Thursday, December 24, 2009


Psalm 90

1Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.

2Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

3You turn us back to dust,
and say, "Turn back, you mortals."

4 For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.

12 So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.

Come in stillness and in solitude, in these hectic days;
come to the dwelling place of God.

Return your heart of prayer
to its most ancient home.

Seek there the hope of all creation;
the strength of eternity;
and peace which endures.

Know in your heart’s returning home;
safe shelter in the frailty of its truth
held within antiquity’s gentle arms.

Pray there that your heart of prayer becomes,
the dwelling place of the Lord.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pray: Be the Light in the Darkness

Hanukkah begins

Friday, December 11
at Sundown.

“As long as Hanukkah is studied and remembered, Jews will not surrender to the night. The proper response, as Hanukkah teaches, is not to curse the darkness but to light a candle.”
Irving Greenberg, Modern Orthodox Rabbi, Jewish-American

In this second week of December, as the light of our days grows ever shorter and nights stretch longer before us, may we bring our hearts in prayer to the Source of all light. May we seek with them the miracle of the Light in our own darkness. May we find in that Light the strength and courage to live as a candle in the deep darknesses of the world. Amen.

Learn more about the Maccabean Revolt and the story of Hanukkah here.

To learn the Hanukkah Candlelighting Blessing try this link.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Creator of all Life:
One-by-one every family we know breathes whispers in clandestine tones….

It happened to us…
     to our parents,
     aunts and uncles,
     to a sister and her husband,
     brother and sister-in-law,
     to our best friends….

Four times in a row
     before the baby came
          once, before

     We even knew…

Three times
     over six years
          and then children
     healthy and perfect.

To our relief,
     the dare-not-breathed
          at all 
                         between the words
                                                                of but a scant few.

We just keep breathing
      in and out
     in the darkness

          of the deep void
     that has consumed us.

Breath is the life you give.
     You’ve been there all along…

Breathing for us…
     when we could not remember to do it for ourselves,

          holding us from the beginning,
          as we are holding each other, now, in invisible bonds.

We won’t feel this way

Everything that is,

     you created
          out of the deep darkness
               of the void.

You do no less for we who you created good:

Call us out of our shapeless places of endless darkness…

Help us find new form and shape for our living
     in this void

     that has stolen the shape
     from our lives.

Bring light to our darkness, O Creator of all.

Call us out of the water of our tears, bring us to dry land.

Carry us from this shapeless time, into new fruitfulness for our living.

Assure in our darkest nights…
     that dawn and its daylight will always follow.

When the water of our tears

     do overcome,
          that they team
     with the potential for new life.

Bring forth from us new life for the living of our days.

Lift us gently,

     compassionate Creator.
 Take us softly
     in your arms
     into each of us
          breath of life.

The prayer above was written to conclude the 2009 Annual Candlelight Memorial Service in memory of children dead to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, being born still or who died within a few days of their birth. I was privileged this year to be the organizer and to once again light candles and speak publicly the names of my own Dear Little Ones, Alice, Claire and Elizabeth. They continue, by God’s good grace, to bless me in so many amazing ways.

Some may recognize the inspiration I found in Rachel Barenblat's poem "Community" published in, THROUGH (miscarriage poems), the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible, and Pierre Wolff's, May I Hate God. (Links are provided, just run your cursor over.)

Giving Beauty

“Originality depends only on the character of the drawing and the vision peculiar to each artist.”  
George Seurat (b. December 2, 1859)

Let us seek, this week in prayer, that which is most unique within us; may we find there the character and creativity which are ours alone so that our vision of our lives may lead us to living the deep and particular work of beauty which is ours alone to give the world. Amen.

The image above is, of course, of Seurat's famous "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand Jette," which resides at the incredible Art Institute of Chicago. I remember studying this painting as a child in school and then taking a trip to the museum to see it. It’s size, the colors which seem alive, the layers of experience and meaning, the feelings of awe…. I still get chills.

Joyeux anniversaire ! George. Merci!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Created for Gratitude

From the McHenry County (IL) Community Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration
Sunday, November 22, 2009.

“There is a Chinese proverb that reads ‘when you drink from a stream, remember the spring.’ This call to remember the source of what we enjoy is universal. It is the experience of gratitude is found in every major religion. Our national holiday of Thanksgiving is an opportune time for us to come together to celebrate the bonds of community and universal experience of gratitude.

"In Hebrew, the work "to give thanks" also means "to confess." While every faith tradition encourages the giving of thanks, there is one community for which this holiday can be especially difficult. That group is the American Indian or Native American community. We acknowledge tonight that their crucial role in shaping the "first" Thanksgiving has been lost or mythologized, their good will and generosity overlooked, and their suffering hidden from our view. Our presence tonight is our "confession" that we which to inhabit a world in which all peoples will be valued and can live together in peace.

“We come to listen with our hearts as well as our minds. Diversity is a holy gift. No greater respect can be given another than listening to him or her. To listen is to acknowledge the divine or holy image in the one who speaks to us.”

Thanksgiving Prayer: Let us come with grateful hearts in prayer this Thanksgiving week, that somewhere in the deepest recesses of our beings, each of us is created for gratitude. Let us pray, gratefully, to know there our common Source and to honor the delicate bonds which unite us, hearts and minds. And may our listening hearts of prayer guide us, beyond the many mindful things which can so sharply divide, that we may hear the Holy Image speaking in the hearts of all who speak to us. Amen.

A link to a Native American teacher's research on the struggle between myth and fact of the "first" Thanksgiving is here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pray Truth and Freedom

“Truth is powerful and it prevails.”
Sojourner Truth (b. November 18 or 26, 1797)

According to Women in History: Sojourner Truth was born into slavery into in New York State, Truth suffered its inhumanity and degradations, including being sold at age 9 years with a herd of sheep, being sold numerous other times to violent owners; suffering beatings, rapes, being told who she could and could not marry, and separation from her children. In 1827 New York completed legislating the abolition of slaver. Shortly before 1829, Truth, whose given name was Isabella Baumfree—changed later to reflect her understanding of God’s calling in her life—had a religious experience she came to describe as becoming "overwhelmed with the greatness of the Divine presence" therein she was inspired to preach and quickly became known as an rousing and “miraculous” preacher.

