Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The strength of those dealing with chronic depression

       I just saw a post on Facebook about a pastor who has committed suicide.  I didn't know the man personally and I don't know if his struggle was a long term struggle with depression or if something had happened that led to this decision.  But I know that depression is much more common than we acknowledge, as is other mental illness.  More, the stigma around mental illnesses is so great that it is difficult for people, especially people in high profile and leadership positions, to share their struggles with it.  They fear the judgments, they fear being discounted, they fear being misunderstood.  And the reality is that all three of those are likely to happen to people who struggle with depression.  But again, the particular misconception I want to focus on today has to do with the belief that those who struggle with depression are somehow weak.
        Let me be very clear: I think that people who struggle with mental illness are often some of the strongest people I have ever met.
       Imagine a life in which you struggle daily with chronic pain.  By chronic pain, I mean the kind that makes it difficult to walk, difficult to get up, difficult to breathe.  It weighs on you, is present in every cell of your body.  There is no cure, no help for it.  And you don't just struggle with this once in awhile, but every day, every hour, every minute.  Now imagine that accompanying that pain is a constant voice following you around telling you you are no good, that you are worthless, that you are wrong about everything. Still, with that pain, and with this loud voice (that voice of depression) in your ear, you are expected to "be normal", "snap out of it", "be positive", to work, care for others, especially your children and your family.  You are expected to put a smile on your face, to be positive and upbeat, to interact in a meaningful way with those around you.  You are expected to behave as if nothing is wrong and to have ears to hear the pain and struggles of others, while that voice continually tells you you are unlovable and not worth the air you breathe, while the chronic pain eats at your cells and your mind.
       That is a glimpse of what it can be like for people suffering from chronic depression.  Every day that they get up, every day that they go to work, feed their kids, interact with others, offer a smile or an ear - every day that they do this, they are acting with an amazing strength, the kind of strength that people with chronic depression often show every single day.  It is not a sign of weakness that some commit suicide.  It is a sign of unimagined strength that more don't.
       I have done quite a bit of pastoral care and counseling for people with depression.  But there is one person's story I want to share in particular who is a very dear friend who struggles deeply with depression.  It is incurable in her case, and not really even treatable, so she struggles.  The fact that those around her knows she struggles with depression but have always seen it as a sign of weakness has only increased her sense of pain, isolation and alienation. My friend went through a huge family crisis, very different from my own, but of a similar magnitude.  And those around her kept saying how strong she seemed, how amazing she was that she kept going.  But her private response to me?  "If I could get up every day with the kind of pain that I feel with the depression, then getting up every day during a crisis like this was not the challenge that many imagined it to be.  It was just one more place of pain, like all the others, that had to be lived through, walked through, survived.  I had to do it for my family.  There wasn't a choice.  People do what they have to do when they love their kids."  Yes, she is a woman of amazing strength.  But not just because of what she has survived, but because of how she lives every single day of her life.
        Because the truth is that sometimes people can't do what is best for their families.  And again, I don't see that as weakness. Sometimes that voice inside tells those with depression that the kids and family would be better off without them. Sometimes, no matter how much we think they should know better, they can become convinced by the voices of depression, by the strength of their own pain, by the chronic struggle every day that suicide is the only option, that the world really would be better off without them and/or that they simply cannot continue another moment with that kind of pain.  When that happens we lose someone to suicide or addiction or in some other way.  It is tragic.
      But that tragedy would much more easily be avoided if people were not so judgmental about depression, if they realized it is not something someone can "snap out of", and it is not a choice that a person makes, if they realized the strength that it takes for folk with depression to live each day, and if they honored the experiences of those people for what they really are.
       I will say again what I said at the beginning of this post.  Many of the strongest people I know are those who live with depression and who carry on.  They are among us, often hidden, often unseen.  And they live, despite what our culture says, despite the misunderstandings and despite the battle they have to wage each and every day within themselves.  If we want to be part of preventing more suicides like the pastor I read about this morning, we have to start by educating ourselves about the disease depression. We have to find compassion and understanding.  And we have to understand that it is strength not weakness that enables people to walk through their lives despite the depression.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sermon - legalism

