Jeremiah 33:6a Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them
In 3 days I am going to enter the hospital for back surgery. This is an eagerly anticipated event because I have been in so much pain for such a long time and this is my best chance at relief. But it got me thinking about healing and the value of touching and holding those in pain. It is not uncommon to be afraid to touch or hold a person in pain, either physical or mental pain, because we don’t want to cause them any additional discomfort. But, when it comes right down to it those of us who suffer chronic pain want to be held. To feel the gentle touch of another person helps us to know we are cared for and loved, that we aren’t forgotten or discarded. You see there is much power in the touch of the human hand.
The hands of the surgeon will move across my back and do their best to heal the damaged spine. The hands of the nurses will offer comfort with a warm blanket, a cool cloth for my head, or simply to touch and let me know I am not alone. My husband’s hands will hold mine before and after surgery and they will convey his love without words even if I am unable to respond to him. The hands of the physical therapist will hold me and support me as I regain my strength. The silent touches, hugs, and holding all convey the message of I care for you, I love you, and you are not alone.
My prayer practice for you this week is to be aware of those in need of your healing touch. Hold those you love in your arms, give a hug to someone struggling to make it through the day, or gently touch someone’s hand and let them know they aren’t alone.
I also am going to ask for prayers the surgery on Friday, that it will be successful and that I will be relieved of chronic back pain.
Thank you all, blessings and peace for the coming week.
This week’s prayer practice is one a friend of mine taught me in the last couple of weeks. It is one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s practices called “Letgo.” After I began the practice I realized ‘Letgo’ has many similarities with the Examen and found that I was experiencing some of the same benefits. As I have begun to settle into this practice I have discovered my days to be calmer and more centered even when the world gets busy. I am able to separate what is important from what it is not. The most amazing thing is of the many of events and things I thought were important they just are not priorities any longer. Instead I am able to focus on what makes my life more enjoyable, beautiful and to just BE. So I offer this practice as my gift to your well Being.
I usually pick a time of day when things are quiet, either early in the morning or just before I go to bed. I like both times. The morning time energizes me and the evening time centers me and quiets my mind so that I sleep much better. But select a time that works best for you. I do set aside 20 to 25 minutes for each session.
Begin by sitting quietly, concentrating on your breath. Reflect on those things you have let go of in the past. You many begin your ‘list’ as early in your life as you wish.
Be aware that our conscious attention only catches a small portion of what goes on in lives.
Start with small steps first. Accept that events such as rush hour traffic, broken washers, and burnt dinners will always be there to annoy and frustrate you. Use these events to practice an acceptance of those things that just happen because it’s life.
Be mindful of those times when you pick up old burden or worry’s and begin to carry them around again. Learn to recognize the old resentments and anger that emerges and ask yourself if you want to continue to hold space in head and heart for them.
Take deep breaths and let the burdens, anger, and resentment flow out with each exhale.
Repeat step 5 as often as necessary until you are able to bring your mindfulness back to the now.
For the last three weeks I have been in constant pain due to a pinched nerve in my back. This fussy nerve has been bothering me for a long time but I refused to listen to it. So now it is fighting back to get the attention it thinks it deserves. I have never been in so much pain before. It hurts to lie down, stand up and sit and that my friends are pretty much every possible position there is. But, I am not asking for sympathy, prayers yes, sympathy no because I got myself here by not listening to my body.
It is always easier to give someone else advice than to take that advice ourselves about taking care of the temple God has graced us with. Whether we are doing our busy lives or praying we often forget the clay vessel we are embodied with to the detriment of our health and well being both spiritually and physically.
I understand the forgetting the body when we are making a living, I certainly forgot. After all we are only trying to make a living, feed our family, keep a shelter over our heads and clothes on our backs. We don’t feed the body with good food rather we go for the quick easy meal of junk food, which is high in fat, calories and low in what we need to be healthy. We don’t get enough sleep because a job needs to be done and “I, just don’t have the time to rest until it’s finished.” Stress takes its toll with worry about how we will survive if we lose our job, or add a new family member, or move to new community. We forget to take the time to talk to God, to listen to God, to offer prayers of gratitude and concern to the one, and only, who can relieve our pain and suffering.