Her preaching brought Truth into contact with influential abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles. In the spirit of the times, she was eventually drawn to the utopian cooperative ideal, joining the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Massachusetts. There she met Olive Gilbert and began dictating her memoirs The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave was published privately by William Lloyd Garrison in 1850.

In 1854, Truth was invited to speak at the Ohio Woman's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, she gave her most famous speech -- with the legendary phrase, “Ain’t I a Woman.”

In 1864 Truth worked among freed slaves in the Washington D.C. area meeting with President Abraham Lincoln. A famous painting, and subsequent photographs of the event, depicts President Lincoln showing Sojourner the 'Lincoln Bible,' given to him by the black people of Baltimore, Maryland.

After the Civil War ended, she continued working to help the newly freed slaves through the Freedman's Relief Association, then the Freedman's Hospital in Washington.

In the days ahead, let us pray for truth.
Let us pray for freedom.
Let us pray to be “overwhelmed with the greatness of the Divine presence.”

May we come in these days to experience the grace and mercy
of the truth of our own beings and of our lives.
May we begin to know the blessed freedom of living and being in truth toward
our selves and our sisters and brothers.
May we begin, in these, to know the limitless compassion of the presence of the Divine
in the living of our days.

Monday, November 9, 2009

“Efforts and courage are not enough without
purpose and direction.”
John F. Kennedy

We have much to lift in prayer this week: those whose efforts and courageous lives have been given across the years to maintain the purpose and direction that we in this nation hold dear; those who through their courageous efforts, daily, risk their lives that those dear truths might endure; and those whose lives of effort and courage support those lives dedicated to protecting and defending us all. May we lift high as well, our own living, that in our daily strivings we might find strength and a renewal of purpose and direction in the living of our days. Amen.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Prayer for the Saints

All Saints Day

“For All the Saints”, v. 4, 5

“O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia

“And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia”

(Link: Praying with the imagination in the tradition of Francis and Ignatius.)

I’ve been living with an image in my imagination for several months now, perhaps; better, Christ has been praying it within me, for I could never have come to this of my own accord. In my childhood bedroom, I am in my bed and my parents are kneeling beside as they did nightly for prayer. Jesus is present too, in the way that he is frequently present in such imagining prayers, at once palpably real and, too, indiscernibly present. My parents too are so real that I want to weep and run to them and hold on forever, and yet they too are difficult to define and discern.

Lord Jesus Christ, how I miss them, they have been dead for so long. I was 25 when I was orphaned for a second time I my life. My mother died that year, four years after my father’s dying. Neither had been well for so many long years, endless days of years filled with sickness and pain. My father a “dead man walking” through my growing up years struggling with the declines of congestive heart failure and my mother, a disappointed, angry, drunk with a venomous heart whose ridicule was flung at those closest to her, my dying father and me. Our very breathing simply seemed to fall short and disillusion.

Lord Jesus, I miss my parents more than I can say. They have been dead for so long; my father for 33 years, my mother for 29. In this prayer, you, Jesus, are holding us all so tightly together that we seem bound, one to the other in ways that in our living together and in their dying, were impossible to discern. Difficult days, so many of which flowed with pain and renting grief, your presence, impossible to discern. (Especially in her dying, Lord, so alone as she cursed you and died; succumbing to the poisons of her own heart.)

Yet, you are here now, dearest One, holding us in blessed communion, the struggles of their days in flesh and blood, grief and pain far behind them; your glory shining from deep within them in ways I can only begin to see thorough the dim mirror of this praying. The communion of saints and the forgiveness of sins are not simply words on a page committed to memory, ideas to share in a community of belonging. No, they are  prayers for our living: to forgive and be forgiven of that which separates me from these most beloved saints, blessedly, now and for so long, at rest in you, is to begin to accept your forgiveness and to begin the forgiving. Of them, of you, most especially of myself.

For you healed them, blessed Jesus, tired and worn as they were, pain-riddled and grief-soaked in their beings, into the gentle and merciful heart of your divine fellowship so long ago. It is my heart which has labored on for all these years, longing for that which I can only know in surrendering the feeble struggle shared with them to you who has held us all so gently for years beyond our knowing. May my ear hear your distant song in these days. May my heart find courage and strength in you. May I know in this prayer of us united with you in love and peace is the communion of saints, the divine fellowship I pray to find with all whose feeble struggles I share. Amen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Prayer To Let Go So We Can Cling and Confide

Protestant Christians Celebrate Reformation Day, October 31.

“Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.”
Martin Luther. Luther’s Large Catechism, “Commentary on the First Commandment.”

On Halloween Day, 1517, Luther a young Augustinian Monk and scholar nailed 95 “Theses of Contention” to the door of the Cathedral at Wittenberg. This practice was the accepted way of engaging in scholarly debate in the days before books were widely available and the power of Guttenberg’s movable type was only just beginning to be felt. Seeking only to change some minds and a few practices, Luther changed the Western world.

May we come to prayer with faithful hearts in these days asking for the trust and courage to fall away from those old confidences whose seasons have passed but to which we cling. May we come with hearts seeking to know the hope and reassurance for our living which comes only by clinging to and confiding in That which we can only know in faith and trust and courage as we fall. Amen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Plaid Prayer

Scotland the Brave

Hark when the night is falling

Hear! Hear the pipes are calling,

Loudly and proudly calling,

Down thro' the glen.

There where the hills are sleeping,

Now feel the blood a-leaping,

High as the spirits of the old Highland men.

Ayrshire District Tartan

Sunday October 25, some Protestant Churches whose members claim some Scottish roots will be Celebrating the Reformation by Kirkin’ the Tartans, (Kirk being the Scots word for Church) when they will hold a service of blessing of family tartans. The Rev. Peter Marshall, originally from Coatbridge, Scotland, was the pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington DC, and served as Chaplain of the United States Senate. Rev. Marshall was the originator of the Kirkin o’ the Tartan service in the US during the Second World War, as an effort to raise funds for British war relief.

The service finds its history in Scotland, in the struggles for Scot freedom from British oppression during the days of the Act of Proscription, 1746. The wearing of the tartan, plaid Kilt, a symbol of national and clan pride and courage in battle, was banned in the Highlands. Legend has it that in those difficult days the Highlanders hid pieces of tartan and brought them to church to be secretly blessed in the service, a very dangerous practice which could have cost them their lives.

Dr. Marshalls service has survived these over 60 years reminding us of the strength we can find for the living of difficult days in our deep connections to our roots, the courage and strength of those who have gone before us in our lives and in our lands, in our hopes and in our faiths.

Let our hearts listen in prayer this week for the strains of that which calls to us from our most ancient roots. Deep places of courage and strength and hope, which somehow seem to call to us from both the center and most distant places of our beings. May those distant strains cause our blood leap and our spirits stir in courage and in hope for that which lays a head. Amen.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Praying with the Shadow Self, Reflection I on Macbeth

I love October and Halloween. To celebrate, I reread Macbeth and spend some time throughout the month reflecting on its timeless themes. Murder, blood, conspiracy, corrupt power, guilt, hallucinations, prophecy, witches, cauldrons and spells... what's not to love about Shakespeare's gory tragedy that pulls us nose deep into our struggles with our own humanity.

In the Spirit of the approaching holiday from: Macbeth Act IV, Scene 1, William Shakespeare.
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes:(45)
Open, locks,
Whoever knocks!

Enter Macbeth.

How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags?
What is't you do?

May we come this week and pray that our hearts open their locks to the very human struggles, which we all share, with those parts of ourselves which we keep hidden even from ourselves. For it is only in bringing our secret midnights into the Healing Light of prayer that what it is we do can offer healing true healing for “Whoever knocks!” Amen.

Image credit cantueso.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Prayer and a Dream

Yo Yo Ma with the Silk Road Ensemble above performing in New Delhi.

The Silk Road Ensemble

The Silk Road Ensemble is a collective of approximately 60 internationally renowned musicians, composers, arrangers, visual artists and storytellers from more than 20 countries. Each Ensemble member's career illustrates a unique response to what is one of the artistic challenges of our times: nourishing global connections while maintaining the integrity of art rooted in an authentic tradition.

A not-for-profit artistic, cultural and educational organization founded in 1998 by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Silk Road Project takes inspiration from the historic Silk Road trading route as a modern metaphor for multicultural and interdisciplinary exchange.

“It took me way beyond what I knew, into places of which I was totally scared, but as I became less frightened, I welcomed new ways of thinking and approaching something. It made me an infinitely richer person, and I think a better musician.” Cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, b. October 7, 1955.

May we follow our hearts leading us in prayer this week to join with the hearts of women and men we never dreamed we’d meet. May we be joined in our common longing for grace and beauty, for creativity and elegance, for individuality and harmony by the Spirit of openness and courage, by the Insight of our Heart of our shared yearning to become richer and better selves than we could ever dream ourselves to be on our own. Amen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Prayer for Falling In Love

“A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.”
Annie Leibovitz, photographer, born October 1, 1949.

Photograph from the “New York Times on the Web”, collection of Polly Weydener taken by Leibovitz at the Beach Partol public restroom, Miami Beach FL. Weydener, (b. 1922) moved to Miami from Chicago in 1935, she worked as an RN until her retirment in the late 1960’s when she became a chiropractic massage therapist. She teaches belly-dancing and ball room dancing as a hobby. Weydner has four children, two grandchildren and one greatgrand child.

May we pray this week to fall in love. In love with life. In love with family. In love with our vocation; our calling. In love with our avocations. May we pray that all that we do and all that we are speaks of this passionate love with every contour of our being. Amen.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Praying Danger

“Safety's just danger, out of place.”

Harry Connick Jr.

May our prayers this week draw us gently into the place of the safe arms of the One who brought us into this world. May we find there the strength and courage to venture forth into the dangerous waters which lie beyond; for they too are our place in this world. Amen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Prayer for Honoring Dead Homeless Woman

Kevin Barbieux of Nashville, TN, who blogs as The Homeless Guy: There’s More to Homeless People than Being Homeless wrote back on August 14:

"Something happens to a person who lives homeless for an extended period, like I have. They develop the ability to remove themselves mentally, or perhaps spiritually, from the environment they find themselves in, on the streets, in shelters etc. The homeless environment is ugly and depressing, and so to survive being in it, mentally, you have to create some distance between yourself and the place in which you find yourself.

"After being homeless for so long, the mentality of "removed" becomes more permanent. It becomes the default your default mindset. This mindset is in play even when you're not in the homeless environment, and long after you've left it.”
One of our Deputy Coroners called me yesterday to do a funeral for an older woman who died homeless in the car she shared with her family. I spent today trying to talk with them to plan the service. They seem elusive, scared, removed from the experience. No planning has been done. I will try one more time later in the week. I can’t force them, just as no one could force them off the streets and into a shelter.

Jesus did not make Samaritans and Canaanites convert to Judaism before he loved them. He loved them as they were and as they were able, in ways that made sense to them. My prayer preparing to "Worship God and Celebrate the Life of this Woman" to ask the Holy Spirit to guide me beyond my own needs and vanity and ego so that I can love her and her family  in ways that make sense to them, as they are able and, most certainly, which meet them where they are. Come. Holy Spirit. Amen.

Untheological Postscript:
             Found Kevin Barbieux through a link on the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County IL. Very great resource.
             For a thought provoking read try Cormac McCarthy’s The Road which I believe works quite well as an allegory on homelessness in America as well as a contemporary apocalyptic.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Prayer in the Spirit of Imagination and Creativity

Portrait by: Leonid Afremov

September 16 is Blues Great,
B. B. King’s 84th Birthday

The sound that you're listening to is from my guitar that's named "Lucille"
I'm very crazy about Lucille
Lucille took me from the plantation
Oh and you might say brought me fame
I don't think I can just talk enough about Lucille
sometimes when I'm blue it's seems like Lucille trying to help me, calling my name
I used to sing spirituals when I thought that this was the thing I wanted to do
But somehow or another, when I went in the Army
I picked up on Lucille and started sing the blues
Well, now when I'm paying my dues
Maybe you don't know what I mean when I say paying my dues
I mean when things are bad with me
I can always, I can always you know, like, depend on Lucille.

Honoring the gifts and graces, imagination and creativity which transported King from a plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi, to playing over 15, 000 lifetime performances, induction into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984, to receiving the Presidential Medal of the Arts in 1990 and an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Yale University, Berklee College of Music, Rhodes College and Tougaloo College.

