Monday, August 6, 2018

Communing with God

2 Sam. 11:26-12:13a

John 6:24-35

When we look at the bigger context of today’s gospel reading we see it as follows: Jesus has been healing the sick.  Then he performs the miracle of feeding the 5000.  Then Jesus walks across the water towards the disciples.  All of that directly precedes today’s story. What happened in the passage we read for today?  The disciples, and the people, literally “the crowd” are looking for Jesus.  When they find him he says that they are looking for him, following him, not because of what he has said and not even because of the “signs” he has given, but because he has fed them and they are filled, they are satisfied.  Jesus acknowledges that being filled is very important. It is so important that people work hard for it.  They are also willing to follow and want to be led by someone who will fill them, who will feed them.  But, he says, they are focused on having their bodies fed.  They are not focusing on what will really satisfy them, really bring them peace and wholeness, which is seeking after spiritual bread, after truth, after relationship with God, after following in the way, which is Jesus himself.  That is what will really fill them, but they can’t seem to change their focus from that of getting basic physical needs met. 

That is the central focus on today’s text. But as I sat with this text there was a sub story, related but not the focus, that really stood out for me.  And that has to do with the next part of the story.

After all of this: after hearing what Jesus says to them, after being told what they really want is to be satisfied and not with just physical bread but the bread of life: after they have been miraculously fed and after Jesus has walked on the water and after all of the healings he has performed, then this outrageous thing happens and they then ask Jesus for a sign!  Apparently, they’ve forgotten all the signs he has just produced.  Or perhaps they simply weren’t satisfied with the healings, they weren’t satisfied with the feeding of the thousands, they weren’t satisfied with him walking on the water.  They don’t want to have to do anything except be fed, be healed, be attended to.  And so, when Jesus asks them to do something in return, when Jesus asks them to follow him, they want proof, more proof, that this effort on their part will lead to them continuing to be fed, to be healed to be attended to.  They ask for another sign.  They point to Moses saying, “well, he fed us manna, so give us a sign so we can believe.”  (again, obviously what they are really asking for is a very specific sign: they want Jesus to feed them again).  But Jesus corrects them saying that Moses didn’t do that, God did that.  And that Jesus is there to feed them, is feeding them, has been feeding them: but at this moment, not in the way that they want to be fed, are demanding being fed. 

I think this is the key point here, actually.  They want to never be hungry again, physically.  They want to be fed in a way that makes them feel safe, physically.  They want to be shown that they will never suffer again, never hunger again, never be in need again.  And when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never hunger again,” they are still thinking in terms of physical hunger, physical bread, physical needs being met. 

We still do this.  We all want life to be physically easier, to be smoother.  We don’t like to suffer, and we don’t like to see others suffer, especially people we love.  So we, too, beg and plead for something different, for a bread that will satisfy us always, without us needing to do anything.  We want to be children, taken care of.  More, we want a Santa Claus God whose job and role is that of answering our every need, but also our every wish. 

And what this shows me, what this says to me, what should be obvious looking at today’s culture and at the world and into our own hearts as well, is that people have a hard time believing. They have an even harder time committing to their faith and to living that out.  They have a hard time trusting in their faith, trusting in God, trusting in what they’ve even been experiencing through these miracles.  They’ve been given signs.  They’ve been fed.  They’ve heard the Word of God spoken again and again, and yet they still ask for more proof, more feeding, more signs. They still struggle to believe in a God who loves us beyond our imagining but also calls us into action.  They want to believe in a God who will feed them constantly like a mother bird, without them needing to do anything. But they struggle to do so.  They need constant reassurance. And because of that, no matter what Jesus did, they would ask for more: more signs, more feeding, more proof. 

Frederick Buechner, in his book “Wishful Thinking” speaks eloquently for us in his essay on faith when he says, “I can’t prove the friendship of my friend.  When I experience it, I don’t need to prove it.  When I don’t experience it, no proof will do.  If I tried to put his friendship to the test somehow, the test itself would queer the friendship I was testing.  So it is with the Godness of God.”

He continues, “The five so-called proofs for the existence of God will never prove to unfaith that God exists.  They are merely five ways of describing the existence of the God you have faith in already. Almost nothing that makes any real difference can be proved.  I can prove the law of gravity by dropping a shoe out the window.  I can prove that the world is round if I’m clever at that sort of thing - that the radio works, that light travels faster than sound.  I cannot prove that life is better than death or love better than hate.  I cannot prove the greatness of the great or the beauty of the beautiful.  I cannot even prove my own free will; maybe my most heroic act, my truest love, my deepest thought, are all just subtler versions of what happens when the doctor taps my knee with his little rubber hammer and my foot jumps.

“Faith can’t prove a ...(darned) thing.  Or a blessed thing either.”

There is something very human in a desire for some kind of “proof” at times of God’s presence.  There is something very human in a desire to know for sure that Jesus is God’s son.  There is something deep within us that wants God to shout out in clear and concrete terms what we are supposed to do and be with our lives, what God wants for us in each moment.  There is something very human in this deep desire to be fed, cared for, taken care of, without needing to give and serve and trust in order to experience that satisfaction and fullness.  And some of the time, at least, we probably feel that the signs God does give just aren’t clear enough.

In reflecting on the nature of signs and presence and feeding in our lives, I was reminded of the movie “Bruce Almighty.”  He’s driving down the road demanding, insisting on a sign from God.  He passes a sign that says “caution ahead” which he ignores.  He prays more and begs with even more insistence for a sign.  He sees another sign, “turn back!”  which he also ignores.  He crashes into a pole and gets out of the car cursing and yelling at God to answer him!  To respond to him!  And then his pager goes off.  We know the person paging Bruce is God, but Bruce doesn’t know that.  Instead, he takes the pager and yells at it, “Don’t know you.  Wouldn’t call you if I did.”  And we are left both laughing but also reflecting seriously on the truth of that.  He didn’t see God when God was right there, answering his prayers, responding to his pleas, even calling him and asking him to listen.  He didn’t know God.  He didn’t call the God who is real, who exists, who is not Santa Claus, just there to dole out what we believe we need at any moment.  And if he had known this God, Bruce probably would not have called on that God. “Don’t know ya.  Wouldn’t call you if I did” was all too accurate a statement from this man begging for a sign.