The ironic thing is we remember our bodies when they break down, and we remember our spiritual life when we are running on empty to the next event in our lives. That is what has happened to me. I forgot to care for my body, I refused to listen and I am paying for it now. But more than that I forgot that caring for my body, caring for my spirit is a prayer practice.
It is important to care for what has been given us the best way we can. Even when we are given bodies that aren’t perfect, and whose is, we are called by God to care for this vessel as long as we are here enfleshed in this life. In order to care for this body given me I must repent and make changes to how I view my body. It isn’t an object to worship, but it is a house of prayer. Good food, exercise, rest and listening are my four healthy habits that will make my house stronger. My physical house and my spiritual house.
My prayer for all of you this week is take a moment out of your day to sit in silence and offer God your gratitude, take a brisk walk and feel the breath of God on your face, rest in God, letting the healing touch of the Holy Spirit renew your soul and eat with gusto food rich in love and low in Cholesterol.
Prepared for a Sermon at Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle WA
January 18th, 2015
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Have you ever had that feeling you are being watched and you turn around and around to see who is there? I have and I must admit it often feels creepy! Someone is watching me, why, who are they, what do they want, will they hurt me? Some might say these are the questions of a paranoid mind, but, given the status of our world today, not uncommon in these days of uncertainty, fear, and, let’s be honest, at least a little hate, ok a lot of hate.
So when I read the Psalm for this week I had to really think what it means to be “watched,” “known,” by God. This Psalm is telling me that I am being watched, by God no less. Is that a good thing or should I be afraid, really afraid. As I was contemplating these verses I remembered an incident out of my childhood. It was a memory of being known by God and knowing it was keeping me safe.
Nearly 62 years ago I was severely burnt and spent 6 months in hospital healing and having reconstructive surgery. In reality I am blessed to be here, because I should have died that summer, but didn’t. However, I did spend a great deal of time on a children’s ward of a Cleveland Hospital. There were number of other children there as well, just as injured and ill as me and one little boy and I became good friends. I do not remember his name; I do remember he was dying. He was a little older than I was but could not walk; I could get up and walk a little but couldn’t read as well as he could. I would get books and games to play with and he would read the harder books.
Children will often tell another child something important when they aren’t sure their parents would understand or listen. So one day he told me that he knew he didn’t have long to live and he wanted me to tell his parents he was ok with it. You see he had a guardian angel who stayed by his side and the angel had told him he would be going soon and no longer in pain, his parents would be sad for awhile but they would remember him forever.
One night I awoke to a great deal of crying and saw the mother holding the little boy. I remembered what he had asked me to do so I crawled out of my bed and tried to tell them that the boy was OK, and that he was with his angel now. However, before I got very far with that a nurse scooped me up and put me back in my bed saying something patronizing. I never really talked about that incident again; I understood what I had to say was pretty unimportant to adults and not worth listening to. It was the thought of the time that children didn’t understand death or God and it was, and is, a wrong thought.
Being known by God, being watched by God, children understand that, after all they are always being watched. By parents, teachers, friends, family members who want to keep them safe. So knowing God is watching them is no big deal, just one more person on the list to keep them safe. Besides isn’t there something comforting knowing you have a guardian angel nearby, how cool is that.
From the time they are formed in the dark, cavern of their mother’s womb they are cradled and whispered to by angels. By 18 weeks of pregnancy the embryo begins to hear his first sounds, Mom’s heart beat, the movement of her blood, and bowel sounds. He also hears His Mom’s and Dad’s voice, music, laughter, and tears. To him it’s, Angels voices coming from, everywhere. Children know they are being watched, searched out as they are being formed in the dark.
After birth we are still connected to those angels, only now they have blurry faces, but they can see the angels smile at them and hear their whispers and while breast feeding they still hear the comforting sound of Mom’s heartbeat.
