16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wiling and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” — Matthew 2:16-18
A recent meditation had the following journal question “If you knew you were dying what would you write or say to your children or grandchildren?” That question stopped me cold. What would I say to grandson and granddaughter, Liam and Amelia? How would I describe my love, and fears, for them? How would I tell them of my life lived with my own loves, fears, and regrets? What would I say, what would you say?
During this Easter season I have been writing about the ways we express our feelings of the resurrection, and the many ways we witness to others our faith in the resurrection. Sharing ourselves with the next generation is also a witness to our beliefs in the resurrection. The question above is an important one, challenging us to inspect our past and present lives and how that information could impact the lives that follow us. I thought long and hard about what I would, will, say to my grandchildren and all of it wasn’t bright flowers and sunshine.
What might say, well I would of course tell them I love them very much, how grateful I am for having them in my life, and I will miss them. I would ask for their forgiveness in my part for leaving them a world that is wounded and in pain, and a political system that doesn’t function. I would tell them that no matter what they do in life their parents and I would always love them from wherever we are. While their future is impacted by the world I leave behind it is still their future to make into what ever dream they reach for. Following those dreams may not be easy, or always fun, but are worth the effort if they truly believe in them. I would also tell them it is OK that they don’t believe in the Divine as I do, but, discovering their own pathway to something greater than themselves is important in finding their moral, loving, compassionate lives. I would want them to stand up against injustice even when it is hard to do so, to see the good in people and all creation even when the night is darkest. I want them to climb their most difficult mountains and to not be afraid of the challenges because I will be right there beside them cheering them on. I want my grandchildren to be fearless in the face adversity, to be strong when everyone else is weak, and to be gentle when touched by beauty.
What I want most for my beloved Liam and Amelia is to live a life that is not self-centered but other-centered. I want them to live a life that sees the best in the worst, the beauty in the ugly, and love in what is hatred. I can’t leave them with much but when I make my final passage from this world to the next I want them to know I cared about them, and want them to be the best at whatever they want to be.
So that is some of what I would tell my grandchildren, what would be in your letter to your children? We live in and uncertain world and we never know when our last day in this world will arrive. We all too often leave too much unsaid to those we love the most. So my journal question to you this week is: “If you knew you were dying what would you write or say to your children or grandchildren?”
May you find the words in your heart for those you leave behind.
Psalm 32:11 Be glad in LORD and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart
The Psalmist says to “shout for joy, all you upright in heart,” but I am not very joyful, this year and in all honesty I don’t feel ‘upright’ at the moment. I have been listening to the news, which is something I should stop doing, and all I hear is hate for those different from us. Different in skin color, gender preference, in faith’s, in cultures you name it and someone has said they need to be ‘controlled’, or denied services, or denied entry into our country. I have see the faces on the news of those who say this country should only be for white, Christian, heterosexual and English speaking people and they aren’t handsome faces.
There are days when I am fearful of the path our country is headed down because there doesn’t seem to be many who are willing to stand up against the voices of hate. When those who we are supposed to trust and respect fill their messages with hate the targets of that hateful speech become targets of violence because people feel they now have permission to act out their own fears in a violent way.
Where is the joy for the families of the victims of the San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, and Oregon mass killings? Where is the joy for the congregations of the churches and Mosques that have been set on fire? Where is the joy for the refugees struggling to survive in a world turned against them? On Christmas Morning we will open our presents, eat fine meals, and enjoy the company of family yet so many will be remembering loved ones not at the table, or won’t have presents or food to eat.
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of light into the world. That light came into our world in a stable not a palace. Jesus’ parents were poor struggling peasants not rich CEO’s of some big company. Yet they managed to find joy in the simple presence of cattle, a donkey, and sheep, can we be so fortunate to see joy in the simple things? Joy in a simple meal, a child’s smile, the wrinkled face of a granny or grandpa. Joy in giving socks, gloves, hats, scarves to someone on the street, joy in the presence of a loved one, or in the warmth of a companion animal. That is what Christmas is about not gifts, or table burdened with enough food to feed a small village. Can we offer that joy to someone who might not have joy without our help? So on your list of gifts add a few more. Put down sock or gloves for homeless, visit a neighbor or elderly person who will be alone this year, better yet invite them to join you for Christmas day in your home. I guarantee that your Christmas will be brighter and more joyful for giving your presence and being the gift.
Meditations for a Mindful Advent Queen Anne Christian Church
Slow down . . . seek hope
Buy less . . . create peace
Eat less . . . embrace joy
Worry less . . . give love
Prepare your heart for new birth.
An Advent Prayer
God who causes stars to burn and energy to flow,
may Your presence be made known to us in new ways.
When we wonder where You are, shine Your light in new ways.
When we wonder why bad things happen, help us to find all of Your goodness.
When we feel hopeless, help us to become Your hope in the world.
You have created us out of stardust, and breathed into us life.
In You, all things are possible, and all things are created new.
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, as we await the birth of the light of Christ
may we come to know You in new ways on this journey of faith. Amen.
Joy – The Third Week of Advent Light three candles and pray “An Advent Prayer.”
Laughter is carbonated holiness.
— Anne Lamott
I would love to live like a river flows,
carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.
— John O’Donohue
Questions Morning:In anticipation of the day, where might you add levity and playfulness?
Evening:As the day ends, where did you find laughter and ease?
Offer a prayer for those in need of joy; include yourself.
for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
Giver of abundant gifts, on this Thanksgiving we celebrate . . . we celebrate. Ah what are we celebrating God? It seems to me that we have nothing to celebrate, nothing to be thankful for, except empty hearts and soulless comments.
Too many children are dying before our eyes on beaches, in stormy seas, in mountain passes, and refugee camps. Too many are blinded by their fears, unable to see the path to your love. I don’t know God, I can’t really think of something to be thankful for this year, you see my eyes are clouded with tears and my heart is screaming in pain for those who are being denied entry into our so called circle of love. By the way if it is a circle of love would there really be boundaries?
God I don’t know how to say this but I do believe we humans have failed you and maybe it is time to pull the plug on this experiment. We are tired, I know I am, so please just let us go and let us be thankful for the too few moments when we recognized your love and shared it with the world. Let some other species give being your priestly people a go at it. That task is very plainly to difficult for us. Dogs would be a good choice they love without condition just by being who they are, yes; Dogs would do a good job of being your treasured people.
So I guess I do have something to be thankful for. I am thankful for your love, for your compassion, your presence in the darkest of times. I am grateful for the times we danced in the sunlight, and sang at the moon. I am grateful for your faith in us when we have no faith in ourselves. I am thankful for the many blessings you have given us, sunrises and sunsets, a newborns smile, oh so many gifts. So if it’s alright with you God I will lay my gratitude down at your feet and if it pleases you Lord, I would like to come back as a Dog. AMEN
I have been trying to think about what to say about the Umpqua shootings but my heart is breaking and my mind won’t process this. So I am asking you for your prayer this week to write letters to your legislators about gun legislation, talk to your neighbors about keeping safe, and get involved in your community and/or church youth programs. Talk kids and get to know your own children and the children they play with. Keep the kids involved with family and community and help them find safe ways to release anger and frustration. If you need a gun for hunting then talk to every member of the family about gun safety and keep your guns in a secure gun safe when you aren’t using them. I know that isn’t much but if all of us become more aware and involved in the efforts to regulate guns in a responsible manner than maybe, just maybe we won’t be speechless anymore.
Mark 3:33-35 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
What makes a family? Is it the group you are born into or is it the people you gather around you?
I have often thought about the words of Jesus found in Mark about who he saw as family and I am coming to an understanding of what he meant. For me my family stopped being just the people I am related to by birth a very long time ago. I was never close with my sister, half-sisters, or half-brother and haven’t seen any of them in well over 30 years. Growing up I never really knew relatives of either my father or mother. So when my parents passed away it was the ending, so I thought, of family.
But over the years I discovered something amazing. Family is really more of what I make of it than what I am given. And, with that discovery I realized family means the people and companion animals who share in the life I live.
So some of my family are those who care about things that I care about such as justice, compassion, the environment, mercy, kindness and some are those who stick with me through good times and bad, no matter what. Some of the members of my family have feathers, and some have fur. Some of my family are newly found relatives of my birth family and some are the members of the family I married into. Some of my family are people I care so much about that it often hurts to be separated from them or to see them in pain. All of the them, from recently discovered cousins to members of my faith community, to the children of my husband and their children, and the dogs, birds and other creatures of God who have enriched my life, are my family. Every one of them have shared and are sharing in my life. Every one of those connecting lives is a sacred trust that God tells me to cherish, and nurture so that all live in abundant grace.
Who are your family members? What sacred connections do have and are creating? Offer a prayer for each and every one of them. Their love and friendship is what makes your life vibrant and purposeful. Give them in return your love and friendship.
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.”