But while it is entertaining for those of us watching the movie to see how blind and unaware Bruce is to God’s presence and direction for his life, we have signs in our own life as well.  For us too, these signs are not always so easy to discern.  We are each given and we each use eyes that are sometimes foggy as we look for God in our world.  These visions and insights into God’s will for us change depending on our gifts, our moods, our circumstances.  What you and I fail to see may be obvious to those around us.  What you and I do see as signs of God’s presence may completely elude others.

 There is a person in my life whom I am very close to.  We’ve known each other forever, and have been close for a long time.  In our adult lives, we share a dedication to education, we both have a love and interest in psychology (one of my majors was psychology, she has a PhD in psych).  Our children are near the same age and we share a similar parenting style.  Politically we are in a similar place and we tend to agree on almost every issue of real importance.  But this person is also different from me and especially so in one area.  This person I will call Jane is an atheist, as devout an atheist, I believe, as I am a Christian.  She cannot understand why I believe in God when to her, science, chance, luck can explain the Universe and everything within it.  To her my faith is nothing more than superstition, and, I believe she would say, an unhealthy superstition at that.  In answer to her questions about how I can possibly believe in a God, I really have only my experience as an answer.  There is no book and there are no signs which I can offer her which she cannot answer with some historical, scientific or rational explanation.  And yet, there are no experiences that I can recall in which I do not see God’s presence, see God’s hand, see God’s sign.  I experience God’s presence in the extraordinary, but perhaps even more so in the ordinary.  I experience signs of God’s presence and love in the very things which she experiences as scientific and mundane. 

What signs would make her believe?  If the world were to crumble tomorrow and angels and devils jump out of the earth, I doubt that these would be signs enough for her of God’s existence.  While for me, if I never were to experience a “miracle” again in my life, I would still see the signs of God’s presence and care all around me.  We see the world and God’s signs differently.  That doesn’t mean though that there aren’t times when I too find myself wanting, needing, even asking for a sign of God’s will for my life.

God understands us and accepts us as we are in all our humanity.  God knows that we are people who are unsure.  God knows that even the most blatant signs are sometimes hard for us to see, and that we cannot help but ask for them once in a while.  And so, while Jesus seems to scold those who could not simply trust and believe, Jesus also gave the signs that were asked for.  And Jesus did feed them.  I want to say that again because all of us need to hear it.  God does not reject our need for signs, or our need to be fed, but gives them in spite of the fact that what God wants for us is for us to focus on spiritual hunger, on our need to eat more fully of things beyond food.  In today’s passage, Jesus does remind the disciples of his feeding miracles.  Jesus did appear to Thomas and encouraged him, not only to see, but to hear, to touch, to experience the risen Christ to ease his doubt.

In light of this what are we to do? Jesus proclaims himself to be the bread of life.  He also proclaims himself to be the way and he declares that any who would come, who would seek out this bread of life, must be willing to take up his/her own cross to follow. We experience this bread of life, we experience the wholeness God wants for us, we feel what it is to be truly filled when we are communing with God, when we are doing what God asks us to do, when we are following on the way.  And while there are many ways to do that – sitting in beautiful settings such as this one, meeting with others who are faithful, experiencing an incredible sunset, I think we need to take what Jesus says about this very seriously.  He invites us to be fed by following him in his actions.  And those actions, that WAY, is one of loving one another, especially the oppressed, the displaced, those without justice, those without compassion, those without food.  We are not called to be people who simply sit at Jesus’ feet and beg for more signs and more bread.  We are called to be disciples and it is in being disciples that we will find ourselves fed to the core of our beings.

One of the many mission trips my congregation took was to replace the flooring in a mobile home that after one of the storms that hit the Eastern seaboard, had destroyed the roof which then meant the rain and other elements had destroyed the flooring of this woman’s house.  She was extremely poor.  She was extremely bitter.  For the first day that we were there, she watched us work while she sat on her porch smoking and complaining.  She complained about her neighbors, she complained about how unfairly life had treated her, she complained about what we were doing – (that doesn’t look perfectly matched, I don’t like that color, I’m sure I’d picked something a darker shade of brown).  We encouraged everyone to listen because we felt sure that the most important part of our mission work was not just the flooring, but seeing people, hearing people, treating them as the children of God they really were.  The listening opened a door, but it was a small crack.  The change came, though, when she offered us something to drink and made us all some lemonade.  I know that sounds strange, it sounds odd, it sounds tiny.  One of our folk didn’t want to take the lemonade from her because “we were there to serve her” but we just emphasized that accepting hospitality was as important as giving it.  And what we saw was nothing less than amazing.  In allowing her to serve us, we did several things.  First we equalized the playing fields.  We became people who were serving each another.  Second, it gave us a pause in our work to sit and really talk with her – an equal exchange of stories, in which we all saw that there are blessings and challenges for every life.  That act of drinking together, which eventually became eating together, sharing a meal of care, of service, of faith became an opportunity to see the face of God in one another. 

Jesus fed people.  He also allowed others to feed him: giving the woman at the well the opportunity to give him water, allowing the sinful woman to wash his feet with her tears and hair, (Luke 7:36-50).  Those who were most in need were not just cared for, but were allowed to give care as well.

When we want to be fed, it might be well to ask ourselves how we might feed others.  It is in this exchange – in this communing with God, that we are truly fed.  And it is in truly being fed, that we find our proof of God.  Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.”  God is all around us, just waiting to be seen.  The best way to see God is to serve and love God’s people.  Amen.

