Thirty years ago I was just coming home from a class when I heard of the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle on takeoff. Like so many others I was devastated by the loss of life and never knew how to respond to it. When the Columbia Shuttle exploded in 2003 I finally had a way to express my grief for all of the women and men in both shuttle disasters. So I offer this poem in memory of 14 brave astronauts.
There are fourteen new stars in the sky tonight
Fourteen new stars whose hopes shown so bright
Fourteen new stars to give us great light
Fourteen new stars to guide us this night
Fourteen new stars in Gods heart … held tight
Matthew 28:20b “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
God does not want
us to be burdened
because of sorrows and tempests
that happen in our lives,
it has always been so
before miracles happen.
–Julian of Norwich, 14th century Anchoress
Sorrow, grief whether from unforeseen circumstances or our own doing always seems to lead us to questioning our beliefs and faith. We ask ourselves, the universe, or the Divine “why is this happening to me?” In our woundedness we nearly always believe we will never be able to recover, to fully live life again. I know what it feels like, I have been there way too many times and yes I felt totally adrift without friend or companion. Yet I was, we are, never really alone. There is always someone to lay at their feet your fears and pain. Sometimes we have to look for confidants, and sometimes we only have to open our hearts. When we open up and let the pain scream out the healing process begins.
So yes with time the wounds of our heart, mind and soul do heal and we move on. We learn from our pain and discover new strength deep within that provides the fuel to live a joyful and fulfilling life helping us move into a better place in our lives. We learn there are relationships that can’t be broken even in the darkest times. We also learn that from loss great things will grow. The two greatest miracles of sorrow are learning we do have the strength to walk through the dark places in our lives and learning to forgive ourselves.
But when we refuse to look at our sorrows, too afraid of the memories to bring them out into the open where the light is we never learn from our struggles. By keeping the memories of the painful times of life locked within we never allow ourselves to find the deeper meaning in our sorrows, or the strength that comes from squarely facing them. We never completely heal.
Healing doesn’t mean forgetting because if we forget than we cannot come to an understanding of who we are and are meant to be. Life isn’t easy; it is full of ups and downs. More than likely we spend more time in the valleys than we do on the mountain tops. But just as a young tree grows stronger when strong winds blow it around we too grow stronger; strong enough to face the next valley, and the next, and the next. With each one we gain a bit more strength. Yes, I know all too well that it doesn’t feel like that in the moment but it is true. Living your life without challenges, or risk of sorrows, isn’t living it is existing and there lies the difference.
Have your traveled a dark valley? Did fear keep you from moving forward or from sharing your pain with a friend, pastor, spiritual director, or directly with the Spirit? If you could not let your sorrows out what would help you to find what you need? Prayer and silence are strong tools for rebuilding our relationship with the Divine. Offer your fears to the Spirit in your own way of prayer. Confiding in a spiritual director, a close friend, or your pastor may help guide you in your own search for answers. Each journey is different and requires different tools. Asking for help is not a weakness but strength and a spiritual practice in itself. Let your heart be healed by finding the best tool for you.
Blessings on your journey wherever the road takes you.
Genesis 12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
Matthew 2:13a Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you;
The winter stretches across bare trees.
And in our book we close the chapter on creation
And turn to the Exodus, to the leaving,
To our new becoming.
The Mystery reveals itself in a different guise
Out of a burning
It says “I will be that I will be, this is my name,
I am everywhere, in all things, and I call you forward.
Now take off your shoes,
The ground you are standing on is holy.”
It is hard to hear and difficult to imagine
Something with us in the pain,
In the exposed rawness,
Something with us in the brokenness of life.
But the voice is persistent, it whispers, it shouts,
“I am all that is. Everywhere you are, there I am.
I am the oneness, the unity of all being
And we are in relationship.
And I call you forward.”
The very ground we stand upon is holy.
There is nothing outside the realm of God.
We live in relationship with everything.
This is our covenant—our agreement with the continual becoming:
To know that every moment is sacred.
To act with reverence for all.
And to listen for the whispered silence
That holds us and calls us forward
To be of use
Within the fragility of all life.*
*Picture and meditation by Rabbi Yael Levy, founder of “A Way In: Jewish Mindfulness Program,” January 22, 2016, Face Book Page
It seems since the beginning of time we are called to make journeys. Adam and Eve journeyed from The Garden, Abram and Sarai leave for a place known only to God, and Joseph takes his small family of Mary and Jesus on the dangerous roads to Egypt. We too make journeys. In my life time I have journeyed across this country moving from Ohio, to Texas, to Washington, to California, and back to Washington. I have hopes that I won’t have to move again but I never know when God will call me to a new place.
