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This is one of the pieces that we are singing on Easter Sunday. No, it isn’t us but it is a lovely anthem.
Thank you for the gift of your Son.
Without Him, we would be lost
For we are unable to save ourselves.
Only through Him,
Only through You,
Can we be redeemed.
For this and all you have given us,
We thank you.
On Thursday night, Florissant Presbyterian Church had its annual Maundy Thursday service. Eight members of the choir put on a piece of reader’s theater called “At the Table.” In my mind, it should have been called, the Hope of Christ.
Each of us read a different part, playing a different person who doubted the part that he or she played in the Church of Christ. Can Christ truly use a woman with a past, a man who questions everything and loves to argue, a man who denies Christ when times are dire? Can He?
In each and every case, there was only one answer. Yes. Christ is for you.
Whether you are someone who has made huge mistakes in their life, wishes for less suffering for a loved one, debates and argues, would rather labor than study, or who simply feels that their role is so small it is insignificant, the answer is the same.
Christ is for you.
He isn’t just for the saintly and those who serve him from a throne or an altar. He isn’t just for the learned or the cultured.
When Christ preached, He spoke to the marginalized. The Jews wanted a warrior king, but Blessed are the Peacemakers. I don’t know about you, but I don’t imagine the peacemakers were terribly popular with their fellow Jews.
When Christ healed, He didn’t focus his attentions on the high priests and those who handled the scrolls. He healed women. He healed lepers who were unclean and outcast.
He ate with taxpayers, drank water given to him by a non-Jewish woman, and rode a lowly donkey.
No matter how humble your background and how flawed your life, Christ is for you. Who could hear that and not have hope?
We have rested;
deep resting, Sabbath resting.
On the hill, dawn settles.
Women come with oil, too late.
The wrappings have lately stirred
with life, the stone rolled open.
And like unseen stars,
saved souls ascend to alleluias,
finding, at last, the gates ajar.
What has come is opportunity.
What has come is hope.
The dead stretch and flex in their tombs.
There is no death;
death has been purchased
by a handful of nails, by thorns and blood.
It dies to itself that life might hold sway,
as at last it does.
Our risen Lord, son brighter
than any sun,
has conquered death.
He breathes life into us;
we arise to Easter.
I’ve written about this topic before but I learned something new this week, but first how do you address God in prayer?
Some people love the familiar and call him Papa and even Daddy God. I’ll be the first to admit it. This makes me cringe. Yes, my husband tells that I visibly flinch. It just seems so informal, so personal.
Not that I don’t have a personal relationship with God. I do, but we’re still talking about God.
G-O-D. The Creator of All Things. He of whom nothing greater can be conceived. A little formality seems in order. For goodness sakes, if you don’t believe me, read the Bible (yes, I really do prefer the King James), say the old prayers, sing my favorite hymns (Be Thou My Vision comes to mind).
Now imagine my surprise this week as I was finishing up Karen Cushman’s Alchemy and Meggy Swann. I listened to the audio version and was crocheting away as the author’s note was read. Cushman is an amazing researcher and she had her work cut out for her. This book is set in Elizabethan England. Cushman explained that, in spite of how people would have spoken to each other, she chose to go with one second person personal pronoun. It would simply be confusing to switch between you and the less formal Thou.
Yep. Less formal Thou.
Cushman explained that, although we now think of thou as formal, it was actually the less formal form. It was used in the King James Bible because, after all, the whole point was to bring the Bible and God closer to the people.
What we now consider formal and old-fashioned was actually chosen for its informality. Talk about irony.
I guess it all comes down to this – use what you are most comfortable with and whatever brings you individually closer to the Creator.
I swear I’ve had the following conversation with myself:
Me: I am going to eat all of the [insert food, such as cookies, cake, pie, leftovers]!
Myself: Oh no, don’t do that.
Me: Why not? I MADE IT. So by rights, I should get to eat as much as I want to.
Myself: Think of your husband! Think of your waistline!
Me (Already chewing): Shut up, you goody-good.
Myself: You shut up. And give me some of that pie.