Friday, August 3, 2018

One issue with our school system

     I've had the great gift and privilege of leading a week of music camp for some of the kids Contra Costa Interfaith Housing serves.  As many of you know, I absolutely love working with kids.  I love teaching music.  I really enjoy playing games.  And I love singing.  So combine all four of these things and I'm in my element.  That being said, I knew that these were kids who would undoubtedly come with some challenges (based simply on the hardships they have lived through), and so I was not surprised to find it much more challenging than normal to get and hold their attention, and to consistently expect respectful behavior towards one another or the adults working with them.  That doesn't matter to me.  It's a little more draining, perhaps, but I love the kids all the same and work hard to keep them engaged and having fun.
   During the entire week, we experienced only one real incident of blatant disrespect/difficulty.  One of the older kids (13) was singing in a high, ridiculous, falsetto voice and when confronted he, of course, denied it and said he was doing his best (though I'd heard him the rest of the week and knew he actually sang very well when he chose to).  My 13 year old has been accompanying me this week as a helper and when we got into the car to return home after camp, she told me she really hated kids like that at her school because they were so good at 1. causing trouble and then 2. getting away with it because their protests of innocence are so convincing.  She went on to say that even when these kids are actually caught causing problems at school, they just get rewarded for their bad behavior usually by being sent home for a few days of vacation.  The administrators call it being "suspended" but all the kids know it as "free vacation days".
    The conversation threw me back in time to when my family hit their peek crisis six years ago.  My daughters weathered the storm well, but my son struggled.  He was already challenged with ADHD, sensory integration disorder and depression.  When their father was suddenly and completely gone, when his medication caused a freak out, when the world became overwhelmingly difficult for all of us, my son didn't handle it with ease.  At one point he found himself defending a teacher who had cared for him to another student and my son made the wrong choice of stabbing at the kid with a pencil.  No actual damage was done to the other child, but violence is never excusable, and he was suspended for a few days.  I agree that there had to be a consequence.  No matter what he was going through, violence is not an acceptable option and this needed to be made clear. But what I don't agree with is the consequences that many school systems now use.
        My son, as well as my daughters, both saw him as being rewarded for his behavior, because he was basically given vacation.  Since I had to work, he was given unsupervised vacation where he was allowed free reign of home for three days.  No homework, no school work: just free time to play, or do whatever he wanted.  It was therefore not a surprise to me a few weeks later, when school became challenging again, he purposely set up a situation where he would be suspended a second time so he could have another free vacation.
        I assume the thinking behind "suspension" is that if the kid is home 1.The parents who obviously (sarcasm) caused their child to be "bad" would be punished by having to miss work and having to deal with their kid. 2. The parents, because they would then be suffering loss of money, loss of freedom, would come down hard on the kids and punish the kid themselves.  3. The child would feel humiliated by being sent home and therefore would shape up. 4. The class gets a break from a difficult child for a few days.
       But there are many problems with this thinking.  1. If, in fact, it is the parent's "fault" that the kid is misbehaving, sending the child back to spend even more time with problem parents will exacerbate the problem.  2. If it is not the parents' fault, then the parents are being punished with loss of income (often parents have to stay home with their child and not go to work), with needing to pay for care, or with the fear of having to leave their child at home alone after misbehavior at school.  3. Most of the kids who get into trouble are already struggling at school, struggling to keep up, struggling to stay on top of their learning.  Taking them out of school will only make them farther behind, create a situation where they are learning even less, and increase frustration as they try to make up for lost classroom learning.  4. If, in fact, the removal of the child from the class gives the rest of the class a break, when the child returns, he will not be treated well by his peers, which can cause even more problems for him at school, more acting out, etc.
       There are so many more affective alternatives to this that it frankly baffles the mind why they aren't in place.  There is a school district near ours that "punishes" by requiring community service time.  That makes sense to me: have the kids give back, have them experience and remember that there are other people who are also struggling who choose non-violent responses to their traumas.  I always thought detention was affective; if you have to spend more time in school as a result of behaving badly at school, that works pretty well, especially if during that detention you are doing more school work.  In a restorative justice model, a consequence for bad behavior is for counselors and administrators to spend time with the offender and figure out why they are acting in this way and actually work to bring healing to all involved (offender and potential victims alike).  Natural and logical consequences would say that if a child does vandalism, they are required to clean it up.  If a child hurts another child, they are required to help bring healing to the child harmed.  They may have to go through an anti-bullying program, etc.
        I realize schools in the United States are extremely poorly funded.  I realize that sending a child home is an easy "solution" when a school has limited resources.  I also believe deeply that it does not bring change, does not fix the problems, and does not improve school life for anyone.  My girls see very clearly that bad behavior is being rewarded.  My son experienced that to be true. How can this possibly help?
      I understand that our school districts have many issues, including the very way that we teach, using old methods for a culture that has outgrown them.  This is just one area that needs to be changed.  I know I have no say or authority to encourage a change, but as a parent, I can see that it is ineffective and doesn't work.  Hopefully others will stand up and work for change as well.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Doing what we can

Mark 6:30-44

Sometimes things seem overwhelming.  Sometimes we become so used to relying on other people that we don’t see the options until we are forced to be in a leadership position.  We don’t know our strength and our gifts until they are called on.  We sometimes take the easy way out and don’t even see options unless we are the only ones who can.

I remember a time when my youngest child, Aislynn was just a baby of about 6 months old, Jonah, my son was 2 and my eldest daughter was 5.  I would not have been winning any parenting awards on that day, and at one point I even considered shipping off at least one of my lovely three children to someone who I knew would be much better capable of managing what I came to think of as my own personal monkey cage.  I had to come expect help from my husband on Fridays, but this particular Friday I was completely on my own all day.  The kids had been in rare form; all demanding things in temper tantrum format all afternoon.  By 7:00 I was a stressed out mess.  With Aislynn in a bouncy chair, and Jasmyn in the shower, I was trying to get Jonah dressed for bed.  But when I tried to put his pajama top over his head I was greeted with yet another temper tantrum.  He would not tell me what he wanted, but instead ripped the shirt off and started to scream at the top of his lungs.  At that moment, Jasmyn called me to help her wash her hair and Aislynn decided this was the perfect moment to put in her two cents as well and she started crying like there was no tomorrow.  I explained to Jonah that if he was going to fight me I couldn’t help him, I left him in his room, went and picked up Aislynn who continued to scream, took her into the bathroom with me to help Jasmyn with her hair and tried to take a deep breath.  When Jonah came running into the bathroom after me, it was all I could do to not snap his head off with a “What is it now, Jonah?” But instead of crying, or screaming, my two year old boy walked up to me, wrapped his arms around my legs and with a look of deep compassion said very simply, “I’m sorry I was fighting with you, Mama.”  In that moment I saw him again - my little, caring, sweet boy who needed my attention, who needed my love.  Yes, I could give it.  I had reserves that I didn’t even know I had just for him just for then. 

Still, that was one day.  For the last 6 years, as you know, I’ve been the single mom of these three children every day.  And not only do I manage to have the energy to do it, but I usually enjoy my time with my kids and even manage to laugh and play with them regularly.  I didn’t know I could.  But we can often do more than we think we can.