There is one journey I have yet to make. My father and mother have made it, I have had friends make it and my time will come I have no doubt in that. At some point in the future God will call me to make the last voyage in this life and cross to the next life. Now that is a BIG journey. No one has ever returned to tell us that it is safe journey without dangerous places. In a way we will be making a journey similar to Abram’s and Sarai’s in that only God knows our destination. And, we have no choice but to trust that God will find us a safe route.
Every living thing and creature in this universe will make the journey; fish or plant, dog or human, all of us will cross to a new life somewhere that only God can lead us. Like the Hebrews in the desert we will have to look for the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night in order to find the right path.
Last week my beloved Chihuahua, Suzie, passed away. She let go of this life and followed a new caretaker. As I held her in my arms and felt her leave, I knew she was now in good hands. I miss her but like family, friends, and other companions I know someday we will meet and cross the bridge together. Until I too am called, I will hold the memory of Suzie, family, friends, and companions in my heart, which grows to accommodate all the memories of those I love.
While I miss those who have gone ahead I am comforted by the peace that comes from knowing that I will join them someday and what a party we will have.
Peace and blessings to you all. May your memories fill you with joy and give you comfort.
Stained Glass window of Julian of Norwich, Church of St. Julian, Norwich UK
For just as our bodies are clothed in garments,
our flesh enclosed by our skin,
our hearts centered in our body,
so are we, spirit and flesh,
clothed head to toe in the goodness of God.
But this metaphor hardly does justice,
for all things will decline and wear out.
God’s goodness, however, is everlasting,
and is incomparably nearer to us than our very flesh.
Julian of Norwich 14th century Anchorite
We are clothed in God, clothed in the goodness of God. These words have been especially comforting to me today as last week was an especially difficult one. Just knowing God, Spirit, and Christ are closer to me than my own flesh has kept me going.
During the day be especially sensitive to when God is present. At day’s end remember the times when you noticed God’s blessed presence. How did you feel?
1 Kings 8:10-13 10And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
12Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 13I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”
King Solomon’s Temple was a wonder to behold. It was made with the finest of materials: the best stone, lumber from the Cedars of Lebanon, gold, silver, and precious jewels. Yet it still was a case of humans trying to control God, confine God in a place of their making. A place where God could be forgotten like many other things people put in boxes and placed on a shelf. Even though the temple was a marvelous box it was still a box.
History has shown that God doesn’t stay in boxes very well and you can’t put God on a shelf and walk away without God noticing. Even though we continue to build fancy structures for God where some of us go to sit like good children. Where we listen to the pastor preach (hoping it won’t be too boring or too long because the game starts soon), sing a couple of songs and bug out as soon as possible forgetting everything we’ve heard until the following week.
I know that everyone isn’t like this, there are many who find worship to be just that worship and praise to God. But I have been in way too many communities where this is true and I’ve been in churches that have given in to society’s demands to be entertained and make what is supposed to be the worship of God into a Los Vegas production just to keep people in the pews. What is saddest to me is that all too often works, at least for a while.
You can’t put God in a box and hope that God will stay there, no, God is going to know when you ‘walk away’ and when you ‘walk with.’ I’m sorry to disappoint you but God can never be placed in a box and brought out only at Christmas and Easter, if then.
I am reminded of the closing scene of the Indiana Jones Movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” You know the one where the U.S. Government has boxed up the Ark of the Covenant in an anonymous box and places it in a warehouse.
That scene summarizes the problems we have with putting God in a box and then forgetting where you put the box. (By the way God was never IN the Ark of the Covenant, it was only a conduit for God’s power through the stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments.) We always want a convenient God one that doesn’t give us too much trouble or bother our ‘well laid’ plans with details like kindness, or justice. I have discovered trying to keep God in the big stone or concrete boxes we call church doesn’t work. Those boxes don’t keep God from pressuring us to do what is right. God is always waiting for each and every one of us to realize we need God to remind us of who we are and who our neighbors are, our brothers and sisters in creation. God is good at waiting for us, and doesn’t turn us away when we come running or crawling, the way we have to God. When we return to walk with God, to collaborate with God, and to participate with God in creating the world we are meant to live in God accepts us without reservations.
My prayer practice for you this week is to notice when God makes the presence known to you in the small ways of daily living. Notice the sunrise or your baby’s first smile of the morning. Notice when you see someone doing something kind for someone else, or better yet do an act of kindness for stranger. What do you see in the persons face? God is all around us, God is never in a box, and God doesn’t visit us only on certain days of the week. No God is there in all the little joys, sorrows, disappointments, and celebrations of everyday living. This week take God out of the mental box and practice seeing God in life itself.
