A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Unbind Him…

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” ~ John 11:43-44 (NIV)

Having said this, he called loudly, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, bound head and foot with linen strips, his face wrapped in a cloth.  “Untie him, “Jesus told them, “and let him go free.”  ~ John 11:43-44 (NAB)

This story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead is part of the reading for our service this coming Sunday.  It is a favorite of mine, first, because it is shocking.  Can you really imagine what those standing around thought, not to mention Lazarus’ family?  Raising of the dead had happened before by some of the prophets whose stories are in the Old Testament, but this man, Jesus, was a man that they knew – probably some of them since he was born.  People in their circle did not bring people back to life. It changed their perspective and direction.

The second reason is that this fragment of scripture did the same for me.  The first of the verses written above is the one we will hear on Sunday.  The second one under it was one I read over 30 years ago, and the part that grabbed me was, “’Untie him,’ Jesus told them, ‘and let him go free.’” This translation is from the New American Bible (NAB).  The revised version of the NABRE reads, “Untie him and let him go.”  The word “Free” made a difference to me.  When I read these words, it seemed as if Jesus was saying to me, “You, Donna, unbind them and let them go free.”

I took those words seriously as a command to me – marching Orders.  I had been contemplating a direction for my life and becoming a counsellor appealed to me.  Wouldn’t that help me do this? Unbind them?  So, I began and enrolled in college.  I loved my psychology and counselling classes and had finished those when I heard a different call.  I enrolled in a program at St. Thomas Seminary and received a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry with concentration in Spiritual Direction. The classes I took in counselling and psychology helps. Who would have thought?  Not me! But walking with others on their spiritual journey can be one way of unbinding – helping a person notice where God is in their life and finding blocks that get in the way of this.

Why am I writing about this today, and what, if anything, does it have to do with a Friday Meditation.  Just this, if Jesus’ command was to remove the grave clothes so Lazarus could go free, isn’t it possible that this might still be a command for us? Thinking……

I have gone through my own unbinding process.  It takes a lifetime, I’m beginning to think, and it has required inner healing, much prayer, community, Eucharist, and small groups of people with whom to pray and share, as well as a spiritual director of my own.  From time to time, it has required professional counselling.  A lot of removal of grave clothes happened. There are some scars still in evidence, and they will probably remain. Scars are reminders of how much healing there has been.

I’m sure that you can recall your own stories when you think about it.  Maybe you still have a few places that tie you down.  But all is not lost. Jesus still has his ways of unwrapping us. Then our healing – our spiritual freedom becomes a gift that we can offer to others.  There are many ways to serve in each little thing we do to help others.  Maybe you work with the food distribution.  Perhaps you go on trip to Juarez to help those who live at the dump.  Maybe you serve at the Cold Weather Shelter, or the clothing bank, or Meals on Wheels.  Maybe you visit the sick or sit with the elderly.  Maybe you give rides to those who have no way of getting to where they need or would like to be. Maybe you just listen to others.  Listen to that. Just listen??? Having someone listen to you is a wonderful, healing thing. Whatever you do or how small you think it is, it could be a very big deal to another. In so doing, and as you travel your own journey, smelly rags begin to come off. Then you and the person you touch may begin to walk again in the freedom of the love of Jesus.

SERVE OTHERS – #3, Trinity Way of Life

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Out of the depths, I cried…

Holy Spirit(Part 2)

With my voice I cry to the LORD; with my voice I make supplication to the LORD. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. When my spirit is faint, you know my way. ~ Psalm 142:1-3

“And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised…” –  Luke 24-49

This IS a tough assignment. I’m a little nervous now that I know God uses autocorrect.  No telling what he will say.  Maybe I wasn’t listening very well.  In case you don’t remember or didn’t read last month’s SOUL FOOD, with a little help from said Autocorrect, God asked me to tell my story with the Holy Spirit.  Since the Spirit was active in my life before I ever knew the Spirit existed, it’s a long story so I’m writing it in installments.

