Do you find your heart and mind looping backward through time, so your body is here in the present, but your head is playing video vignettes from some past event? Today I looked down at the cup of tea in front of me, and it was like opening a door. My senses reeled back through months and years.
I remember the first chai I ever tasted, at a rest stop off the highway, driving back late at night from a national trade conference in Manhattan. I’d left work to stay home with my young children, then gone back to work for a digital startup in the late 90s. One of my young hip coworkers, Camille, wanted caffeine to stay awake during the long trip home. We stopped, and she suggested I try the chai latte! I’ve never regretted that first sip.
Now I have favorite coffee-tea haunts in many north shore towns: ZUMIS in Ipswich, kaffmandu in danvers, and atomic cafe in Beverly.
But it’s not so much the beverages as the relationships flavored by each cup’s presence. With beloved friends and my own family, I’ve sat and played games, talked heart to heart, or walked countless steps, steaming frothy cup in hand.
I often tell hospital patients a piece of wisdoms that I was once told. “Trauma touches trauma.” When we experience an extreme event, it can trigger similar past events, so we have complicated reactions in the present, too, that involve reactions to our histories.
Why do I think of tea and trauma? I’ve often celebrated with tea. Yet tea also helped me cope with years of emergencies in our family, often life-and-death medical situations with our daughter.
Holding a warm cup in my hands makes me feel safe, but also sometimes sad. Sensory memories can be layered by emotional and psychological responses to scents and tastes and sights.
Today i feel the intimate presence of love in my life, warming my palms via a simple cup of tea. Some of the love is living and present. Some of it is here only in memory. Some of that love abides in an intangible existence to which I remain connected. Just as this cup of tea is more than the mere beverage and vessel in front of me, but the symbol of past sharing and connections, and hope of bonds that continue to grow and deepen.
Yes, trauma touches trauma. And love touches love.
In today’s readings, we hear many claims of people being anointed and raised up as leaders, such as King David. And we listen to the prophecy of a coming Messiah. We also hear God’s promise to a whole nation of people, not just those descended from Abraham, but those who share in that same love and faith.
The definition of CHOSEN is broken open, wider and wider, with every generation. Grace overflows. It cannot be limited or contained by our categories and linguisitic terms. Who is CHOSEN by God? As ever, I am grateful that God has the final word, not me.
And yet, I believe the invitation to be in relationship with God, and the work of the Holy Spirit all over the world, channeling the embodied love of Christ, is bigger than we can imagine, and will not be stopped. Christ could not be stopped by locked doors or fearful hearts, when he returned from death. That love will not be stopped by our national borders or political barriers or human desire to control and dictate who belongs inside or outside the circle of community.
Today is also Palm Sunday. In this part of the Lenten cycle, the beginning of what we call Passion Week, we focus on stories of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a white pony or donkey. It echoes the path of a king coming home. Or offers an inversion of that story. At First Church in Ipswich, MA, the congregation walks along the Ipswich river behind a rider on a pony. We sing and carry palms, waving them, recreating a small measure of the jubilee this day must have offered to Jesus and his followers, at least for a short time.
Yet this attention, this triumphal process 2,000 years ago, also heightened tensions in an occupied city, governed by a distant emperor, with uneasy governors in power there. This procession could be considered political, so that it drew attention to a man who already risked his life. Indeed, the nature of his death was a political execution. So along with the Hosannas of Palm Sunday, we hear underlying concern for what is coming next.
When we turn toward a connection with God, and sometimes even when we would rather say no, we are each CHOSEN. We are adopted and desired and beloved of God.
Excerpts from today’s lectionary:
Psalm 89: 3– You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,I have sworn to my servant David.
Psalm 89: 19b-20a –I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found my servant David.
Romans 4: 16 –For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us.
Matthew 1: 21 — She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
ABIDE? This is one of the words in today’s texts. It is an offer to shelter in the care of One who will provide and support. It is also the invitation to allow that One to take root in us, to find a home in us.
In a way, when we allow love to abide is us, we become walking, breathing places of holiness. Our bodies and heart and minds become temples: places where God lives.
In these texts, God promises to be our shelter, even when we’re on the journey to find home. And as we’ve already said, by connecting with God, we make a home in ourselves for God … so that loves goes with us, always.
Yet the call to ABIDE is a reminder to pause. To breathe. To pay attention. To turn inward for a time and be with oneself. Or to soak in the surroundings and let that be the resting place.
To ABIDE is to stay awhile in the presence of love, of God. To find respite.
For people always on the move, the invitation to ABIDE is once more a spiritual practice, a form of self-care that Lent offers. How do you create chances to pause? To ABIDE?
Perhaps just reading the sacred texts. Or standing in the presence of the beauty of nature (God’s creation). Perhaps praying. Or simply closing your eyes and taking a slow, intentional breath. Using some contemplative practice to find your center, where God awaits you.
Try this wonderful prayer as a way and a place to ABIDE:
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
Selections from today’s lectionary passages:
Judges 9: 15a — And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade.’
1 John 2: 24 —Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.
Such a small word today: LIFE. It contains the measure of our whole beings from beginning to end, and even beyond. When we speak of life, we mean so many things. We speak of ‘life’ as the actual quickening of cellular activity itself. Yet it is also the spark of intellect and soul that animates the flesh of our bodies.
In this word is one of the ultimate questions. What is the meaning of life?
