Tag Archive | spirituality

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.

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Fractured and Healing

Last week my wife Dorrie was working on some household project and she smashed her finger while hammering. It hurt like the dickens and even though she was quick to put it in cold water and bandaged it up, the pain continued for days. Finally she went to the doctor and got it xrayed. The doctor told her that it had been fractured in at least 5 places.  This is “so Dorrie” – a nurse practitioner who hesitates to call in the medical folk and a strong woman who is known by our grandchildren as the Grandma who fixes things. I am just Nana.

Of course the grandchildren themselves were very upset to see Grandma with a bandaged finger and to know that she was still in pain, this many days later. Dylan, who is now 8 years old, went straight to the center of concern when he asked “how long will it take to heal?” Clearly he knew that Grandma might not be able to fix herself, but that she would heal and that it would take time. But how much time before she was back to normal and could again hammer without hesitation? “How long O God, how long?” asks the 8 year old psalmist.

And so, Nana who does not fix things, but who thinks about things, has been meditating on this experience in our family. I too have been wondering about fractured fingers and an undefined length of healing time. What struck me most about this situation is Dylan’s confidence that healing does happen. Neither he, nor we, knew the when or really the how of the healing but he was confident that healing would happen. After all, Grandma fixes everything so Grandma, at some time in the future, would be fixed herself.

Fracturing happens all the time. We fracture our digits and our limbs. We fracture our families. We fracture our close relationships. Our churches fracture apart even when the prayer tattooed on our foreheads is “that they may all be one.” For everything that is at one time whole, there is a good possibility of fracturing, and a good possibility of healing.

As a Nana and a Christian minister I trust deeply that fractures can be healed and made whole. My faith is built on a God whose calling was and is, to bring together what has been sundered. I remember clearly a sermon that my minister preached close to 20 years ago. Reverend Victoria Safford spoke about the way that a cup (and I imagined it to be a fine bone china tea cup) a cup can so easily shatter when it is even gently knocked about. But the cup, she said, could be mended and the places where it was  mended would be stronger. By extension, she was saying that by going through the process of allowing ourselves to be mended we may grow stronger. I am not saying that fracturing is a good thing, but that it is a common thing and a thing that has hope attached to it. We may be less perfect, and even less beautiful, but not less functional. Healing can take a long time but if a finger, a person, a community, or a church, is willing to submit to the grace and the work of reconciliation, a fracture can become a solid, functional and even stronger creation.

How long God, how long? Thanks be to God.

What Is Important Here?

Being an “on call” Nana gives me lots of experience in having to be both a responsible teacher of safety and morals and at the same time to be someone who is learning to suspend judgment. I know that I am not alone in this place.  Parenting and grand parenting lends itself to such stretching and blending of disparate roles. Last week my 3 year old granddaughter and I were swimming at our local pond and we met up with a youngish mother and daughter. Here we were, lifeguarding adults, watching out for the safety of the children while also reveling in their utter joy at playing freely in the water. Sadly for us and for the kids, our grown up judgmental voices trumped our happy and proud voices. Can you hear us?  “Don’t go out any farther!” “Don’t throw stones!” “Get out of the water, your lips are blue!” The young mother turned to me and said “I find myself saying No all the time. I can’t stand it anymore.”  Clearly she was looking for some advice from Nana, the way that I so often looked for advice from my mother. I said that one of the most helpful things that my mother taught me was to ask myself “What is important here?”

Safety is totally important. Teaching children to not hurt other people by accidentally or on purpose throwing rocks at them is important. I guess that learning to come out of the water when you are covered in goose bumps and your teeth are chattering is important too, but maybe not as important as having fun on a summer day in the pond with a new friend, both of you just learning to swim. What is important here and when should we be sitting in the judgment seat?

Lately I have been asking myself another question “Am I right and should my judgment prevail?” This is a question that I ask not only when I am with the children but throughout the week. I have been reading a delightful book called 12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth: A Path of Healing from the Gospels. In this book E. Kent Rogers looks closely at 12 stories of healing in the Gospels and finds within them lessons for our own spiritual growth and healing. In one of the stories (healing the man who was blind from birth) Rogers talks about this being a story about healing from the human sin of blaming.  On meeting the blind man the disciples asked Jesus who sinned, this man or his parents, since he was born blind? Jesus responded that no one was to blame. “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed to him.” Now days we do not usually blame people for their infirmities, but we do blame people for what we think that they should be or should have done or not done.  We think that we are wiser or more ethical that the folks around us. And what happens then is that we distance ourselves from “the other” and such distancing is the foundation of sin. Rogers says “Every time we look at another human being with even a shred of disdain or contempt we have passed a false judgment….We cannot afford even the slightest judgmental attitude if we want to be right with God, or if we want to see life as it truly is.”

Of course that is all easier said than done, which means that if we get on this path we are going to be working hard and opening ourselves to blessings that we cannot yet imagine. To not automatically assume that we are right, and to refrain from being the judge, opens us to new insights; about ourselves, other people, and God. Yes, for sure there is much that we should be raising our voice against; violence, prejudice, and outright hatred for starters. But even when we do stand up against such violations we should first check the log in our own eye, or as The Message translates this Jesus saying “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.”

Here is a poem I read this week that speaks to the same issue. It is called The Place Where We Are Right. The poet is the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. Imagine Amichai reading this poem in the middle of the relentless blaming and violence of the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
Doubts and love dig up the world, like a mole, a plow. And when our world is thoroughly dug up we have the chance for planting and harvesting a new crop.  May I unite my doubts about my judgments with the love of my teacher Jesus, into every situation. Maybe it will turn out that in fact I am right but maybe not. Standing in that open place I am more likely to hear a whisper from the One who sits, not in the judgment seat, but in the mercy seat. I am sure that I will still be shouting to the grand children if they are running into a dangerous situation, but I hope that more often than not, I will stand by them, and everyone else, with more love and less shouting, more trust, and less need to blame or control. Really, what is important here?

A Well Deep Inside

For me, the summer is usually a time of rest, relaxation and joy. Being outdoors day in and day out restores my spirit after the long winter and tenuous spring. I have been blessed to have more “free time” in the summer and to be surrounded by beautiful places, even our garden which this year has become a total wild place of flowers and weeds.  Of course life, with its sorrows and challenges does not stop and set aside while I sit here grinning in sheer pleasure. But for me, the glory of the summer season makes the rest of life not only tolerable but full and deep.

I know that this is not so for everyone. A very good friend of mine once told me that both spring and summer were her hardest seasons. Depression gripped on tight and it was incredibly painful for her to watch the rest of the world enjoying ourselves in the sun when all she felt was darkness and despair. Today I read a short meditation that gave me pause, in this summer season, to remember the sorrowful and those who struggle to find themselves deep in the bottom of the well of life. Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman, who lived in Amsterdam and died in a concentration camp at age 29 years of age wrote the following. “There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then God must be dug out again.” Sometimes I am there too, says Hillesum, but sometimes not only she but God is buried under the rubble of pain, violence, or despair. When I read her words I remember my dear friend and how she too, with the grace of that same buried God, was able to start digging ever spring and every summer.

Hillesum wrote a daily diary for the last two years of her life. The struggle to find herself and the light of God is there in the diary for sure. But remarkably, the diary on the whole reflects a soul that was intimately connected with God and that was thick with gratitude for life itself. Hear her words and imagine, as I am imagining, how much she loved.

“Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on earth, my eyes raised towards heaven, tears run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude.” “I must admit a new insight in my life and find a place for it: what is at stake is our impending destruction and annihilation…. They are out to destroy us completely; we must accept that and go on from there…. Very well then … I accept it…. I work and continue to live with the same conviction and I find life meaningful…. I wish I could live for a long time so that one day I may know how to explain it, and if I am not granted that wish, well, then somebody else will perhaps do it, carry on from where my life has been cut short. And that is why I must try to live a good and faithful life to my last breath; so that those who come after me do not have to start all over again.”

Etty lived her brief and intense life full of conviction that she, and every other being, of every race and creed, is a child of God and that her calling was to preserve and hold safe that place of God that is deep within, even when God was hard or impossible to find in the well that was her life.  Where does such faith and strength come from? How is it nurtured? And how can just knowing about someone like Etty, help guide the rest of us who falter on a regular basis? I have just ordered Etty’s diaries from my local library as I am now hungry for her words. Her words and her life are not only an inspiration but a confirmation that, as she so eloquently said “There is a really deep well in me and in it dwells God.” And if God dwells in our well, then somehow, we, the container for that well and for that God, must be there too.

May I, standing in my own patch of life, recall the well, recall the God who dwells there, and recall that this same God is in love with me and you and Etty. May all our souls rest in peace in every season of our lives