My we seek in prayer this week, that upon which we can always depend. My we come with all our gifts and graces listening there for the voice of the One who calls out our name and, when we are paying our dues, when times are bad, may we pray to find there the Imagination and Creativity upon which we “can always you know, like, always depend….” Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Show Me My Poverty, Lord

Friedrich Pacher, "The Bosom of Abraham" (detail), c. 1490. Novacella Abbey Cloister, Bressanone, Italy.

"What is the use of knowing our weakness if we do not implore God to sustain us with His power? What is the value of recognizing our poverty if we never use it to entreat His mercy. . . . The value of our weakness and of our poverty is that they are the earthin which God sows the seed of desire [for Him]." Thomas Merton 

Very Wise Spiritual Director continues to encourage, nudge, suggest that I lay my poverty before God. This is one of those things in the life of faith, in prayer, that sounds so simple: Where I am weak, He is strong. Cast your burdens. That ubiquitous “Footprints” story. And all those.

But that is not what he means. We both know it.

To know our own weakness as the “seed of (our) desire [for Him],” means to come in prayer not just in our weakness begging for mercy for who we know ourselves to be, but asking Jesus there to send the Holy Spirit to illumine our self deceptive hearts so that we may recognize, as we are able, the greater depth of our poverty and the radical truth of our inability to do anything of enduring value to help ourselves.

Anyone who has ever worked a good 12 Step Recovery knows the truth of this. The human heart and mind have an uncompromising and deeply subtle capacity for self deception. They deftly seek to resist any suggestion that they are not in control and on top of things; that solutions and answers are not within their grasp, even in the poverty of our prayers, even in our perceptions of our own weakness.

Lord Jesus Christ, the deepest desire of my heart is to know you more fully. The poverty of my heart and the weakness of my will seem overwhelming to me, yet I know that they are but a scant portion of that which keeps me from knowing your mercy and grace in my life as fully as you intend for me.

As I come unsteadily before you, send your Holy Spirit to me that I might find the strength to see more clearly all that is within me that keeps me from knowing and loving you. Heal me of those things which would keep me from knowing more fully the depth of your grace and mercy for the living of my days. This, Dear Lord, is my heart’s desire, to live in you as fully as I am able, and to live graciously and with a heart of mercy among your people. Amen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Prayer for 9/11

Photo by, Joe Woolhead, from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center website

“You make a living out of what you get; you make a life out of what you give,”
Winston Churchill.

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center has published a study guide for its film, “The Spirit of Volunteerism: 9/11 and Beyond.”

Among many stories:
"Ada Rosario Dolch, was principal of a high school just two blocks form the World Trade Center and on 9/11 safely evacuated 600 students. In memory of her sister, Wendy Wakeford, who died on 9/11, Ada helped build a school in Afghanistan that opened in 2005. Ada currently works with school leaders, and lectures on the topic of emergency preparedness, response and recovery for m disasters."

"Mickey Kross, is a retired NYC firefighter who survived the collapse of the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. He volunteered to search and recovery missions at the site in the months following the attacks. After Hurricane Katrina, Mickey traveled to New Orleans, serving as a volunteer in New Orleans firehouses and helping with their clean up efforts."

"Albert Capsouto, kept his Lower Manhattan restaurant open in the aftermath of 9/11, providing first responders and downtown residents with free meals and a place to rest. He advocated for the needs of small business downtown and played an active role in rebuilding his community."

May we continue this week to pray for those whose loved ones perished in senseless acts of violence and for those who continue to reach down inside themselves to find, amid life’s greatest losses, a spirit of compassion and hope, and the courage and endurance to share these with others in greatest need. And may we pray as well for the grace in our own lives to find, in our deepest needs, our greatest gifts and hearts to share. Amen.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Discernment with Dogs

Eugenia Lo Photo Blog

“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog when you are just as hungry as the dog,” Jack London.

“From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 28But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ 29Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone,” Mark 7:24 – 30.

What do I share from my poverty, my hunger; what can I offer of what little I have within myself to give.

Not a question but a statement.

An intent.

A prayer.

After I have come to my Lord’s table as an outsider, a beggar, a woman in blind and desperate need and have received the miracle that I longed for, hoped for, but never truly expected; what can I share of graces I have poorly received; what can I give; what bone from my own scant laid table can I let drop to the floor; what can I say that might change a heart, drive the hungry demons out of God’s broken, grieving, suffering people.

Lord, I desire in my poverty, to seek to do you will; to give out of what I have received seeking only to love as you have loved me. Amen.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lifting to the Unknown

“LIFT up thine heart unto God with a meek stirring of love; and mean Himself, and none of His goods,” Cloud of Unknowing.

The Cloud of Unknowing is a classic of Christian mysticism. Written, it is supposed, in the later half of the 14th century by an unknown monastic, the work is one of guidance for those seeking spiritual counsel in contemplative prayer in late medieval monasticism. I’ve read it several times, always struggling with the author’s most basic meanings.

There’s been so much for so long: changes in healthcare, always, the order of the day; obligations ending and beginning; lots and lots of really, really hurting, broken people; good friends battling horrible illnesses and grieving sad, sad losses; sorrows and anxieties, uncertainties and unknowns each one reminding me….

I think I might be slowly, very slowly finely, prayerfully getting it.

I know nothing.

I’m getting OK with that.

Better, I’m finding the notion peace provoking, meekly stirring in my heart love. Love for God and not for the gifts or things of God, all of which are transitory. Not for the suffering and grief which can provoke either righteous anger with or deepest longing for God.

No, I find my heart in silent prayer lifting meekly in love for God alone. Amen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Late Summer Prayer

A fall breeze
leaves blowing across
the gravel
~ lao xian

May we offer in prayer this week
late summer’s gifts. May we open
our hearts there to the blessings
of what has been, seek the hope
of what will come and entrust the
living of our days to the coming
Breeze of Fall.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Katrina + 4

I should have posted this link yesterday to New Orleans Times Picayune reporter Chris Rose's 4th Anniversary column. Rose's first hand account of life during the storm and its aftermath, One Dead in Attic, originally self published (I bought my first copy from Rose's wife over the phone while in NOLA doing relief work a year after the storm) published now by Simon and Schuester, is a modern day lament Psalm.