It’s symptomatic of a realization I had recently: We hang on to sins not because we want to be bad, but because we find them somehow comforting. Gluttony feels a lot like self-nurturing. (For some people, starving works the same way.) Lying feels like self-protection. Jealousy strokes one’s own ego. (“You’re right. It isn’t fair that she has money and you don’t. Who does she think she is?”) Wallowing in hatred and surrounding ourselves with like-minded people keeps us from having to face the fact that we might be wrong, or worse, bad people.
In St. Augustine’s Confessions, he makes a startling admission. He sinned because he loved his sins. That sounds shocking, wicked even. But when you think about it, we all love our own sins. Why else would we keep doing them? We all do whatever works for us in order to get through life. A lot of those things are sinful, even self-destructive. But we do them because we don’t know better. Or we don’t trust better. Or we just don’t want to change.
In many ways, we’re all just grown-up toddlers. We feed our inner needs for love, attention, happiness and acceptance in the most basic, crude ways possible. A toddler doesn’t consider long-term ramifications; she wants the cookie, so she steals the cookie. You’d think we’d grow out of that kind of thinking, yet inside of us that “inner toddler,” that child that knows only selfishness, continues to thrive, deep in the most hidden parts of us.
So how do we turn off the insistent voice of our inner toddler? How do we get past sins that feel good on some primal level? I have no authoritative answer. I suppose it involves healing our toddler-selves in ways other than those that are clearly bad for us. I bet it also involves deep self-examination, discerning what our real needs are and how they might be met in more constructive ways.
Or you could go the “cold water in the face” route by remembering this: Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice — His life — for our sins. Not just for the biggies like murder, but the little sins, too. And yes, that includes eating entire pies. Put in those terms, any inner toddler would feel shame. And shame can be a catalyst for change, one of the oldest and most basic of all catalysts, in fact.
Granted, none of us is ever going to achieve sin-free perfection. That cranky inner voice will continue to triumph in ways big and small. But maybe we can rein it in a bit simply by being aware of it. After all, toddler tantrums and crow’s feet don’t exactly go well together. Someone has to be the adult.
“Very good care…” this was the hospital motto, and it was written on a whiteboard on the wall in each patient’s room. They’d marker in the name of the nurse and aide on shift, changing the date so you’d know what the heck day of the week it was.
When you’re inert in a hospital bed, your mind wanders. Wonder why they couldn’t have aimed a little bit higher with that motto, I said to myself. Why not excellent care? Exceptional care? But just very good? Feh.
On the few channels available on the tiny t.v., I saw an ad for another hospital, and they had the even lower-aiming motto: “Where life continues.” Sheesh! Hope so.
I’d come in five days earlier for an exacerbation of multiple sclerosis, and I was ready to go home. Steroid infusions, pain shots, testing, being poked and prodded had somehow lost its luster, and it was clear from the set of my face as the doctor came in. “So I get the idea you want to head on out?” I nodded. “Do you feel better enough to leave?”
I thought this was a subjective question. Almost an existential question. Hospitals are where you’re sick. Home is where you heal. Sure, I didn’t feel like gangbusters, but I felt that they’d given me everything they could here to shore me up, and now, if I had my druthers, I’d take my meds home to hibernate and recuperate.
So I went home on crutches with my medications and various physical therapy aids to strengthen my hands and feet, and I relaxed right away.
Looking back, I had pushed too hard when I wasn’t feeling well, and then one day, I was struggling with a small copywriting project. I went to the kitchen where my son was getting a snack, and he looked at me and said, “Ma, what’s wrong?” I said I had to get three more records done and then I could rest. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “No, Ma. Now. You need to lie down.” He took me by the shoulders and guided me down the hall to my room and I realized I was in bad shape. I called the doctor that day and she sent me to the ER.
Prior to this episode, my prayers had a feverish tone at times. I’d say, “Please take care of this pile of bills!” or “We need a miracle for this situation!” But now, I’ve seen the sliding scale of blessings that come in under the radar, and I know healing comes from hope and holding on, not from angst and desperation. Those prayers are really clenched fists – You must! Help now! No time left! – not hands clasped toward Heaven in serene anticipation. It sounds more like a high-pressure Ginsu knife salesman than a faithful child of God.