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To bring Christ to all,
To make music in the heart.
Audio of Jim Strathdee singing I Am the Light of the World
Today, January 6th, is Epiphany, the day tradition tells us the Wise Men visited Jesus, Mary and Joseph. My mother used to call this day “little Christmas,” and she would prepare a special meal in the evening. I don’t remember gifts being exchanged but we did eat a lot, and usually finished up the Christmas cookies. But, it was years later when the song I Am the Light of the World by Jim Strathdee, based on Howard Thurman’s poem, came out that I began to look at this day differently.
Today instead of just thinking about nameless astrologers coming from the east and giving unusual gifts to the Child I see this day as less a celebration and more of a new start to living as Jesus taught. Thurman’s poem and Strathdee’s music remind us that Christmas isn’t just one day, 12 days, or the 34 days of Epiphany. (Yes, today only begins the season of Epiphany which will end on Ash Wednesday this year on February 10th when Lent begins.) We are called to carry the message of the love of compassion, justice and peace throughout the year. The season of Epiphany offers us the opportunity to make caring for our fellow travelers on this planet, human or animal, a habit. A habit that empowers the weak and the young, gives food to the hungry and compassion to our elderly, poor, lonely, homeless, and war torn neighbors in this place we call home. Strathdee’s hymn is the theme song for our work in the world, the work of Christmas.
Every year we are given the opportunity to begin again as Jesus followers. Every year we are reminded of who we are, and whose we are. Every year we are given another chance to live our lives in such a way as to bring change to the world. Every year we are given the chance to accept the radical challenge of being the Christ figure for the people we see and interact with every day. It is a radical idea! If each of our neighborhoods is changed, even a little, eventually we change the world and Jesus and God never asked us to be more than who we are, only to be the best that we can be.
To live with compassion, love justice and to travel in the company of the Divine is all we are asked to do. I don’t think that means a drastic change in our habits, rather it means we share what we have so that all have enough. Is that really so hard?
So I challenge myself, and you, to begin to change how we live in the world, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, standing up and letting your voice be heard when justice is violated and oh so many other little acts of compassion. Each of us can do something. We don’t have to do everything at once simply pick one to get started, let one act of love become a habit this year.
Exodus 14:10-11, 13-14, 21: 10As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?
13But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
21Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.
I have begun a yearlong meditation discipline with the book A Year with God by Richard J. Foster and Julia L Roller, which I am very excited about. Yesterday the above Scripture from Exodus was my morning reading. As I read it I thought about what it means to trust in God. In Speaking Christian Marcus Borg says trust and faith mean essentially the same thing. So Moses was asking the Israelites to have faith that God would provide help. What Moses wanted the Israelites to understand was they needed to let go of their idea of planning ahead and of knowing what will happen next. God may have a plan but we don’t know what that is and God is not going to tells us what the plan is, until the moment it happens. In this case God’s plan was to divide the waters of the Red Sea, which allowed the Israelites to escape the Egyptians. Fundamentally to have faith/trust in God means we must let go of the control of our own lives and let God provide, for most people that is a scary thing to do. Usually we only let go when we are at a point when nothing else has worked. All our plans have fallen through, and we are at a dead end with no place to go except call on God. For most people God is the safety net we rely on and I for one am grateful of that net.
The meditation questions provided with the lesson brought back uncomfortable memories in my life when I had reached my own dead ends and didn’t know where to turn next. I remember feeling lost, frightened, terrified really, at the prospects I imagined lay before me. In the dark night of my soul I called out to God and said “I give up, I can’t do this anymore, help me.” I wanted God to be there, I needed God to be there, because I felt alone. For me giving up and trusting in God and letting God plan the next move was scary but not as scary as the alternatives. Letting go of the reins of my life released something inside of me and eventually things improved. I can’t say what I experienced will happen for everyone but I can say giving to God what stresses us and beats us down improves the way we see the world. Faith and trust are hard spiritual practices but are the foundation of all spiritual practices. It doesn’t matter how you envision God, or what name you call the Divine letting the All Encompassing Presence be your safety net when you are troubled will give you hope in life. The process may be slow; God works in God’s own time, but slow is better than not moving at all.
Spiritual Practice: this week reflect on when in your life you have been able to trust God wholly when things fall apart. If you haven’t had one of those moments do you think you could stand back and let God take over provide the solution?
As you journey on your path this week, may Christ be there to give you courage, may the Holy Spirit smooth your road, and when you are weary may God hold you in the palm of God’s hand.