other side we write a few words or sentences about where we saw God today. You could write down one gratitude from your day, or one moment when you could sense God’s presence near you. A moment of hope.

You could talk with your family at the dinner table – have your kids think of times in the day when they saw God moving. Where did they see love today? Have kids who are too young to write color on the strips.

Then we have George color on the strip of paper and we add it to our count-up chain, which hangs by our dinner table.

I’m trying to change my mindset – since I don’t know how long this will last, I can’t count down.

So now I’m slowly making a count-up chain which, when all of this is over, I will be able to look back on and physically see how God was present in all of this chaos and fear.

If you make your own quarantine count-up chain, take a picture of it and send it to me! I’d love to see how you’re marking the days.

How Quickly Things Change

If this was a normal Thursday morning, I would be meeting with the St. Andrew’s staff. I would be getting ready to do chapel for fifty preschoolers in the sanctuary. I would be going out to meet someone for coffee. I would be standing at the door to our preschool at pick up, greeting families.

Instead, I’m sitting at home, looking out my window, and feeling a slight whiplash.

Things have changed so drastically, so quickly. In a matter of days, everything I took for granted about my life has been turned upside down.

And I’m aware of my privilege in this moment – that I have a job I can do from home, that I have a home to isolate in, that my home has food in the pantry, that I can step outside and breathe fresh air.

How has your life changed this week? I’m right in the middle of the grief of it all – the loss of community on Sundays, missing hugs from preschoolers, wishing I could go out to eat with my friends.

This moment in our lives is forcing us to express our faith in new ways. When we can’t go to church on Sundays, how do we connect? How do we pray? How do we teach our children without Sunday school?

Let’s start small. At bedtime tonight (whether you have small children or not), consider these questions. If you live alone, write your answers down in a journal or call a friend and talk about them over the phone.

During your bedtime routine, invite your children into a time of reflection about their day, maybe by saying, “Did you know that God really wants to know what happened in your day today, and that God is always listening whenever you need to tell God something?” Then continue with these questions:

1) What are some things that happened today that you want to tell God about?

2) What is one happy thing that happened today? What is one sad thing that happened today?

3) Did you see God or feel God with you when those things were happening? Where did you see or feel God when those things happened today?

4) What are some things that you want to tell God that you are grateful for today?

Wash Your Hands

This Lent at St. Andrew’s we are gathering on Wednesday nights to discuss a video series about symbols in our lives of faith.

Last night, the symbol for the week was water.

Watch the video here:

How are you adrift? What keeps you afloat?

At the end of the video, the viewer is invited to take on this contemplative practice for the week:

This week, when you wash your hands, notice the water, really feel the water as it flows over your hands.

The creators of this series had no way of knowing that this week would line up with a global health crisis. Right now, everywhere I turn someone is reminding me to wash my hands.

The invitation in this video helped me think differently about how to react in this time of fear, panic, and uncertainty.

What if every time you read or heard a reminder to wash your hands, you used that as an opportunity to remember your baptism?

What if every time you turned back to the sink for those 20 seconds, you took a breath and reminded yourself of your baptismal identity, as a child of God?

This article by Kara K. Root points out that it takes 20 seconds to say the Lord’s Prayer once:

Every time you wash your hands, pay attention to the water, to how it feels as it moves over your skin. Pay attention to your thoughts – are you restless, impatient, panicked, unsettled? Bring awareness to that feeling. Maybe say the Lord’s Prayer. Remember that you have been united with Christ in your baptism.

How might this change the way we respond to our current health crisis? If every time we wash our hands we remember the most vulnerable among us; if each piece of news about empty store shelves reminded us of those who have no extra food, or no homes to bring it home to; if we ask ourselves – where is Jesus in all of this?

Humbled, Surprised

This week was Ash Wednesday, the first day of the ancient Christian season of Lent.

I spent a few hours at the Pacific Beach boardwalk with others from St. Andrew’s and PB Methodist Church.

We called out to anyone walking by – “today is Ash Wednesday, if you would like ashes or prayers!”

It was awkward, and uncomfortable – even for me, the biggest extrovert ever.

What struck me was that every time someone heard us and said yes, I was surprised.

Some people stopped and asked us about Ash Wednesday. Some had never heard of the tradition. Some were part of a church community but weren’t going to make it to church that day.

Whoever they were, I was surprised every time.

I want to keep putting myself in places where God surprises me.

Here is the list of prayer requests I wrote down from those interactions at the beach. Join me in praying for these folks today:

Tony – to get closer to God
Mary – her grant writing project
Glen – he had a date Wednesday night and a job interview Thursday morning
For one struggling with addiction
For a friend
Roman and Stefan – for clarity
Esperanza and her children
Sunshine (he wanted a star on his forehead, so I drew one with the ashes and said: “Remember that you are stardust, and to stardust you shall return.”)
John and Mary

When have you been surprised by God?


Baby George playing in the water,
reminding me that faith can be as simple as this.

I used to think that faith had to be complicated.

I thought there was a specific way I should pray, a special formula of prayers and beliefs and commitments that God wanted from me.

I wasn’t sure what the formula was, but I was pretty sure everyone else had it but me.

But I’ve come to believe that faith doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to look perfect, it doesn’t even have to feel perfect.

It’s a simple as dipping my hands in water, touching my fingers to my forehead, my chest, my left shoulder, my right shoulder.

As simple as making the sign of the cross, taking a breath, and remembering that God loves me.

Remembering that I am loved. That in my baptism I have been marked as Christ’s own forever.

This week, every time you touch water, take a moment to remember that water sustains all life; that in baptism you are buried with Christ and raised to new life; that the truth of God’s love is like water, coursing through our bodies, moving through the atmosphere, rushing across the face of the earth, renewing all living things.

As you dip the sponge into the soapy water to wash the dishes.

When the washer starts and the water pours out onto your dirty clothes.

When you wake in the night and reach for a glass of water.

Trace the sign of the cross on your body, and breathe.

It can be that simple.