After I graduated from seminary, I interviewed with a church in AZ to become their associate pastor.  A member of the nominating committee, as well as their senior pastor, came up to meet me and spend some time with me to see if it would be a good fit.  They were planning to spend the night at the seminary and had made arrangements to do so, but when they got to their room, they discovered that the door was locked and they could not get in.  I think before this situation had arisen, I probably would have been one of the people made helpless by this.  “What are we going to do?  The office is closed.  There won’t be anyone there.  It’s late at night.  I can’t wake anyone up.  What are we going to do?”  But I was in the midst of an interview.  And somehow I knew that this un-premeditated test was going to either make or break the interview for me.  So I took a breath and did some quick thinking.  I was house sitting at the time at a home with no extra bedrooms.  But I thought of the student who I knew worked in the housing office and who might be able to help us.  This was pre-cell phone days and I didn’t have his phone number, but I did know where he lived.  So we walked over to his house, found he was not yet asleep and that he could help us, and together we were able to settle the two men into their dorm rooms.  I was offered the job.  But more than that, I learned that day that I could do more than I thought I could.

In the movie, “The Family Man,” the main character, Jack was given the opportunity to see what his life would have been if he had chosen a different path at a critical juncture.  At one point he met the man who in his real life worked under Jack and who, in this glimpse of a life that might have been, was now the boss.  What Jack found was that the same man, in different positions, with different levels of authority, behaved very differently, acted very differently, held himself differently.  When he was the boss, he was powerful and could make decisions and saw things clearly.  But when he was second in command, he was not capable of making decisions, but deferred to Jack in everything, at times even whining with a “what are we going to do?” kind of behavior of helplessness.

            What are we capable of?  What are we really made of?  What can we do if we have to, if we are forced to, if we must?

All of these situations remind me of the disciples response to the situation described in today’s gospel lesson.  The disciples don’t know what to do with all these hungry people and they can’t seem to think on their own.  They want Jesus to fix it.  They want Jesus to send everyone away so they won’t have to deal with them.  But Jesus challenges them to think and to take charge.  “No,” he says, “you feed them.”  But still, they don’t want to take on this leadership role, they don’t want to think, they don’t want to use the gifts God has given them.  So at that point they become whiney, “But we only have 5 loaves and 2 fish!” they protest.  They choose not to think for themselves, or to act in this situation.   I can just imagine Jesus giving a heavy sigh of frustration as he takes the food from them.  He does his miracle.  He shows them a different way of being, one that involves trusting God to provide and “acting as if” until the things that are needed become more than just something to be hoped for, but actual realities.  He shows them that their faith is stronger than they can imagine, and their abilities to rise to any occasion are deeper than they know. 

But do they get it?  Do they then become the people God calls them to be, or do they just continue to look to Jesus to always fix it for them and make things better and stronger?  They continue to rely on Jesus until Jesus is finally gone.  But they have him as a model and when he does leave them, they finally do find their strength and are able to continue to serve God and proclaim Jesus’ Good News to all the people, despite personal danger, despite their human weaknesses. 

            We are called, like the disciples, like all of God’s people, to be the best, most whole, most faithful and most God-led people we can be.  We are called to feed God’s people and to heal God’s people and to tell the good news of God’s love and grace. We are called to stand up for the poor, the oppressed, the displaced: to stand up for them and make a better life for them. But we get stuck in our “I can’t” thinking, and this is dangerous for all of us.  It is also unfaithful. 

            Hildegaard de Bingen once said: “A divine voice spoke to me, saying, ‘How fragile you are, Human, made of dust and grime, but I am the living Light.  I make the darkness day, and I have chosen you to see great wonders, though I have humbled you on earth.  You are often depressed and timid, and insecure.  Because you are conscientious, you feel guilty, and chronic physical pain has thoroughly scarred you.  But the deep mysteries of God have saturated you, too, and so has humility.’  When I heard the Voice, I began trying to live a godly life.  The path became difficult as I questioned myself again, saying, ‘This is pointless.’  I wanted to soar. I dreamed impossible dreams and started projects I could never finish.  I became dejected, so I sat and did nothing.  My self-doubt is my greatest disobedience.  It makes me miserable, and I struggle with this cross daily.  But God is by my side, reminding me that he created me.  So, even in the middle of my depression, I walk with wise patience over the marrow and blood of my body.  I am the lion defending itself from a snake, roaring and knocking it back into its hole.  I will never let myself give in to the devil's arrows.”

            Marianne Williamson said it this way, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

            God calls us to be whole, and to serve out of the gifts we are given.  Let us strive to follow God to the fullest that we might be the most whole People God calls us to be. 

            I want to end today by sharing with you a prayer called the Knots prayer:

            The Knots Prayer

Dear God, please untie the knots that are in my mind,

My heart and my life.

Remove the have nots,

The can nots and the do nots

That I have in my mind.

Erase the will nots,

May nots,

Might nots that may find

A home in my heart.

Release me from the could nots,

Would nots and

Should nots that obstruct my life.

And most of all,

Dear God,

I ask that you remove from my mind,

My heart and my life all of the “am nots”

That I have allowed to hold me back,

Especially the thought

That I am not good enough.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Frailty of Life