                                             Jeremiah 1:4-10
                                             Luke 13:10-17

               To be people of faith should be to be people who are awed by the amazing things God has done: to see beauty and the presence of Love surrounding us in every moment, to be in wonder about the life we have been given and the many lives that we have touched, to search for and to find the Divine in everyone around us.  However, the reality is that people of faith often instead find themselves caught in a piety, in doctrine, in a religiosity.  To quote Rabbi Abraham Heschel, too often, “faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline and love by habit….religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion.”  In other words, we are a people who tend towards legalism, a following of rules and practices, despite the fact that scripture, and Jesus in particular, avidly opposes this practice.             
               Let me point this out again.  The scriptures, and Jesus in particular opposes legalism at every turn.  Today’s passage is just one more example when Jesus was breaking the religious laws, laws you can find in the Old Testament, in the name of love.  Jesus had them pick grain on the Sabbath - against the law.  He touched and allowed himself to be touched by those the laws declared unclean – against the law.  He confronted the Old Testament passage of “an eye for an eye” saying, “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, But I say to you, do not resist an evil doer but when your cheek is slapped, turn also the other cheek.”  He stated again and again that all the law and prophets rests solely on two commandments – loving God and loving neighbor as self.  He also said that the laws were made for us, NOT us made for the laws when he said, “the Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath.”
               And yet, how many people in the name of Christ continue to stand on laws that oppress and harm other people?  That are not loving?  That are not “Good News” but instead are judging, condemning, confining, and not inviting people to live in the radical freedom of the love of Christ?  I’m not saying there aren’t important reasons for the guidance given us in scriptures.  But we are called to follow the invitations to action that scripture gives us because God loves us enough to want wholeness for us. The rules in scripture are meant to give us life, freedom, meaning. That means, however, that when a law is NOT bringing wholeness, we are called to look at it differently, to re-envision it, to interpret it differently - for example, the law that denied healing on the Sabbath.  In today’s passage Jesus broke that rule.  He healed on the Sabbath.  And those who believed they were following God most closely by abiding rules such as this were outraged.  They couldn’t see that the health and well-being of the woman in front of Jesus, this child of God who was suffering and in pain, was more important than a rule about resting on the Sabbath.
To say it again, the Pharisees, the religious leaders of that day, were really upset that Jesus chose to heal the woman on the Sabbath.  And I think it is critical to our understanding of this passage to look at WHY Jesus did heal her that day.  The laws were strict about what could and couldn’t be done on the Sabbath.  And the reality is that surely Jesus could have waited one more day to heal this woman.  After all, she had been crippled for 18 years.  In the span of 18 years, what is one more day?  But Jesus did not wait a day, or even an hour.  He chose to heal her then, breaking the law to do so.  And it is important to understand why.
There are two answers to this.  First of all, Jesus stood by the second Old Testament understanding of Sabbath.  The first understanding of Sabbath comes from the first creation story in Genesis in which God rested on the final day.  In this understanding, we are to do the same – rest, completely, as God rested from the work of creation.  Exodus 20:8-11 backs this up “therefore the people of Israel shall not work on the Sabbath”.  However, there is another Old Testament understanding of Sabbath that comes from Deuteronomy 5:12-15.  In Deuteronomy 5:14, when Moses reiterates the Ten Commandments, he notes the second thing that we must remember on the Sabbath:  "remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD, your God brought you forth from there with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day".  In other words, Sabbath day is about remembering freedom and remembering that God brought about that freedom.  This was remembered through rest because in those times especially leisure or rest was confined to certain classes; slaves did not get days off.  Thus, by resting on the Sabbath, we are reminded that we are free, not slaves like they had been in Egypt. For today then, Sabbath frees us from our weekday concerns, from our deadlines and schedules and commitments.  During the week, we are slaves to our jobs, to our creditors, to our need to provide for ourselves; on Sabbath, we are freed from those worries in the same way the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.
