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.