     As I described in an earlier post, my family and I were almost in a full head-on collision with a truck, both vehicles moving around 55 miles an hour towards each other.  That would have been a death sentence.  I returned feeling that I had survived a near miss, but I didn't think too much more about it.  Then later in the week after we returned, I received a phone call about a woman whose adult son (in his late 30s) was scuba diving and something went wrong and he died.  Again, later that same week I heard about a family that we have supported through CCIH and Winter Nights who WAS in a head on collision in which two of the family members were killed: a 13 year old boy and a 20 year old young man. Their mother has been struggling for years, was finally getting their lives together and then this happened.  Her life will never be the same.  The loss is overwhelming.  And I know that, were I in her position, I would wonder what all the struggle to get their lives together, to make something better for all of them had, in the end, been for.
     My kids and I were fine.  My parents, who were driving in the car behind us, were fine.  But I feel like the combination of the near hit, along with the actual horrific and great losses to others call me to remember that life is fragile, that everything can change in the blink of an eye.  All we have, really, is now.  This moment.  This minute in which we live and breathe and write and sing: that we hug our children, and really look into their eyes, that we offer a prayer for someone we love or make that phone call to the friend from way-back-when: these are all that we have, and these are the things that matter.  They are fleeting, they are momentary, they are precious.  We do not know what will happen tomorrow or even later on today.
        Where does that leave us?  Well, it leaves me with two different urgencies.  The first is to pay attention and appreciate each moment that we are given.  We never know when it will be our last.  What in this moment, right now, is beautiful?  Even in the hard moments, what is beautiful and worth gratitude?  There is so much that we have; air to breathe, feet that walk, ears that hear, eyes that see, family, friends, foods, music, art, LIFE.  Taking the time to notice, to send up thanks, to simply BE with what is; this is deeply worth the time and energy it may take. Life goes fast.  Take time to be in your life.
      The second urgency for me is, once again, the question of what mark I want to leave with my life.  We have a very limited time to leave a mark.  What do we want to do?  Who do we want to be?  What legacy do we want to leave?  This isn't about the work I do. I think it used to be: what do I want to have accomplished with my time here?  But it has changed in the last year or so. For me this has now become more about how I want to walk through each day, what I want to do with each encounter, who I want to be with the world, with the universe, with my community and with all I encounter.  I want to walk with kindness, compassion, being fully present with each person who is before me in each moment.  I want to be empowering, encouraging, bridge-building.  I want to exude grace, compassion, empathy.  I want to be with people, even the difficult people, in a way that leaves them feeling better for having that time with me.  I want to help change the world into a more united, loving, caring place.  I don't have forever to do this, so I need to do it now, and with every opportunity I am given.
     The recognition that life goes fast is a gift.  But, as with every gift, it calls for a response.  My response is to choose to be more present in my life: both being more fully who I am and being more grateful for the amazing gift of life.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Christmas in July: Christmas as News

Luke 2:1-40

             We come again to our Christmas in July celebration.  For those who have not experienced Christmas in July before, we do this because Christmas in December has frankly become extremely commercialized.  Christmas in July is a way of actually focusing on the story of Jesus birth as a baby, helpless, innocent, poor, a refugee, displaced; not born in the way we expect or in the way we would WANT a lord, a king, a leader to be born, but in the worst of circumstances to the most unexpected people. 

             I found myself reflecting on an article by Krista Tippett entitled, Why I don’t do Christmas.

             We do Christmas in July as a way to avoid many of the issues that she mentioned in her article.  But still the question could be asked, what makes this new or news for us today?  How does this apply to us?  So today I extended the Christmas story to include the part about Simeon and Anna, and I want to talk about this a bit with you this morning.

               Both Anna and Simeon, in seeing Jesus, declare they have seen the face of God.  Simeon then asks God to release him: to let him go.  He is done, he has fulfilled what he wanted in this life and can go now in peace because he has seen God in person.  This is the event he had been waiting for in order for his life to feel complete, whole.  And now that it has happened, that he has encountered and met the Christ in person, he can let go of life, and move “home”. 

What about for us?  When we hear the story of Christmas at its normal time, in December, when we have gone through Advent, when the parties have all taken place and the gifts have all been given and opened, when the decorations are put away and we can “get on with normal life” are we then satisfied with having experienced Christmas?  Are we ready to be dismissed in peace as soon as we celebrate the birth of Christ?  At what point do we say that we are satisfied, or filled in our life, that God has given us what we came here for, or we have done what we were meant to do, and that we are ready to “go home” or to rest, or to be at peace?

               I am reminded of an Ann Weems Poem: It’s Not Over

"It is not over,

this birthing.

There are always newer skies

into which

God can throw stars.

When we begin to think

that we can predict the Advent of God,

that we can box the Christ

in a stable in Bethlehem,

that's just the time

that God will be born

in a place we can't imagine and won't believe.

Those who wait for God

watch with their hearts and not their eyes,


always listening

for angel words."

We have our seasons and they are important.  We move from a waiting on God’s coming, waiting on the birth, to a celebration of the birth.  Then we move into a memory of the baptism of Jesus as we celebrate our own baptisms.  We go into lent, a time of internal reflection, of repentance, of recommitment to God.  Then we enter Holy week, the passion narrative and finally Easter with its celebration of the resurrection and all that that means for us.  All of these seasons, these memories are important.  We go through the church calendar as a way to remember and to live out all of these very important pieces of our faith journey. 

But in the midst of all of these liturgical pieces, I sometimes feel that I fail to carry with me throughout the year the deep message of Christmas – of Emmanuel, of “God with us” in a tangible, human, and humble way.  This is a message I need all year round – that God is not just above us, wiser and more expansive, loving and caring.  That God is not just in the wind and breath of the Spirit, moving within us and around us, in thoughts and in feelings, in deep sighs and in strong inclinations.  But God is also with us as one of us, coming first as a fragile child, and then as one who has experienced all the pain the world can hand out, as well as joy, breath, friends, family, community, eating, drinking, BEing in this world. 

One of my favorite movies, and one we’ve shown here for our Faith and Film night is Steve Martin’s Leap of Faith.  Steve Martin plays a revivalist, Jonas, in this movie.  In one scene Jonah has just told those who have come to one of his revivals – an entire tent full of hopeful, searching, hurting people that that he was born in Appalachia, born with a caul about his face, which has given him a “second sight” or ability to see into other human souls.  Jonas had declared himself to be a very special and unique individual.  His nemesis Will (played by Liam Neeson), was a police officer who believed Jonas to be a con artist.  Will showed up at the revival to confront him.   He started by challenging the very story that Jonas told about himself.   Will had done his research. And he announced to the crowd that Jonas was not who he said he was. Officer Will had discovered that in fact Jonas was born in the Bronx, not in Appalachia; that he did not attend church, as he had claimed, and that he did not know his mother, as he had claimed, but had instead grown up in an orphanage.  Will then went on to say that Jonas ran away from that orphanage at age 15 and began a life of crime: stealing cars, shoplifting, taking drugs.  Jonas had also sold fraudulent art works and passed bad checks.  Will ended his rant by saying that Will was obviously not a man of God. 

