Sacrifice

My grandson Jack has problems letting anyone cut his hair or touch his mouth, so when he fell and knocked out his one permanent upper front tooth, the trauma was worse than usual. The only way for the dentist to be able to re-implant the tooth was for his mom, Heather, to comfort Jack with the pressure of her body so the dentist could safely work in Jack’s mouth.

Heather, having as a child had many difficult experiences with her own knocked-out front tooth, had to cope with Jack’s profuse bleeding, his intense anxiety, and her own memories. She hesitated briefly. Then she pulled herself together and gave herself up for her son.

The world teaches—be first, climb the corporate ladder, be perfect (that is, better than other people), get more money. Jesus teaches–life is found not in trying to save your life but rather in giving it away for his sake. This message is given twice in Matthew, once in Mark, and twice in Luke—a solid witness. When we give ourselves for others, work together for the common good, let the ego die, we do not become lost. Instead we find joy, meaning and purpose, and more ability to live through the hard times.

The care of a parent for a child is a place that such self-giving love is required over and over. To love that way is not about doing good in order to get rewards from Jesus. It is a school for learning how to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Queries:

What stories do you have about self-giving love?

We can lose our lives for the sake of lots of things. What is different about losing one’s life “for Jesus’ sake”?

Prayer:

Think of a troubled situation or person you are concerned about. Hold that concern in your heart. Hold it in the Light. Pray about it.

For further reflection:

“They who find their lives will lose them . . .” (See Matthew 10:39 and 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24 and 17:32).

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself . . .” (See Matthew 22: 34-40; Mark 12: 28-34; Luke 10: 25-28).

Hoping When There Is No Hope

Ernest needs a place to live, but his lack of income, mental health issues, and past assault and battery charge are slamming doors in his face—despite the help of a well-connected friend who has journeyed with him for a long time. Elsa has been a nurse for several years but was recently dismissed because of coming to work in the morning having already consumed too much alcohol. Her family history is rife with alcoholism. On the international scene, living with the fear of again being exterminated makes completely untenable for Israelis the possibility of being subject to attacks by Palestinians. The oppression Palestinians endure is intense. Caring about such situations, how do we respond?

The world is full of seemingly hopeless situations. To live in despair is to make the world worse; yet to live with false hope can contribute to the existence of the problems or make them worse. How can we practice real hope that doesn’t deny reality?

To associate “hope” with my ability to fix things or with my wishes or expectations sets me up for trouble.   We need to have hope within a bigger picture, one even bigger than what we can see.

We can learn to look for signs of hope—indications that something greater than ourselves is at work. The very presence of caring, compassion, knowledge of the complexity of the situation, and support are gifts–things we can be thankful for. Gratitude feeds hope. And if we are looking, we may see things develop that we hadn’t imagined.

But when it seems that nothing offers hope, it matters to live holding the tensions and the pain without having to resolve any of the pieces, to have the courage to live anyway, as much as we can, in the manner we are called to. To love God and our neighbor; to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Living faithfully is to live in hope.

Queries:           

What is your experience of despair? Of hoping when there is not hope?

What about your faith provides a grounding for hope?

Prayer:

Remembering a particular seemingly hopeless situation, read and pray Psalm 13. Put it into your own words.

For further reflection:

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” (See Romans 8: 24-25).

“Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers . . .” (See Psalm 37: 1-9)

Be Still

Today I have a full day—exercise at 11, lunch at 12:15, haircut at 3, conference call at 5, and meeting at 7. I am feeling anxious and distracted. I don’t feel overwhelmed, because most of these activities are not responsibilities but opportunities for fun and friendship. But I do feel ungrounded. God is “out there,” and I am not in touch. It feels as if I am a stack of children’s alphabet blocks. The stack has been kicked and each separate block is flying around unpredictably in space.

There have been other times when I was at odds with myself and did feel overwhelmed. I was busy with responsibilities and things to do, and some of that included frequent checking email and fiddling with my smart phone. Everything seemed too much.   I stopped, I unplugged and was still.

