Love One Another

Jesus tells us to love one another, to love our neighbor as ourselves, even to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  And he makes clear that our “neighbor” includes people who think and worship differently from us.  It is a lot easier to love people who are like us.  This is hard teaching.  Maybe Jesus was just crazy.

During the presidency of Barack Obama, there were many people who were very angry at him and his policies, who feared that he was bringing Socialism.  Today, at the beginning of the presidency of Donald Trump, there are other people who are very angry at him and the policies he has advocated, who fear that he may be an American version of Adolph Hitler.  Love?  You’ve got to be kidding.

On Inauguration Day I was reading The Grace in Aging (2014) by Kathleen Dowling Singh, whose perspective is primarily Buddhist.  I read:

The mind of anger often appears as judgment….Judging others, we shore up our own beliefs and assumptions.  Judging others allows us to feel superior.  That wish to feel superior is harmful.  It feeds our fictional self, keeping us in ignorance.  Judging others rips us out of interbeing and connection.  It arises from ignorance and obstructs compassion….Judging puts out a directed negativity and adds to the toxicity of the world.

Singh ends that chapter encouraging us as we age to “hold the space for peace in the world.”  Whether we are following her advice or following Jesus’ commandment to love one another, I don’t think it’s very comfortable.  It requires being open and vulnerable, being aware of our limitations, respecting everyone as a beloved child of God who may well carry a piece of truth that needs to be heard.  That’s challenging.  Slogans and put-downs are a lot easier.

Queries:

How do you discern Truth?

What does it mean to love those with whom you disagree?

Prayer:

Richard Rohr, in his Daily Meditation for Saturday, January 21, 2017, describes a prayer of the heart.  “Next time a resentment, negativity, or irritation comes into your mind, and you want to play it out or attach to it, move that thought or person literally into your heart space…,” which is a place where “it is almost impossible to comment, judge, create story lines, or remain antagonistic.”  Then open your heart into the heart of God.

For further reference:

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (See Psalm 133.)

“Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.” (See John 16: 1-4.)

Dealing with Loss

For the past ten years my husband and I have gathered each New Year’s with two other couples who come from out of town.  Originally we got together so that the three of us who were teaching together could work—and also play.  Each year has been a delight.

This year, for a variety of reasons, most likely was the last.  Everything we did I found myself enjoying at a heightened level, wanting to soak in all the goodness and joy.  The loss feels like it leaves a big hole, and I grieve.

Life is full of losses.  Things come and things go.  Some losses—such as the death of a beloved family member, the loss of a home, the destruction of dreams—are very hard, and sometimes even tragic.  As we age and die, everything our egos have held dear, bit by bit, is lost.  So my poignant loss of the New Year’s gathering is an opportunity to learn and practice the art of letting go.  Maybe then the harder losses can be handled with more equanimity than they otherwise would be.

It seems to me that there are several practices that are a part of letting go.  One is gratitude.  Any loss that we grieve—whether originally a treasure or a trial—had in it something that was precious.   Spending time knowing, feeling, remembering what was good lets us take deeper into our cells that joy.  Adding gratitude is a reminder that these good things are from Something or Someone greater than we are, which adds perspective and a bigger picture.

When anger or deep unhappiness comes with the loss, it may help to look at what is going on with, or what is under, these feelings. Forgiveness may be a key practice for letting go. It lets us release the poison we feed on in our anger while thinking to do harm to the other, and frees us to move forward.

Letting go isn’t easy.  Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt.  They hadn’t journeyed far before the people began to complain and wish they were back in Egypt.  When Jesus told his disciples he was going to die, they did not like that idea, and when it happened, they were at first at a loss.  But as Jesus’ death opened new possibilities, so our losses can be a door into something new.  May we learn to let go so we can watch for and see the gift that can come in the loss.

Queries:

What is your experience with loss and letting go?

How does faith fit into your practice of letting go?

Prayer:

Loving God, thank you for the blessings that we have known in that which is now gone.  Stand with us and strengthen us as we let go into what is to come.

For further reference:

“You lack one thing: go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (See Mark 10: 17-21).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (See Revelation 21: 1-5).

“The Holy Innocents”

Herod, king when Jesus was born, is told by wise men from the East that there is a child born king of the Jews whose star they have been following.  To eliminate the threat this child poses, King Herod has all boys under age two killed.  But Jesus escapes because Joseph had been warned in a dream to take his family to Egypt.

This story has many parallels with the story of Moses, who led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt, and points to Jesus as a new liberator.  But the story also kicks up some deep and perplexing questions.  What about all those children who were killed, and what about their families?  Why weren’t they saved?  Where was God?  Did God abandon them?

How can I say that God healed me when so many people are not healed?  Does God listen?  Does God really intervene?  Does God play favorites?  Can God be trusted?  Do these hard things mean that God doesn’t exist, or that God doesn’t care?

This Bible story doesn’t give answers to these questions but it does point.  In the gospel story, the death of the children does not go ignored.  Matthew includes a very powerful quotation from Jeremiah about Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be consoled.  The death of children did not and does not go unheard.  In the Roman Catholic Church there is a feast day on December 28 memorializing Herod’s victims—the feast of the Holy Innocents.

When children are killed today, there is outcry.  On September 15, 1963, four school-age African-American girls were killed in a bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  People knew this was wrong.  It became a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, and it contributed to support for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  When on December 14, 2012, twenty children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a pall lay over the country.   Their story is not forgotten.

What I particularly value is that Matthew’s account makes clear that the God the Bible talks about is not one who prevents bad things from happening even to people who love God.  God intervenes in human lives but not always and not predictably.  God is mystery; God’s ways are beyond our human comprehension.  What I know experientially is that God is, God acts, God communicates, and God is available—regardless of outward circumstances.

Queries:

Under what circumstances have you questioned God?  What is it to trust God?

What groups of young people suffering call for your care?

Prayer:

You who are beyond our comprehension but not beyond caring, help us notice the children who are being wounded by the circumstances of our world and let us be heard wailing and in loud lamentation.

For further reference:

“Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.  Come, let us deal shrewdly with them. . . . (See Exodus 1: 8 – 2: 10).

“When Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (See Matthew 14: 13-21).