Paying it forward is described as the recipient of a good deed turning and doing a good for some else instead of rewarding the donor. It is based on the idea that if everyone shared what they had the world would be a better place. Today, this week, I would like you to practice the “Prayer of Paying It Forward.”
Examine your own lives and identifying when someone gave you something special, helped you out when you were in bad place, or lifted your spirits when you were depressed. Let the memory of what they did fill you again with the joy of a generous gift. Now as you go through your day and through this week you may meet someone who also is in need of a special helping hand, a word of praise, someone to listen to. Offer to them a moment of your time, a word or phrase to cheer, or gift of physical resources without expecting acknowledgement or repayment. If they ask just tell them to “help someone in the future when they need it.”
A Celtic Prayer
‘Maintain the right of the lowly,
rescue the weak and the needy.’
Let me be awake to life
In my soul and in my seeing
Let me be alive to the gift of grace
of each person I meet
Let me be fully alive
Let me be fully aware
Of earth, of sky, of sea,
Of every human family
of all creations glory
Let this day be my prayer to thee
Luke 13: 11-13 11.And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12.When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ 13.When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. (NRSV)
She entered, bent over
bound by pain
all she could see
was the ground at her feet
“Come to me” He said
“I will set you free”
She stood, straight and tall
a smile on her face
Today‘s prayer is to look up from your smart phone, iPad® or tablet and look around you. Reach your arms to the sky, feeling the warm sun on your face. Offer the following prayer Celtic prayer by John Phillip Newell (Celtic Treasure, Daily scriptures and Prayer, Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005) or one of your own to celebrate the joy of being able to dance:
The blessings of heaven,
the blessings of earth,
the blessings of sea and of sky.
On those we love this day
and on every human family
the gifts of heaven,
the gifts of earth,
the gifts of sea and sky.
May your day be a blessed one and may you be a prayer to all you meet.
Mark 8:34 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
I love the Gospel of Mark, it encourages me to ask questions and this verse in his gospel is one of those that drives me crazy with questions. The reason is I’m not sure whose cross I’m supposed to carry. If I take it literally, which is how it is most often interpreted, then I am to bear “my” cross and follow Jesus. But If I look at this scripture from the way Jesus responded to all of those who did follow him and surrounded him as he taught, then, this verse takes on new meaning for me.
What if, just what if, Jesus is telling us to carry the cross of someone who is suffering and not our own cross. Yes I know that flies in the face of orthodox interpretation but then I’m not orthodox. Those in my ecclesial tradition of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) read and interpret scripture and Holy Writings for ourselves. We do have to defend our interpretation and in that defense we either modify or enlarge our understanding of what scripture has to say. So here is my defense of my interpretation Mark 8:34 that “the cross Jesus is asking us to pick up is not ours but the cross of my neighbor and both of us then follow Jesus.”
First of all these words of Jesus are recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels, but not in John. Now it could be that Matthew and Luke simply copied Mark, after all they used Mark as their blueprint for their own Gospels. But, the fact that it appears almost word for word in each of three synoptic Gospels leads me to believe this was something Jesus did say or could have said. Jesus also never said anything that would contradict what he “did” throughout his life of a servant to the disadvantaged, displaced, ill, elderly and disabled. Jesus’ life as it was recorded in the synoptic Gospels was less about what he said and all about what he did.
It is also one of the verses that is almost always misused or misquoted to, or by, those who are having a difficult time. How often have you heard the words “well that is my (your) cross to bear.” Something about that phrase has always bothered me. It’s used to trivialize suffering or difficult times for people and I think that is wrong. I don’t believe that Jesus would have ever told anyone that and I believe the “traditional” interpretation of this verse of carrying my own cross may not be what Jesus had in mind when he called to his disciples and the multitude.
Jesus always cared for those who could not care for themselves. His ministry was to those who had been discarded by society, bringing them back into relationship with their communities and with God. We often see him tired and totally worn out from giving of himself to those who needed him. And my question is; is that not carrying the cross of the other long? In fact we see death in so many ways in the ministry of Jesus, and not just Lazarus (John 11:41-43), a widow’s son (Luke 7:14), or Jairus’ little girl (Matthew 9:25, Mark 5:41, Luke 8:54). We see those who are dead and buried simply because they don’t fit society’s profile of “normal,” the blind, the infirm, and the mentally disabled and we see them resurrected from their death to life by Jesus who returns them to their communities. Every story of healing is a story of death and resurrection and it is Jesus who takes the burdens, i.e. their crosses, of those who have died to life restoring them to family and community. Jesus was teaching a Way of Life, and, one in which we as his followers were to emulate. That means caring for those who have died to society, bringing them back to life by restoring them to God, their families, and their communities. If we are going to be followers of Jesus then it is not our salvation that we are to be concerned with. No, it is the resurrection and life of those who have been pushed outside of society and left to die to life.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe the way I reach God is the only way. I believe there are many paths to God and each person will find their own path in their own good way and time. But If I am carrying the cross of those who are disadvantaged than I do it in the name of my faith in Jesus and give the space for those who are in my care to find the best way forward in their own way. To relieve the suffering of others, carrying their cross, is enough for my task. I can’t make the decisions as to how the move forward for them that is their choice. It could be that they choose to refuse my help and that is OK, they then have chosen to remain where they are in their spiritual lives.
Jesus never forced his pathway on anyone so why should I. Remember the story of the 10 Lepers (Luke 17:12-19)? Jesus healed ten but only one returned to thank him. Jesus asks where the other nine were but that’s as far as it goes. He doesn’t take revenge on them by making them lepers again just because they didn’t return to follow him. He let them choose their own path so that is what we are to do as well. (Here is a side note from this former statistician: actually 10% isn’t a bad response, in most instances you can expect only a 10% to 20% return on anything you put forward.)
So carrying the cross of someone else means opening a door for them, or clearing a pathway that allows them to return to a right relationship with God, no matter what that may look like for any particular individual. It means walking along side someone supporting their burdens while they sort out their lives and relationship with God no matter how they worship, or name God. Not an easy task for sure. We can see the effects on Jesus throughout scripture in his perpetual fatigue. Yet Jesus never complained and that too is a goal we are to reach for and it too is very difficult.
Now the next question is, if I am carrying someone else’s cross who is carrying mine. And that’s a tricky question. Do you remember that during the trip to Golgotha Simon of Cyrene (Matthew 27: 32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26) was conscripted into carrying Jesus cross? This, for means me, Simon supported Jesus’ burdens and Jesus was now the one who was in need of life. Jesus find life in his own resurrection, a resurrection had had given to so many others throughout his lifetime.
My lesson of the scripture is someone else is walking with me and supporting my burdens while I support the burdens of those who are disadvantaged. The person supporting my burdens is Jesus and I am supporting Jesus’ burdens in my walking in the way He taught. Now that is a big cross to carry! I am not sure I know how to fulfill this task, but I do know that I’m not alone; in fact I am never alone. I have others on the same pathway and I always have the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit to hold me up and cheer me on. I am not perfect at following the teaching of Jesus but grateful that He’s not too picky and forgives me my all too often mistakes and stumbles. While I strive to be Jesus like I often miss the mark and that means I’m not always helpful. All I am asked to do is to keep trying and moving forward on the path. I mean after all he taught those 12 male disciples and they never got it right so I figure I’m in good company.
Life is what I want, for me and for all that I meet. It’s not my job or task to determine what that life will look like for someone else, I only need to worry about what mine looks like. That is sufficient unto the day. All Christ, God, and Holy Spirit want is for me to try, that’s all, and I am forgive my wanderings from the path and am welcomed back when I find it again. That is all I can do, that is all any of us can do.
May your journey be a joyful one, but if it’s not then I pray that you let someone support you and help you back into life.
A mountain moves toward me
white and gray, filled with rain
suddenly a flash of light
one thousand one
one thousand two
one thousand three
one thousand four
one thousand five, Boom, Crash
the storm is five miles away
the air is heavy, the first scent of ozone reaches me
Hurry gather the chickens into their coop
the normally combative rooster runs in first
with clucks and cheeps the hens settle on
their roosts and nests
the now brave rooster hurry’s me out
A flash of light
one thousand one
one thousand two
one thousand three, Boom, Crash
the storm is moving quickly
the light is fading
Run to the barn and open the gate
to the lounging area
the cows already are waiting to be let in
horses move toward the opening
one recalcitrant pony stands in the middle of the pasture
yelling at the storm, “I command you to stay away”
the wind blows his black main and tail back, the storm moves
closer . . . a flash of light, and the brave soul runs for the barn
hooves flashing, neck stretched out and ears flat
as the first big drops of rain fall on his back he darts into the barn
the other animals look at him
“Didn’t work did it”, a flash of light
one thousand one, Boom, Crash,
I climb the steps to the hay loft with the dog and cat
and throw biscuits of hay down to the animals, Flash
one thou…. Boom, Crash
the storm is on me,
too late to reach the house
I settle down into the hay loft
dog and cat curl up beside me
rain pounds the tin roof
in a symphony to put Beethoven to shame
lightening and thunder come together now
flashing light and sound through and around the barn
rain rushes and pours off the roof,
the old pine and maple trees bend and sway in the wind and water
rivulets of water run down into the pasture
making ponds and small streams
the smell of wet earth, rain, and ozone fills the troubled air
the horses and cattle mill around down below
the scent of their warm bodies drift up to me
I hear a rustle in the beams of the barn and
Pigeons and sparrows settle in to share my shelter
in a corner, far from the barn owl, who also lives here
a meadow mouse sits and nibbles a bit of grain
sharing my space in companionable silence
many call this barn home, cattle, horses, owls,
pigeons, sparrows, mice and rabbits
it is a sanctuary, a safe place
a place where all live in harmony
at least until they leave its safe walls
The loft is warm, the hay sweetly scented
Using the dog as a pillow I lay down to wait out the storm
I listen to the horses and cattle talk
the pigeons rustle and coo
slowly the rain and thunder lulls me into a place of calm
time stops and I drift into creation
This past week John and I did a bit of gardening. We had a rosemary bush being shaded by another bush and I wanted to move it. So we prepared the new spot where it was to go, dug the new hole and went over to our lovely rosemary bush. Now you should know I planted this bush 6 or 7 years ago and I haven’t touched it to really prune it in 5 years. That means it wasn’t a small bush. For the last 5 years it has been doing a wonderful job of growing as it now stood nearly 5 feet tall and had a spread of closer to 6 feet. But, we started pruning and pruning, and pruning. Some of the branches were more than an inch thick and really woody (great in our fireplace though). After being prickled and rosemary scented by our bush we got down to digging the roots up. I never knew this about rosemary but it puts down ROOTS, not little roots, big ones and deep. Also, they extended farther than the drip line of the bush which made finding the ends of the plant actually very difficult. We ended up cutting a lot of roots because we couldn’t find where they stopped. But we moved our tenacious plant and got it planted in its new home and it is doing well enjoying all the sun it wants and lots of water.
After we were finished and cleaning up I remembered something about rosemary. First of all rosemary, in flower language, means remembrance and that sweet, huge, tough bush reminded me of just how persistent our memories are. Deep within each of us lives a world that was. Sometimes it surfaces when we least expect it whether we want it to or not. But our past makes us who we are and embracing the happy, the sad, the good with the bad memories helps balance our present. Learning from my past mistakes and successes provides me with a road map for my way forward. All of those memories connect me to something greater than just this single moment in time. It is also the memories of those who modeled the best of their lives which have led me to being a better person in my own life.
It is the memory of my parents and how they loved and cared for me that has taught me to be a more loving and caring wife, friend, and grandmother. It was my parent’s determination to model a life that included people of all backgrounds, races, genders, and abilities that has given me a passion for my openness to those who are different from me. It was my father’s love of creation and prayer and silence that has been my model for my spiritual growth throughout my life. It was a first grade teacher’s kindness to this wounded child that taught me anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
The memories I have of wandering open fields, lying in new mown grass, making storybook figures out clouds, and reading a book while I sat in the crook of an old apple tree gave me a love of open spaces. I have precious memories of being awakened at midnight to watch the Aurora Borealis with my father, or going out to our barn to watch as calves or puppies were born that hold a special place in my heart. It is remembering thunder storms roll across our fields and listening as the rain pummeled the tin roof of our barn, or rushed through the branches of the huge pine tree that was just outside my bedroom window that draws me into a place of contemplation and peace like nothing else can.
It is the memory of pulling a deep fat fryer full of hot grease down on top of me that reminds me that accidents happen but I am not alone even in the worst of times. It is the memory of a child in the hospital bed next to me who died during the night that taught me that fresh grief is always inconsolable. It is the memory of uncaring questions by adults and taunts of other children that taught me that sometimes people can be cruel. The memory of my father’s death from cancer keeps me asking “why” questions of God and doubting the fairness of life the Scripture tells me is good. It was being laid off for a year that taught me to let go of my fears, face them, then hand them over to the all surrounding presence that has always been in my life. It is the memory of my discovery of how much I have been surrounded by the Spirit that has changed me from who I was into the person I am today. Memories are the soil of our lives; mine goes deep with plenty of memory leaf compost and with each day. With each new memory made the soil gets deeper and richer.
The best part is that each of us has our own bed of memories to draw upon. Some are wonderful, insightful memories, some are horrid memories we would rather forget entirely, but by facing them we turn those bad memories into rich memory compost. Even the memories of death and destruction have a place in our lives, just as the memories of our mother’s arms around us does. Each memory adds to who we are and allows us to see who we were. Memories are the mirrors of our soul and how our soul has grown into who we are. For the good and bad memories are who we are. In learning to live with what we remember gives us the skills we need to live in the world we share with all of creation.
Creation, life, isn’t always fair or beautiful to our eyes. But, we don’t see the big picture; we see only our very small portion. Like an ant on a forest floor the view of our individual world of reality is very small. What we remember of our past helps us see the greater picture. Memories give us a wider view of the life that lies before us and behind us. Our memories connect us to those we have loved, and hated, giving us a past to live from.
Not having a past cuts us off from our life today. It is the reason those with Alzheimer’s, dementia or traumatic brain injuries that affects memory feel so cut off from the world around them. They have nothing to compare today with so how do they know what today means; how do they relate to people and the world around them. The greatest gift we can give those who cannot remember is to give them a piece of their past to ground them in the now moment of their lives and to do it every moment, every hour, every day we are with them. The joy of someone who discovers their own past is amazing and life giving.
Memories are the soil we stand on, the ground of our lives that allows us to live better lives today and tomorrow. Rosemary, the plant of remembrance, is tough, strong, and sweet and I want to remember my yesterdays to make my tomorrows tough, strong, and sweet.