Shadows cast themselves across the path, entirely convinced they are chains, if not barbed wire, fully capable of strangling all movement in any direction. But I, vessel of light and dark, fire and ice, have burst across their boundaries time and again, brimming with hope in a sea of despair, not because of who I am, but because of what love’s done; not because of what I’ve done, but because of who grace is. Let us, both you and I, break into an all-out sprint, flinging ourselves across these penumbral barriers like Olympians at the finish line, leaning into and breaking the tape of victory’s wreath. This is the courage by which we who’ve plumbed the depths of despair keep putting one foot in front of the other, because our deeps keep telling us there’s not only light beyond the valley of the shadow of darkness, but life in its richest manifestation. © 2018 Todd Jenkins
Or is it forever? Since creation’s dawning, dirt — humus — has absorbed whatever liquid gravity pulls toward earth’s core. Grief trickling from all eyes; brow-sweat of every effort; life-source of each animal; all soaked into the soil as thirsty sponge drawing all toward the center. Gethsemane could be no exception. Anxiety of relational rending; exertion of mortal desire; arterial drip of ethereal hope; all lay the groundwork for betrayal, struggle, and surrender. Then there followed three days of hell. They stare at the ground, waiting for creation to happen all over again; all senses and emotions begging for dirt to be shaped and breathed into once more; afraid that it won’t, yet scared to death that it will; and the trinity of human desire saturates the ground over and over and over again: tears, sweat, and blood. Luke 22:44 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. © 2018 Todd Jenkins
The adventuresome among us would like to take a zip line from the Triumphal Entry, or maybe even from all the way back at the mount of Transfiguration, to the empty tomb. The more acrophobic among us would prefer an enclosed cable car for the quick and easy journey. But there is no such shortcut. Lent is a journey we make, year after year, not because it’s fun or enjoyable, or even because we want to, but because we understand that it’s the only way; the only way to find ourselves on the far side of crucifixion, in the garden, staring at the rolled-away stone and the empty tomb, incredulous as much because of Jesus’ resurrection as because we’ve been forgiven and freed. Lent is the place where we go to die, because we feel, deep in our innards, that dying is the only path to being raised to new life. Lent is the place and the time when we prepare ourselves to admit that we are not only among the Unholy Week palm-wavers shouting, “Ho-she-annah! Save us NOW!” but also among the angry crowd shouting, “Crucify him!” Lent is the journey. Holy Week is upon us. Now is the time. Let us dare to claim its courage. © 2018 Todd Jenkins
Photo by Lee Lindsey McKinney
I grew up mostly with a staunchly convinced intellectual faith until the day an inability to wrap my brain around the death of my mother cracked my hard head into fragments. My heart caught all the pieces, as they tumbled down, and tenderly held them until they could be reassembled. Now, I spend my days sharing stories of crumbled dreams that have been resurrected into pictures of hope; images we never could have fathomed with our solidified minds and plans alone. © 2018 Todd Jenkins
As I watched video from a group of people offering a vitriolic prayer for violent success in their imminent encounter with others who were identified as different, I contemplated the definition and purpose of such supplication. Perhaps the only thing we can say for certain about prayer is that it is a petition offered on a level other than the realm in which we physically function. It can be a request for self-validation, a plea for deliverance, or many things in-between. It might be offered to the creator of the universe, a deity of our own construction, or an unknown entity. We all do it, and probably more often than we realize; sometimes with prescribed forms of hope, and other times with generic invocations of desperation. To say that ours have been answered is to lay claim to their recipient’s legitimacy. It seems to me that the genuine mettle of our god surfaces, however, not when results coincide with our requests, but when they don’t. Who and where is your god when your petitions disappear into the abyss of the unrequited? There, in the vulnerable nakedness of “No.” or “Not yet.”, there remains the possibility of divine presence or absence. If you find yourself, in the deepest darkness, convinced that you’re walking alone, you might want to consider a different way of sensing, an alternate trajectory for your pleas and praise, or both. © 2018 Todd Jenkins
There is no cable-car to whisk us from the boothless peak of Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and the three disciples to a Cadbury confectioned empty tomb; no Platform 9 ¾ into which we can plunge headlong and suddenly find ourselves transported to peaceful bliss. There is only Lenten exodus; forty days, that might as well be 40 years, through which we slog, breathless and arrhythmic, trembling yet driven by a force planted at birth. Let our hope for Easter’s arrival be more than a vacuous promise from they-sayers, or a mainline injection from anesthetizers, or a little more icing on the cake from already-made-its, or a fairy-tale rescue from pie-in-the-skyers. Let us dare to descend from the mountain with the transfigured and enfleshed one into the valleys of the shadow of hell in real people’s lives — including our own — and risk whoever we think we are and even who we really are for the sake of other human beings. Let us do it, not because they look like us, think like us, vote like us, speak like us, live like us, or pray like us. Let us do it because we’re all created in the image of God; because risking ourselves for one another is what we’re here for; because we feel, in the deeps of our soul, the kin-dom Jesus lived and to which he gave birth. Let us do it because we know we must find ways to keep ourselves in this, together, or we will find ourselves out if it, apart. The only path that leads to resurrection takes us through the purple haze of pain, leads us in the dance of suffering, nails us to the tree of unliving. The empty tomb cannot be reached unless we dare to bare ourselves to rigor mortis’ relentless march, before the rising sun of grace’s throne. Let us dare to descend into the entombing pits of the grief, pain, and suffering by which we are surrounded, hoping against hope that unconditional love can and will easter us all. © 2018 Todd Jenkins