"When I am introduced as someone from New Orleans, people sometimes say: "I'm so sorry."
New Orleans. I'm so sorry.
That's not the way it was before,not the way it's supposed to be. When people find out you're from New Orleans, they're supposed to tell you about how they got drunk there once, or fell in love there, or first heard the music there that changed their lives.
At worst people would say: "I've always wanted to go there."
But now, it's just: "I'm sorry."
Man, that kills me. That just kills me."
— Chris Rose (1 Dead in Attic)

Please keep the city and all its people in prayer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Prayer for the Beginning of School

"Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner; put yourself in his place so that you may understand… what he learns and the way he understands it." Søren Kierkegaard

School is starting. No matter what our actual jobs or defined roles, we are all sometimes called to be teacher and at other times called to be student. May we pray in these days for the student’s heart and wisdom; the hunger to learn whatever we need most to know and the wisdom to recognize the teacher wherever she or he appears. And may we pray that when students appear, our teacher’s soul would guide us into their hearts and minds so that we might learn what they understand and understand what they would learn from us. Only in such prayer, we are joined by the Teacher becoming there students of our own deepest longings to be understood even as we seek to understand. Amen

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Whatever Comes Thy Will Be Done

I found a first edition of Thomas Merton’s, Thoughts in Solitude, at a Used Book Sale awhile back. I’ve read a little Merton almost every day for several years now, so I was quite excited about the find and also about the price, $1.50. After a long week at work solitude seems a necessary prescriptive* so I’ve been reading and meditating on small passages. I am particularly drawn to this: “What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?” (p.31).

Not my will but thine be done and we are seized with Abrahamic faith, raising the knife poised to strike down our most cherished and dearly beloved, those very things, or ideas, or whatevers which are sign and the seal of our blessedness. Prayer is radical business. Growing in faith requires an ever deepening willingness to trust more and more of ourselves to God. Especially, the very things which we have come to believe are God’s special gifts for our lives and our living.

Today, I will pray to learn to trust my work to God, for in truth it is not mine but God’s work. All that I bring to it are God’s gifts to me and the doing is God’s blessing for my life. If this past week it seemed to big and too much and too many and more than I could imagine doing, and people somehow still felt cared for and felt compassion and knew grace and went home with a little bit more wholeness, and if God showed up and cradled us all in her hands and kept us safe it had little to do with me and everything to do with God. A miracle of grace in every group and pastoral-therapeutic encounter.

I pray for confidence in the coming days that whatever comes thy will will be done. Amen

*Truthfully however, this is a second-line medication, last night all I had the strength for was renting “Mall Cop” and watching it half comatose on the couch.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pray Carpe Diem

You never know in life, this might be my last win as a golfer,” Yang, smiling, said through an interpreter. “But this is a great day. It’s going to be a great foundation for me to continue playing on the PGA Tour. It means the world right now. It hasn’t sunken in, but I do know the significance of it.” New York Times, August, 17, 2009, Y. E. Yang, quoted, Sunday at Hazeltine National after shooting a two-under-par 70 in the final round to win the P.G.A. Championship with a score of eight-under 280.

May we pray this week in gratitude and joy for what we have been allowed to accomplish with the gifts we have been given. May we celebrate the living of these days with gladness and a heart of thanksgiving. And may we be made ever aware of the foundation of mercy and grace upon which our future rests, whatever it may bring. Amen.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It Is A Horrible Thing To Trust

I am frequently slow and dull to the Lord’s prompting despite my hubris which lulls me into the belief that I am somewhat attentive, on some days, to the movements of the Holy Spirit in my heart. Last Sunday’s Psalm 51 invited me to pray with it all week; being especially drawn to verse 8b, “let bones you have crushed rejoice,” “let me hear joy and gladness” (verse 8a).

Dearest Jesus, crush the bones of my anger, they feel hard and stiff within me and provide the framework for so much that I pray the Holy Spirit would remove from me, for my anger separates me from my sisters and brothers, and most especially from you: “For it is against you and you alone that I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (v.4). Crush these bones that I might hear, ever more clearly, your still small voice speaking from the depths of joy and gladness for my soul. Amen.

Today in church I lifted heart and mind with my sisters and brothers in confessing: “Ruler of all, we confess that we have sought to please ourselves instead of glorifying you. We have set aside the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom, and have relied upon our own strength rather than upon your Spirit.

“Forgive our stubborn insistence on doing things our own way, and serving you on our own terms; teach us to seek your kingdom first, and your justice above all else, confident that your care for us is fully trustworthy, and hear our prayers which we offer to you in silence.”

In silence the Spirit prayed: It is a horrible thing to trust your pain to the comfort of God’s love rather than the solace of your own anger.

Yes it is. So much of this journey is not so much about faith, but about learning to live within toward even deeper levels of trust and hope. May the Spirit guide me in the coming days, to seek to comfort and compassion of Jesus for all those pains, real and imagined, which keep me from loving my sisters and brothers as fully as I can. For, dear Jesus, it is only in loving them that I can love you as you love me. Amen.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Jesus Loves You"

"Untitled," Jackson Pollack, 1943. Guggenheim Museum, NY

"Howard" was my patient for many months, many years ago, his name and identifying details have been changed.

Howard came to us when his sister dropped him off at our Behavioral Health Emergency Room. “He’s only been here two days, but he’s dangerous, unpredictable…I’m afraid he’ll hurt my kids,” is what his sister said to the intake worker. Then she left; leaving Howard with us for treatment with only these, the condemnatory benediction of the last member of his family willing to care for him and the clothes on his back.

Howard was twenty–five years old. His wild curly, black hair stuck out all around his head and reached half way down his back. The dirty, unkempt beard on his face was matted and wet; the wetness a result of the constant stream of drool that poured out of his mouth. The steady stream was a side effect of one of the meds he was taking for his schizophrenia. Sadly, for Howard, this med, a sort of drug of last resort for schizophrenia seemed to do little to relieve his suffering, leaving him to contend with this indignity and some other much more dangerous side effects. One more assault to the dignity of a young man for whom such a basic human need was already a rare commodity.

As we came to know Howard slowly over the ensuing months, we learned quickly that his sister’s “diagnosis” was, if not compassionate, correct. Howard was dangerous and unpredictable. When the voices and hallucinations became more than he could tolerate, Howard became violent. He sent two mental health counselors to the ER and broke several chairs and tables before the doctor discovered a combination of medications, which enabled him to control his behavior.