In this understanding of Sabbath, the Sabbath practice or observance is not just about resting – it is a day of doing a holy work, and especially a holy work that is all about freedom.  What could be more holy than healing, or freeing a person from their infirmity, from a crippling condition, from a life of estrangement, alienation and isolation from their communities (since they were considered “unclean” and could not be touched or enter many places, including the temple)?  What could be more holy than honoring God and God’s people by transforming them from the physical slavery of infirmity into life?  For Jesus this was absolutely vital, absolutely important that the healings he did BE done on the Sabbath, on that holy day, on the day when holy works and acts of freeing and freedom are to be done.  Yes, he could have waited one more day.  But Sabbath was the right day, the appropriate day, for him to do a holy work.  Just as the Israelites were freed from slavery, in remembering that, the woman was to be freed from her affliction.  As the animals of the Pharisees were freed, even on the Sabbath, to drink, this daughter of Abraham was freed in the kingdom of God to receive life.  Jesus transformed Sabbath, even as he transformed the woman.  Jesus focused on freedom, even as he freed the woman, over and above “rest”.
Additionally, after 18 years, for God, that one day mattered, that one hour mattered.  Laws be put aside, or as Jesus said it, “The Sabbath was made for humans, NOT humans for the Sabbath.”  Therefore, if the day of rest is not creating freedom and love and healing for all people, then it should not be observed in the way the Pharisees understood it needed to be.  God’s timing is not our timing.   God’s creative, transforming love comes every day because every day is holy for God.  God’s understanding of law is always to be surpassed by God’s commitment to love.  And on this particular holy day, Jesus would not and could not wait to heal this woman whom God loved.
               The Pharisees hated this for many reasons, one of which had to do with social control. 
The desire to control Sabbath observance is critical for maintaining another social order as well.  For example, when slavery was rampant, Frederick Douglass talked about how important it was that the slave holders not see the slaves praying or reading scripture or learning on the Sabbath.  They wanted to see the slaves “wrestling, boxing, and drinking whisky” because if they were learning, reading, praying, that showed them to be intellectual, moral, and accountable beings, which was intolerable in keeping up an illusion of the slaves being inferior. They were told what they could do on the Sabbath, and were, therefore, forbidden from studying, praying, reading because it was very threatening to the social system.
While the South and Israel during Jesus time are not the same, the issues of power and control were present in both as rules were made and maintained concerning the Sabbath.  Both rules and insistence upon those rules helped to create a system where specific people had power and others did not.  In this case, if Jesus had followed the rule, it would have literally kept a woman crippled. 
                For the Pharisees, control of religious laws and rules was very important.  But God cannot be controlled.  God cannot be contained or by our rules and laws or even by our understanding of God’s rules, who God is or what God is about, who God can use, when God can use them and why.  God cannot be contained by any of this.  And none of this can be controlled, no matter how tightly we try to control it with rules, laws, “piety”.  I’m reminded of the quote from C.S. Lewis’ the lion, the witch and the wardrobe, in reference to Aslan who is the Jesus character, “He is not a TAME lion, you know.  He is very good, but he is not Tame.”  We want God to be tame – or rather contained.  We want to be able to understand, to expect certain things and to count on them.  But that is not who God is.  God is not TAME.  God can’t be controlled by our prayers, our thoughts, our wishes, our hopes, or even our ideas of who God really is.  And the truth is that ultimately I’m not sure we would want a God who could be because that God would not be big enough for all of who we are, all of our needs, all of our hopes, and all of our lives.  God’s dreams for us are bigger than our own, and that is VERY good news.  Just as the woman in today’s story could not look up, hunched over for 18 years, she could only see the dirt in front of her and could not imagine a life free from her infirmity, Jesus had bigger plans for her, bigger dreams for her. 