I didn’t want to say the words this year. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” kept asking to be transposed with something more honest, like, “You were in high school this morning, future slowly unfolding; but now your blood is pooled on the ground, your organs motionless, your body lifeless, your family screaming a caustic cocktail of rage and grief, cameras intruding like uninhibited perverts.” How dare we regurgitate a vacuous litany propped up on flimsy thoughts and prayers! If we can’t be honest, and say we’re not willing to change anything to slow the parade of body bags, then we need to just keep our damn mouths shut, hunkered down behind the walls of our callous indifference. Who will compose a liturgy of lament? Who will sit in this bend of hell’s river, sieve net in hand, scooping the shrapnel-torn fragments of hope as they drift toward the abyss? Answer me! © 2018 Todd Jenkins
(when Psalm 22 stares back at you from the mirror)
"My sons and daughters, why have you forsaken them? Why are you so far from responding to the their cries and groanings? They beseech you in daylight, wailing at the wall you’ve constructed to separate their lives from your comfort and security. By night, their pleas waft on smoldering embers of their deconstruction." The victors have constructed a lovely narrative of deliverance; their cry, God’s response; like a sacred vending machine, fed with the coin of deserving. But what of those who are judged to be subpar, those whose DNA, language, or faith heritage come from beyond the 23&me dream package? What of those who showed up for work or school or worship, oblivious to the call to pack heat for self-preservation; those who trusted that the least of these, the lambs, would be protected by the Great Shepherd’s shepherds? They counted on us to carry them; to be there, not just in the delivery room, but at the grocery store checkout, the public library, the classroom, the youth group meeting, the job fair. Is our absence because we don’t really care, or because we’re actually the carnivores circling ‘round them? Their tongues glue to the roof of their mouths, like jerky dried for consumption, salted with the tears of their anguish. Their skin taut, revealing a cadaverous collection of bones. The coyotes circle, yipping and nipping, casting lots for what little remains. The dream we sold them promised they’d have a shot; guaranteed dignity, respect, even opportunity; but the fine print and disclaimer excluded them for myriad reasons, mostly because we feared that including them would cost us too much. We are slow to catch on, O Lord; blind and deaf and too scared to realize that tossing them to the curb is infinitely more costly than we ever dreamed, because it has cost us our very souls. Is there still time, still hope, still opportunity to pull more chairs ‘round the table? If we feed those who’ve been starved, welcome those who’ve been exiled, humble ourselves before you and pray, will you make your light shine upon us all, once again? We wrap ourselves with the sackcloth of confession, and dust ourselves with the ash of contrition, O holy one, in hopes that our forsaking will not become our forsakenness. Deliver us, we pray, that we may live to proclaim your story to generations yet to come. © 2018 Todd Jenkins
I wanted my words to make a difference; not just the words that leaked out of my mouth in the heat of the moment, but the words that seeped out of my veins, carrying parts of me from the deepest places I’ve yet to plumb, when your pain stabbed me with the dull side of its blade, its razor edge sunk to the hilt in your heart. I wanted my blood to make a difference; but it didn’t. At least, it didn’t effect the wispy dream of reconciliation I constructed with letters, punctuation, and space — lots of space. So, here we are, on the far side of words — on the dried side of blood — and the wet side of tears; still groping for the edge of the grave, still hoping for breath not squeezed tight by pain and rejection. Here we are. Here we are. © 2018 Todd Jenkins
We pray, O God, for all those who enter the holiday season with a sense of overwhelming sadness: those whose sadness is brought on by heightened grief of the loss of a loved one; those who are sad because the holidays bring acute awareness of family or relational dysfunction or discord; those whose sadness comes from an inability to create the Norman Rockwell life that marketers and advertisers use to create a restless desire to purchase; those whose emotions are overcome by the incongruence of life in the first eleven months of the year, or the painful difference between the “haves” and the “have nots”; and those whose sadness comes from any other reason. Help us, O Lord, as your children, to be keenly aware and ready to open our ears and our hearts to those who are anything but happy for the holidays, through Jesus Christ our Lord…..
We pray, O God, for all those whose holidays will be consumed with the overwhelming task of rebuilding their homes and their lives: those whose neighborhoods have been ravaged by hurricane, flood, tornado, earthquake, tsunami, fire, or other disaster; those whose neighborhoods and lives have been turned to rubble by monster machinery of war. Help us, as your children, to have the grace to offer who we are and what we have been given to alleviate their suffering; through Jesus Christ our Lord…..
We pray, O God, for all those whose holidays will be consumed with worries about health and wellness, for themselves or someone near and dear: those whose holiday appetites will be diminished by chemotherapy; those whose holiday schedules will be filled with radiation, physical therapy, or booked for surgery; those whose glasses will be raised, not to toast, but to chase down handfulls of pills which they hope will extend the quality and/or quantity of their days. Help us, O Lord, as your children, to support, by your grace, all efforts at health and healing, through Jesus Christ our Lord…..
We pray, O God, for all those who are leaders, in our congregation, our community, our state, our nation, and in the world: those who make decisions about the direction of our congregation’s ministry and mission; those who direct funding, support, programs and protection for this city, this county, this state, this nation, and for all nations. Give us the courage to demand and support leaders who are willing to risk and sacrifice as much for peace and justice as we ask our military to risk and sacrifice in support of war; through Jesus Christ our Lord…..
In the midst of this Advent season, O Lord, give us unfailing hope through your unimaginable promise; give us unquenchable joy through your gift of deliverance; through Jesus Christ our Lord….
Now hear us, O God, as we join our hearts and voices together to pray the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, as we pray together….. Our father……
© 2017 Todd Jenkins