Though they never visited again, Howard’s family did call the unit occasionally. Most often to call was a brother from Arkansas where Howard grew up. It was this brother who, unable to care for Howard himself, had put him on a bus to the sister in the Chicago suburbs. According to his brother, Howard was, “scaring the neighbors” and had to be sent away before the neighbors turned violently against Howard. It was from this brother that we learned more about Howard’s story.

Howard was diagnosed with learning and emotional disabilities in grade school. He was always in special classes, according to his brother. Because of this, he had difficulty fitting in with the other children at school and, though he tried very hard to make friends, never found them.

By junior high the other kids, especially the boys, loved to taunt Howard. They would pretend to be his friend only to take advantage of him. As they grew older the taunting became more physical, with school yard beatings a daily occurrence. By high school the other boys were feeding Howard hallucinogenic drugs so they could watch “the retard go crazy.” Sadly, all the while, Howard sought only their friendship. In those days, Howard was the victim of the ignorant violence.

By the time we came to know Howard, it was impossible to tell mental illness and disabilities from the brain damage that resulted from the repeated head traumas of the beatings he sustained at the hands of others and his long-term use of hallucinogenic drugs which he became addicted to by those same hands.

Once his behavior was under control, Howard was integrated into the unit milieu which was dedicated to treating people struggling with psychotic illnesses. A part of that treatment included daily participation the in Spirituality Groups I led. These groups focused not so much on great spiritual or theological truths, but rather more on enhancing the patient’s self-esteem, encouraging patients to value themselves and their miraculous abilities to live in hope that treatment would bring them relief. We would focus too on the courage they manifested daily vis-à-vis their years of suffering and anguish, from both their diseases and our meager and often harrowing attempts at ameliorating their pain.

Howard came to Spirituality Group, day after day, and I wondered how much of the group content he was taking in. Whenever it came to be Howard’s turn, he would sit and stare seemingly unhearing, with that at once pained and flat, preoccupied look schizophrenics often have on their faces. Or he would answer in his own uniquely disorganized speech, which seemed to combine elements of what is termed clanging and word salad: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so, I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which it stands, ABCDEFGHIJ, I love to tell the story of Jesus and his glory…”

Clearly, from these nonsense sentences, Howard had been “churched” by someone at some time in his life. But it was impossible to tell just what that meant for him. And I anguished over how to respond to him. For me, the most important part of the group experience was being able to offer a place where the patients could feel, if only for a moment, valued in their humanity; a place where maybe, in that moment, we could glimpse together the beauty of their inherent dignity before God. That, I think can do more for healing than any group program or content. If Howard had had an experience in church that in any way resembled his school experiences, I was hesitant to affirm his religious ramblings. On the other hand, Howard kept coming back to the group. Group was not mandatory, but was offered and strongly encouraged, as were all groups, every day.

One day, with much fear and trembling , I responded to him, “Howard, Jesus loves you.” The bottom dropped out of my stomach as I held my breath waiting for some pained or angered response. None came. In fact his affect never changed. I tried it again the next day, “Howard, Jesus loves you.” Still no change in affect and Howard kept coming back to group. This soon became our day ritual in Spirituality Group.

1:1’s followed a similar pattern. Howard would seek me on the unit and approach me to talk. His sense of social distance for discourse was about six inches from my nose, so every encounter began with my reminding him that I needed my space while gently placing my arm around him and establishing an appropriate distance by turning us both slightly sideways. Sometimes in our 1:1’s there was silence between us and at others he would talk a blue streak in that distinct style of his, “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so, I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which it stands, ABCDEFGHIJ, I love to tell the story of Jesus and his glory…” Always I would respond, “Howard, Jesus loves you.”

Howard was hospitalized with us for about six months before he was transferred to the State Hospital. Not long before his transfer, Howard stopped me in the hall one day, again establishing himself no more than six inches from my nose. As I put my arm around him to establish a more appropriate distance between us, I noticed something different about Howard. In that moment he was standing straighter, his face no longer bore that pained-flat, preoccupied schizophrenic affect and the flow of drool had stopped. Howard gently reached out and touched my shoulder, looked me square in the eye and said, “Bless you.” Then he turned and walked away.

I wanted to cry. To beg Jesus to cast his demons into swine that would hurl themselves out our third floor unit windows*. When I regained my composure, I looked to Howard who was then sitting in his favorite chair by the nursing station. The flow of drool had returned, as had the pained-flat, preoccupied schizophrenic affect. Howard was once again as he had been. I would never be in this ministry in quite the same way again.

*Mark 5:1- 13

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome, some day.

Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.

We'll walk hand in hand,
We'll walk hand in hand,
We'll walk hand in hand, some day.

Oh, deep in my heart,

We shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace,
We shall live in peace, some day.

Oh, deep in my heart,

We shall all be free,
We shall all be free,
We shall all be free, some day.

Oh, deep in my heart,

We are not afraid,
We are not afraid,
We are not afraid, TODAY

Oh, deep in my heart,

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome, some day.

Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.

Joan Baez, the 8th performer on the first day of the concert. Her rendition of the iconic, “We Shall Overcome” was the anthem which carried the, estimated, 400,000 in attendance over until the next morning.

May we pray from our deepest hearts this week for the assurance that we can overcome: overcome our deepest worries and fears, struggles and trials, and in so doing find the lives of peace and true freedom for which our hearts so long. May we pray deep in our hearts to take the hands and walk toward these lives with our families and friends, and all those who come to us seeking our care. Amen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Seeking the Divine in our Humanity

“Self Portrait,” Leonardo daVinci, c. 1512

A person cannot approach the divine by reaching beyond the human. To become human, is what this individual person, has been created for. Martin Buber, February 8, 1878 – June 13, 1965. Austrian-born Jewish Philosopher.

