Archive | November 2012

When Feet Swell

This morning I read the lectionary pages for the day and was struck by one verse. The book Nehemiah is subtitled in my devotional Bible as “Remember Who You Are.” In this book are stories that remind the people that we are called to be partners with God. The line that drew my attention was verse 21 from chapter 9. Here it is. “Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.” The sidebar commentary on this chapter also focused on that verse and in particular, the part about feet not swelling. God, cares about the big picture, like providing clouds and fire to show the people the way and also about the small and painful details like swollen and blistered feet.

As I read the verse and the commentary I thought about how painful swollen feet are and how hard it would be to walk any distance at all, and I was grateful for my own healthy feet and good shoes and my ability to walk everywhere in the village of Shelburne Falls where I have recently moved to. I thought also about the many older and disabled people who I have already seen in the village, walking with great difficulty up and down the hills, pushing walkers and sometimes sitting on a stone wall to catch a breathe. I know that it is going to be snowing soon and I wonder now how well the sidewalks will be cleaned and if the struggling walkers will be able to get out at all this winter. I know that God is watching out for them, while at the same time watching me watching them.

And then tonight Dorrie, unaware of my meditations today, showed me a photograph that has gone viral on the internet. It was first published yesterday in the New York Times on-line edition and has now spread across cyberspace. The photo was of a young policeman in Times Square, kneeling down to help a shoeless and homeless man who was sitting on the street with feet not only blistered and swollen but also freezing cold. The police officer had seen the man and felt called to respond (to be God’s partner) by going into a shoe store, buying him a warm pair of shoes and then bending down to help put them on.  The officer said “It was freezing out and you could see the blisters on the man’s feet…I had two pairs of socks and I was still cold.”  He said that this situation was “unacceptable.” For this officer the automatic and natural thing to do was not to walk on by, but to stop and help the man, as our text this morning said, so that the man’s feet would no longer swell.

I do not have to look farther than this photo and this story and this text, to see that God and God’s helpers are still reaching out to save those people who suffer through hard times. And now I can no longer watch the people in my town struggling up and down the streets without knowing that some day, maybe even tomorrow, I will have a chance to put my faith in action. God does care about the details and we are all part of the picture, one day needing help and another day walking into the store and buying a pair of shoes. In another more well read story, the one about the Good Samaritan, Jesus asks, which one was the neighbor? Yesterday, in New York City, the question got answered once again. God is working in partnership with all of us.

All That We Own

This Tuesday I got to participate in an interfaith Thanksgiving service at one of the local churches. The service was very lovely, with a great “pick up” choir that sounded heavenly, prayers from a number of clergy and lay leaders and a message in three voices. One voice was Scripture, another was a reflection from a recent trip to Israel and Palestine and the third was a midrash from a local Jewish story-teller who wove a message from a number of different sources. He hoped, he said, to tie it all together but there was no promise! In fact the whole evening was tied together in a theme of making peace visible in our lives and how gratitude and thanksgiving flows from and through peace making.

One phrase has stayed with me in the days following that service. Our story-teller quoted the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as saying “All that we own, we owe.”  In this season of Thanksgiving we are reminded that everything that we own was given to us, and that we get to give it back. In some real sense, we owe big time because we were given big time. Our very lives, our family history, our genetics, our teachings and sacred words and song, our blessings and our sufferings, our friendships and our struggling relationships, our homes and our health, our passions and our aversions, our loves and everything else that we claim as belonging to us or reflecting on who we are, is what we own.

Lately I have been reflecting less on what I “own” and more on “who owns me?” and this is where I think that Heschel was leading us with “all that we own we owe.” Or at least this is where I am seeing connections this Thanksgiving.  To me this a paradoxical lesson. I believe that the fact that we own anything is because we have been gifted with so much and the giver (whether you call that giver God or Life or the Creator, the Parent or your Savior) gives without expecting a return. What we are given is a gift without a return receipt. We do not have to acknowledge the gift unless we choose and we do not have to “pay back” the favor.  However, it is true that we would not own anything unless we were first given much. So, yes, in a sense we do owe big time. And that owing, even if it is  just our human need to balance out the sheets, helps us to detach from our sense of ownership and instead open our hands to let the blessings flow out as they have flown into our lives.  Yes, all that we own we owe.

Since the Thanksgiving service I looked up the quote from Rabbi Heschel and this is what I found. A wonderful meditation for this time of year. Happy Thanks-giving!

“Endless wonder unlocks an innate sense of indebtedness. Within our awe there is no place for self-assertion. Within our awe we only know that all we own we owe. The world consists, not of things, but of tasks. Wonder is the state of our being asked. The ineffable is a question addressed to us.” ~ from Man Is Not Alone

What Comes To You

Yesterday I listened to a short video of Barbara Brown Taylor talking about suffering (check it out on my Facebook or on the Huffington Post.) During this talk she said that she believes that “What comes to you is for you” and as she also said “That is a faith statement.” At first I was aversive to this idea because it sounded to me that it could be used  (she was not, by the way) as a justification of all kinds of pain and suffering until the rubric of “you deserved it” like the so-called friends in the Book of Job told him and like so many victims of abuse are told. But the more that I thought about the phrase “What comes to you is for  you” the more it resonated with me and the more I heard it echo in small and larger ways in my life and in the lives of people I know. Because really I do not think that any of “deserve it” but I do know that “it” comes to all of us and when it arrives, it is for us to do with as we might.

Here is a small and silly but true story of something/someone coming to me and ending up being for me. About 4.5 years ago now our family decided to get a dog. Our aging standard poodle Ruby had died after a long and bouncy life and our grown daughter was bereft. “We need to get a dog” was the chant for about a year. By the way, I am not really a dog person but over the past 30 years dogs have come into my life. So we searched out another poodle, because Dorrie and I are both allergic to most dogs, and we found Teddy (previously named Rudy but that was too close for comfort so we named him Teddy.) He was 6 months old, had not been trained, but had a sweet personality and like our previous poodle, was “bouncy” but this puppy was bouncy and strong, very strong. Teddy was coming to our home but I was happy to back off and say that he was not coming to me. And then, within days, Dorrie had carpel tunnel surgery on her hand and could not handle a strong and bouncy untrained dog, and Lillian thought he was not at all like old and gentle Ruby so she backed off and I realized that we could send him back or I could step up and take him on. You may guess the end of this story. What came to me ended up being for me. And now he is 5 years old, is still bouncy and strong-minded and not so easy to handle when he is excited and he has just moved up to the parsonage with me. What comes to you is for you.

Of course Barbara Brown Taylor was not talking about dogs landing on the doorstep of  your heart, but about suffering. Suffering comes to all of us, in small amounts for some and in bucket loads for others. We can avoid it but it is a rare person that does not have it come to them. I agree with Taylor that pain and suffering  not only comes to us but is for us because it comes to our door with our name on it and we then we are changed/transformed, by the pain and suffering itself and also by how we address it, cope with it, accept it, or as Taylor says “breathe with it.” When Teddy came to me and I was called into service, it turned out that it was for me, for me to accept and take him on as fully as he needed, or to reject him and to send him packing to the pound.

O God be with me when pain and suffering comes to me. Help me to decipher if it is really for me and if it is, help me to be with it in a way that does not cripple me but that deepens me. Coach me when I do not know the first thing about how to handle this pain and remind me yes, that it may be for me, but that I am not alone in receiving it. Stand with me and strengthen me so that I can recognize what this suffering is leading me to be or to do. What comes to me is for me, but I am not alone in my suffering. This is a faith statement. Amen

Light Up My Darkness

Here I am again obsessing about light and darkness! I guess this is no surprise as we in the Northern Hemisphere at least are heading straight into the longest nights of the year and with the time change now we may wake in the light but before you know it we are surrounded by darkness again.  Sunny days are fewer and farther between so it is gray, gray, gray. No wonder we celebrate Thanksgiving this month. Without the holiday to push us into the gratitude mode I think we would be crying more than counting our blessings. And so we do what we can to bring a little light into our lives. A dear friend told me that she has decided to increase the light in her life by keeping the electric lights going almost day and night or at least to keep a few lights on during the night so that when she wakes in the night she is greeted with light instead of stumbling around in the darkness.

Which reminded me that the point of all this desire to increase the light is not just to keep our spirits from dwindling to nothing but to help us to see more clearly. This morning the reading from the book of Psalms included this small but startling line “It is you who light my lamp, the LORD my God, lights up my darkness.”  Those of us who read the Psalms with the lens of Jesus, often depict Jesus as either being the light himself or of him walking into our lives carrying a lantern, illuminating our world with his words, his actions and his abiding presence, so that we are can see what is right and true and also what we are stumbling over or knocking into. The light brightens our spirits and also helps us to see and to discern. The light, that for me is a Christ Light, is a lens in itself through which I can look through the darkness in my life and see what is ultimately true and beautiful and whole.

What or who lights up your lamp? This is a good a time of year as any to take some time to ask that question and when you find the answer, to call on that lamp lighter and invite that spark into your heart to help you see what is really right and good and true in these dark times.  As the Apostle Paul said in the letter to the Philippians (The Message Translation)  “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

Light up my darkness God when the worst and the ugly things lay all around me and cause me to stumble in the night. Let me see what is really true.