Lent Day 45: ANSWER (revised)

In the Lenten season, today is sometimes called Good Friday or Holy Friday. It’s also known as the Day of Anunciation of our Lord. Today many faith communities hold vigil through the long hours we believe Jesus hung on the cross during his execution, dying. He called out to God from the cross. And then for a few days, his human voice was silenced by death and entombment.

How ironic that the word rising up in today’s texts is ANSWER. God is dying today. God is being silenced today. Like those first followers, we hold vigil through the emptiness and absence, where presence was once available. We are keeping watch through the hours when God couldn’t stand with us and answer us, not in the way we expected.

How often have we felt that same isolation and sense of abandonment? Of being left alone in the middle of chaos, without any calm or clarity, without any sense of support or solidarity? This feeling of being left behind, being left alone, to fend for ourselves and mourn and hurt and try to find a way to go on, is part of the Holy Week experience. It is part of the human experience.

On Easter Sunday, we will celebrate the truth that emptiness and absence are good news. That a tomb, once filled with a corpse, is empty. That God isn’t in the tomb anymore, but God’s love and grace are vital, real, palpable and returning to us.

On Good and Holy Friday, when we call out, it seems as if God isn’t answering. And while that may not be true, it feels like our lived reality. I’ve met plenty of people, in the hospital or in their own homes or even in the church sanctuary, who feel abandoned by God.

In the Book of Esther, Hebrew scholars point out that the name of God isn’t mentioned even once, yet a Jewish woman becomes a heroine, saving her people at risk of her own life. Looking at the text, the rabbis say that this is a metaphor for the times when God has been absent from the reality of Jewish lives, such as when they were in exile. And yet the people remained faithful to their covenant with God, worshipping and considering themselves chosen, trusting that God’s hand would move, that God’s power and presence would be revealed, and that their side of the relationship could be upheld, even when God wasn’t evident in the events of that story and the oppression they were experiencing. They found God in their deliverance.

During our Lenten explorations, we have considered praying as an act of dialogue with Godself. Yesterday I affirmed, again, my belief that God listens and ANSWERS.

We believe, in our faith tradition, that God continues to share revelations with people today. God’s answers didn’t end in the times recorded in the Bible. God listens and answers now, too. God speaks into our lives in this era, just as God spoke thousands of years ago.

Some of my colleagues hear God’s voice or God’s messengers, either as audible voices, internal leadings, or a dream or other form of message. Personally I often experience God’s influence through life events, and have to look backwards over the past, to identify the pattern of God’s response. I often recognize God’s tangible answer in hindsight.

Listening, and being in dialogue with God, takes practice. Like any form of spiritual exercise, it needs repetition and regular use to be most available to us.

On the other hand, God can hear our most desperate cries, even when we’re not usually in the habit of calling out to God. Anyone can pray. Any words will do. And no words are necessary. Prayer is also a bodily act. It’s an incarnate practice.  Just scream. Just hum. Just sigh. Just walk or dance or rock or hug or kneel or lay down or weep or laugh.

pray_for_others_shutterstock_92688232_1The other side of this ANSWER is that when God calls, we are asked to ANSWER. To respond.

So another question we may want consider is, when God calls out to us, do we answer, too? Are we even listening? Trust me, that’s a question I pose to myself regularly, as I discern my way in ministry.

Our relationship is reciprocal, at its best. God seeks us, we seek God. God listens, we listen back. We cry out, God responds. God calls, we answer.

Of course, we always have the choice. We can ignore the call. We can turn away, opting not to answer. Or we can turn toward the call, and say, YES.

Sometimes, like the Friday when we remember Jesus’ death, we are asked to persist through the silence. Raise our voices. Reach out. Seek connection with God. We may feel as if we’re being ignored or forgotten. We may not hear the reply right away. Yet assuredly, God is listening, and God will answer.

Selections from today’s lectionary:

  • Isaiah 52:15 — So he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
  • Isaiah 53:1 — Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
  • Isaiah 53:8 — All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way,
    and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
  • Psalm 22: 2 — O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
  • Psalm 22: 8 —  “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
  • Psalm 22: 24 —  For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
  • Hebrews 10: 8a — Then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.”
  • Hebrews 10: 16-17 — “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord:
    I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”  he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
  • Hebrews 10: 23  — Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
  • John 18:4-5 — Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”
  • John 18:23 —  Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
  • John 18:37 —  Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Lent Day 31: WITNESSES

Today one of the themes that runs through the Biblical texts is WITNESSES.