When I left off last month, we were living in El Paso, Texas where Dave was stationed.  We had three small boys by then, and had decided that we wanted them to learn about Jesus in church and that we needed to take them. We returned to the church of our childhoods even though, we were beginning to believe that God was not the waiting-until-you-sin-so he-can-punish-you God. Toward the end of our time in Texas, Dave had the opportunity to have a family accompanied tour in Italy for four years.  At the same time, he found that there was an opportunity for the Army to send him on a two-year assignment to CU Boulder to finish the degree he had started before we got married.  For some, then unknown, reason, I felt strongly that the Colorado University thing was going to happen so Dave turned down the Italy tour before he knew if he might be offered the school option.  We couldn’t wait to see.

Boulder was enjoyable.  We lived in campus housing and there were many little children around for our boys.  We learned what community meant here.  Although there was much community in the military, it wasn’t what we would come to know in our university experience. Half way through this two-year assignment, we had a daughter. You have heard this before, but it belongs in my story now because it was a turning point.

When Kim was born, she was tiny but perfect.  However, before we got out of the hospital, she started having jaundice. She had two blood transfusions and needed to be monitored. My hospital stay was over, but I had to leave Kim there. That evening she began to have blood in her stool and they couldn’t find the cause.  The bleeding was getting worse.  Doctors decided that she needed to go to the military hospital, Fitzsimons, in Denver, so they took her by ambulance in the middle of the night. This was a few days after the big flood in 1965 and many roads were impassible. My doctor wouldn’t let me make the trip and anyway, I had three small boys at home.  I spent my night in prayer (You could call it that.)  I, alternately, begged God to heal Kim, but I didn’t believe God did that, anymore, and I begged him not to let her die.  Sometimes, I yelled at him.  It was a very long night.

Dave managed to get home that next morning – parents weren’t allowed to stay with children at the military hospital – and he informed me that they would do exploratory surgery at Noon if there was no improvement.  This was Sunday, so Dave called the pastor to tell him that we were going to stay home by the phone and asked them to pray.  For what, I wonder. Anyway, the members of the church stopped in the middle of the service and prayed for Kim, our little 5-pound daughter.  They didn’t believe that God healed, either. Then.  I imagine they prayed for the doctors and such.  At the very moment of that prayer, the bleeding stopped.  Maybe Kim managed to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment.  The bleeding did not just slow down, it stopped. Instantly.  The tough military doctor called it a miracle.  We did, too. And the people from the church as well.

I learned something about God that day. He does heal today.  He hears my prayers and answers them.  And I learned that he cared for me.  Luke 7 tells stories of Jesus healing and raising the dead causing crowds to follow him everywhere.  John’s (the Baptist) disciples came to ask Jesus, on John’s behalf, if he was the one for whom they were waiting.  Jesus told them to go tell John what they saw – the healings, the raising from the dead, etc. Then he says to the crowd, v. 24, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? (…)” I read a meditation where the writer wonders what drew the crowd to follow Jesus around. The writer said that, most probable, it was the healings.  Perhaps so.  It worked for me.

A year later, Dave was to return to active duty. I was talking to a neighbor about church and how I wish there was one who believed that God worked in the world today.  I wanted a God that I could touch, a God who heard my prayers of desperation, a God who responded as I had experienced. She said, “I think you might like my church – St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, Boulder.”  Dave took classes in the engineering building across the street from St. Aidan’s, so he went to their chapel and picked up The Book of Common Prayer (1928).  He read: “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.”

Then after the Confession, he read: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

 Dave said, “I think we have found what we have been looking for.”  At last!  As Frederick Buechner says, “It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want but…the experience of God’s presence.” Yes! A God I could touch who touches me.  Before we left for Ft. Benning, Georgia, we were baptized at St. Aidan’s. My baptism, I believe, is when the Holy Spirit stopped hovering and started seriously meddling in my life.  Did I not somehow say he could…? And there’s more.

“But wait…”

 

 

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Sounds of Silence

Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee. I asked you to surrender your life.” ~ Eugene Cho

“Pay Attention,” the first element of the Trinity Way of Life, is about prayer. Especially prayer to listen for the voice of God.  As a corporate Lenten discipline, we, if we choose to accept it, are to focus on listening to God through all of the eight elements of the Trinity Way. We are listening specifically for God’s vision for us — His desires for us as a community.