May we come in prayer this week, reaching for the depths of our humanity as we seek the heart of the divine. In so doing, may we come to know better ourselves at our most human finding within us the heart of the divine; for it is only in so doing that we can reach out to our sisters and brothers who come to us for care with the heart of our common humanity. Amen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Praying in the "Dog Days"

Basset Hound, Clairion and Foxhound, Quasimodo
Kalaway Cup Polo 2007
Photo Credit: Connie Sonnenberg, Art by Connie

“People's dreams are made out of what they do all day. The same way a dog that runs after rabbits will dream of rabbits. It's what you do that makes your soul, not the other way around.”
Barbara Kingsolver, author

In these “dog days” of summer, may we find a place of comfort to relax and offer in prayer all that we do which makes up our lives. May we pray to find there the deepest longings of our souls and, the, as yet, undreamed dreams of that which our souls long to do. Amen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Introducing God

A thoughtful post on the blog Liberation Lutheran Theology, tells the delicate story of the Lutheran author’s yoga teacher introducing her to the Gods and Goddesses of her Hindu faith in their shrines in a space adjacent the place of yoga practice. The post goes on to explore how its author might introduce “the God I worship” to someone from another culture, someone as unfamiliar with Christianity in the cultural setting of 21st Century America as she with Hinduism. The author concludes: “If I said, ‘Come meet my God,’ where would we go? To my church? Perhaps. To some spot in nature? Perhaps. To the downtown church, when my suburban church brings dinner to the homeless and stays for chapel? I'd probably start with that option and work out from there.”

I think her’s is a fine starting point, one at which many of us who might consider ourselves “thoughtful, progressive mainline-Protestants” begin. But, as I too consider this most thought provoking question—how I might introduce the God who invites me, and us all, into deeper and more intimate relationship with each passing day, to one who is completely estranged from him —I think I might chose another starting point. I think it might be a good introduction to have the person join me as I sit with family members of patients who are dying doing not much of anything but sharing in their sorrow and their grief. Or have them present as I struggle to hold the holy words a young woman uses to describe her experiences of sexual abuse for the first time to another living soul. Or even bring them along to a group therapy session where I sit and wait and pray on Something bigger than myself to once again weave sacred strands into a compassionate container for the holding of the shattered fragments of the broken lives gathered there in search of hope.

The God I would introduce them to meets me in the Christ event, in the broken lives of people and in the brokenness of my own life. This is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Borrowing from Moltmann (The Crucified God), “this is God, and God is like this” I would say; the suffering, betrayed, abandoned, convicted God; never more glorious and powerful and divine than he is in his humiliation, self-surrender, helplessness, at the most dehumanizing moments of his humanity. This is my God crucified hanging there, God on the cross, the risen Christ. Here is the depth of the love of his entire being for us, come closer to us than we come even to ourselves.Here is the love which changed the history of the world and here is the love which can change our personal history too, if we would only accept the invitation.

How would you introduce "your God"? Amen.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Turn Towards the Heavens in Prayer

“That's One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind"

Neil Armstrong, Commander, Apollo 11, first human being to set foot on another world, July 20, 1969.

May we turn towards the heavens in prayer this week. May we pray that our next small step, fulfills the deepest potentials of our hearts and minds and souls. And may we pray that with every step we take we increase in compassion, wisdom and loving kindness for our sisters and brothers come as patients, as neighbors, and as fellow travelers throughout space in this our common world. Amen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thinking about Jesse and the Children

"Yesus Memberkati Anak-anak," Artist: Komang Wahu,Indonesia

Tuesday I attended the Illinois Faith-Based Emergency Preparedness Initiative sponsored by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Broadcast Minster’s Alliance of Chicago, Inc. Speakers of note were the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Carl C. Bell, MD, Dir. Of the Institute for Juvenile Research and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health at University of Illinois at Chicago.

Rev. Jackson caught my attention my final year at college his Operation PUSH was encouraging reading and studying among inner city youth as a step towards changing their lives. My four years at Converse College in Spartanburg SC had so changed the direction of my life that all I could think when I read about what he was doing was, “yes, of course, open their minds and they might be able to change their lives!” Later, in seminary, I had a chance to work more closely with Rev. Jackson’s vision when I worked for Harold Washington’s mayoral challenge to the Daley Machine out of PUSH headquarters. Mostly, I registered voters and must have done a fairly good job of it as I had my own right to vote challenged three times—for voter registrations to be legal the person doing the registering must be a legally registered voter. With each challenge, I had to present myself at the Board of Election Commissioners with attorneys supplied by the campaign and proof of my legal residence so that the voters I registered would be legally registered. I also pole watched for Mayor Washington on Election Day.

Rev. Jackson caught my attention yesterday when he talked about the normalization of trauma in the lives of our children. He told a chilling story of a drive by shooting at a school across the street from the PUSH headquarters. The children all dove for cover and then went back to playing like nothing happened. The threat to their young lives all too familiar an occurrence. I got to thinking about the children from our local high school who have died at their own hands lately. I do not think that the normalization of trauma in the lives of our children is an experience limited to children who suffer at the threat of urban gang and drug violence.

Children who live in highly affluent areas like ours are victims of normalized violence as well. It is harder to recognize and easier to minimize but it exists none the less. Many of our children dive for cover from emotional violence just as deftly as those who dive from bullets and they too then go on about the normal business of their childhoods.

The thing that makes me so very sad is that we ignore the children of color in the city because they are children of color of the urban poor and we ignore the children of privilege in affluent suburbs because they are affluent children of the privileged. We ignore our traumatized, hurting children all the while extolling our cultural commitment to family which seems often timed to me to skirt the boarders of idolatry. As we ignore our children they seek their own solace. They seek solace in gangs, sex, drugs, alcohol, violence, and they seek it in taking their own lives.

Jesus asks us to let them come to him and not to hinder them (Luke 18:15-17). Yet, in our ignorance we do. In ignoring the culture of trauma in which they are forced to somehow, daily, make normal regular threats against their physical and emotional wellbeing, we hinder them, daily, from encounter at the points of their deepest needs with the welcoming safety of Jesus’ healing embrace of their weary and hurting souls.

Please, Jesus, do not let us hinder your children from drawing near to you. Open our eyes, and hearts and minds to the needs of the gentle, tender, hurting souls we are trusted to keep in your name. Amen.

Prayer for Hope, Faith & Love

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our life time; therefore we must be saved by hope.