I wrotFake Dictionary, Dictionary definition of the word witness.e much earlier in the season about bearing witness, which is an ethical act of seeing what is uncomfortable and unjust, and not looking away. That merely by being present, naming and watching what is before our eyes and understanding, we perform an act of compassion and justice. In this way, we are truth-tellers. We do not lie to ourselves or to a system that is broken. We acknowledge what is happening, and we refuse to remain blind and ignorant to it.

Our church has read “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving. Even this is an act of WITNESS. Through such exploration, we listen to how Debby bears witness, and along the way, ideally we become more self-aware. This is one step toward becoming accountable for the underlying privilege of ‘whiteness’ in a society that thinks of Caucasian identity — and better access to influence and resources — as a neutral value, a baseline that all people experience, which is simply untrue. It is an alignment, in some ways, with movements such as Black Lives Matter, and engaging in social discourse about issues such as racism.

Social media has become a tool that sometimes allows us to bear witness. Sometimes people trapped inside a situation, such as refugees caught behind combat lines, or snared in a camp, tell their stories. They cannot cross the boundaries that imprison them, but their stories escape through cell phones and recordings and videos. This has become the project of some Rotary International Peace fellows or club-sponsored advocates. They can use tools to provide access to resources, a way to get help, even as victims share their stories.

We can also bear witness when those we love are suffering or celebrating. We can be present to them, which is perhaps the greatest gift of all, simply to be engaged in the relationship.

In the passage from Isaiah, God calls upon people with insight and understanding to be truth-telling witnesses. In the Psalm, the fortunes of Israel become a public account of God’s power and benevolence: the entire nation becomes a witness to that relationship. And in Philippians, Paul sends a messenger to an early Christian community, to serve and minister with and among them.

We can WITNESS through words. And by the way we live.

WITNESS, like so many words this season, implies a relationship. We are hearing and telling the story of someone. We are sharing an account of a particular time and place in history.

Of course, the voices and experiences of different people share many facets of truth and reality with us. A significant part of WITNESSING is to actively listen: to pay attention and remain open. As we listen and see, we receive what is offered, and reflect it back, as opposed to having our own agenda and narrative about what we see and hear.

witness_artistcollageSometimes bearing witness doesn’t seem like its enough. After all, we don’t necessarily change material circumstances through this act.

So does it matter, just being present? Simply keeping company along the way? Yes. Humans are social creatures. Having one’s story and experience validated when we share these narratives, and having someone else listen, observe, and acknowledge that we are here and this is happening, can make all the difference.

Bearing witness is a spiritual practice.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 126: Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
    Isaiah 43:8 — Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!
  • Isaiah 43:9b — Let them bring their witnesses to justify them, and let them hear and say, “It is true.”
  • Isaiah 43:10 — You are my witnesses, says the Lord,and my servant whom I have chosen,so that you may know and believe me  and understand that I am he.
  • Philippians 2:25 — Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need.

 

Lent Day 30: HOPE

hope_by_licks_ninjas2HOPE rises up as a theme and as a word in today’s readings. HOPE is a seedling, planted inside us. HOPE is a practice, that we cultivate with regular care and use so that we can call on it when we’re in darker, more desperate times. HOPE is a relationship with a creative power, a loving presence, beyond ourselves, so we’re not “in this” alone. HOPE fosters trust that something more is possible.

HOPE sounds frothy. Easy to say, not so easy to do.

And that’s true. How do you HOPE when everything has gone wrong? When life and death is at stake, and nothing is fair, or just? When it’s not only yourself at risk, but those most beloved, and more vulnerable, and you cannot protect them? How do you HOPE, when you have no power or authority or resources to change circumstances or events to create better outcomes? When you cannot restore integrity and dignity to the situation? How do you HOPE, when you’re overcome, overwhelmed, and out of control?

hope_by_burythereckless-d6vz97yThe Jewish writer Victor Frankl, reflecting on the human capacity for survival and belief in the face of catastrophic events like the Holocaust, calls humans “‘why-shaped beings’ … on a continual journey of discovery.” Hospice physician Dr. Ira Byock paraphrases the work of Victor Frankl, observing that people who are dying do not suffer so much due to bodily changes or pain, or what Frankl calls the ‘how.’ People suffer due to loss of purpose, meaning, or what Frankl calls ‘why.’

HOPE comes from finding a sense of purpose or meaning. HOPE is the ‘why’ that motivates humans to endure, sometimes beyond imagination.