Listening to God can be difficult because we have so many distractions, but it gets somewhat easier the more we practice.  I say somewhat, because there are days, or periods of days, when the distractions take over.  Yet I try. I will most likely say more about this later, but for today, I ran across a meditation that I wrote four years ago during one of these periods.  I decided to send  it again today. Also, I was talking with a couple of friends about being still and quiet this week so it seems appropriate.

By the way, wasn’t the rain last night wonderful? We really needed it. We are grateful.

“Listen to this song: Jesus.  Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.  Jesus.

“I wish you could hear this simple meditative song because I think it is beautiful, but sometimes we can hear with our hearts what we cannot hear with our ears.  There are other verses, I think, “He died….”  “He rose….”  “He lives….”  Maybe that is one of them.  I can’t exactly recall nor do I remember who wrote this.  Maybe you have heard it, too. And maybe you remember.

“This song came to me, yesterday, [and today] when I couldn’t still my mind for even ten seconds in my prayer chair.  There are times when there is too much stuff on my mind and it darts back and forth between things.  Prayer/work/emotions/physical pain/what’s for dinner.  Prayer/work. We struggle with the story of Mary and Martha – between prayer and work.  When Martha complains that Mary isn’t doing her part, Jesus said, ‘…there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ We have tried to make sense of this.  What does this mean? How would we do this? Why?

“It is all about Jesus. Isn’t it?  We who are apprentices of Jesus know this and yet we also know that we are Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.  It’s Prayer and Service.  And, without “at least” ten seconds of listening prayer, without this conscious connection with Jesus, we might miss what work it is he has for us to do.  We might spin our wheels doing our own thing or what we think Jesus wants us to be doing.  When we listen, when we hear, when we follow, the work that we then do becomes prayer.

“Some days your mind is probably like mine and it won’t be shut up.  Then, how can we be still and listen?  There are ways that may help. This song came to me.  Some focus on their breathing to quiet their minds. Some use prayer beads—rosary or other.   Some use a single word to quiet their minds such as ‘Jesus, Peace, or Love or, …etc.  Others use the Jesus Prayer; ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  Or perhaps the Kyrie ‘Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord have mercy.’ What we choose is repeated until we are still. [I repeat this word in my mind rather than saying it aloud.  Aloud for me is a distraction.]

“The words and melody, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’, started to float in between and around the many thoughts, concerns and feelings darting around in my head.  Soon there was only, ‘Jesus.’ Finally,…  Still.

“’Be still and know that I am God.’—Psalm 46:10

“’Be still and know.’ ‘Be still.’” – (dlw 12 April 2013)

Listen. I hear His voice in the sounds of silence.

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Anything Can Happen…

 

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the Gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. John 4:10

 

 “Those who have ears to hear, hear this story. Those who have eyes to see, see this scene. Anything can happen at a well.” – John Shea, STORIES

 

Today, while reading the Gospel Lesson for this coming Sunday – John 4:5-42, a story, The Woman at the Well, by John Shea came to mind.  It is a wonderful story of the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman who comes to the well, alone, for the day’s water.  She didn’t come with the others because she was living with a man not her husband and had already been married to five.  She was considered a sinner which caused her to be ostracized by the other women. She didn’t want the humiliation of going to the well with them.

 

I wanted John Shea’s story be my Friday Meditation, but it is four pages long, over 1600 words, and I don’t have permission to include it here.  Bummer.  It is a beautiful story.  However, since it impressed itself upon me this morning so strongly, I should pay attention.  

 

 She could see him sitting on a ledge of the well from the distance.  It seemed as if he was waiting for her.  He appeared to be a traveler, not a Samaritan, and she considered turning around to go back to the village.  But, of course, he could catch her if he wanted to. Although she was panicky, she could tell he was a Jew and would probably walk away as she approached. If not, she knew how to make him leave.  She had practice.

 

  I’m thirsty,” he said.

 

 Well, it was certainly hot enough. “Who isn’t”, she said.  But he asks her to give him a drink. Jews don’t ask for a drink from a Samaritan, let alone a Samaritan woman, so she thinks he is probably not right in the head, but she draws water and gives him one.  He says to her, “If you would ask me, I would give you living water.” I’m not going to relay the whole story but you might want to review it again for yourself. Or pay close attention when it is read on Sunday at church.

