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If you watch the news, it is so easy to get weighed down by all that is wrong and warped in our world. But that’s not what we are going to talk about today.
Today, in celebration of the many wonderful things God has given us, here is a video spliced together from dash camera footage showing people doing often simple things to help each other.
Watch, enjoy and then give thanks that there are people doing simple but generous things for each other.
With today being Pentecost, I’ve been noodling over a post about the Holy Spirit. I wanted to write about how we bring it to those around us, but couldn’t come up with a solid idea until I saw my son in action.
If you are anything like me, it is one thing to forgive someone who has wronged you, but another altogether to forgive someone who has messed with your kid. Let’s just say that I can be a truly impressive Mama Bear.
Friday afternoon, I dropped my son off for a Scouting trip. I was helping load gear when I heard them call out car pools. I was sure I must have heard something wrong, but no. They had put my son in the same car as the boy he’s had so much trouble with. We had talked to the Scout master who had spoken with the other parents, but could I trust that things would be better? Now, I could do something about it, but later it would be completely out of my hands.
My first instinct was to step in and protect. Of course, this would mean labeling the other boy. Undesirable.
Instead of saying something to the Scout master, I decided to feel my son out. He knows me so he knows I have his back. If he wanted me to step in, I would. He held my gaze and looked me in the eye. “It’s been better, Mom. I want to give him a chance.”
He wanted to show Grace.
I had to take a deep breath first, but then I nodded.
We all make mistakes. There are times we are just mean. But when we ask, God gives us a second chance. When we do this with other people, we show them the strength and majesty of the Holy Spirit, the God of second chances.
There have been things in the news lately that make me question my theory that everyone deserves a second chance. I don’t want to put in links to the news stories that I’m referring to because I prefer not to focus on the madness.
It’s not good vs. evil. It’s not us vs. them. It’s hope vs. pain.
During my recent hospital stay, I realized that when you’re in pain, nothing matters but relief.
We may focus so much on the pain that we forget hope even exists.
I think that pain may be preparation for purpose. It may be that what you learn while wounded in the trench is an education in empathy. A crash course in compassion. When the pain is finally lifted, you’re able to share your experience to help someone else on the same path.
This morning, I focused on the pile of bills and the persistent pain in my life, and prayed, quite melodramatically:
Why is this happening, Lord? I cried. Where are You?
Later in the day, I had an appointment with an agency that provides resources for low-vision patients. Two very pleasant ladies showed up at my door; one of them was blind herself, and she tapped the step in front of her with her cane. At first, as with anyone I don’t know, I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to open up to them.
Before I knew it, we were chatting like old friends. As it turns out, they were people of faith too. They shared some of their own struggles and I realized that this was the answer to my morning prayer.
Where are You?
Right here, child.
Wherever two or more are gathered in My Name – even if they’re not talking about religion – I am there in the midst of them. They didn’t have to quote scripture or baptize me with holy water. They encouraged me. They offered me the sacrament of their own experience. They listened.
Then my physical therapist came for our weekly appointment. She’s pure positive energy with a knack for healing. No matter where the pain is, she zeroes in on it like a laser beam. I want to say that she massages my foot and leg – that is, if “massage” is French for painful kneading of muscles that results in my muttering expletives at her in French! – but she’s the reason I can walk at all.
So this crew of caring showed up and, even though they aren’t missionaries or pastors, they ministered to me. Even in the face of pain, hope seemed reasonable again.
Angels appear in many forms, and sometimes, they come right to your front door. And they may even bring answers to prayers and unexpected blessings.
That’s it! From now on, I will not use a pronoun to stand in for God. I’ve done it all these years with some discomfort, but I let my affinity for a lovely sentence supersede the need to stop calling God “he” and “him.” Well, no more. I will use God’s name twenty times in one sentence to refer to God if need be. Because, you see, the ramifications are large.
We think nothing of referring to God as “father” and “he.” But every time we do, we reinforce a stereotype. God is not a man. What’s more, the words we use to describe God — “mighty,” “powerful,” “ruler” — then also become words that we associate with being male. And every time we reinforce this stereotype, we tell women and girls that God is not what they are. God is male and thus inaccessible to us. And if this is so, we are not much in the scheme of things. We are what God is not.
And that is just not true. God made us, male and female, in God’s image. Both. What’s more, God has always sided with the underdog — just read the Old Testament or note whom Jesus tends to hang out with in the Gospels. And in a world where animal law still triumphs, and the physically strongest remain on top, women are the underdogs. God stands with us, too.