               From a favorite commentary, ‘Feasting on the Word,’  “We are like the woman bent over and unable to look up and see the sun. We know only the dust and dirt underneath our feet. We struggle to see the path before us by straining and twisting, because we cannot look straight ahead. To ask for healing helps us step into Jesus' invitation to mend our souls as we mend creation.”  We must seek freedom from all that binds us, whether it be physical, emotional, social, psychological or even political.  But again, we have to remember that God is not a tame lion – and therefore God’s plans for us and God’s timing for those plans will remain in God’s hands, even as we are called to seek healing and wholeness.  The good news is, though, again, that God’s dreams are bigger than our own.  And God’s call for us to find life is more insistent and immediate than we could even hope.  That is the good news.  The challenge then for us is two fold – one to take the Sabbath seriously as both a time for rest and a time to do a holy work towards the freedom of all God’s people.  And second, to trust that God is the force and power behind any transformation towards freedom.  But that God will use us, no matter what our condition, our age, our situation, if we are open to God’s calling. 
               I think the idea that the Sabbath is made for us, rather than us being made for the Sabbath or for the rules, or for the doctrines – this is a hard idea for us.  We want clarity, we want things cut and dried.  We want things spelled out.  We all want to know what we are to do, with absolute certainty.  And because of that, I think even the most “fluid” of us have certain scriptural passages that we see as absolute, beyond nuance, just as the Pharisees saw the Sabbath rule as beyond nuance.  I want to invite you to think about that.  What are the scriptures that get under your skin as unbreakable, as un-nuanceable, that even if it hurts someone else you would insist on it?
               I’ll tell you for myself, one that really gets under my skin is when Jesus said, “the one without sin cast the first stone.”  I stand on this and it gets so firmly into me that I feel that this is a firm and fast declaration from Jesus that has no bending.”  And that is where I, too, get into trouble.  Because what if what the person is doing that I’m saying we shouldn’t judge is, in fact, harming somebody else?  Then don’t we have a responsibility to judge it enough to prevent others being hurt?  The same with the “turn the other cheek” business.  I can become self-righteous about not choosing harm to others, even when they are harming us.  But what if, again, the person being harmed is a person without power?  Shouldn’t that person be defended? 
               What are some that you might be getting stuck in?
               Connie Schultz, a Cleveland columnist, said this – “I learned that those who are most secure in their faith feel no need to hammer others with their certainty.  The walk of faith begins and ends with the journey within, and that’s a path fraught with mystery and best guesses.  My own faith makes me neither right nor righteous because it demands so much of me that I am still trying to find.  Empathy, forgiveness, compassion – I never have enough.  Mom would say that’s okay.  She taught me that being a Christian meant fixing ourselves and helping others, not the other way around.”
               But I think all of this can actually be summed up best by scripture itself.  In Romans 4:16-17 Paul said this, “The Law brings about wrath. But when there isn’t any law, there isn’t any violation of the law. That’s why the inheritance comes through faith, so that it will be on the basis of God’s grace.”  
               Jesus showed that grace by breaking the law so he could heal the woman, not waiting one more day, but bringing her healing right then.  Grace brings love.  Grace brings hope.  Grace brings life. Grace should be what guides us and leads us to faith. To end where I started, it isn’t the laws that will bring us true faith.  They never will.  Instead, it is grace that creates that awe and joy within us.  Grace that is “amazing” and grace that will lead us home.

