When the Long Night Ends

There is a Hasidic Tale  of an old Rabbi  who once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun.   They thought about the answer and had  many suggestions.   They asked “Could it be  when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it’s a sheep or a dog?”     Or, “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it’s a fig tree or a peach tree?”   With each thought, the Rabbi  told them they were wrong.   Completely exasperated with their trying, they asked the Rabbi to give them his answer.    The  Rabbi looked at them  with love in his eyes and and answered,     “It is when you can look on the face of any man or woman and see that it is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.”

In this broken, fractured world of ours, we need to be reminded that each of us holds a place in God’s heart.   Each of us is precious in God’s eyes.    A society is best when we honor and respect each other . . . When we live with  integrity and trust that neither you nor I will harm the other in the words we use of the stories we tell.  We are best  when we refuse to harm our neighbors and speak up  when we see our neighbors being harmed.   We are best when we can see in the face of any man or woman,  the face of  our sister or our brother.  And in seeing treat each one with the same kind of love, God loves us with.  Only then will our long night of division and hostility end.

The Psalmist Asks “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose way of life is blameless, who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor.” Psalm 15:1-3 NIVUK

Who in Your Life Needs a Blessing?

I was at the service counter at Trader Joe’s when, out of the blue, one of the staff handed me a bouquet of white roses saying it was a “Pay it forward.” That unexpected gift was a blessing. The giver had no idea how such a simple gift would touch me. I had been missing a dear friend who died months earlier. The gift came as a sign that God, knowing my loss, had found a way to comfort me.

The gift of Blessing another is something that the church I am a part of will be starting next week. Wrapped around a study called, “Surprise the World,” every person will be encouraged to choose three people each week to bless in some way. I suspect there are as many ways to bless as there are people who need a blessing. To the troubled co-worker having a rough day with the boss, a word of encouragement can lift a spirit. Reaching out to an overwhelmed parent of a special needs child with a meal for the family – can give a much needed break. Sending a note of support to a person going through a divorce, to just let that person know that you care, can heal a broken spirit. Taking time to listen to a friend, offers encouragement in the simple act of allowing a person to be heard. Taking a lonely person out for a meal recognizes that person’s value and worth.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book  An Altar in the World says,  “To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective. To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God’s own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is to share God’s own audacity.”

Look around your world today – who in your life needs a blessing? And what is it that he or she needs?

 

 

Put on Compassion – Put on Love

In David Brooks book The Road to Character he talks about the difference between  résumé virtues and  eulogy virtues. He points out how very different they are. On our résumé we lift up our qualifications, our skills and gifts. We tell a potential employer why we should be hired over someone else.

Eulogy virtues are different. He says of them: “The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed. Most of us would say that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé virtues, but I confess that for long stretches of my life I’ve spent more time thinking about the latter than the former.”

When I meet with families before a funeral, I often ask family members to tell me about the qualities of the person. What is it about their loved one they will miss the most?  Most often I will hear about the good things. They will remember special meals, trips, a kindly father-child talk . . . The mother who hovered over them in moments that were hard . . . the son or daughter who was always there . . . a spouse who took care that life was easier for the other.

Sometimes, there will be silence when I ask that question. No one really wanting to tell me about the person we are planing the funeral for. From all that is unsaid, I hear the pain of a life that left emotional distress, anger, resentment and suffering behind. We are each given a finite time on this earth. What we do with our lives during that time is ours to choose. What Virtues are You Growing?

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.” Colossians 3:12-15

Christ our Hope

A Devotion for The Ninth Day of Christmas on January 2, 2018
Read John 1:1-18

“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.”

Ann Lomott tells the story of a friend of hers in her book Operating Instructions. The friend had put her toddler son into his playpen in a darkened room, while she tried to catch up on some work. “Her son somehow managed to get out and push in the little button on the doorknob. So he was calling to her, ‘Mommy, Mommy.’ After a moment, it became clear to him that his mother couldn’t open the door, and the panic set in. He began sobbing. So she ran around like crazy trying everything possible, like trying to get the front door key to work, calling the rental agency where she left a message on the machine, calling the manager of the condominium where she left another message, and running back to check in with her son every minute or so. And there he was in the dark, this terrified little child.”

“Finally she did the only thing she could, which was to slide her fingers underneath the door, where there was a one-inch space. She kept telling him over and over to bend down and find her fingers. Finally somehow he did. So they stayed like that for a really long time, on the floor, him holding onto her fingers in the dark. He stopped crying. She kept wanting to go call the fire department or something, but she felt that contact was the most important thing. She kept saying, ‘Open the door now,’ and every so often he’d jiggle the knob, and eventually, after maybe half and hour, it popped open.”

When the language of God seems foreign, when the room is dark and the door is locked and we only want to be free again, Christ is our hope. In Christ we see a crack of lighting spilling under the door. God has entered our world in Jesus . . . God was in Christ – reconciling the world unto God’s self. In him was life, and the life was the light of Humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never conquered it.