I’ll let this poem do the rest of my talking.
God is he, is she,
is bigger than both, is better;
belonging to neither but
belonging to all;
pronouns quail at the sound, the sight,
quake at the prospect of naming
that which is unnamable,
quaver at encompassing all that is he (and she) (and both);
too easy our tongues
slot words into genders.
Our language is not built
for one so big.
We are the ones that have to encourage our kids to do things they don’t want to do. Sometimes this means doing their homework. Other times its sitting through the church service when the other kids are outside talking. It may be a service project or simply picking up after themselves.
Sometimes it just doesn’t feel worth it, this thankless, aggravating task. For me, this is especially true when another adult criticizes me for pushing my son instead of just letting him “be a kid.”
But when you see him climbing out of the paper recycling dumpster because an elderly member of the congregation accidentally threw a book out with their newspapers, bussing dishes at the spaghetti supper, or working with one of the younger kids to pack a box of canned-goods, it is definitely worth it.
Raising the next generation is never easy but it is 100% essential if they are going to take on the tasks that God has for us all.
Blessed be the mothers:
the “Mom”s, “Mama”s and “Ma”s,
the “Mommy”s, too, and the “Mum”s.
Those for whom birth was more
than an accident of fate,
but a turn in the road, a job, a call.
Blessed, too, be the godmothers,
the aunties, the “step”s, women who
with open hands mother not from their bodies
but from their hearts.
Where mothers flourish,
let us rejoice.
Where mothers fail,
let us learn to forgive.
Let us mother ourselves,
our own bodies,
with care and with compassion.
Let us be mothers
to the whole, wide world,
a force to halt all evil and cease all want,
but with gentle hand bury
its bashful head
in the comfort of our aprons.
Ask a group of Christians how to serve God and someone invariably brings up Gifts of the Spirit. Gifts of the Spirit are the gifts that God gives us to use in his service – speaking, teaching, hospitality, healing, etc.
Gifts implies that these are things at which we excel. Because we are good at these things, we have no reason to freak out when invited to use them.
Personally, I wish that was so. I’m a good teacher but the only time teaching doesn’t freak me out is when I’m teaching a group of writers. This month I am going to teach a group of middle schoolers about storytelling in nonfiction. I am also going to start team teaching a class on prayer for my church’s adult Sunday school.
I’m a good teacher, but I’d much rather crawl under a rock than take advantage of either of these opportunities. I’m a lot like Moses that way. “God, can’t you find someone else for the job? Take Aaron. He’d love to do it.”
But the fact of the matter is this – sometimes you get sent places you do not want to go. Ask Moses or Noah or Jonah. They were all asked to do things that weren’t easy or fun or comfortable.
Sometimes we are asked to push ourselves in order to help someone else, but I think just as often God is giving us a growth opportunity as well. What am I going to get out of teaching these classes? I’m not sure, but I’m sure there will be something. I just hope I’m not too freaked out to see it coming.
I’d hate for Him to think He needs to repeat the lesson.
In her marvelous book “Entering the Castle: Finding the Inner Path to God and Your Soul’s Purpose” by Caroline Byss, the author discusses how and when we hear God speaking to us. First, she says, one must have one’s spiritual defenses down. That is, we must drop the social and sometimes cynical face we wear in the world and totally immerse ourselves in feeling — which is precisely why so many of us find ourselves thinking of God while looking at nature. You have to get past yourself to hear the voice of God.
Which is precisely the problem with contemplation, whether in prayer, meditation or simple holy quietude. We expect to hear God at these times, but often don’t. Why? We’re ready. We’re open. Shouldn’t God leap at the chance to be listened to?
God is not a TV show: You can’t stream God on demand. God speaks when God wishes to speak, not on our time, but on God’s. Of course we’d like to control the flow of communication. We humans love to control things. You’d think we’d have learned by now that we are quite powerless in the grand scheme of things. For all of our scheming and scrambling, we still die. We still hurt. For all our talismans and superimposed myth-making (lucky numbers! psychic connections!), we know nothing.
Today is the national day of prayer. This year’s theme: Hope. Hope’s a tricky little imp. It’s difficult to keep hold of hope when you can’t hear God, when you’re waiting for a message that has not come. Hope may be the most easily lost commodity on Earth. But that’s what makes it so important, so dear.
Here’s hoping we hear God when God speaks to us. Here’s hoping our defenses are down, that we remain in a constant state of willingness. Because whether God whispers or roars, God always has something to say to us. Prick up your ears! Let’s all pray today for the ability to hear and strength to obey.