It is a sad fact that as we grow we forget those connections to the mystery of our beginnings. We let other sounds carry us away from the angel’s voices, the whispers that we are beloved and we are watched over. We, who were made so carefully, struggle to be free of the binders, free of being hemmed in from behind and before. We, who in secret were made so wonderfully and woven of star dust and love, want to run free of the restrictions of God, angels, or anyone else.
Yet there is a part of us that yearns to be known. Oh we may fight it, rebel and run away because we want to “do it our way.” But really, at some level, isn’t it comforting to know just how beloved we are? The Psalmist said “My days are all inscribed in Your Ledger; Days not yet shaped—each one of them is counted.” Those counted days are from the moment we are conceived in flesh to the moment we let go of this body and return to God. Yes we still have days that God has counted that we know nothing about, yet. But God is still watching and still planning, or more likely, revising our life plan based on our latest actions.
You see I’ve never been a big proponent of predestination, were God has planned our lives out before we are born. No I am a firm believer in free will and our obligation to choose life over death. We, you and I, must choose to follow one path over another and depending on our choices our life is rewritten again and again. I know that because I have had my life rewritten all because I’ve made some rather dumb choices in my life. My guess is we all have, because we are human, we are embodied; we are separated from that light of God and God deliberately put us on our own resources for a purpose we do not know. (My first question for God when I return is “what were you thinking.”)
What the Psalmist tells us is even in our bad choices we are watched, cared for, beloved, held safe, and not alone. God keeps us in God’s thoughts; we are never far from the Divine mind. “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.” “I am still with You,” God is with me. Matthew writes that Jesus’ last words to his disciples were, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We have that promise. God has not left us alone, Jesus has not left us alone, the angels are still whispering, if, only we listen.
Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi translated verse 14 as follows, “I am overcome with thanks at Your awesome wonders, Your astonishing works, of which my soul is aware.” Our souls know what God does, what Jesus does, even when we are unconscious to those actions. Our souls know even when we reject God’s call that we are not alone. That we are watched over and having our lives rewritten again and again based on whether we chose life or death.
Those angel whispers, messages of comfort from the Holy, still hold for each and every one of us. That first sound we heard in our mothers’ wombs, the first whisper of life from the sacred, was a heartbeat. It still is the whisper of life for all of us. Without our hearts beating strong and level life will fade. But it is not just the heart of our flesh that we need. We also need the voice of the heart of our souls, our spirit, to truly live life as God intended. Remember Moses’ last words “choose life.” The messengers of God, the angels voices all whisper, “choose life.”
I have been contemplating making a resolution this year. My track record for keeping resolutions is poorer at best as I rarely make it past Jan 2nd but, maybe this year will be different. You see I am actually thinking about a resolution that fits my life style rather than dramatically changing it. Keeping expectations low can’t hurt this process.
My 2015 resolution is to deepen my prayer life.
I am going to accomplish in two steps. First I am going to carry a small blank book with me at all times where I can record names of people I am asked to hold in prayer. That way I won’t forget the name of the person needing prayer even if I don’t know them well or not at all. I already set aside a portion of my meditation time for intercessory prayers but I often forget the names of those who have asked for prayer. When that happens the best I can do is a general prayer that holds up everyone who is ill and suffering, while this is lovely and includes the individual it has lost the personal feeling for my prayer.
The second act is to begin practicing a new spiritual practice called “Dedicated Suffering” presented by Jane Marie Thibault in her book Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life, co-authored by Richard L. Morgan. The purpose is to take the energy surrounding my suffering and asking Christ to ‘transform it into loving-kindness for the chosen person or group being held in prayer.
In the last few years I have had an increasing amount of physical pain in my life and a lot of my life energy is involved with minimizing that pain. Ms Thibault developed a way to dedicate that energy to Jesus as a gift, then asking Jesus to change that gift into love for a person being held in prayer.
Since I have been doing this only a few days I can’t say I notice major any changes in my life but like all spiritual practices you have to do for a while before you see anything new. That is why it is called ‘practice.’
As we grow older chronic pain and suffering increases and often limits what we can accomplish each day. The practice of Dedicated Suffering offers a way to extend our prayers to others and puts the energy of our pain and suffering to good purpose. I offer the following instructions so you may try it for yourselves. Maybe at the end of 2015 we can compare notes and see how gifting our energy to Christ to provide loving-kindness to those in need has changed our lives.
Dedicating Your Pain and Suffering to Help Others
Find yourself a quiet corner where you may sit silence for a few minutes. Focus on your pain and the energy you are expending to minimize it.
Offer your suffering energy to Jesus as a gift.
Select a person or group in need of your prayers then ask Jesus to accept the energy of you suffering and change it into love for that person or group.
Spend a minute or two imagining Jesus sending love and help to the person or group.
What does it mean to eat locally grown foods? Well it doesn’t mean you eat only food grown in your area. Rather it means you understand the importance of food or, as my friend David Bell says (Eating Locally, Artistically, justbetweentheridges.wordpress.com), the sacredness of food. Eating food from a neighbor or a local farmer has less impact on the environment than food grown at great distance from us. There are few transportation costs, less gas and oil means a smaller carbon footprint. Most local farmers use fewer pesticides or none at all that leads to less contamination of the environment and fewer chemicals to which we are exposed. The food is fresher because we are buying directly from the farmer we they can pick the fruit and produce at its peak instead of early because they don’t have to transport it as far. That leads to better nutrition for us and our families. The relationships built with farmers means you know where your food comes from and how it is produced. Those are some of the benefits but what about the sacredness of food?
Well, food is sacred. It is a gift from the Holy Presence to feed our bodies and when we separate ourselves from where it originates we lose a connection with the Holy that is basic to life itself. Throughout scripture food plays an important role in the relationship with God, and with the people of the bible. In Genesis God provided food for Adam and Eve, when they were banned from the Garden God still provided for them. The Israelites are fed by God with food from heaven; Elijah is cared for by angels; and at the end of his 40 days of temptation, the angels provided for Jesus. Ultimately we celebrate the sacredness of food every Sunday when we bless bread and cup and offer the feast of Jesus at the communion table. Food is important not just to our physical well being but to our spiritual well being as well. The work a farmer does is not only necessary to our existence it is a holy occupation, a sacred act, a connection between God, earth and us.
This week spiritual practice is to offer thanks at each meal for the food you eat. Here is the table prayer I use, you may use it or one of your own:
Holy Giver of Life, I thank you for this food before me, thank you for the earth in which it was grown, thank you for sun and rain that nurtured, thank you for the farmer who harvested it, and thank for the hands that prepared it. May this food feed our bodies as you feed our souls. Amen.
May your week be filled with wonderful food and abundant grace.
Several years ago I led a labyrinth walk on September 11, in memory of the World Trade Center Disaster. It was held in the churches outdoor labyrinth and the day was perfect for walking. I placed two baskets at the entrance of the labyrinth, one held fallen leaves to represent those who had died that day and the second held small river stones to represent the courage of all of the emergency people who responded to the attack. Each walker was to carry leaf and stone into the center. They were asked to leave the leaf either in the center or place it along the path of the labyrinth. The stone was theirs to keep in remembrance of the walk. The walk was open to the public and was well attended.
One young woman came near the end of the walk and I remember her because she was unsure as to whether she would walk or not. Finally she picked up a leaf and stone and entered the labyrinth. As soon as she entered tears started to roll down cheeks, she walk very slowly stopping at each of the stone benches to sit for few minutes. When she reached the center she sat down on the bench and bent over appearing to be either in pain or great distress. I thought about going to see if she needed help but changed my mind and waited. She must have sat there for 15 to 20 minutes before she stood up, carefully placed her leaf on bench and walked out of the labyrinth.
When she exited she came over to me to apologize for taking so long and I told her that it was quite alright. She said she had read of the walk in the newspaper and that she really wanted to be here today. You see, her sister worked in the World Trade Center and died that day. At the time she was also living and working in New York and when she heard that plane had crashed to the towers she had run out and saw the towers collapse. They never found any remains of her sister.
She told me she hadn’t realized how much grieving she still had to do and that the walk had been more painful than she thought it would be, but she was glad she walked. I told her the labyrinth was always open to the public and she was free to walk it at anytime. I also gave her the names of a couple of Pastoral Counselors she could call if she needed to talk to someone. She left clutching her small stone.
Fortunately all labyrinth walks are as dramatic as this young woman’s. Most, if not all, are walks that draw us into a quiet place and provide space for conversation with God. Yes revelations can occur but they are very rare. It is a blessing just to have a quiet walk that brings some peace and serenity to your life. That’s plenty I think.
If you’ve never walked a labyrinth here is some historical information. Labyrinths are an ancient meditation tool that predates Christianity. Up until the end of the middle ages they were use in place of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. People walked the labyrinths sometimes on hand and knees to simulate the difficulties of a long journey. Around the middle of the 1400’s labyrinths fell out of favor and it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that they were “rediscovered” as a meditation tool. They are now very popular and used by those striving for deeper spirituality and also in the health professions where the health benefits of walking the labyrinth have proven to be quite diverse.
The spiritual practice I am recommending this week to walk a labyrinth. You may locate labyrinth in area that you may walk, or you may “walk” a labyrinth with your finger using a printed labyrinth figure or finger labyrinth made of wood, stone, or metal.
The labyrinth has only one path. It diﬀers from a maze in that there are no tricks to it. From early on within the Christian tradition to now, countless people have walked labyrinths as devoted acts of pilgrimage, prayer and spiritual formation. There is no right way or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. As you follow the winding pathway to the center and back out again, surrender to the journey with an open heart and an open mind.
Four Fold path of the labyrinth
REMEMBERING you are invited to gather your thoughts as you prepare to begin your walk; remember you are blessed. All that we have, all that we are is a blessing from God. If you are waiting in a line of others for your turn to enter the labyrinth, this is a time for literally counting your blessings.
RELEASING begins when you enter the labyrinth and ends upon arriving at the labyrinth’s center. This is an opportunity for “letting-go” of whatever distracts you. This is a time for quieting, opening, emptying, and shedding. For some, this happens through a mindful slowing and deepening of their breathing, or the silent repeated reciting of a simple prayer.
RECEIVING is a gift at the center of the labyrinth. Having emptied oneself, there is now spaciousness within to receive creative Spirit. Receiving guidance, interior silence, new insight, deeper wisdom, a sense of peace are only a few experiences that can occur on a labyrinth walk. It is diﬀerent for everyone. You may sit or stand in the center as long as you like. Receive what is there for you to receive and accept such as a divine gift.
RESOLVE, begins when you leave the center and return on the same path back out of the labyrinth. There are many aspects of this: you can resolve to take a next step in your life, or come to a resolution about something bothering you. Rejuvenation often occurs, or a feeling of rebirth begins. Or, on your way out, you reclaim those responsibilities you set down on the way in, but for which you have new strength to carry them. Often, feelings of strengthening and integration occur. Symbolically, you take back out into the world what you’ve received.
Some wisdom for these Four R’s of the labyrinth
This way of using a labyrinth is only a map; it is not the territory. You can allow blessing anywhere on the labyrinth. You can release anywhere on the labyrinth, you can receive anywhere; you can come to resolution anywhere on the labyrinth. The Fours R’s is one way of understanding what can happen while you are walking the labyrinth. Do not hold these too tightly; during your walk you will understand the ﬂow.
This Labyrinth ministry resource is Provided Courtesy of Disciples Home Missions (DHM), Office of Search and Call, of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Indianapolis, IN, Rev. Warren Lynn, This document is created with permission from, and based on a source by, Veriditas, Inc., San Francisco, CA; The Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress