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Turns out the Texas shooter abused his wife, his child and various animals. Then there’s the guy who snapped a woman’s neck and gouged out her eyes for daring to reject his marriage proposal. And the ongoing accusations of exploitation and rape by Hollywood power brokers against women and children. Seems like hurting someone smaller and weaker than yourself is so endemic, it’s become part and parcel of ordinary life.

It probably always was, of course. Landowners abused serfs. Queens abused ladies-in-waiting. Children attack smaller children. It’s a jungle out there, folks, in the truest sense of the metaphor: Unless you’re an apex predator, watch out.

If you want to know where God is in all of this, look down, to the smallest and weakest of us. God always stands with the abused, the poor, the people on the fringes. That’s where God lives. Don’t believe me? Read the Sermon on the Mount again. Count the number of times and ways Jesus says that the last will be first, and the first, last. Picture poor Lazarus in paradise while Mr. Dives smolders away for all of eternity. And (at least from what we know), Dives never actively abused Lazarus; he just ignored him. How much greater will the punishment be for those who do mete out abuse?

So what can be done? Must we patiently wait for the next life for justice? Me, I’m going to pray The Litany of Nonviolence, written by the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN. Feel free to add your voice.

Provident God,
aware of our own brokenness,
we ask the gift of courage
to identify how and where we are in need of conversion
in order to live in solidarity with Earth and all creation.

Deliver us from the violence of superiority and disdain.
Grant us the desire, and the humility,
to listen with special care to those
whose experiences and attitudes are different from our own.

Deliver us from the violence of greed and privilege.
Grant us the desire, and the will, to live simply
so others may have their just share of Earth’s resources.

Deliver us from the silence
that gives consent to abuse, war and evil.
Grant us the desire, and the courage,
to risk speaking and acting for the common good.

Deliver us from the violence
of irreverence, exploitation and control.
Grant us the desire, and the strength,
to act responsibly within the cycle of creation.

God of love, mercy and justice,
acknowledging our complicity
in those attitudes, action and words which perpetuate violence,
we beg the grace of a non-violent heart.
Amen.

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It is hard to believe. It has been one year since my father died, a whole year he hasn’t been a part of. He was not there to worry about me when I had pneumonia, as he was the first time it happened, when I was 17. He brought chocolates and books to the hospital, put a warm washcloth on my arm when I complained about the coldness of the IV. He is not here now to joke that my new singing voice (I lost my upper register, it appears, permanently) sounds suspiciously like Ethel Merman’s, who he pretended to love but really loathed, setting up a premise the whole family continues to trade on. (Just ask my brother what his “favorite” movies are and be prepared to cringe.)

I often dream about the dead. These dreams are comforting and cathartic; a colleague who works in hospice thinks I have a gift. Just the other night I dreamed about my friend Tim, who lost his fight with cancer last year, aboard a sailing ship, a spyglass to his eye. He sighted me and waved, yelling out cheerfully, “I’ve got your cat!” (Our Lula Mae, who recently passed, would make a fine ship’s cat; she was clever, agile and always up for adventure.) But I’ve never dreamed about my dad, never got a feeling or message or reassuring “nudge” from the great beyond.

Perhaps we never get over the loss of a parent. My friend Kathleen lost her father during the Vietnam War. She still struggles with it. How much simpler it would be if our loved ones really could communicate with us from heaven! When greedy old Mr. Dives begs God to send a warning to his living relatives so that they will not end up in hell as he has (in the New Testament story of Lazarus the beggar), I feel a trickle of sympathy for him. The living need to know what the dead know. I think, in most cases, it would bring us great joy.

Ah, but that’s where faith comes in, right? Bridging the gap between comfort and discomfort, mourning and solace. Faith may come on instantaneously, but it is slow in its work. Perhaps this is for the best. Like a super-strong glue that does not set quickly, but can be repositioned, faith allows us wiggle room in our healing. It keeps up with us as we pass through the stages of grief, setting up only when we have reached acceptance.

I am not there quite yet. I have accepted my father’s loss, but I am not comfortable with it. Maybe I never will be. But to all of us who are mourning, I say, keep at it. We learn about those we love not just in their presence, but also in their absence.

 

 

Last week, I pondered the appropriate response of someone of faith to death and dying. I received some wonderful advice (especially from Debbie — https://praypower4today.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/dying-to-believe/#comment-357), but I felt I needed to keep searching. And it hit me. Of course we know how a person of faith should face mortality: We have the ultimate role model — Jesus.

Jesus certainly had to deal with death and dying, and from Him we can draw some important lessons that just might serve us well. To wit:

  1. It’s okay to be sad. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus reacted in the most human of ways: He wept. Despite the fact that He, more than anyone on Earth, knew what awaited His friend in the afterlife, He wept. And then He did something else — He raised His friend from the dead. Think about it. It is a response so human, so shortsighted (what if Lazarus was happy on the other side?), so nearly selfish, it tells us everything we need to know about mourning: It’s okay. It’s natural. There is no shame in it, no matter how we express it.
  2. It’s also okay to be scared. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, reflected on His own upcoming torture and death, and He was scared. Terrified, in fact. He knew that in three days He would rise, never to experience pain again, but facing the end of His life, He was rightly afraid. Rightly, because it was going to hurt. It was going to be humiliating and wrenching and terrible. Guess what? You’re allowed to not want to experience those things. You’re allowed to be afraid of dying. Jesus was. And we can hardly be expected to be better, or more enlightened, than He.
  3. A better place is waiting, even if we’re not perfect. I have always derived great comfort from Jesus’ conversation with the thief on the cross next to His. The nameless thief doesn’t renounce his former life or confess all of his sins (which may have been many); he just comments to Christ that while he (the thief) deserves what he’s getting, Jesus does not. And Jesus tells the thief the most reassuring thing in the world: “This day you shall be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 43) How’s that for forgiveness, for generosity, for compassion? There can be no greater thread of hope to cling to than those nine words. Sinner that I am, will God not show me the same regard? Will He not show us all the same regard?
  4. All we have to do is the hardest thing: Believe. When Jesus tells the parable of poor Lazarus (not to be confused with his friend, brother of Martha and Mary) and the rich man, He gives away a most telling clue. The rich man, having neglected to take care of poor Lazarus and having wasted his life on wine, women and song, is relegated to Hell. He attempts one last bid: “I beg of you, send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him testify to them so they will not also come into this place of torments.” (Luke 16: 27-28) But his bid is refused. Nobody gets warning. On the flip side, no one gets (debatable near-death experiences aside) absolute proof from the other side that the other side exists. We have to believe blindly, hope in darkness. That’s the conundrum. That’s what makes it so hard to be human. It is truly the work of a lifetime. But at least we have a role model.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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