Or as the poet Emily Dickinson so famously wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Lines from this poem, illustrated by an artist who painted a wall of birds, spans the pedestrian bridge connecting Dana Farber Cancer Center and Brigham & Women Hospital. It creates a passage of HOPE for people living with life-limiting illnesses. My daughter and I often lingered there, watching the painter as the images came alive, and for years after, as I wheeled her to treatments that might extend and enrich her life a while longer.
Sometimes our own contemporary writers and thinkers and activists are prophets, too. People like Mother Theresa or Victor Frankl, or a poet like Emily Dickinson, see and touch something sacred. And share those insights with us, and help us walk the Way of Christ, 2,000 years later.

We are asked, over and over in Hebrew scriptures and Gospel passages, to choose and act from a place of HOPE and resilience instead of fear. When we act and speak out of fear, we’re often making imbalanced choices that are likely to hurt ourselves or someone else. Our faith balances out fear with hope and love.

Of course, fear has its place in humans; it keeps us alive in its most primal form. Fear isn’t wrong, but it has counterparts through hope, compassion, and resilience that we also need to consider and engage.

Our faith grows out of grappling with and acknowledging fear. I mentioned, in an earlier posting, that even saints like Mother Theresa and St. John of the Cross have known fear and depression and dark times in their lives. They have wrestled with those conditions, and named them, and turned them over to God. They have felt alone, isolated, emptied of all hope, and pushed through a time of darkness that seems endless. And yet, such people, in ancient times and modern days, have found their way back to a more centered and connected sense of self and being, even in the face of seemingly-insurmountable odds.

Sometimes hope arrives when we continue to practice our beliefs and rituals, even when they seem empty or hollow. Our practices of faith, such as prayer or working ethically in the world — even when it seems we cannot change situations and systems in meaningful ways through our own efforts — create the channel, the conduit, that allows the Spirit to reach us.

Ultimately, we aren’t asked or expected to pray or work alone. We are invited to do it in partnership with the Spirit.

Hope grows through connection versus isolation. Hope is turning a hand to what needs to be done, even if it’s a small portion of the greater change that we’re seeking to create. Hope is choosing for integrity and wellbeing, not just for ourselves, but for others, too. Sometimes hope is the capacity to choose at all.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary passages:

  • Psalm 126:5-6 — May those who sow in tears  reap with shouts of joy.Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,shall come home with shouts of joy,carrying their sheaves.
  • Isaiah 43:1 — Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
  • Isaiah 43:5a — Do not fear, for I am with you.
  • Philippians 2: 23-24– I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.

Lent Day 29: GO

Today the word is such a simple call to action: GO! It’s a command, a request, a suggestion, an invitation. It’s a call to leave whatever situation you’re currently in, and change scenes and directions. Head out to a new destination, a different purpose.

In Kings, we hear the story of a woman who follows the guidelines of a prophet, and experiences the mercy of a miracle that saves her family’s future. In Luke, we hear Jesus give instructions to his disciples, asking them to venture out among the crowds that had followed him to a deserted location, and care for them. In both cases, responding YES to this command to GO, leads to abundance and blessings.

What holds us in one place? What keeps us from moving out to do something new and different? Sometimes we’re comfortable and safe, and even complacent. Sometimes we’re already in danger, living on the edge, and cannot imagine having the resources to take another chance, and GO somewhere else, to do something else. Sometimes, we just need the invitation. Sometimes, we just need the to-do list.

It takes us from wherever we are, right now, right here. It sends us out into the world. It also suggests we will return.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary readings:

  • Kings 4:3 — He said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not just a few.
  • 2 Kings 4: 4– Then go in, and shut the door behind you and your children, and start pouring into all these vessels; when each is full, set it aside.”
  • 2 Kings 4:7 — She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.”
  • Luke 9:12 —  The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.”
  • Luke 9:13 —  But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.”

Lent Day 27: SAINTS

We often use the word SAINTS. We usually mean those who have lived particularly righteous lives, made extreme choices to follow their faith, those who have been martyred for their faith. Sometimes we refer to those faithful souls who have died and gone ahead of us.

In today’s readings, I would say that SAINTS refers to those who ‘seek after God.’ It’s a description that can work in today’s world, as well as historical contexts.

Being a SAINT is not an implication that such people are perfect. They’re not. People such as Mother Theresa, named a saint by the Catholic church, reveal the depth of their doubt and fear through their own writings. Writers such as St. John of the Cross, writing centuries ago, called the times when he grappled with isolation, depression, and despair as ‘the dark night of the soul.’