But what I then found most interesting in the movie is that Jonas was able to turn this around.  He pointed out that what Will said about him was in fact true.  But that who would it be better to listen to?  A person who had done nothing but had always been a saint?  Or a person who, in fact, had really lived, had done wrong, had “walked with Satan” as he himself said, but then was turned around by his faith?  As he said, “if you want to give up sin, who can lead you off that crooked road? Only a sinner of such monumental proportions that all your sins wrapped up in one couldn’t possibly equal the sins of this king of sin! Because as you know, if he can walk that righteous path, If he can go from grit to grace, from sin to sanctity, from lowliness to holiness, then you, with all your everyday sin, can rise up like an angel and ride that golden elevator to God’s own penthouse in the sky!”  And what was interesting is that despite the fact that he had lied to the people, they liked him better, respected him more, gave to him more, for having heard this story of his past, for being human, for being real, for being able, as he claimed, to turn himself around because of God’s grace.

I have to say that I can understand at some level what the character of Jonas experienced in this breaking down of the false image of himself.  Of course we all want to look our best.  But there is a price for it.  From my own personal experience, when I am with a group of people who know what I do for a living, if anyone swears or expresses a foul or judgmental thought, they inevitably look at me and apologize.  People are on guard around me when they believe that my life is somehow more holy – a belief they base on nothing other than my profession.  However, when people come to know some of our family’s history, some of the struggles and tragedies that we have faced, people relate to me differently.  After our family went through such a huge and public crisis in Ohio, my parishioners there opened up to me in a very different way, sharing their own life experiences at a much deeper level.  They saw, first hand, that I could understand their pain because they knew I had suffered my own.

I did not share with you the story from Leap of Faith because I believe that Jonas and Jesus have anything in common, except their humanity.  But what I am trying to say is that humans need others with whom they can relate, who can understand them and their struggles.  Jonas’ congregation, instead of rejecting him because of his past, embraced him even more fully when they knew he had a human background, that he could relate to their suffering and struggle.  We find value in having someone who understands us that we can talk to, and be with.  Jesus, coming to us as a baby, to a poor family, in a humble situation, was God vulnerable and God able to relate to us.  That is the value of God incarnate.  We are not alone, we are not alienated, we are not travelling our journeys here in this life with a God who can’t understand what it is to be human, to be lonely at times, vulnerable at times, to suffer, to struggle and fear and hope and pray.  We need that.

We need to remember, all year round, that God is not so distant as to fail to understand what we experience, that God is not so omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omni…whatever to fail to be with us or to fail to know what we experience.  The wonderful message of “God with us” is a message we need not only at Christmas, but daily.

For this reason I keep a nativity up all year round in my office.  I need that reminder, I need the visual sign of God with us.  And my invitation to all of you is also to keep out some reminder of “God with us” this year.  I’m not recommending you put up all your Christmas decorations for the whole year, but rather than you put out some small reminder of God’s presence here as a vulnerable one of us, a human born in struggle and challenge.

For Simeon, meeting Jesus was what he needed to make his life complete.  For the rest of us, we continue past Christmas, living, moving towards whatever it is that that will bring wholeness, shalom for us until the time we can go home, too.  As we walk that journey, may we continue to carry “God with us”, this year, this day and every day.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

More on learning to let go

            A long ago time ago in the hills of Quong Zu province, there once lived a revered old monk who was a master of Zen Buddhism. One day he decided that he would make a pilgrimage to a neighboring monastery, and not wishing to make the journey alone, he decided to take along one of his young disciples. They started their journey early the next morning and in the true spirit of Zen each walked along engrossed in his own thoughts, and so they journeyed for many hours without speaking. By mid-day they had come to a small stream and it was here that they noticed a young girl dressed in fine silk, obviously contemplating how best to cross the stream without getting her precious clothes wet. Immediately the old monk walked over to the young girl and in one smooth motion, he picked her up in his arms and walked out into the stream, then after carrying her safely to the other side, he gently put her down and walked on without having said a single word. His disciple having watched this whole incident was in a state of complete shock, for he knew it was strictly forbidden for a monk to come into physical contact with another person. Quickly, he too crossed the stream, and then ran to catch up with his master, and together they once again walked on in silence. Finally at sunset they made camp and settled down for the night. The next morning after prayers and meditation the old monk and his disciple once again continued their journey in silence. After many miles, and no longer able to contain his anxiety, the disciple called to his master and said, "Master may I ask you a question?"
         "Of course, you may" his master replied, "knowledge comes to those who seek it."
         Respectfully his disciple said, "yesterday I saw you break one of our most sacred vows when you picked up that young girl and carried her across the stream. How could you do such a thing?"
        His master replied, "That is true, and you are right it is something I should not have done, but you are as guilty as I am."
        "How so?" asked his disciple, "For it was you who carried her across the stream, not I."
         "I know," replied his master, "but on the other side I put her down. You, however, are obviously still carrying her."