 

 Shea’s story is such a tender love story. If you ever get a chance to read it, do.  There is a bit of word sparing between the two when she asks Jesus how he plans to fetch such water since he has no bucket. Jesus draws her in. He says, “Yokes and buckets are always the problem, aren’t they?” He asks about her husband, says he knows that she has had five and this man is not her husband.  Here it comes.  Now he will insult her.  Just as she was starting to enjoy herself and feel somewhat at ease. But he doesn’t. They spar some more and she says, “You are very hard to get rid of,” but she is not sure that she wants him to go. “Everyone says that,” he replies.

 

 She tries one more time. By talking about the temple, he will finally spurn me, she thinks.  But he caught hold of her hand and said, “God is not on the mountain, but in your thirst.  God is not in the Temple, but in the scream of your spirit, and it cries to me.  Ask me, ask me for a drink.”

 

 Who is this man?  Not just another man.  I don’t ask.” She said, but…such yearning… “Even without a bucket—if you ask me, I will give you living water.” (Some of this is in John Shea’s words and some in mine.)  Finally, she whispered, “Give me a drink.” He does and after some tender words back and forth between them, she leaves and runs to the village where she relates the story to the villagers. She couldn’t wait to tell it.

 

I am always changed by an encounter with God. Always. We all are. This story speaks to the hungering deep in me. Maybe that is why it is recorded in the Bible.  So many times, I need a fresh drink of living water.  Jesus wants to give it.  According to Shea, and in my own experience, he woos me.  He woos us. He doesn’t go away and he doesn’t give up trying to draw us to him, into his arms, so that he can refresh us. Yokes and buckets are so often the problem, but Jesus is so very hard to get rid of.  And I’m so grateful.

 

 

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Grief Does

“O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.”  – Psalm 63:1

In the midst of life we are in death; BCP-p.493

It happens every year.  You would think I would recognize it when it begins, but I don’t. I start to feel gloom and maybe doom and I’m not sure why. Nothing has really happened. It is very near the end of winter and I have Seasonal Affective Disorder but I don’t think it’s that.  It’s more intense.  I know I haven’t been out in the sun enough. But…

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” ~ Psalm 42:11

And then it hits me.  Grief does.  Every year it sneaks up on me and every year it takes some time to understand why I’m feeling so gloomy and so helpless. And then it dawns on me.  It’s March. It’s been 22 years since our son killed himself. His birthday is the end of March, and he died on April 6.  His funeral was the day before Palm Sunday. Usually, this depression comes very close to Holy Week, so it’s a bit early which is why I didn’t recognize it at first.   It’s been a difficult year – two years really. There has been a lot of loss – Mom, and two sons-in-law, Jon and Mark.  Other things, too. This probably reinforces the deep pain and I often find myself weeping.

I miss him.  Doug.  I do. I miss his sense of humor.  His intelligence. His craziness.  His red-ish hair.  His sparkling eyes.  A small boy running around with a toothpick between his teeth.  He said he was a mosquito. He read, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in fourth grade.  The library let him read most everything.  And his creativity. Once, he and friends refocused the electric eyes for the lights around the school so that they would blink on and off.  The authorities were not amused, but I sort of was. It could have been much worse.  Then the jokes he and his brothers told (and made up) that had us rolling on the floor, almost.  Still do. I miss seeing what he might have become if life had been different. We all miss him.

I feel remorse for my parenting inadequacies.  What if I had done this?  What if I hadn’t done that? This really isn’t helpful. He had issues he couldn’t resolve. I love him.

Grief never completely goes away. It cycles. Something triggers it.  It helped when I heard once that grief is love leftover with no place to put it. But grief still comes.  Sometimes wailing and sometimes creeping up from a corner of one’s heart with the tears in one’s eyes. Love with no place to go.

“But you, O LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. I cry aloud to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy hill.” ~ Psalm 3:3-4

One morning, shortly after Doug died, a music box given to me by a friend started to play, “Love Makes the World go ‘Round.” I tried to get it to play by itself again, but it wouldn’t.  I knew, though, that he was ok. God has him.