Wrestling with faith deepens it. It’s part of the human journey.

So don’t think that being a SAINT is about being perfect in deeds, words, thoughts or emotions. Humans simply cannot live perfect lives.

What we can do, in any circumstance, is ‘seek after God.’

In that seeking, we choose more often to reach for thoughts, feelings, and actions that bring us closer to God’s hopes for us. Those hopes are rooted in our personal, individual choices and deeds. Yet what starts with individuals flows into communities, systems, and impacts all of creation.

We become ‘saints.’ We’re not born that way. We learn this way of being. We put it to work. We practice ‘seeking after God.’

SAINTHOOD is a measure of a lifespan comprised of small moments. And we won’t always be at our best. Nobody ever is.

Even Jesus got angry or impatient: at fig trees, at markets in the temple, at his followers, at a woman he called a dog. He got tired and needed respite from crowds. He asked for the cup to be taken from him, when he wrestled with his own darkness, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet he struggled with those moments and grew as a person, and became a more gentle and compassionate human.

When are you pressed by fear, doubt, anxiety, sorrow, depression, anger? Those are the times when it may be most difficult to seek after God, yet that’s precisely when the practice of being connected to God, to faith, becomes most vital. Even if it seems like an empty exercise, because you’re down in the pit of despair, it’s the time to call out, to pray, to turn your mind and heart to God.

‘Seeking after God’ isn’t a brief moment. It’s a lifestyle choice. It’s a constant, daily practice. It’s a way of being. When we live by ‘seeking after God’ we are in the state of becoming saints.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary passages:

Psalm 53: 2 — God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.

Revelation 19: 3b — “Praise our God, all you his servants, and all who fear him, small and great.”

Revelation 19: 7b – …for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

Sunday’s Communal Prayer: Merciful Hands

Praying (Adapted from Psalm 63)

One:   O God, you are my God. I seek you.

All:     I lift up my hands and call on your name.

One:   My soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
like a dry and weary land.

All:     I lift up my hands and seek your living water.

One:    I look upon your world, beholding your power and glory.

All:     I lift up my hands and give thanks for your creative presence.

One:   Your steadfast love is better than life.

All:     I lift up my hands and share your blessings as long as I live.

One:   My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast.

All:     I lift up my hands and celebrate your justice and compassion.

One:   I think of you and meditate on you in the watches of the night.

All:     I lift up my hands and give myself into your keeping.

One:   For you have been my help.

All:     I lift up my hands and rest in the shadow of your wings,
singing for joy.

One:   My soul clings to you.

All:     May your merciful hands uphold me. Amen.

Lent 16: LIFE

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?

feb25_what-is-life-660Sometimes 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.

Silhouette of hiking man in mountain
Silhouette of hiking person in mountain

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.

Day 12 of Lent: WAY

fabforgottennobility.tumblr.com
from: fabforgottennobility.tumblr.com

Lent is a time of spiritual journey and pilgrimage. We turn inward to learn more about ourselves, and we also look outward at our connection to the world. We practice following Jesus. We walk in his Way, with the help of the Spirit.

The Way implies movement. We are beings who move and grow: bodily, emotionally,  psychologically, and spiritually.

Humans are creatures of motion, traveling through time across varied geographies and landscapes. Our sacred stories are filled with motion. We depart, we journey from point A to point B, we get lost, we wander, and we arrive. We cross borders, bridges, and boundaries. We go through rivers and deserts, lakes and mountains, wilderness and cities. We pause at crossroads. We pass through doors and portals. We detour for walls and barriers. We turn back. We keep going. We ascend and descend. We swim, walk, run, ride,  or fly. We stop at places of safety: wells, oasis, gardens, temples, tents, and other places of refuge. We leave and go into exile. We return home.

We also stretch and expand with our minds, our emotions, and our spirits. So what does it mean to walk or stand firm in Christ’s Way? Consider the Gospel’s most basic and ethical commands: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Within that statement are the anchors of a covenant: God, self, and others (including creation). These are Jesus commandment, in their primal form, for living ethically.

During this season, you’re invited to ask yourself, what parts of walking in the Way come easily to you? And what parts need more attention?

Following the Way combines what we learn from scripture and tradition, and what we learn from intuition, intellect and experience. In today’s scripture, we hear that God’s word (the Bible) is one guide for the Way. Christ’s life of ministry serves as a template. Plus our church says that God is still speaking in the world today, through the people we meet and the insights we gain. Prayer serves as a chance for redirecting ourselves, as we respond to current events. Our community can be a resource as we study and follow the Way of Christ.