       I shared that story in my sermon on Sunday.  I share it again because it has been a story that I have been carrying in my heart and mind for the last few weeks as I've been struggling to put some things down.  As I said on Sunday, the feelings we carry are calling us to pay attention.  We are called to walk through, not around, those feelings, memories, and experiences to work them through.  But, as I also said on Sunday, there are other things that haunt us that we cannot do anything about.  Those things usually involve the behaviors of other people.  There still may be some inner work that needs to be done around those experiences.  But when we carry anger, hate, thoughts of revenge, or even just pain because of memories of things other people have done to us, we are continuing to carry a burden that is only injuring us with its weight and pain.
      I write this from a place of struggling to let certain things go.  But I have found myself reflecting on this story often as I have strived to put down those people I am carrying whose weight is simply hurting me.  I think about the man we met in Canada who was simply attacking and unkind.  I am certain that was just his MO.  He has probably never given us one thought since he was hurtful towards us.  But I have continued to carry him, as I've found myself remembering, trying to imagine how I might have better answered his comments, how I might have stood up for myself, how I might have been stronger in the face of his attack.  He was mean for a minute.  But I have continued to carry him for weeks, and in doing so, I have allowed him to do so much more damage. I have given him power over me, a power to harm, that goes beyond even what the meanest person might intend.
      Likewise I often have a hard time putting down anonymous, unkind comments on social media.  Anonymity allows the writers to be much more mean-spirited than they would be if there was any accountability. But these are just people saying stuff because they can. I should not carry them farther than that.  Yet I do. I have a hard time putting them down, as it were, on the other side of reading through them.
     I wonder why these things affect me so much.  My family went through a huge public humiliation and many have told me that since I came through that storm of judgment and condemnation, I must now be stronger and more able to handle judgments and criticism.  But in fact the opposite is true.  These comments affect me much more than they used to.  For me, my reaction to their comments feels more like what Yann Martel wrote in The Life of Pi, "When you’ve suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling." (2001.  Knopf Canada: Canada).
     I have the awareness that the anonymous words, these unkindnesses are trifling.  I have the objectivity to understand that any comment reflects so much more on the speaker/writer than on the recipient of those comments.  I am aware of how little and unimportant these attacks on others are. I can have pity and sometimes compassion for those who waste their time in anger at strangers, in spite towards people they don't know and will never understand.  And at the same time, those unkindnesses are unbearable to me. They mark for me another indication that there is a subgroup of humanity that is cruel and thoughtless, that many are so filled with anger that kindnesses do not pass their lips, or infuse their beings. It hurts my heart to know this.  At a personal level, I feel others' barbs as physical thorns poking into an already bruised and sore skin. And in that way, too, it feels unbearable.
     After writing the above, I found an article that discussed a gene that some people have that simply makes them more sensitive to pain, both emotionally and physically.  It was helpful to read that some people are just built in a way that makes us much more sensitive, but it also caused me to think about others I know who also struggle to let go of pain.  One of my children is extremely sensitive in this way.  But I like this about them.  I value this in others, that caring and awareness and sensitivity.  It doesn't feel good to my child.  But I love that their heart is open, compassionate, and kind.
    Of course, there are several lessons here. The first, obviously, is that it is becoming clearer to me that social media is not a good place for me to spend time. Publishing things in places where strangers can make nasty comments is not healthy for the person that I am. I wish I were someone who was not affected in this way, but I am.  I am a person who is injured by these things, so choosing intentionally to not put myself in those situations where harm is the norm rather than the exception is a wise choice.
   Second, I continue to work on the images of putting down the girl on the far side of the river, of no longer needing to carry a burden that is not mine.
   Third, it calls me to continue to be more careful and thoughtful with my own words, to seek to avoid being another barb or thorn for someone else.
    Fourth, the article I read about sensitive people emphasized (again) that aerobic exercise is a helpful way to boost one's ability to cope with pain. (Interestingly the author also said that laughter and chocolate are helpful.  Imagine that?)
    And finally, it reminds me again that forgiveness is for ourselves: we are called to wipe clean the slates of others so that we are not carrying them in our hearts.  I strive to forgive myself in this as well.  Not easy, and still, what we are called to do.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Sunday's Sermon - Haunted

2 Sam. 6:1-5, 12b-19

Mark 6:14-29

Herod had beheaded John the Baptist.  He had reasons for doing it, and may at some level have felt justified in his actions.  John had been critical of Herod for marrying his brother’s wife.  And so Herod had already put John in jail.  But Herod also respected John and feared John.  At some level he recognized the truth of what John had said, recognized that John was a man of God, just speaking God’s truth.  Herod had John arrested, and yet he liked to listen to John.  Herod felt touched by John’s words, even though he didn’t understand them.  But eventually, Herod was persuaded by Herodias’ daughter to have John beheaded.  And so, while Herod had his own reasons as well for wanting John gone, and while he could now put blame on someone else for pushing him to finally make the decision to have John beheaded, still, Herod knew in his heart that John was a man of God.  He knew in his heart that what he had done to John was wrong.  Herod knew this.  And because he knew it, he was haunted in his heart by what he had done.  We call this feeling guilt or shame.  And because of Herod’s guilt or shame, it was easy for him to believe that God, too, would punish Herod by raising John from the dead and bringing him back to physically “haunt” Herod the way Herod was haunted in his heart already by his guilt and shame.

Though Herod had listened to the man of God, still Herod did not know God.  He had not come to understand what John spoke to him.  Herod understood judgment, he understood revenge, he understood anger and hatred and fear and killing.  But he did not understand the God of love, the God of forgiveness, the God of new beginnings.  And so because of that, everywhere he looked, he was led by his guilt and his shame to see the world in terms of his pain, rather than in terms of forgiveness and new life. 

At some level he was right, not that Jesus was John brought back to life, but that God was present in the haunting of Herod, with his thoughts concerning John.  God wants wholeness for us and that means at some level it is God’s gift that we have feelings that call us to work through the stuff that we carry, the things we’ve done, the things we’ve left undone, the injuries we’ve sustained and the pain we’ve caused.  These things will haunt us, not because God wants pain for us, but because God calls us to deal with our pain, to confront it, to face it and work through it, to find ways to repent the things we’ve done wrong, to heal them, to “fix” them to the best of our ability, to grow, to become more whole.

A long ago time ago in the hills of Quong Zu province, there once lived a revered old monk who was a master of Zen Buddhism.

One day he decided that he would make a pilgrimage to a neighboring monastery, and not wishing to make the journey alone, he decided to take along one of his young disciples.

They started their journey early the next morning and in the true spirit of Zen each walked along engrossed in his own thoughts, and so they journeyed for many hours without speaking. By mid-day they had come to a small stream and it was here that they noticed a young girl dressed in fine silk, obviously contemplating how best to cross the stream without getting her precious clothes wet.

Immediately the old monk walked over to the young girl and in one smooth motion, he picked her up in his arms and walked out into the stream, then after carrying her safely to the other side, he gently put her down and walked on without having said a single word.

His disciple having watched this whole incident was in a state of complete shock, for he knew it was strictly forbidden for a monk to come into physical contact with another person. Quickly, he too crossed the stream, and then ran to catch up with his master, and together they once again Walked on in silence. Finally at sunset they made camp and settled down for the night.

The next morning after prayers and meditation the old monk and his disciple once again continued their journey, once again in silence.

After many miles, and no longer able to contain his curiosity, the disciple called to his master and said,

"Master may I ask you a question?"

 "Of course, you may" his master replied, "knowledge comes to those who seek it".

 Respectfully his disciple said, "yesterday I saw you break one of our most sacred vows when you picked up that young girl and carried her across the stream, how could you do such a thing?"

 His master replied, "That is true, and you are right it is something I should not have done, but you are as guilty as I am" .

 "How so?" asked his disciple, "For it was you who carried her across the stream not I."