Sometimes we’re referring to the viability of an individual being, and other times we define it as any form of organic and sentient existence at all. We use ‘life’ to mark the span of time from one creature’s birth until death: moving and breathe and operating as sentient beings. Yet we can also refer to eons of time, such as the age of a planet or a cosmos, as measured by signs of life.
As spiritual creatures, we are always looking past the veil of our own senses, toward a greater and deeper meaning. We reach and imagine beyond the shape and contours of our own mortal bodies to something we cannot quite touch, detect, or cognitively encompass. Our sense of possibility is somehow defined by the limits of our corporeal selves and what we are and are-not.
The concept of life holds, in so many ways, all that contains our meaning. We weigh and express the value of all other ideas and experiences, emotions and thoughts, tangible and intangible treasures, against the weight of our own being, our own lives.
We measure risk by the threat of death and the end of life. Yet isn’t it interesting to consider that sometimes the greatest risk isn’t to face death, but to live our lives fully? To risk life? This is the challenge that today’s texts expose to us.
In today’s text, God’s divine love and presence is considered more valuable than the Psalmist’s own life. Is the writer euphemistic? Could the writer extol God’s love, except by being alive to do so?
In the prophetic text of Daniel, three characters put their lives on the line to defy an unjust law, and to continue faithfully worshiping their own God. Their lives are delivered,. So their faithfulness is measured by their willingness to sacrifice their own mortal span of being. And the power of Godself is revealed to the unjust leaders of the land, when God saves their lives, despite the affliction and torture turned upon them.
In Revelation, Christ is once more described as the one who was dead and then returned to life. Divinity is inextricably bound up with life, survival, and being. The ultimate promise of Godself is that we will have a second life, a different life, a life after death. If life contains all of our meaning, then a life that defies the very strictures that form the boundaries of our capacity to understand and experience the world, a life that overcomes death … that is powerful indeed.
So how do I measure the meaning and value of life? I cannot measure the impact of life by time alone. The import of my younger child Jessie, who lived 9 years, cannot be encapsulated by days and years. That is a poor standard to describe the value and impact of her presence among us.
So how do I describe her life? It’s easier to consider her life, versus my own, since I’m in the middle (I assume) of my own life. Her life was comprised of the relationships she formed and influences through her being. Her life could be measured by her way of being a teacher and mentor to older folks, through her approach to balancing suffering against all that made life worthwhile to her as a child. What made life rch and good to her? Engaging in fierce and deeply-rooted relationships, being able to move and claim her own body, feeding and stretching an inquisitive mind that always wanted to learn and question, acting ethically to support causes she cared about and to change unfair circumstances when she could, experiencing sheer joy through playing and laughing or taking risks … Her life was ultimately measured by her loves.
Whether it’s 9 hours, 9 days, or 90 years … our God’s presence fills up the measure of life for us. What are we willing to put at risk for this love, if not life itself? And as I mentioned earlier, isn’t the greatest risk not to die for this love, but to live for this love?
Excerpts of today’s scriptures:
Psalm 63: 3a — Because your steadfast love is better than life.
Daniel 3:28 — 28 Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
Revelation 2: 8b — These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life.
Revelation 2: 10b — Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
How do I write about today’s word? Enemies. I’m so uncomfortable with it. It exists due to extreme conflict or tension. It draws lines, and puts me on the opposite side of that boundary from other people, or from aspects of myself.
Today is an invitation to wonder, are our ‘enemies’ other people, or sometimes, ourselves? And how do we reconcile ourselves with these ‘enemies’?
In some of these texts, the word ‘enemies’ is used with the military context of those who win and lose, those who conquer or submit, those who live and die. In current times, since our nation is engaged in many armed conflicts, and our culture is steeped with fear, the concept of ‘enemies’ is hauntingly close to us.
In other texts, such as the letter from Paul, ‘enemies’ are those who live apart from the way of Christ. Again, this might imply parts of ourselves as well as other people. Often enough, we find ourselves living in ways that are not allowing us to be connected to Godself. I understand that when the text discusses Jesus’ way, it means, in part, his way of living in the world … his ethical way of engaging issues of mercy, justice, faith, healing and human connection … his ways of engaged living in the political and social environment of his day. It also means Jesus way of healing us by recognizing and restoring our integrity as members of God’s body, God’s kingdom.
Today is also an invitation to consider fear. And find another way to respond to the conditions that develop ‘enemies.’ To walk God’s path, to turn to God as stronghold. In countering fear, we seek responses rooted in love, versus fear.
Maybe we are invited, by walking the way of Christ, to reconsider those parts of ourselves, or other people we have labeled as enemies, from a different perspective. Perhaps we cannot become friends with our ‘enemies’ or reconcile ourselves to our adversaries. Yet perhaps we can find some clarity, some empathy. Or some way of letting go. One example comes from deeply-wounded societies such as Rwanda or South Africa (see the the Forgiveness Challenge developed by Desmond Tutu). Through the arduous process of forgiveness, we can work toward the capacity to relinquish the internal emotions such as fear, loathing or hatred, that allow our ‘enemies’ to maintain their presence and power in our lives.
Psalm 27: 1 — The Lord is my light and my salvation;whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27: 11-12a — Teach me your way, O Lord,and lead me on a level path, because of my enemies. Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries …
Genesis 14:20 — And blessed be God Most High,who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
Phillipians 13: 17-18 — Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.