Sometimes the Way is more than a metaphor, it is also a physical pilgrimage. People travel certain roads, and visit specific sacred stations or sites, as a bodily journey through the landscape, toward a specific destination. The Way is embodied by a route that you navigate using maps and GPS. Examples of pilgrimage include walking along the Camino de Santiago between France and Spain for Christians or the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) for Muslims. Pilgrimage is a universal experience that can also be found in other faith traditions around the world.

  • Genesis 15: 4a — But the word of the Lord came to him.
  • Psalm 27: 11 — Teach me your way, O Lord,and lead me on a level path.
  • Philippians 4: 1 — Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
  • Luke 13: 32b-33 — ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way.

Day 11 of Lent: BLESSED

As we journey through Lent, let us take a moment to consider blessings (the  common theme in today’s Biblical passages).

  • Sometimes blessings are parts of ourselves. Sometimes they’re internal: our talents and strengths, our emotions and thoughts.
  • Blessings might also be external resources: food, shelter, job, and education. They might be relationships with people (ex: family, friends, mentors, colleagues, community) and places such as special environments (ex: beach or mountains) or humanmade spaces (ex: sanctuary, concert hall, studio or gallery, kitchen, or athletic facility).
  • Blessings imply reciprocity. We receive them. We also give them.

blessed_hands1Let us name and count them up. And be grateful for them. Daily gratitude practices for our blessings have measurable benefits; they make a difference to our psychological outlook and also impact our physiological wellbeing. These practices can include praying about or journaling those things for which we are grateful each day.

Part of gratitude practices, beyond naming those things for which you’re grateful, includes feeling gratitude’s effect on your body. Being aware of blessings is more than a mental and emotional exercise, it has direct sensory connections to our body’s wellbeing.

Here are a few links for gratitude practices from different traditions, though much of the wisdom is shared among them:

Excerpts from daily lectionary Bible passages:

  • Psalm 118:26 —  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord.
  • Matthew 23:39 — For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Note: In the excerpts above, the same phrase is repeated. Note that the writers of the Gospel draw from older traditions, the Hebrew texts such as the Psalms, since Jesus and his earliest followers were Jewish. That’s why the same phrase appears in both places: our Christian texts are rooted first in Jewish writings.

Day 6 of Lent: HAND

day6_Lent_open-handsOne of the words that rises up out of today’s texts, when placed side by side, is HAND. These are the parts of the body into which we entrust ourselves, when we turn ourselves over, when we release ourselves into someone else’s care and keeping, or into the potential safety and refuge of a reciprocal relationship.

We place ourselves in someone’s hands.

In a prayer from David, seeking deliverance, he places himself and his people into God’s keeping: into God’s hands. Later the writer of John claims Jesus Christ as our advocate, the one to whom we turn.

We are partners in this process of becoming vulnerable. When we extend our hands, and hold them open, sometimes we catch and uphold, as much as we release and receive. We are called to move toward God, and risk all, by making ourselves available, just as God moves toward us.

A relationship occurs when our hands are involved. We hope it is one of tenderness and compassion, and also of justice and service.

Consider that we are God’s hands in the world. We walk, as the writer says, as Emmanuel walked. By using our hands as Christ used his hands, we are called to be in relationship with others in a way that models that ethical engagement: forgiving, truth-telling, healing, community-building, educating, feeding, washing, rescuing, pouring, fishing, mending, holding, transforming, carrying, praying, yielding, and so many more acts of connection.

I should note that these scriptures are excerpted from Biblical passages that also include images of violence and vengeance, sometimes done with hands holding weapons. So let’s acknowledge that hands can also inflict harm, and bodies can be landscapes that experience hurt.

Yet in his deepest need, David, one of the greatest kings of our sacred texts, cries out to be in the shelter of God’s merciful hands. Rather than focusing on what David may wish to happen to his adversaries and enemies, I pay attention to what he hopes for himself and his people. David’s human, after all, and there’s a limit to what he imagines God’s grace can accomplish. From our perspective, we can also hope that what God can provide for us is also possible for ‘others’ too, so that ‘others’ can become more than enemies and oppressors.

Excerpts from today’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 17: 7 — Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
  • 1 Chronicles 21: 13a — David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great.”
  • 1 John 21: 1b — But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
  • 1 John 21: 5b-6 — By this we may be sure that we are in him:whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.