Sermon from last Sunday in July - Lord's Prayer

Luke 11:1-4
Matt 6:9-13

An interviewer approached a Jewish man who was praying at the wailing wall in Jerusalem.  This wall is the only part of the temple that remained after the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 A.D. and to this day remains a place where faithful Jews can gather to lift up their prayers to God.  The interviewer asked the Jewish man to tell him about his praying.  The man told the interviewer that he had been coming to the wailing wall every day for 60 years.  When asked what he prayed for he responded that he prayed to God to bring peace to the world, to end war, oppression and poverty.  This man spent at least an hour a day praying with every fiber of his being that God’s kingdom of Shalom, of wholeness, of peace would come to earth.  The interviewer was moved deeply by this man’s profession of faith and dedication to prayer.  After a moment of awed silence he finally asked the faithful man how he felt coming to the wailing wall day after day.  The faithful man replied, “I feel,” and he paused, struggling to find the words to express his feelings.  “I feel,” he started again and as the tears began to course down his face he finally choked out, “I feel... like I’m talking to a wall.”

               This morning we read to you both gospels that contain versions of the Lord’s Prayer.  What we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer is not in all four gospels, but only in Luke and Matthew. Did anything strike you during the reading of these two versions of the Lord’s Prayer? 
               Let me share with you one more translation – this is another translation of the Matthew version:

Our Daddy in Heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best – as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes!

               Again, anything strike you?
               The bottom line, and what I want to talk about with you today, is that there are several problems with the way we say the Lord’s Prayer now.  First of all, and most importantly, our current way of saying the Lord’s prayer is just plain inaccurate.  And there are a few things I want to highlight about that.  First, the word we translate “Father” which is a very formal word of address, should be properly translated from the Greek as “Daddy”, which is a word of intimacy and closeness.  The word is actually Abba, and it is a word that young children would have used to talk to a close parent.  This word is not just one of familiarity, of closeness, it is also a word of trust, of dependence, of recognition that God as our Daddy, as our Mommy, is someone we rely on, someone we need for our very being, someone we love dearly and who loves us dearly as well.  Same with the word “thy” and “thine”.  These have become very formal words.  And again, that is a mistranslation.  Originally, the words “thine, thou, thy” were actually words of intimacy, proclaiming a closer relationship than the word “you”.  It was at the time when they were words of closer intimacy that they were placed into this prayer to make the translation right.  But now that those words are actually “distancing” or “formal” words, they make the translation inaccurate.  Jesus was making a very strong, clear and, frankly, a very scandalous statement at that time.  I think judging by how we say the Lord’s Prayer now, it is scandalous in our own time as well, by telling us we should pray in an intimate way with God.  Address God as Daddy, (or Mommy – words of intimacy and closeness), use words that indicate an extremely close relationship such as “thy” or “thine” used to do.  We are not following what Jesus asks us to do when we use terms that distance God rather than pulling God closer.
               Secondly, words like debt or trespasses are old, confusing, unclear, and again inaccurate.  What Jesus is calling us to do is to pray to God to forgive us when we mess up.  Debts and trespasses imply mostly monetary and space misuses.  Both of those are part of the “messing up” umbrella, certainly, but not all of it by any means.  We shorten and also obscure the prayer by using those words.
Thirdly, as I have mentioned before, a large part of the Protestant reformation was an insistence that God gave the scriptures to ALL people and that therefore they should be written in our own language, the language of the people.  Our scriptures have become written in our own language now.  However, at the same time, we have hung on to old language that is no longer the language of the people in things like the way we say the Lord’s Prayer.  As we read in today’s scriptures, the way we say the Lord’s Prayer is NOT an accurate translation into today’s language of the people.  But we have become used to the way we do it.  It brings comfort at some level to say it in the words our parents used and our parents’ parents used.  There is value in that.  But there is also a cost.  Part of the cost is inaccuracy in understanding.  But a bigger cost is that the children do not know what they are saying.  How can it truly be a prayer for them if they have no idea of the words they are using?  We’ve all heard the jokes of children’s hearing of this prayer, “Our Father, whose art is heaven, Howard be thy name.”  And I have to ask if leaving our children out of this prayer is worth the value we find in the tradition of saying the prayer in a familiar way.  We are failing to pass it down to them in a meaningful way, which means it probably won’t stay in their lives.  Is that really what we want?  The prayer does not have the same meaning for them that it does for us, though frankly, I wonder if it has the same meaning for us as well when we rotely say words that are not part of our current speech.  And while we can talk about what these words mean with the kids, saying our most common prayers in THEIR language, in the language they use also sends an important message that God is not so lofty as to not want to hear from children.  God is here, and accessible and open to hearing even from our kids.  And again, while speaking to God formally may have a message of respect towards God that has value, it also sends a message of inaccessibility.  The very message, in other words, that the protestant reformation was working to challenge.  More importantly, the very message that Jesus was trying to confront.
            Another problem with the way we say the Lord’s Prayer is that by saying it together the same way every week, we also miss the larger message of the story and of the prayer.  The paragraph right before the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, again using the Message translation reads: “The word is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant.  They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God.  Don’t fall for that nonsense.  This is your parent you are dealing with, who knows better than you what you need.  With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply.  Like this…”
Did you hear that?  We aren’t supposed to use a formula or program when we pray.  Instead we are to pray “like” the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus didn’t say, “pray using these exact words.”  In both gospels a most accurate translation is “pray like this” or “pray in this way”.  “Pray in this way” means, these are the ideas and things about praying that are important for us to do.  And there is much in the Lord’s Prayer that is important. 
            Someone once pointed out that if you want to know what to pray for you could use the acronym ACTS I. 
Those letters then stand for