This is how I pray now: “If You say I can, I will.” While of course, I don’t speak for the Maker of all Things, I believe He replied, “Deal.” Sometimes I feel He’s from Jersey, just like me.
I didn’t think I’d have sensation back in my feet as before, and then I walked into the wall, muttered in French and realized, “Hey! That hurt!” And if it hurts, I can feel my feet. I’ll take it!
The first night I slept in my own bed, I started to feel warmth on the bottom of one foot. The next day, the other one. They’d been numb during my stay in the hospital. I’ll take it! The next day, I felt pins and needles in my lips, and my smile started to come back. I’ll take it!
Every day is another grace, a new small healing the world doesn’t know about and the hospital didn’t document in their records. Each time they would give me a shot in the hospital, they’d scan my wristband. At first I thought it was to ensure patient safety, but the nurse aide chuckled and said, “No, it’s to charge you.”
I’ve seen increments of joy like family and friends checking in to see if I need a ride to the doctor or a Slurpee from the 7-11. I’ve seen my son show me how much he’s grown up and how solid his character really is, as he takes care of things I normally do so that I have time to heal. I’ll take it all.
So while I’m still hinky around the edges, I’m working my way back to wholeness. The good thing about being home in the care of the greatest healer of all is that the benefits include peace of mind, comfort through the pain, and the promise of better days. All at no charge. Now that’s what I call a divine deal.
I’ve been noodling over a picture book project about prayer for a long time now. Yesterday, I finally started actually writing it.
One of the things that I discovered are prayer trees. The image in the video below is a Buddhist prayer tree at a Tibetan monastery in Scotland.
Certain Siberian cultures also include prayer trees and there is a prayer tree grove in Trossachs, Scotland.
Each ribbon on the tree represents a prayer. Some are prayers for peace. Others are prayers for healing. Some ribbons were put there by someone praying for their own needs while still others are hung by those praying for others.
A prayer tree is a form of neighborhood outreach. It invites community prayer in a gentle, non-threatening way. You don’t have to come in. Just stop and hang and ribbon. Your prayer is important and it is heard.
Fluttering in the breeze, the ribbons are a visual reminder. We are here and we are praying, they whisper.
Simple and beautiful and so very true.
On our weekly radio show (www.blogtalkradio.com/prayables), my friend Alice and I discussed daily spiritual practices, using Jasper Fforde’s very funny book “The Woman Who Died A Lot” as a model. In the book, a single faith has gone global, uniting everyone. Among their faith practices are a set of “Bastions;” the church recommends each person practice four a day. Among them are “Pause and Consider” and “Moment of Levity.” Taking time to think and to laugh — pretty sound advice for healthy living, whether you’re a person of faith or not.
What are your daily faith rituals? What keeps your spirit in tip-top shape? It’s an intriguing consideration. Alice’s offering was “Breathe.” That is, pay attention to your breathing, allow yourself to consider the wonder of it, slow down, be in tune with your body…all these things. It’s a practice that those who do yoga know well. This “slowing down” time offers a good opportunity for prayer and reflection, too.
My ideas for good faith practices were: prayer, silence, time alone, time together (accompanied, as Alice rightly pointed out, by human touch, essential especially for children and the elderly), a moment of appreciation, an instance of forgiveness and a period of “giving over” — divesting yourself of whatever plagues you, be it anxiety, depression, anger, envy, whatever it is that’s getting in the way of you being freely you.
I came up with these practices as part of the show we were doing. It was only after the show that it struck me: Why wasn’t I actually doing these things? Why not add these supplements, as part of a good faith diet, so to speak? Funny how revelation can sneak up on a person. It had never occurred to me that there might be tenets just as conducive to my faith life as exercise, good food and sleep are to my physical life. Tenets beyond what is prescribed by my church or by scripture — tenets that are personal, that I need in order to tackle the bigger things.
So now I’m all in. I’m making a list of things that keep my spirit happy and healthy, and I’m bound and determined to indulge in them daily. Furthermore, I’m advising you to do the same. Make a list of good faith practices, things that bring you joy, center your being, and help you function as a person of faith. Then take as directed, daily. And feel free to share them. You never know when you might bring healing to someone else, too.