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.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Ah-h-h-h! of Prayer

“Everybody prays whether [you think] of it as praying or not. The odd silence you fall into when something very beautiful is happening or something very good or very bad. The ah-h-h-h! that sometimes floats up out of you as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the sky-rocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else's pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else's joy. Whatever words or sounds you use for sighing with over your own life. These are all prayers in their way. These are all spoken not just to yourself but to something even more familiar than yourself and even stranger than the world.” The Rev. Frederick Buechner.

May we come this week seeking that which is more familiar than ourselves and more strange than the world. May we come in sighs too deep for words and with hearts filled with joy and pain for the hearts which are held by our own. May we be filled with ah-h-h! and lose our selves in the odd silence. May we pray the daily-ness of our living and the living of the lives we love. Amen.