A thought this morning – why did Jesus cry at the tomb of Lazarus? Did he not know that he was about to bring Lazarus back to life? I’m sure he did because of what he told the disciples before they came to pay their respects. John, in The Bible, didn’t try to explain why. It only states the fact in the shortest sentence in the whole of it, “Jesus wept.” Perhaps he had to feel the loss of a dear friend.  Perhaps it was empathy for the pain of Lazarus’ sisters and friends. For whatever reason this story tells us that Jesus experienced these very human emotions, too.  He knows how we feel.

At the end of our Lenten story we celebrate, on Easter, Jesus’ resurrection.  We have promise of our own to come as well as that of our loved ones. But Jesus wept, and in the meantime, so do I.  And so do you. It is your experience, too. I think it was last year that a friend sent this to me:

“Grief is a language without words; And so it is untouched by words. Does it help to know that my prayers for you are often wordless too? And shaped like tears.”

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION -Lent about Love?

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love…My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this:  to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” – John 15:9, 10, 12-14

This past week, a thought popped into my head that Lent is the most love filled season of the whole Christian year. I’ve been considering this and I believe it might be true.

When I first became an Episcopalian in the mid-sixties, I loved all things liturgical and I still do.  I loved Lent.  I didn’t eat meat for 40 days, and for years, I observed a fairly strict fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. I believe this did my spiritual life some good, even though I did it because it was expected and I loved the ritual.  I came to realize that Lent wasn’t helping me get rid of what I called my “worm theology”.  I thought being dust meant that I was bad, as low as the worms wiggling around in the dirt. The Ash Wednesday service tells us, “Remember [O human], that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Somehow, I got the wrong idea about that.  I didn’t know that Lent was supposed to help change my life, not only for 40 days not counting Sundays, but for the days after Easter, as well. So, I still love Lent, but…

But I’ve been thinking (hmm…maybe I should give that up for Lent.), what if Lent is all about Love.  What if it’s about loving God and loving your neighbor.  What if it’s about … but wait!!  Isn’t Lent about repentance and sacrifice because Jesus gave up his life for us in a horrible way?  Isn’t it always about this?  Yes, but what does that mean? This – to repent means to turn around.  It means to return to the way of Jesus in this case.  Sacrifice means to consecrate or to make holy – ourselves in this case. Sacrifice means to give up our rights to our holy selves for the love of others because Jesus did.

There is nothing wrong with giving up chocolate or coffee or dessert, or whatever else we choose for Lent. I, for one, am going to return to eating in a healthier manner hoping that it will help me feel better. I hope Lent will be a motivator. Honoring God by taking care of our bodies is a holy spiritual exercise.  However, giving up a single food item stopped working as a Lenten discipline for me several years past.  I realized that it wasn’t making me a better person who was becoming more like Jesus.    There is nothing wrong about doing so if we remember what Lent is about and get the order strait – “Love God, love your neighbor, lay down your life for your friends.”

What would our Lenten disciplines be if we remember that Jesus’ sacrifice was, and is, part of a great love story? How would we love God?  How would we love our friends? How would we love our neighbor? How would we love even our enemies?  Love lays down its life for friends, neighbors, and enemies. How would we use our precious time? Would we be willing to give up some of it for the purposes of God? Would we make that our spiritual exercise? “Will I,” is the real question.

What Lenten discipline will help? The very first thing “I will” by giving up my time is to turn and return to the arms of my Lover who waits, who aches to spend alone time with me/with us. We are created for this. God is lonely for me when I’m not there.  I’m lonely, too.  If this is my priority, if I love God first, if I pay attention to God first, If I spend time with him just being together first, then I will begin to know how it is that I, personally, am called to lay down my life in love for my friends, my neighbors, and even my enemies whom God already loves, by the way.

Perhaps Lent is all about love…

“Come! Spirit of Love! Penetrate and transform us by the action of Your purifying life. May Your constant, brooding love bring forth in us more love and all the graces and works of love. Give us grace to remain still under its action and may that humble stillness be our prayer. Amen.” ~ Evelyn Underhill