Prayer: God of light and hope, For the light you sent in Bethlehem, for the child who grew up to be the very light of the world, we give thanks. When darkness falls around us, remind us that the light of Christ dwells among us, that you have come to walk with us through the darkness into your joy and peace. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Though the Fig Tree Does Not Blossom

An Advent Devotion for December 16, 2017   

Read Habakkuk 3:17-19

“Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:17-18

In Martha Beck’s book, “Expecting Adam” she tells about the experience of being the mother of a child with Down  Syndrome. Often there were frustrating moments when she confronted prejudices against her son, from colleagues, neighbors and even doctors.

At one point, Beck gave a talk about her experience to a class of Harvard Medical students, with her son, Adam, asleep on her lap. After the talk, she was approached by an elderly professor who had just become the grandfather of a little girl with Down’s. She says of that, “As he talked to me, he stroked Adam’s soft blond hair and wept. He loved his granddaughter with inexplicable openness, and the experience had changed his whole life . . . Whoever said that love is blind was dead wrong. Love is the only thing on this earth that lets us see each other with the remotest accuracy.”

God has never promised us that bad stuff won’t happen or that our lives will be easy. God has never promised that everything will work out the way we want it to, or that our favorite football team will ever win the Super Bowl. Habakkuk’s hope is based on more than a bountiful harvest. His hope is in the God who brought his people out of Egypt and through the wilderness.

The promise of Advent is that Christ came for all time. What God has promised throughout the scriptures is, “I will be with you.” “I will be with you in the distress of disease, illness, accidents, war, poverty, heartbreaking loss.” There will be painful, harsh and bitter times in our lives. God’s promise is, “I will be with you.” There is nothing in life or in death that we face alone.

Prayer: God of Advent Hope, Some days, we just hang on by a thread. We wonder where you are or if you’ve just run off somewhere. On days, when we do not sense your presence and we doubt you altogether . . . send your messengers into our lives, to remind us of who you are and who we are. Remind us that we are your children, beloved and cherished by you. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Forgetting to Come Home

Ronnie was my first love. My earliest memory of him is of Ronnie standing by his mother and me standing by mine, while they visited over the low picket fence of my mother’s daisy bed. Ronnie and his family, from Colfax Iowa, were frequent guests at my parents resort on Lake Jefferson, near Cleveland, Minnesota.

You could say that we grew up together and apart. As small children we played in the sandbox, then as we grew older we would fish off of the dock on summer days. My parents insisted that it was Ronnie, then in sixth grade, who smashed the few watermelons growing in our lakeshore garden. (He later denied this.) In our early teens, I hung out in the fish house while he cleaned the family catch. We shared similar views on civil rights. Ronnie, however, was the first person to challenge my view of the death penalty.

The summer between our Junior and Senior year of High School, Ronnie began to return my affection. So it was, that on one June evening, we took off in a boat loaded with, rods, fishing tackle, and nets. We talked for hours and “yes” there was a kiss, but only one.  Night was rapidly approaching before we headed back towards home. Then on our way back, we missed a turn slipping into Swedes Bay. We lost half an hour there . . .  which was just enough time to stir our already anxious parents into doing something to find out what had happened to their children. We suspected trouble when we spotted a boat with a search light aiming in our direction. We knew we were in trouble when Ronnie’s dad called out our names.

Many times since, I’ve waited anxiously for the sound of a car in the driveway, or a door to open with the clear message that one who is late has made their way home. As a parent, I can well imagine the fears that had gone through the minds of our parents that June night when Ronnie and I, dawdled and got lost on the lake.  In our lostness, and yes, even in our dawdling, God searches for us. When we’ve over extended our time away, God comes to us wondering why it is we’ve stayed away so long. Are we lost or hurt? A call goes out to bring us back. Search lights scan the waters for signs of our return. God searches for us, in all our lost places, shining a light that we might find our way home. If you’ve been feeling a bit lost lately, perhaps it is because God is missing you, calling your name and just waiting for you to head home.

Becoming Free to be Compassionate

Ten years ago, the 35W bridge collapsed and fell into the Mississippi river during rush hour traffic on August 1, 2007. I rarely drove across the 35W Bridge into Minneapolis, but a wrong turn had sent me over the bridge a few days earlier. Thirteen people died. Many were critically injured. More than one hundred forty people were transported to hospitals by pickup truck, cars and ambulances. What I remember most were the number of people who immediately jumped into action. Before First Responders could get there, bystanders were diving into the river,  rescuing people trapped in their cars. They were just ordinary folks who happened to be there and knew they needed to help. That evening, no one worried about the political, ethnic or religious background of the injured or the rescuers.  All of that was immaterial.

Henri Nouwen said, “To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other. Often quite unconsciously we classify people as very good, good, neutral, bad, and very bad. These judgements influence deeply the thoughts, words, and actions. These self-created limits prevent us from being available to people and shrivel up our compassion.” Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

I often get discouraged about  the enmity between  people  in today’s society over  race,  religious faith or  immigration status.  Ten years ago,  in that life or death moment after the bridge collapse, all  judgements were suspended.   What mattered was searching for survivors, breaking windows of submerged vehicles and pulling people from the river. What mattered was getting children on a school bus about to erupt in flames or tip into the river to safety.  What mattered was stabilizing an injury  and offering comfort. It was one of our finer moments as we collectively worked together in the midst of a tragic event – evidence that if we choose to, we can be that again.