 "I know" replied his master, "but on the other side I put her down. You, however, are obviously still carrying her."

At first this sounds like an admonition to let things go.  And it is.  There are things that other people do that we have to let go of, that we have no control over, that we need to put down and not allow to haunt us, to follow us, to become burdens on us.  Additionally, God is the God of forgiveness, and God calls us, too, to forgive ourselves and to forgive one another. 

But I also believe that many times our pasts haunt us because something in them is calling for our attention.  The reality is that it is those things that we avoid truly dealing with that haunt us for the longest, those things that we try to skirt around, rather than walking through that carry the greatest pain for us.

Have you ever felt haunted by something?  For me, this happens most often early in the morning, usually in the shower, I think of all the things I should have done/could have done/might have done differently.   When those thoughts come to us what do we usually do with them?  When we feel haunted by something, when a memory or a fear or a pain or a regret is so tangible that it seems to pop up regularly, I think it is our natural inclination to try to push it away, to try to squash it.  The more it pops up, the harder we work to dismiss it.  I hear from people “I try not to think about x, but it keeps coming to my mind.  I can’t keep it out.”  And from others, “so and so is dwelling on x.  They need to move on!”  But unfortunately, these comments show that we’ve missed the point in many ways.  Obviously we can’t just decide not to think about something.  And when we find ourselves obsessing over something, rather than seeing this as a problem that we need to block out, I believe it is often a call to do exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do, it is a call to pay attention, to deal with whatever it is that keeps arising, to find ways to heal it.  Only by going deeper in, by facing the pain can we then move on, can we no longer “obsess” or be haunted by a memory, a feeling, that guilt, that shame, that spirit of someone gone. 

A little girl was talking to her mother and the mom was listening while she was doing dishes.  She was responding appropriately to the comments the little girl was making, saying “uh huh” and “oh” and asking questions.  But finally the little girl said, “Mommy!  You are not listening to me!”  The mom said, “yes, I am honey.  I’m right here listening to you.”  The girl responded, “but Mommy, you are not listening with your eyes!”  I think that in many ways while we can become obsessed with a thought or a feeling, it doesn’t leave us, it doesn’t move on because we aren’t really paying attention to it.  We aren’t looking at it with our eyes.  We are haunted by it because we haven’t in fact given it the attention it needs to be healed.

That doesn’t mean that this is easy.  But the struggles that are internal are as important as the struggles that are external.  The struggles with our own grief, guilt and shame need as much intentional healing as those that are outside of ourselves.  How many of you have seen the movie, “A dolphin’s tale”.  The movie is based on a true story about a dolphin who got caught in a fishing net and whose tail was so injured that it had to be amputated.  The dolphin then was swimming by moving her tail sideways, which was causing injury to her back.  The care givers at the marine center who were trying to help the dolphin heal did not know what to do about it.  But the problem was not going to go away by simply seeing it daily without actually addressing it.  They began to try different prosthetic fins for the dolphin’s tail.  At first the prosthetic fins irritated the dolphin and Winter would shake them off, whack them against the side of the tank until they came off.  Again, the workers, those trying to help Winter, could have given up, but they didn’t.  They kept working on it until they found a prosthetic tail that Winter could use and swim with that did not irritate her.

While we can see that work has to be done to fix practical, day to day living problems, we don’t tend to give the same attention to our spiritual crises, our emotional and mental pain.  At my last church we had an annual mission trip.  One year the site where a bunch of us were working was the trailer home of a relatively economically poor woman.  She was not uneducated. She had been a school teacher. Her husband had been an electrical engineer; her son was a journalist in Italy. Still, her home was a mess.  And by a mess, I don’t even mean the fact that her roof had holes and that the floor was completely down to the subflooring, which was made of a cheap particle board, so cheap in fact that at one point one of our youth actually fell through the floor, creating yet another big hole in a floor already riddled with holes and patches over holes.  No, when I say it was a mess, I mean that this woman hadn’t done dishes in years, she just went out and bought more and more dishes (and not paper, but real dishes) to use rather than cleaning any of the old ones.  I mean that when we first walked in it looked like her floor was covered with carpeting, but we soon discovered that it was not carpeting but dog hair and other dog “products” that covered the floor, inches thick.  I mean that there was literally garbage piled throughout the house, and only a very narrow path through the garbage that allowed her to get from one room to the next, and that the back room of the house was completely filled to the brim with garbage.  We spent the week of our work camp fixing the holes in the roof, replacing the subflooring in the kitchen, but mostly, we spent the week simply cleaning the house.  We spent over 10 hours, each of the eleven of us, just washing dishes, packing up some to be kept elsewhere and some to be donated.  We took truck loads of garbage to the dump, and we cleaned, cleaned, cleaned.  We also spent a lot of time just listening, talking with her about her losses, about her pain, about the struggles in her life.  Still, a week is not a long time.  And as she sat telling us things like, “I know I need to just get over this” I realized that no, what she needed was more time to be heard, more time to heal, more time and attention to the pains inside to work through her past so that she would not continue to be so immobilized by depression that she was unable to even throw away her garbage or clean a dish.

Sometimes we don’t address these needs, the internal needs because we don’t know how to do it, or we don’t have the resources.  We think we should be able to “handle” things without help if it is an internal, emotional, or spiritual issue.  But God calls us to use all the resources available to us, God puts us in communities to help us, and God won’t prevent us from feeling “haunted” until we do address the issues that need to be dealt with.

We don’t know what happened with Herod after today’s story.  We don’t know if he was able to ask God for forgiveness or accept the grace God offers after his killing of John.  We don’t know if Herod was able to pray, to accept counsel, to talk and walk through his pain so that eventually he would no longer be haunted by John.  But we do know that we are given the story from today for many reasons.  And one of those is a simple reminder that what we don’t address will haunt us.  My challenge then for each of us this week is to not push away those uncomfortable thoughts and issues that arise, but to invite them into a deeper place within us, to address them, to discuss them, to pray about them, maybe even to get counseling and help for them if they are persistent.  My challenge for us is to see the “gift” in the hauntings of our lives, to remember that God calls us towards wholeness of our whole beings and that means taking the time to listen with our eyes, with our whole selves to those areas calling for our attention.  God is with us in that pain, and in the work we do to overcome our challenges.  Thanks be to God.