Maybe in these situations, the quieting comes in yoga class. Maybe it comes in a walk around the block by myself, being aware of the sounds of birds and the beauty around me. Especially if I recognize soon enough the racing that is going on inside of me as I do one thing after another, maybe it is simply sitting down and breathing. Simply being quiet, re-grounding, letting the blocks be put back into a plumb-lined stack. Breathing in the Spirit, letting go the racing. Letting the heartbeat find the divine rhythm.

Queries:

How do you discern when you are doing too much, or when you are not doing what you do need to be doing?

How do electronics figure into your life? How do you keep their use in their rightful place?

What helps you re-find your anchor?

Prayer:

Stop and breathe. Stay with it long enough to find the flow. Be mindful of what you learn from this praying.

For further reflection:

“Only one thing is needed . . .” (Luke 10: 38-42).

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God . . .” (See Philippians 4: 4-7).

Welcoming the Stranger

Waiting for whoever might come for our new Bible study at the Friends’ meetinghouse, I was surprised when a homeless white woman opened the door and asked if we were having a Bible study or prayer meeting. I said we were and, not knowing what else to say, invited her to join us.

She went to the bathroom. A man I was expecting arrived. She came back out and joined us. She pulled out her toothbrush and toothpaste and brushed a little, then sprayed toward her underarms with something that smelled good. No one else came, but we decided to go ahead with our study. She said she preferred the King James Bible, but we didn’t have one.

We launched into a conversation about Genesis 1. It soon was obvious that she didn’t need a copy of the Bible because she knew vast portions of it by heart. She entered right into our conversation with helpful comments. Her clear blue eyes were twinkling, she was smiling, and her face glowed with light. I listened intently, trying to take in the good she was offering us, yet also warily, not knowing what to make of this homeless stranger. The Benedictines teach that we should greet everyone as Christ. “Who is she,” I wondered, “and what I am to learn?” It was, for me, an extraordinary experience.

Before telling a group of friends about this, I asked them to tell stories about encountering a stranger or visiting with a friend. All the stories were about unexpected gifts that had come from taking the time to be present with another person. So often, maybe wisely, we set up barriers to keep us in control or to avoid being vulnerable. But what might we be missing?

Queries:

What story about encountering a stranger or visiting with a friend can you tell?

When is it valuable to be vulnerable and when is it inappropriate? Do you need more safety or more willingness to be vulnerable?

Prayer:

God of steadfast love and mercy, bless us with understanding hearts and peaceful spirits.

For further reflection:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. . . . And who is my neighbor?” (See Luke 10:25-37).

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13: 2)

Judge Not that You Be Not Judged

I awoke one morning obsessing about a situation that had gone wrong. Certainly I had made mistakes I could learn from. But lying in bed I didn’t focus on the good that had come from the problem. Instead I was judging myself. I scolded me for being inadequate and incompetent, and I wondered if there was anything I could do well. My self-judgment was harsh.

Fortunately I spoke with my spiritual director, who gave me perspective. What I experienced from her was God’s love. We agreed that it is wise to evaluate problematic situations and to learn the lessons they contain—to make those kinds of judgments. But, when I judge myself in a condemning way, I am acting as the ultimate judge—as God. That blocks God’s love and keeps me from facing reality and, if appropriate, making changes.

Being overly self-critical, which makes it hard to receive love, makes it easy to judge others. The less love one is able to receive, the less one has to give. The more I pick at everything wrong with me, the more I do the same to you, and the more likely you will do that back to me. The wounds multiply. Compassion–God’s love and mercy that heals—is missing.

Queries:

When have you judged yourself or others or been judged by others?

What helps you be in the flow of God’s love?

What is your experience of compassion or forgiveness that is helpful to you?

Prayer:                                

Repeat the Lord’s Prayer—“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name . . . Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us . . . .” You may want to rewrite it in your own words.

For further reflection:

“Judge not that you be not judged. . .” (See Matthew 7: 1-5).

“Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (See Matthew 18: 23-35).

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (See Psalm 51). You may want to read this psalm in different translations. Consider Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying.