Thursday, September 4, 2008

Listening in Prayer


This year Marie drives back and forth
from the hospital room of her dying friendto the office of the adoption agency.

I bet sometimes she doesn't knowWhat threshold she is waiting at—

the hand of her sick friend, hot with fever;the theoretical baby just a lot of paperwork so far.

But next year she might be standing by a grave,wearing black with a splash ofbanana vomit on it,the little girl just starting to say Sesame Streetand Cappuccino latte grand Mommy.The future ours for a while to hold, with its heaviness—

and hope moving from one location to anotherlike the holy ghost that it is.

Migration" by Tony Hoagland from What Narcissism Means To Me © Graywolf Press, 2003

At the many thresholds of our future, may our prayers this week seek Help in holding all the heaviness of our deepest griefs and longings. May we find there the Holy hope to we need to keep moving from this place to the next. Amen.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Prayer Partner, Week 1

Our Congregation is deep into the DISCIPLE Bible Study series. We run several classes with different leaders (who go through extensive training) throughout the year. This fall there are two classes engaged in the short (6 week) study of Genesis. Part of the process involves asking for someone to pray for each of the participants as they engage in the study of God’s Word. I’ve been assigned a lovely gentleman whose journey into a deeper relationship with the Word I will have the privilege of lifting before God prayer in the coming weeks. As a reminder that I am praying for him daily, I will be sending him weekly encouragement as well:

"If I insist on giving you my truth, and never stop to receive your truth in return, then there can be no truth between us. Christ is present 'where two or three are gathered in my name.' But to be gathered in the name of Christ is to be gathered in the name of the Word made flesh, of God made man. It is therefore to be gathered in the faith that God has become man and can be seen in man, that he can speak in man and that he can enlighten and inspire love in and through any man I meet." Thomas Merton

My Brother,
As you begin your Disciple study my prayer for you is that this time of learning and fellowship opens you to the truth of the Word of God, to the truth of the Word made flesh in your own life and in the lives those with whom you are sharing this important journey. I pray that as you gather in study you see in their eyes and hearts Christ real in your midst, that as you speak the truth of your own life and listen to the truth of the other lives spoken among you that it is Christ’s truth that your hear. May this time of personal study of the Word of God and the study of his Word in a gathering of his people, enlighten and inspire in you love. May this love come to all who grace your days. Amen.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Listening for Joy

After reading two of the postings from this site
at our local Writers Workshop on Wednesday
(my first time reading—an experience not for the faint of heart),
a wise member—
with several books published in English and in Hebrew!— challenged me to write about joy the next time I present.
So much of my life and work is engaged looking for hope
in the most tragic of life circumstances,
I do forget about joy.
He is correct.
He is also consistent
with wise Spiritual Director,
only the week before
asking me to listen more closely
to God’s blessings.

Both these statements blessing in themselves.

Reminding me of Paul: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about theses things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9).

Always a good antidote for an ailing soul.

Listening closely for the antidote I found this poem by Gerald Locklin in an anthology compiled by Garrison Keillor, Good Poems for Hard Times, commended to me on Thursday by another wise man. When I read it this morning I knew my life was changed forever.

Three wise men and a changed life and its still 123 days until Christmas.

No Longer A Teenager

my daughter, who turns twenty tomorrow,
has become truly independent.
she doesn't need her father to help her
deal with the bureaucracies of schools,
hmo's, insurance, the dmv.
she is quite capable of handling
landlords, bosses, and auto repair shops.
also boyfriends and roommates.
and her mother.

frankly it's been a big relief.
the teenage years were often stressful.
sometimes, though, i feel a little useless.

but when she drove down from northern California
to visit us for a couple of days,
she came through the door with the

biggest, warmest hug in the world for me.
and when we all went out for lunch,
she said, affecting a little girl's voice,
"i'm going to sit next to my daddy,"
and she did, and slid over close to me
so i could put my arm around her shoulder
until the food arrived.

i've been keeping busy since she's been gone,
mainly with my teaching and writing,
a little travel connected with both,
but i realized now how long it had been
since i had felt deep emotion.

when she left i said, simply,
"i love you,"
and she replied, quietly,
"i love you too."
you know it isn't always easy for
a twenty-year-old to say that;
it isn't always easy for a father.

literature and opera are full of
characters who die for love:
i stay alive for her.

Listeing for the Truth of Experience

Struggling this week with supporting therapists and managers as we have had another patient die. Addiction is a horrible demon. Looking for meaning myself, I sent this around as my weekly meditation.

"The question of belief has always been a source of confusion for me. Most of my life I have been torn between a deep longing for certainty and an equally deep skepticism. At times the ability to convince myself of vast, unprovable notions was kind of soothing, but the relief was usually short-lived. The truce with pessimism-bordering-on-nihilism was a very tenuous one. My outer life mirrored this conflict as I went from one extreme to another -- sometimes aspiring to mystical otherworldliness and other times living in the nightlife music world not far removed from the criminal.

"I did my best to cultivate belief but could only come up with what Alan Watts once called a 'belief in belief.' The real thing remained elusive. Brief glimpses of beautiful, inspirational meaning would slowly fade into boredom or sorrow at the state of the world -- and even cynicism. It came as a great shock to discover that my real spiritual problem was not a product of the world's condition, but of my own self-centeredness.I caused hurt and sorrow to those closest to me by living my life with my own gratification as the guiding principle. The old cliché that experience is the best teacher proved itself to me with a vengeance. For some of us, it seems, experience is the only teacher. I had to learn the hard way.I went through a few years of just getting lost and more lost. The drugs, the sex, the alcohol: It sounds like a lot of fun -- that is, if you don't figure in the remorseful hangovers, the depression or the loneliness that is both the cause and the effect of the whole vicious circle. I went far enough down to have to either change or die. I basically managed to break my own heart.But people are capable of learning, and learning that I had no wisdom on my own finally opened the way for me to learn from those who did. I was given a second chance. I found that what I once considered empty platitudes are actually descriptions of fact. Jesus said, 'It is better to give than to receive.' I now know that to be the case, not by faith but by experience. I finally discovered the beautiful, paradoxical truth that genuine concern for the welfare of others is the gateway to the only real satisfaction for myself. I cannot claim to consistently live up to this ideal, but it is with genuine gratitude that I can say I have come to believe the words of the Indian philosopher-poet Shantideva:'All the joy the world contains / Has come through wishing happiness for others. / All the misery the world contains / Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.'"

On NPR's "This I Believe, " Jimmie Dale Gilmor, country singer, studied metaphysics at ashram, and now lives in Austin. Gilmore’s discography includes seven solo albums.

May we pray our hearts' confusion to be open to wisdom wherever we might find it; may we find there within our own hearts genuine concern for the happiness and wellbeing of all who inhabit our lives at home, in the community and at work. Amen.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Listening for Crumbs

Matthew 15:21-28

From Missouri, Pastor Dave Holyan writes beautifully today at Presbyterian Bogglers of one of the most difficult moments in the New Testament: “I remember a conversation with a pastor just after the book Prayer of Jabez came out. 'Every day since I became aware that my son was an alcoholic, I've prayed for God to cure him. All God does is ignore me.'

“It is difficult to reconcile a profound need, especially for a child, with God's ignorance.

“But maybe this story isn't really about a mother's request for her daughter. Maybe this is a story about how the unclean outsiders are hungry for what is freely offered to the insiders, but ignored by them and even a scrap of God's love and attention is enough to make all things right for those who are truly hungry (and willing to be tenacious).

“The list of needs for God's attention continues to grow. This week I learned a good friend has cancer, a young man with a wife and three young children. I have prayed daily for his cure. I will continue to pray. Like a relentless dog sitting under the table, I will continue to pray and wait for a scrap to be thrown his way. My faith is not great; I'm just hungry.”

I know my hunger finds me, daily, at prayer parked under God’s table, expectant eyes fixed; ears perked, listening for the slightest crumb; twitching nose on high alert; hope’s drool puddling at my feet.

I am wondering in the end, if we are not all outsiders? Having three children dead and having experienced “God’s ignorance” of innumerable prayers for their lives and the lives of countless children of countless prayers never born, I am coming to believe that had I been able to change what happened with all those prayers and tears and years of sorrow and grief, then the miracle of human life would cease to be a miracle at all. It would be reduced to something that if I prayed hard enough, with enough faith or suffered and cried hard and long enough I could bring about. As I go about my grieving and my hundering prayer, these days, I am grateful that God is God. That it was not God’s ignorance but mine of the depth of faith I might be fed with as I sit under the table in a puddle of my own drool. Amen.

Thursday, August 14, 2008



I watch them die all the time. Addicts of every sort come thought the Emergency Departments and Intensive Care Units on their ways to embracing addiction’s clandestine promise of ultimate despair. There is no worst. Teenagers and young adults—to heroin mostly, but there are so many other’s out there stealing lives as well. Women and men of more mature years—besotted a lifetime by alcohol’s furtive ways. They are strangers to me. I hold their weeping wives and mothers; absorb their father’s and their sister’s and their brother’s rage of lifetimes spend in helplessness before the sneaking specter of the demon they watch daily drain the life of the one they love. Their children I embrace, too tightly sometimes, joining in their desperate search, a place to hold at once their great despair of love and anger raging at their parent’s ultimate betrayal.

These apparitions try to follow; pushing and shoving too close after, as I close the group room door. Behind which we do battle with the demon’s deep despair. There its acolytes gather seeking abrogation from the vows they make with every urge and thought and action while still in covenant with its fate. Among them I try to mirror devotion of another sort, sacraments to another faith, a liturgy of hope and compassion’s contemplation, mystic bonds with other strugglers on their way. There is none else to be done for them, only they can utter prayers for their conversion from betrayal of the demon’s faith, only they can journey deep within contemplating offerings of another sort, to a faith they can see only dimly through the mirror of the devotions of the others gathered in the faith.

Unexpected some wraith wanders in when the door closes a bit to slow and we are forced, bowed—helpless before its hopeless form. There is no hope in helplessness, or in our grief before its victory over what was never ours to touch or to command. With one heart and mind and soul we wished we had found the power to exorcise, found words, or thoughts, or gestures, ideas or even deeds to save her from her act of dying devotion to the dread-filled faith. We gathered in our grief for the loss of her and the grieving of ourselves, lost supplicants against our wills, to the truth of our own power spent for love of her which could never be enough to will her will to share our common faith.

Gathered here in the face of death, too real before us in our grief, the outward and visible sign of her devotion to the faith which daily offers sacrament: “Take, drink of this chalice of hopelessness; take, eat this bread broken in your brokenness; every time you drink of this chalice and eat this bread you proclaim despairs victory, this day all your days to come.” We who could not save her, can only share deeply our own sacrament, affirm our common faith, pray the liturgy of our hours of hope, sit in quiet contemplation of the compassion which we share.

There is no better memorial to her memory which we all share than to stand before the gates of death proclaiming the faith which offers life. There is no hope more powerful than to reflect this faith which we know is true so that others seeking abrogation might hear our common prayer. Amen.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Rabbi who was on his deathbed was asked by one of his disciples to express his most profound wish. He said: “I hope that the day will come when people will learn to fear God as much as they fear each other.” The students were shocked. “How is it possible that people would fear each other more than God?” The sage looked at his students and said: “When someone does something wrong they will often say: ‘I hope no one sees,' but they never say ‘I hope that God does not see' because they know that God is watching.”
Friends, imagine a world where people actually lived with an awareness of the Almighty throughout their daily lives. An awareness that would affect their interactions with other people, an awareness that would affect their business dealings, their public and private moments. In such a world, I suspect that the Rabbi's worthy wish would be fulfilled and awareness of the Almighty would take the place of fear of each other.

Rabbi Michael Siegel, Senior Rabbi, Norman Asher Rabbinic Chair, AnsherEmet Synagogue, Chicago, IL

May we open our hearts in prayer this week that they may be drained of fear and filled-up with the presence of the One for whom they so deeply long. May we pray for that fulfillment, for the awareness of God in all that we do—in our work here at Centegra, in our community and with our families and dear friends. Amen.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Listening in Sheol

In March the journey called me to begin to listen to my life on a deeper level.

Three children are dead; their promises of youth and love, of hope and dreams cold before me. I held their weeping mothers in my arms, joining as they begin their perilous journeys to the land that time forgot. Over twenty years ago I took this journey all alone and find that in joining theirs this time mine takes an unexpected turn. The deaths of these beloved sons, all about the ages of my three Dear Little Ones had they lived, and the holding of their mother’s griefs, have called to me from beyond the grave of my maternity; my Dear Little Ones having preceded in death the hopes and dreams of my own fecundity.

In the daily living before the dying of my youth and loves and hopes and dreams these long, slowly passing twenty years, despair and I have duked it out like some old barroom drunks, fueled with dumb courage from grief’s poison swill. Against myself, I like Jacob wrestling with his insolent God, to leave the battles bloodied, broken and scarred, but limping forward with some blessing, unexpected and undeserved.
With the passing of these three, about the ages of mine had they lived, I find myself drunk-brawling once again with this notion of despair of my maternity and what fecundity is mine, mother of the Dear Three who live only in the love of the dream of dead hope’s memory. What of love and hope and dreams of them live on as I hold these and so many other weeping mothers in my arms? An improbable grace and a blessing to be sure—no place I ever came to on my own.
But again grief’s dark specters rise, the very fibers of my being cry out of sorrow longing for years absent of these most beloved Dear Little lives. Against my will, as has been all of this, I must travel once again into the Pit, Sheol, that dark and shadowy place beneath the earth where ancient Hebrew wisdom knows specters of the dead reside with neither hope nor satisfaction to be had, cut off from All which offers life.

No other route can offer me the fecundity for which I so deeply long and have so long desired; to hold the weeping mothers in my arms and know that in this embrace and the blessed mingling of our tears in the dim hope of compassion’s light might be born a covert dream of insolent love, which comes unbidden amid the fray, offering blessings as yet unknown. Amen.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Listening to Tears

In a sermon preached on the Chicago Public Telivision's Sunday Evening Club in the late '80's, Presbyterian Minister and Pulitzer and National Book Award finalist, Frederick Buechner spoke about listening to one’s own life to hear what lies beneath the surface of perfectly everyday words standing for perfectly everyday experiences.

Here is what he wrote about tears: "You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you've never seen before. A pair of somebody's old shoes can do it. Almost any movie before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow, the high school basketball team running out onto the gym floor at the start of a game. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. “They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are. More often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and to summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.”

This week may we pray our everyday experiences, listening especially to our tears. Amen.

Friday, August 1, 2008

It's county fair time and I have the honor of leading worship tomorrow morning in the Sheep Barn. I purposely stayed way from the obvious theme.

Psalm 104
Selected verses read responsively
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Dedication
Creator God,

We come before you this day to celebrate this holy life you have called us to. Each day we join with you in the mystery and the majesty your creation bringing forth the bounty of this earth you created for our home and to propagate and tend animals of every sort, entrusted to our care by you for the good of your people here and through the world. We give you thanks for calling into sacred partnership with you.
Yet this calling of our lives is not without difficulty and strain. Prices are often too low and expenses only seem to rise. Sun and rain, wind and snow, can offer blessing as well as curses. Work is hard and days are long and, as blessed as we are, the dark small hours of the morning can make all that worries seem beyond even your good and tender care; that even your face is turned away.
We whose lives are daily dependant on the great mystery of your creation, can do nothing before it but turn again to you and ask your blessing upon our souls and the work of our hands. Into your hands we deliver all that causes us worry and concern, uncertainty and pain. We offer you all our griefs and sorrows, all our emptiness and fears; everything that weighs heavy upon our hearts and causes worry to our souls.
Before these we only recall that it is you who causes the sun to rise, golden-pink in the morning over dew glazed fields and set into latent mystery of creation hidden of the deep-orange horizon beyond the trees. By your hand ours bring lamb and calf, piglet and hatchling into being and by it we are led safely home when our day’s work is done. Your breath offers cool breeze to cool sweaty backs in the hay field, sows new life in the pollen that it spreads.
It is you who brought us to this place of great bounty and set us among good neighbors, family and friends. We remember that it is in the bounty of their love and fellowship that we labor and that we share with them a holy life and heart in you.
May all that we do at home and in the field, in the barn and in our community as well, show the glory of your working in our labors and your joy in the hearts of our loves. Amen.

Blessing Psalm 37: 7a, 5, 3 & 4

My sisters and brothers the Psalmist reminds: Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act. Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Amen.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Scribere Orare Est

Scribere orare est.
To write is to pray.

Blessed Return to the Water and Land

I was honored last Sunday to preside at the internment of cremains of a couple married over sixty years who never had a fight that their family can remember. She died about five years ago and he just in April. Their middle son combined their cremains and we gathered to interr them in the rock garden he built overlooking the pond on his property, just as his father requested.

On a beautiful, sun-filled summer day the family gathered—sons and their wives and partners, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, cousins and in-laws of every sort. The golden retriever came carrying a big stick in his mouth chasing the yellow lab in and out of the pond. They shared memories and tended babies, cried and swapped stories about their aging parents. Everything was as it should be to honor the loves and lives which had passed from their midst.

We read some scripture too and prayed a bit…
"The days of man are but as grass; he flourishes like the flower of the field;. When the wind goes over it, it is gone: and its place will know it no more. But the merciful goodness of the Lord endures for ever and ever toward those that fear him. "
(Ps 103:15--17)

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" ….Deep calls to deep… By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. " (Ps. 42:1-3, 7a, 8)
Almighty God, Creator and Sustainer of all that life, we come this beautiful day, in this gentle place of your creation, amid the warm embrace of family and friends to give you thanks, to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of A and to commit him and his beloved B to this earth of yours and to your eternal and tender care. It is at times like these and in places and gatherings like this that we feel strongly how small and fragile are lives truly are; but a hand full of dust and nothing more. But we come knowing that you love us even in our fragility, and in that love we rest secure.
Eternal One, you alone can alone can bring the sorrow and pain of our frail and fading hearts into beauty and compassion—flowering with new life. In these hours, turn hurting hearts once again toward you. In your Word may we know the beauty of this place, among the bonds of love shared here, before the awe and silence of death, speak to each heart gathered, the words of new life for which they long. In the face of death, re-kindle hope and love and bonds of family into the promise of new life. Lift us above all our distress into the beauty and joy and hope of your presence.
In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and its promise of Living Water through Jesus Christ our Lord, in this place of water and earth, we give back to our God who created them, and us all from the dust of the earth, A and B. We give them back to the elements from which they were formed—ashes to ashes, dust to dust and trust them to the Living Water, entrusting them for all eternity to their Creator’s tender care. Today A and B rest from their labors. There good works follow them to the glory of God and in the lives and loves of all they leave behind. Amen.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

“I grew up in a cookie-cutter village where everybody spoke the same language; had the same color of hair and eyes and skin. And although we had a few congregations, we were of the same religious denomination. Then a family moved into our village. Everything about them was different, from their language down to their clothes. And rumor had it their eating habits were unusual.

“I will forever be grateful to Beatrice my Sunday School teacher. She taught us about the gift of diversity we found ourselves in, by holding out her hand and saying, ‘You see, the fingers of my hand are different in shape and size. In the same way we are all fingers in God’s hand.’ God’s world is a creation of different shapes, differing sizes, a whole lot of variety in tribes, color, culture and religion. Imagine if all I had were thumbs!"

The Rev. Grace Imathiu, Ph.D. Can. New Testament, Vanderbilt University was born in Kenya and is a United Methodist Pastor.

May our prayers this week be that our hands and heads and hearts join with the hands and hearts and heads of all the people of all the tribes and of all the colors, of all the cultures and all the religions who touch our lives so that we may work together to offer hope and healing to all who come to this place. May we work together to hold and heal them gently in the palm of our hand so that in our work we may truly be the fingers in God’s hand. Amen.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Despair's Beatitude

Despair has a red shopping cart palled by two old winter parkas as soiled and oily as her hair. They guard sad mysteries of a life cut short long before its time. What of this life lost does she guard so well from prying eyes of voyeur lives which pray they don’t convert?

She sits silently in the shade behind a big box book store; matted dark hair veils a face bowed in contemplation—will drained of willingness—before the alter of a life no soul should ever know.

Before her, sail SUVs and foreign luxury cars natant on the asphalt sea ferrying pilgrims of other faiths, they worship here as well. They come for the liturgy of the latest word or to offer praise—the hottest songs; partaking of the sacred meal, drinking venti, with an extra shot, and eating the most luscious foods that no body will sustain.

Despair has only a few stubby teeth, vacant black eyes, light brown skin weathered and pockmarked; vigilant bulwark enduring life’s most violent storms. A stained and faded green tank top and short-shorts of indeterminate grey offer little relief from burning sun or biting bugs. Despair sits in the cool shadow of the big box cathedral’s shade, supplicant to this livings most unwilling and faithless faith. From beyond her sanctuary taunt big box temples to a life from which she’s been cast adrift.

Sailing past in my old scow, before the anchorage of her despair, I am as any worshiper of that other faith. Yet, from her icon faith calls, I know its strength and depth and beauty full too well. I must stop and worship here, some outward and visible sign of the will to will life’s willingness rescued from her faith’s steep decline.

Of another faith, Jesus speaks to me:
The blessings of your impoverished spirit—the grace to see this icon of despair, recognizing there the promises of God.
The blessing of your life time mourned—the grace to offer comfort here.
The blessing of your powerlessness—the grace to see in her the birthright that you share.
The blessing of your unwilling soul—that hungers and thirsts for what it dare not know is grace to offer that which fills.
The blessing of the grace of mercy in your heart—the grace to do what Mercy wills.
The blessing of God’s pure heart upon your own—to see beyond the s-oily rags to where you share with her God’s common heart.
What peace you share is from God’s own heart—God’s daughters recognize their own.
In the darkest suffering and deepest griefs, palled by the illusion of their prevail, you are surely joined with her in hidden deeper parts—longing for the safe shelter of your Father’s home. Amen.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Created to Choose

“…we are choice makers. We are created by God with this characteristic not shared by animals or angels. We have the dignity and integrity of affecting the way things are and the way things will be. Our choices are most important and they are consequential….

“What a tremendous thing to provide a source of gratitude within us, that when we seek to make the right decision, then we pray to God that he will make the decision right. That he will work together with us to make all things work together for good for his glory when we work according to his purpose. ” John Ashcroft former Attorney General of the United States. Mr. Ashcroft is a member of the Assemblies of God denomination and is the author of Lessons from a Father to His Son.

May we pray this week that in all that we choose, for our lives and for the lives of those we love and those we serve, we reflect the dignity and integrity which God intends for every human life. May all our choices give glory to God and work toward God’s purposes in the lives of all they effect. And may God fill our hearts with gratitude for this gift which can bring our hearts and minds closer to God’s. Amen

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why I Listen

Why Blog

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away. (Ps. 31: 9-10)

So writes the Psalmist. The wasting of grief, the Hebrew word in both instances here is ashesh. The old King James translates it as consuming—grief so profound it consumes the body and the bones, the soul and the eyes. All human strength fails and only the grace of God offers rescue and relief.

I write because there is nothing left of my own strength, only the grace of God has lifted me above the sorrow and the sighing of a life spent dwelling in the valley of the shadow.

Life’s shadow, its sufferings and its sorrows come in many forms. For many children born into the love of adoption, myself included, there is shadow of an unspoken grief that speaks eloquent testimony to the endurance of our most early bond of love. From there the journey of this shadow came to my father lost, even before his death at all to early of an age, to an illness which slowly sucked his life even before it ceased his breath. And with his illness came the shadow of my mother lost, as well, long before her time to the ravages of alcoholism and its violent speech. Her life too dripped slowly away ending long before it’s due. After my father died all too soon, I their only child, before reaching the age of full majority, became the keeper of her life adrift in alcohol’s squalling seas—her Power of Attorney for health and goods, a mantel which quivers even the most experienced and mature.

All this while finishing an undergraduate degree in Religion and an M. Div. from a seminary a proper distance from her home.

In my marriage our three children die before they even drew a breath. In carrying the second I almost bled to my death upon the bathroom floor and at that same fate nodded with the conception of the third. All my living in those days contained the shadow of this threat as long as we tried to conceive.

I know now, but knew only then in the most hidden parts of me from myself, that for many years my husband carried on serial affairs with women trusted to his care as pastor of their congregations. When finally that knowing came to light one Sunday afternoon as I entered the empty church approaching his office door, there was nothing left to do but save myself, from the dark shadow of our lives and face the even deeper fear, Kierkegaard’s defiant despair at willing not to be myself, alone and suffering all hope of future finally dead. No parents or siblings to comfort me or ease this dark transition into the shadow world of the living of my days in grief of ever sharing heart and breath and life and hope with the child for whom I had so long longed and risked my life for the loving of one as yet untimely born.

In the desperation of my despairing heart, I turned to the pastor of my own church for comfort and support, for hope and help in the living of those dark days. His advice to me was to join another church where I would find more single people. In the dishevelment of my pain, believing I misunderstood his intent, I persisted over many months in pursuit of what I would, in time, come to know was not within him to impart. Unknowingly, I turned for compassion and support trusting my life in some of its deepest and darkest hours to a man whose office door was closed on a darkness which paralleled my own. Clergy sexual misconduct is a vile and evil thing which seeps its tentacles of betrayal and suffering, of abandonment and grief into every nook and cranny of every longing heart it touches.

Though my pastor did not violate my by body, with the help of our denomination’s local officials who knew of the affair he was having during the time I was seeing him for pastoral care and helped him keep our entire congregation in his darkness, his ignoble counsel, and my local denominational leaders violations as fiduciaries of my spiritual and emotional safety and wellbeing within the church, broke within me so many things I could not count the cost.

In the wreckage of this deep despair I journey even further into deaths shadows still and lost so many other things which were dear to me that nothing but my God could save me from the wasting of its consuming grief. And so I write of the grace which finds me on these dark shadows paths and leads into green pastures offering me rest beside still waters. In this blessedness of God my soul finds restore and the journey now within my heart prays seeking always God’s rod and staff, protection and guidance, for the living of my days. So I listen for grace wherever it is spoke. Amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Faith in Breath

Funeral Homily

Genesis 2:7 and Romans 14:7-9

“—then the Lord formed man from the dust of the ground; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7).

From the dust of the ground we were created, the Hebrew word for ground is adamah, the Hebrew word for us human beings, adam, reminding us of this rather inauspicious heritage. The ancient wisdom reminds that from the very beginning without God’s breath, breathed into us at the creation of the world, we are nothing but dust. We are nothing in this life save we share the very life breath, the very Spirit (in Hebrew, ruwach, is translated both breath and Spirit) of the Creator of all that is.

In your mother’s final days among you she journeyed to return to her Creator, who gave her life and breath and Spirit, all of which she shared so abundantly with all of you who loved her. It was in that Spirit breath where she placed her final hope and faith for her eternal care.

The last days of her journey, as difficult as they were, were shared by you who loved her best and especially those of you who quite literally shared with her the breath of life, the Spirit of the Living God. You whose hearts literally beat with hers for the many months and days you shared her body and her blood, and who journeyed on with her across these many years; the loving and the crying, the raising and struggle, the praising and the problems which are the common lot we all share in love and hope in the Spirit of this life for which we were created.

Her fear of this final journey, I believe, was not of dying but of struggling into death, of fighting for breath against all hope and all will of her own, all the while wanting only to return to the life of the Spirit who created her and whose very breath had sustained her all the living of her days.

In those final days among you, her hand frail and strong upon your chest, a gesture of her love and faith and hope in the life, which she mourned to leave you, yet which she longed to share again with those who loved her and had passed this final journey years before. Hers a gesture of what love would do when the beloved can no longer find within the strength to sustain the breathing and the living and longs the Spirit’s final breath from this life unto the next.

Her frail hand in final strength upon her heart which trusted in all hope that her life among you would not cease with the passing of her breath, but would beat on in the beauty of the hearts she shares with you and the Spirit of the living God to whom she has returned. She lives on in faith and in the beauty of the lives you shared with her in the living of her days and which lives always on in your loving memory of her who gave you life and who lives forever with the Giver of all Life.

St Paul writes to a congregation of the faith in Rome, “We do not live for ourselves, we do not die for ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, if we die; we die to the Lord, so whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For this end Christ died and lived again so that he might be the Lord of both the living and the dead” (14:7-9).

So she who lived and loved and breathed in the Spirit of the Lord is safely at rest with him and all with whom she shared life and breath and love and Spirit with whom she has now shared faith’s ultimate life journey.

For those of you who remain among the living, who will grieve deeply for her passing and will suffer sorrow for the loss of her in the days and months a head, find comfort with one another—in your sharing of the memories and the loving, the living and the telling of all the joys and sorrows, the laughter and the pain that were the breath she lived among you and in which her spirit still remains. In these find breath, and hope and loving, and the comfort they contain for nothing can separate them from this Life—the Spirit of the risen Christ. In this Spirit’s breath she now rests and it lives among you all your days in the loving and faith and hope you share with one another in the speaking of her name upon your breath and loving Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Letter to A Dear Little One Loved Into Adoption

Dear Little One,

I just left your room. It was filled with nurses offering you their love and care. You were being rocked in the arms of our Nurse Supervisor. You are beautiful and perfect, and in these moments deeply loved and cared for. It was our Nurse Supervisor who loved you enough to bend the rules to care for you when your mother realized the greatest gift of love she could give you was to give you away.

As you grow up, in the family that will be blessed by your presence, it might be hard for you to understand how your birth mother could love you and still give you away. As strange as that might seem, it takes great love and courage to give the life of your precious child, who was nurtured in your own body and whom you cared for day and night, into the care of others who can give the child what you know you cannot.

I never met your mother, but by this one act, I know she spent many hours searching her heart and mind before she brought you here. I know that on that journey she was guided by one thing and one thing only—her deep and abiding love for you. Only in such deep and abiding love can any woman find the strength to search her own heart and mind and spirit and make the unselfish decision to give over a child of her own body into the care of strangers who can care for the wellbeing of that child in ways she has come to realize she cannot. This and your own life are the two great gifts your birth mother has given to you. You may never know what legacy of hers you have come into as far as temperament, talent, physical characteristic and intellect. What you can know is that in your heart is her heart, for you once shared the same blood, and from her heart on this day has come an act of love and compassion, courage and unselfishness which prays only for you and that you may grow and mature into a adult who can make real in your own life these same great gifts. With her heart you are never alone for she will always be a part of you.

This world can seem a difficult place sometimes, and though I pray it will not be for many, many years, you will at points in your life feel alone and afraid. That is simply the lot of we human beings share. When you face those times with whatever other comforts you may come to know along the way of your life, my prayer for you is that you know your birth mother for her gift of love and that you be comforted by the knowledge that when you could not care for yourself you were delivered into the arms of those who could. Though they did not know you, they loved and cared for you with the same tenderness and devotion as if you had been born to them. With their hearts you are never alone and yours will always be a part of theirs as well.

Know, dear Little One that the hearts and prayers of all who have been called to care for you are with you all your days.

God’s best all the days of your life,

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Life Blossoms

Life— a daily dream;
yet struggling in this web
how real it seems.
James W. Hackett

May our prayers this week be that we blossom in the struggle and may the beauty we find there make real in the world the courage and hope, strength and faith we have found within our selves. Amen.

Ikebana by Baiko (Sensei Astrid Stadt)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Seek Others Seeking Faith

I am so very sorry that your dear son is gone from you and that he is not here to share the joys of this life with you and big his sister. And, gosh, how very sorry I am that, when you most needed the compassion and love that are at the core of Christ’s ministry, you ran across a Christian Vicar who so painfully, obviously has missed the point of Christ’s teachings and the faith.

There are a lot of boring (unless you like that kind of stuff) theological and biblical reasons why many Christians have strong reactions to the idea of Reincarnation; most of them having to do the soul going heaven to live with Jesus after death. I am also aware however, that there are many doctrines surrounding Reincarnation offered by Hinduism, Buddhism and other ancient Eastern and more contemporary spiritualities. And too, there are many ways that Christians understand both Reincarnation and the teaching of their own Christian traditions about life after death. The short answer is: no one really knows what happens after we are dead.

Though I am the kind of person that likes this boring kind of stuff, I find that on this grief journey of mine I am placing greater importance not on the thought that I will one day be reunited with Elizabeth, Claire and Alice, though I certainly hope and look forward to that, but on how I allow my grief of them to gentle into greater compassion and love as I seek and pray for healing. As I face the sorrow and pain of the loss of my Dear Little Ones, how I survive these griefs which seem unbearable reminds me that somewhere in the universe is a power greater and more powerful than they and that I survive only by its mercy and any growth I obtain is by its grace.

For me that power is the love and compassion of my crucified and risen Lord, but as I understand Buddhism--poorly perhaps, it could also be in my meditation, especially in my grief, on the Dharma or compassion of creation for myself and all living things. As I understand Hinduism--again I am sure quite poorly, I might be seeking, in my meditation on my grief, to know the truths my higher self might want me to know about this life on my grief journey.

I personally encourage you to seek out others who share your faith and who seek, as do you in its meaning, a gentling of life’s deep pains and sorrows.

My reading of Christian scripture and my knowing of Christ in prayer is of someone who would offer you compassion in your grieving, mercy a mid your pain and an offer of rest and comfort to you, no matter what you believed, in the name of the One he called by the Aramaic equivalent of Daddy.

Wishing you days of compassion, mercy, rest and comfort.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Holidays and Counting

As of this Forth of July, I've passed over two hundred holidays alone, that's counting my birthdays. It is a conservative estimate of about five thousand hours spent trying to find some place of deeper meaning out of which to live other than the stark truth of my existence--that I have no parents or siblings; that because I am adopted, once my parents died, my "family" claimed no bond to me; that my three Dear Little Ones--Elizabeth, Claire and Alice are dead and that my single life of childlessness, as I'm passing into menopause, is not of my choosing. Though I chose my divorce, I did not choose the affairs he had with women in the congregations he served as pastor, and when his behavior came to light and he showed no remorse, nor any inclination to change, his inability to choose our marriage made my choice inevitable.

With the passing of each of these holiday-mile-markers on this path I'm traveling, I have become more and more aware that it is a journey into the darkest fear which lurks in the shadows of the human soul.

W. R. D. Fairbairn's Psychological Studies of the Personality, explores this most fundamental human need--the need for human relationship. Breaking ground in the theory of psychoanalysis he wrote, "The real libidinal aim is the establishment of satisfactory relationship with objects" (p. 138). Our genesis as Fairbairn understands it, proclaims the truth of Genesis, "Let us make man in our own image... it is not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 1:26 & 2:18). At the most fundamental level of our existence, at the place where our most human natures meet our most divine we long for relationship.

A year ago on Easter Sunday, my path a mid this most fundamental longing took a turn. God spoke in a voice both clear and deep: "It is not good for you to live alone, and so much of it has been of your own choosing. You have chosen faith in the truth of your aloneness and the reality of your pain and the power of your suffering of your losses over me. It is not good for you to be alone. Can you choose me? Is my love for you not the Truth? Is my grace not that which is truly real? Am I not more powerful that all the pain of all that you have lost and suffered?"

And so it began: Can I trust God more than all of these? I can know this only as his grace and seek the blessing of his strength and trust the guiding of his hand. Nothing I have can show the way.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reflecting on Surrender

Prayer of Surrender
St. Ignatius

Talk, Lord, and receive
my liberty,
my memory,
my entire will, everything I have and call my own.

You gave me all these gifts,
and to you I return them.
Dispose them entirely to your will.
Give me only your love and grace. That is all I ask.

My Prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive:
may every choice I make today bring me closer to you and the love you would have me share,
may every memory I have, of pain and joy, of sorrow and gladness, of suffering and mercy be filled with your grace,
may I turn every thought first to your love and may I use every gift and grace I have received to love you better every day.

There is nothing that I am or nothing that I have, which I have not received from you.
So order my heart and mind and soul to offer them back to you in all that I do, think and pray.
Help to open me to the emptiness of being so that your love and grace are all sufficient for my needs. If you would grant this all else that I ask would be unnecessary.
Lord, I know none here comes easy. Pray these in my recalcitrant heart when I am at a loss of my own will to do so. Amen

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Praying Hearts

“He said that the world could only be known as it existed in men’s hearts. For while it seemed a place which contained men it was in reality a place contained within them and therefore to know it one must look there and come to know those hearts and to do this one must live with men and not simply pass among them.” The old, oddly dressed Indian-Mexican man to 16 year old Billy Parham in Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing.

May our prayers live with the hearts of those who share our world. In them may we come to know
those hearts and the world contained therein and in so doing may the knowing of our own hearts and
world become more complete and more all embracing. Amen

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Rechem of God

Among those present: fathers of dead children, to suicide, to murder, to degenerative pediatric heart disease; men whose careers were cut short by cardiac disease and drunk drivers; a woman who had been raped and others whose history of physical and sexual abuse is unimaginable.

There is only to pray to create a safe container for the holding of these stories and the sharing of this grief before the unimaginable powers of evil. Gently then and by grace, the prayer becomes to sit among the uncompromising threads of their suffering and their sorrow. It is to wait, in silence, for the still small voice of the mercy and compassion in this place of suffering-with and their to begin to establish the frail bonds of hope beyond all reason and good sense, to call forth in them some dim faith light years removed from any sense of entitlement or justice for the continued living of their days.

No Easter sermons here; he is perhaps in a grave so deep one will never be proclaimed. Ehrman and his problem of God seems a sophist’s folly. Olstene’s, “all will be well” pails before the grim reality that it is not nor will it ever be again. Lacado proclaims that, “God is good… that faith is believing that God will do what is right.” None of this is right nor is any of it God’s doing. There is no reason for suffering such profound evils in any human life. The only hope this work can offer—to suffer with, to pray for a heart of rachamin*, to wait on grace from beyond this place, to sit quiet witness of love from the deepest depths, the rechem** of God. There is no other hope or grace, or strength for sitting in this place, the only container, by grace, the rechem of God.

* Hebrew for compassion
** Hebrew for womb

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Nurse's Lament Psalm

The child lay dead—
yellow cervical collar stained with blood.

The plastic tube that once sustained, the breath of life
stands sad and lonely sentry over heroic efforts,
shifted now toward preparing sacred space
to contain a family’s grief.

This little one’s nurse attends
the small lifeless body, in all gentleness and compassion,
crying eyes which shed no tears.

Prayer offered, in earnest compassion, in the midst of unimaginable horror—
the washing of the blood from the mother’s dead child
gentle placing of clean gauze and sheets over sheer horror
gaping wounds which took this young life.

The Nurse’s Lament Psalm,
a holy offering of preparation
a place of gentle holding for a family’s unimaginable grief.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Meeting God in Your Suffering

Your pain and anger seem so palpable, your sense that everything you ever believed in is gone from you, not just your babies, but also your faith—for which you so deeply long.

I honestly do not believe that God is gone from you. I believe that every time we turn to God, even in anguish or anger, in longing or in fear, it is God at work in us. We cannot turn to him unless he turns our hearts.

I think that if you believe that God has spoken to you in the past, that he still speaks in your life and that God wants you to continue to listen for him. In my experience, God speaks in many ways to many people and in different ways at different times in our lives.

Yes, your story is different from the ones to which you are comparing yourself, but I know your story is not so very different from the multitude of stories of women and men throughout the history of our faith who have been called by God to a deeper and more authentic faith through horrible struggles with pain and suffering.

I do not believe that God causes our suffering, I could never believe in a God who would take my three children, leave me childless and alone and have taken my parents lives while they were so young. I do believe that the God of the cross is a God who meets in our deepest suffering and shows us the way out. Paul called it the faith of fools and folly, yet he knew in the depth of his being. It is easy to have faith in a God who rushes in to save the day. It is a deeper and more profoundly faithful heart that continues to seek and listen for God when all seems lost.

I wonder what encouragement you might find if you asked God to speak to you in the silence. I wonder what hope you might find in asking God to meet you in your fear and offer you there his hand so that you might be led, in the living of your days to a kind of happiness and fulfillment which is never proclaimed by the prosperity preachers, portrayed in TV movies, written about in feel good books. The kind of happiness and fulfillment which comes to those who are willing to do the deep and tender work of bringing their suffering to God-of-suffering-and-the-conquering-of-suffering and pray for hope and faith, and trust that that God will bring your living to a new and better place than any you can imagine.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I Believe in the Deep Mystery of Creation

I believe in the Deep Mystery of creation. Every time egg and sperm meet they defy the odds—the Mystery shows itself. Every time implantation occurs and cells begin to develop and divide, the Deep Mystery takes form and shape.

If these were purely biology we could repeat the process over and over in the lab with consistent, predictable results. Even with all our hi-tech fertility procedures, we cannot. All we can do is set up optimum situations for the Mystery to make itself known.

My three Dear Little Ones, even though they never drew a breath, connected me to this Mystery in ways which continue to reveal themselves in blessing and by grace, as I live out my days in live and grief of them.

Over the years I've sat with so may people praying for a miracle. So very few get the answer they were looking for. I’ve only known one family, in all these years, whose prayers for their child were answered in the way most people define a miracle. A three year old child who, for all of medical knowledge, had only the smallest fraction of hope to live a severely limited existence, if at all, recovered completely. Today this child is a healthy grade-schooler, on the honor role and continues to hit all of his developmental milestones. His parents got their miracle. The Mystery revealed full of grace and blessing. Sadly, these seven years later these parents are divorced and in enmity with one another. Their miracle child is very beautiful, and very confused by all that’s going on in the family.

I mention this because it is teaching me that the miracle is not the point, as deeply as we long for it. The point really is to live with depth and compassion into all our important relationships, most especially when we are in pain, with ourselves. For me, it is in continuing to struggle with this living in which the Deep Mystery makes itself known, especially when I feel deep sorrow for the losses I must survive.

I must force myself to remember that for reasons that I cannot understand and actually hate, yes, hate, that death, the death of my children and of my parents when I was so young is a part of that Mystery. I must trust that, in time, the Mystery will make graces and blessings known as I continue to struggle the living of these days in the depth of life and compassion.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Prayer Before Stepping off into Transitional Space

The door shuts. A room full of strangers, we sit, the crevasses between us filled with the shards of lives lived in the wretched frenzy of those seeking desperately for what they do not know and cannot find. By some grace we must travel togeather along the slippery slope—Spirituality Group.

The space is filled at any cost, with whatever is on hand, those remnants of pain and suffering, echoes of loss and separation. Emptiness cannot be tolerated; one cannot feel alone. Death’s specter lurks in the corners just beyond our seeing.

What will save from the Fall into fear’s black abyss for which some secretly long.

Somewhere it will find us all, when we least expect it. In some moment we will hear the faint echo of what has been calling to us all along. It will grasp us; gather us up in its arms and carry us away from the edge of the crevasse; deliver us from the descent into darkness.

In that moment we shall be changed.

(The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. / For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality. I Cor. 15:52 – 53.)

The eminent psychiatrist W. D. Winnicott called it the transitional space: That place between the deeply buried graces and undeclared sufferings of our inner world and the broken and blessed ambivalence of human existence in this world. The place many say where are spiritual natures are formed.

(Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss other. PS 85: 9-10.)

Surely, the in that moment we shall be changed.

We will know it together, in this “talking cure,” as Freud called it, something unspoken and not fully comprehended between us. The transformation will begin. Something new will be created, something pregnant with meaning that longs to be explored; something expected, yet which can only be known, as Henry Emerson Fosdick’s great Hymn bades us, “…For the living of these days.”

A lifetime of wisdom and grace and courage will be required for facing of those hours which will stretch into days.

The door is opened. Amen.