In other words, just as in the Lord’s Prayer, we are called to
adore or express our love, “Holy is your name, Yours is the kingdom, power and glory”,
Confess: “forgive our sins as we forgive others”
Offer Thanksgiving,
Lift up prayers for the world, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”
And pray for our own needs “Give us this day our daily bread, don’t lead us into temptation, deliver us from evil”
Another way to say this is that in our prayers, as in everything else we do in life, we are called to do three things:  Love God, love others and love ourselves. 

The passage in Luke goes on to tell us to pray with all urgency, to pray continually, to pray as if your life depended on it, which of course it does.
               That is the message of the Lord’s Prayer.  Jean asked me a couple weeks ago why I begin the Lord’s Prayer with all of you but then mute my mic for most of it.  I do that because I recognize that you need to say the prayer in the way that is most meaningful to you.  Prayer really is about our relationships with God, and if your relationship with God calls you to pray it in the way you always have, I honor and respect that.  For me, my relationship with God calls me to pray it slightly differently, using words that are in the language of my children and connect me more intimately with God.  I therefore use “you” instead of ‘thy and thine”.  I use “holy” instead of “hallowed” and I use “sins” instead of debts.  I pray what has become known as the Ecumenical Version of the Lord’s Prayer and that more and more of our congregations use for exactly the reasons I have outlined.
Our Father/Mother/Creator who is in heaven, Holy is your name.
Your kindom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
   as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
   and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
   now and for ever. Amen.

But again, I recognize and honor that your relationships must be your own.  I encourage you to think on these things, but you must ultimately be guided by your relationship with God. 

               I want to end today by sharing with you a prayer written by the Rev. Dewane Zimmerman.  He wrote

The Lord’s prayer (as it might be prayed by God to us):
(I encourage you to listen differently and to ponder these in your hearts):

My children who are on earth:
You reverence my name
But you do not celebrate my will for you.
You pray my kingdom come,
But how can it
When you ARE what I mean by my kingdom?
You pray for your daily bread,
But you have enough-and to spare.
You pray for forgiveness of your sins,
But how often you will not forgive each other.
You ask me not to lead you into temptation,
But what can I do for you
That I am not already doing?
Use the gifts I am giving you
And you will know my power and glory

Forever and ever.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Understanding, Learning and Growing through Touch