“Nothing that is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

“Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.” Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

If, in the coming days, we begin to feel that what we are doing makes little difference, may we pray for hope and a heart that is content with the long view; when we have difficulty seeing the truth or beauty or good in our lives, may we pray for theses and for the faith to believe that we are always a part of something Bigger than that which we can see; and may we pray for the reassurance that in all we do we are never alone: may we pray to know that we are loved. Amen

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Same Geek Different Outfit: The Codex Sinaiticus is Now Online

When I was a kid, long before computers, one of my dad’s favorite hobbies, especially after heart disease ended his golf “career”, was accounting. He owned a multinational manufacturing company, and thought I know he employed bookkeepers, accountants and financial officers to do this for him; he liked to keep books himself. So he did on large, long sheets of impossibly fine lined ledger paper. He loved it. It always made my eyes role back in my head and my insides go numb when he dragged the stuff out. He did it often. You would never catch me dead doing that. In the thirty-plus years since his death it is one of my strongest memories of him.

Despite the strong association, you won’t ever catch me dead doing that. What can catch me doing is reading about things religious or philosophy or psychology. I need to read in these areas for a living but I also read them in my spare time too, like for a hobby. Humm… not unlike keeping books for your own company in your free time.… Same geek, different outfit.

This week geekdom for me seems to have reached a level unimagined by my dad who never even saw a computer to my knowledge: The Codex Sinaiticus is available online.

According to the website: “Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript – the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity – is of supreme importance for the history of the book.”

I entered the site, it’s quite intuitive. I got chills; it is truly amazing to be looking at this manuscript—not at a copy—so foundational to the faith. I poked about a bit and came to Galatians, “Bear the griefs of one another, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2). Isn’t that what Christ is doing in these moments as I marvel not only at this document, but also at how, in doing so I am like my dad. Somehow across time and space, continents and technology Christ leads me tenderly to a place in memory and in heart where this piece of my father, dead for so long, lives within me. Such is the power of the resurrection. In turn, I will know the grace of sitting with others as they grieve and holding theirs on tender hope that time and space, continents and technology, memory and heart will fulfill the law of Christ within them as well. Amen.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Surrendering to Perfect Our Love

The most important thing I have read in the past two or so years is this: “For until we love God perfectly, His world is full of contradiction. The things He has created attract us to him and yet keep us away from Him. They draw us on and they stop us dead. We find Him in them to some extent and then we don’t find him in them at all…. In stead of worshiping God through His creation, we are always trying to worship ourselves by means of creatures. But to worship our false selves is to worship nothing. And the worship of nothing is hell,” (Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation).

There are so many things in which I have desired know Him, so many places I have looked for Him. All those things are gone, lost to me, and the places, too, are vanished from my sight. And for so long to lose so much seemed assurance of such forsakenness that I could not comprehend. “Why have You forsaken me?” in every place I have gone looking for You.

But it is I who has forsaken Him. Isn’t that the promise of the Cross and its victory over death and sorrow, suffering and pain. It is I who am only now finding the courage to trust what is offered. It is precisely in forsakenness that I will find Him. Such is the depth of His compassion, to choose freely to meet us at the point of our deepest need for Him. All we need to do is to ask His grace to choose freely to forsake our desperate searching and yearning for all that is lost and to draw closer in surrender to our perfect love for Him. Amen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Humble Beauty

The Climbing Path L’Hemitage, Pontoise, 1875.

“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.”
Camille Pissarro, July 10, 1830 – Autumn 1903.

May our hearts of prayer come this week seeking beauty in the most humble places finding there the beauty of humility. Amen.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Gift Named Wanda

"Old Woman Sitting," Rembrant

Thirty-six Roman Catholic patients received communion from Wanda whose tortoise skin hangs lose over a right mandible clearly misshapen. Cancer of the tongue spread to the jaw. Saving her life meant disfiguring her appearance and her speech. It has taken me years to train myself to understand her; even now, I smile and nod, not infrequently, through my miscomprehension. She keeps Jesus in her pocket (in a pyxis, of course), that smells faintly like mothballs and is light coated with cat hair. Wanda brings me cat toys for my cat and homemade pie and rabbit cakes at Easter, religious costume jewelry from old, dead nuns and worn prayer cards to dead saints I have never heard of. Wanda tells how she does not believe in gossiping and then proceeds to for far too long. And she tells me about what a bad patient her husband Joe is since his stroke; she herself has been a patient through enough surgery and chemo and radiation and rehabilitation to know a good patient when she sees one. Joe is not. But he is a man she says, he cannot help it. She loves him as he is. She loves me.

I try to make a point of sitting in the office when she volunteers to bring Roman Catholic communion the first three Fridays of every month so that I can listen as she talks to me. She seems to need someone to listen. On the forth, she drives to her childhood home parish, St. Boleslaw’s, or the like, bringing Jesus to the elderly homebound there who speak only Polish. I wonder if their ears, perhaps a bit more muted, but certainly more patient then mine can understand her better in her parent’s tongue. I imagine they do not care so much. They are grateful for her companionship, for the familiar guttural cadences of their youth, for presence, for the Jesus that she brings.

Lately, it seems as though Wanda’s walk is becoming misshapen too. Her gait lists to and fro; every step a seeming victory over pain. After serving thirty-six patients she seems exhausted. I invite her to sit in the other office chair used by my colleague for our talk. Always, the talk. There is her neighbor who she dose not care for but wants to help but who will not let her help… Joe has been particularly difficult not following doctor’s orders. We drift, for the first time, into stories of the other young men who wanted to marry her before she met Joe. There were two of them during World War II. One turned out to have a drinking problem and a violent streak. She left him at the first hint of danger. The other, even his mother thought would turn out to be no good. She told Wanda so and begged her not waste her life on him. She was smart, she did not. Then she met Joe. He was a keeper. “But,” she continued, “it turned out I couldn’t have any children, the fibroids,” whispering and pointing to locus of her shame.

Wanda really never wanted to get married, she confides. She was smart in school and wanted to be a doctor to heal people. She thought her mother secretly encouraged her. Her father, though, would hear nothing of it. To have a good life in this good new country of theirs his daughter needed a husband. “But I’m smart,” she told me, “I would have been a good doctor. I care about people. ”

My colleague has been waiting impatiently for his chair to do his charting. I want to listen further to her stories. She is growing older and frailer and more misshapen by the day. She knows what is coming. She is hard to understand. People have a hard time listening. She is smart. She has no children’s children to leave her stories with. I am honored. She loves me. Jesus is not in her pocket.