So, for those of you who read the notes I had on this, I again apologize for the confusion.  But here is the "real" article, rather than just my scatty notes:
        On our vacation this summer, we did most of the usual Northern CA touristy things.  I wanted to re-introduce children who had been too little to remember the area when we left to those things that had been enjoyable and educational to me about growing up in the Bay Area (and that we hadn't already done, like Muir Woods and Golden Gate Park, etc.).  We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (though I have to admit, we have been there many times), Carmel's beach and art galleries, to Hearst Castle and the Marin Marine Mammal Center, to the Bay Model and Marin Headlands, to Columbia, Moaning Caverns and Half Moon Bay, Filoli Gardens, Black Diamond Mines, Meekham Arboretum and even the Oakland Zoo. We went to the Drive in Movie theater and the It's It factory, we took the train up to Old Sacramento and went to the Train Museum.  We took the Ferry from Vallejo to Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. Some of us went to Santa Cruz. We hiked down from Mt. Diablo on a long night hike and we spent two days hiking around Yosemite, up the falls, around Glacier Point, etc.  We heard a talk in Yosemite by Mountain Climber Ron Kauk and spent time afterwards talking with him about Restorative Justice.  We were active, busy, learning, seeing, experiencing.  
       Everywhere we went I was struck again and again by the reality and realization that those things that were touched, not just seen or heard, but touched and experienced physically - those were the things that had the most impact on us.  The things I held or experienced (hiking, breathing in the trees' scent, feeling the waterfalls spray on my arms and face), those are the things that will remain with me.  The things I just saw or heard?  Not so much.
       In education we talk a lot about those who are visual learners vs. those who are audio learners.  I remember taking a test in one of the education classes at seminary on which kind of learner I was.  Interestingly, while they said that most people are visual learners, and a few less are audio learners, they also acknowledged that there is a small group of people that are something else.  I was part of that "something else" and came up as a "kinetic" learner.  It's true, I am.  I learn by doing, by being in a place, by moving and acting.  
       As we walked around all of these special places, I was struck by how much all people, and especially children, actually learn more through touch.  In every Museum we went to, and every outdoor place and every garden and every...well, every place we went, the young children especially were trying to climb and touch and handle and learn through their hands and bodies.  They yearned to explore, to feel, to hold, to climb on and around everything we saw.  
       What was equally true, though, was that as much as all of them wanted to touch and explore and experience, the universal mantra and the signs on everything instead yelled at these young people constantly, "Do Not touch!"  "Do Not climb!"  "Do Not Pick Up!"  And as I watched the kids with more rule-abiding parents work hard to restrain their kids and keep them from doing what was natural, learning through touch; and as I watched the kids whose parents were paying less attention take off and climb and touch and handle all those forbidden things with wonder and joy and curiosity, I found myself deeply troubled.  Do we take away from our kids their best methods of learning, of living, and being part of this world?  Do we, like we used to do by forbidding left-handers to use their left hands, harm our children by denying them the natural ways of growing that they, by instinct, thrive on?  Is the reason most of us are labeled "visual" learners simply because we've been so denied our natural and deeply primary way of learning that we have, in fact, abandoned it in many cases?  
       Touch is so incredibly meaningful in all of our lives.  Our family watched Temple Grandin last night.  And again, I found myself reflecting on the importance of touch.  As a person with autism, Temple did not like people to touch her, but she did want to be "hugged" by something cocoonish that she made.  Touch remained incredibly important. Avoiding it may have been avoiding a kind of intimacy with that which she could not understand that therefore felt threatening.  But touch also calmed her, when done correctly.  My eldest child reacted to the traumas in her life by putting up a physical barrier.  She allows me to hug her and even invites it from me, but she has put up a wall against all others, a physical way of refusing to connect with other people.  In contrast, my younger two climb all over each other and me and the world every opportunity they have. However, my son, with his sensory integration disorder, has to choose any touch that he experiences.  If someone approaches him and touches him without him seeing it coming, it hurts him.  For myself, when my world flipped upside down I found that the person who had done the flipping became "untouchable" for me - that a touch from him felt (feels) like a burn. The harm I had experienced became embodied in this physical reaction.  In contrast, there have been times when I have been held that it literally felt that the holding was melting away all the pain in the world. The healing that can be done by touch is real.  
        Touch has the ability to heal, it has the ability to hurt, it has the ability to teach and it has the ability to harm.  It reflects our feelings, our fears, our intimacies and our needs.  To deny its importance is to deny something central to our humanity.  
         So I find myself returning to the place I started. Some of our cultural centers, especially children's museums and science centers, are coming to understand more fully the importance of touch and are allowing places where kids can interact with what they see.  But I think we are too slow in this movement, and still too cautious about touch.  To touch is to understand, to know, to experience, to connect with.  
         As I reflect back on our vacation, I will especially remember those things that involved all of my senses as well as my breath and my movements.  I deeply value the hikes where rocks were touched, birds heard, trees and places smelled, beauty seen and body challenged.  I am grateful for the long and strenuous hikes, climbs and descents.  I am grateful for the hands I shook, the humans I touched and with whom I was able to connect. I am grateful for the opportunities my kids had to do the same.  And I pray we can continue to move forward in our honoring of touch as a way to understand and to connect, not only to one another, but to all our world.