Losses

The recent death of the husband of my eldest cousin brought its own sadness and also, since I have a large family, the awareness that this loss is just the beginning of a long string of losses. In addition, being of a certain age, I am experiencing losses or diminishments routinely. Where is comfort or healing?

Admittedly my first response is protest. I don’t like it! I don’t want to lose what is dear to me! This protest can feel like screaming into the wind, throwing snowballs into a vacuum of nothingness. The facts don’t change. Yet protest, if deeply felt and directed to God, can bring healing, when we are surprisingly met by a loving presence in the midst of the anger, hurt, and fear. I remember as a little girl being so upset by something, crying my heartbreak, and sitting in front of my mother who would quietly stroke my cheek until I calmed. We can get closed in a box of hurt and pain, but Presence and Love open a door into new and ongoing life.

We also experience that Presence and Love through family and friends who stand by our side in times of loss. Anything that recognizes, accepts, and shares my loss matters. I remember years ago when friends went to the trouble to drive over an hour to attend the memorial service for my father-in-law. We were touched and comforted in that place where death and resurrection coexist. I also remember being comforted by cards that were sent me when my mother died—reading and re-reading them, even just seeing the stack of them.

Most amazing are the gifts that come through the pain of losses and diminishments. Only after my mother died did I come to know the depth of her love for me. I can say the lack of earlier awareness is sad. And also I can rejoice that I can spend the rest of my life knowing and living in the fullness of her love. In addition, I can have compassion for those who don’t yet know how much I love them—and compassion for me in not knowing how to let them know. Here is grace and wisdom. As Richard Rohr said, “grace is found at the depths and in the death of everything.” The only way to lose is “to swim on the surface of things, where we never see, find, or desire God or love.”

Queries:

What losses or diminishments have you encountered or do you fear?

How does your faith support you in the midst of losses?

Prayer:

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God” (Psalm 62:5). You may want to put your feelings about losses in the form of a psalm. Do not hesitate to protest.

For further reference:

“Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever” (See Psalm 44: 20-26).

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Heaven

As someone of a certain age, I find that pondering about what happens when we die is natural. For some the answer is about going to heaven. A widespread belief is that heaven is the place you go after you die if you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Some would add the assumption that it is where you go if you have been good enough. For some, this picture gives life and hope. For others, this understanding seems too pat, simply unbelievable, or meaningless.

I think there are other faithful ways to think about heaven. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6: 9-13). The yearning is for the two realms to be one—one where God’s ways are fully and completely present, where God’s “commandments” are in our hearts so that we choose to live them and live in harmony with all—the beloved community. God reigns–not human rulers, who are caught up in the ways of power and dominance.

Early Friends were among other religious people who were trying to find a way to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. George Fox realized that the peaceable kingdom couldn’t come through violence and war. He came to know experientially that our hearts need to be changed, and that Christ is present and available to teach us– to love, to live in harmony, to follow God’s ways. Heaven is not confined to what happens to us when we die, or where we go after this life. As we come to know that life and power that tenders our hearts and changes our ways (this is different from intellectual assent to a set of beliefs), heaven—eternal and everlasting life—begins now.

When we are “in heaven,” all that is good in us rises up. All that hurts and destroys is ended. There is oneness and unity, creation is sustained. God dwells with us and in us. Because we know it now in moments, and as a promise, we hope that in time we will know it in full. That hope, held deeper and deeper, changes our lives now and forever. Death, then, I think, is a continued moving into love.

Queries:

What do you think about heaven and how does that impact how you live now?

When have you experienced that sense of oneness with all, of being loved completely, of God dwelling within, of being transformed?

Prayer:

In your imagination allow a vision of heaven to rise up. Take that into your heart and dwell there.

For further reflection:

“I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts . . .” (See Jeremiah 31: 31-34).

“Now I was come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter.” –George Fox, Journal, 1647

Spiritual Gifts of Aging

We recently celebrated what would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. During the time she lived in a retirement community a short walk from my house, she taught me about true strength and graceful aging, none of which she told me in words.

In 1967, I married and left home, my sister went to college, and my father died—all within about a month. My mother found her way through all of that loss. She just kept going. At the time I was too tied up in myself to notice. Only after I saw her move here—clearing out on her own a large home and letting go a lifetime of possessions, quietly adjusting to a new community, and flourishing—did I begin to realize what strength she had.

Years later her Parkinson’s disease progressed until she was too unstable to care for herself. Blessed then with a wonderful part-time caregiver, she turned that relationship into a source of joy and flourished still. Before too long she had to renew her driver’s license. When she was unable to pass the test, she simply asked for a government identification card and graciously let the driving go.

Eventually congestive heart failure sent her to the health care wing. Again she recognized and cooperated with the reality of her condition. She let go more possessions and accepted living in only one room, especially once it had a collection of family photos she could see.

During her last months when I visited her she no longer had energy to watch television or follow her beloved March Madness basketball. She simply glowed at having me present. It began to dawn on me how much she did love me, how much she had always loved me even when I hadn’t felt it, how she had given me gift after gift while I was busy with my own life.

Now it’s my turn to be getting older. How will I cope with the diminishments? Can I let go what I have worked hard to develop and collect? Will I choose bitterness and fear or wisdom and grace? Will I live in regret and disappointment, or can it be with joy and love? As my outward body declines will my inward life grow stronger? These are spiritual questions.

Queries:

What story can you tell about loss or diminishment, yours or another’s, and what have you learned?

What are your spiritual resources for coping and flourishing when you are getting older?

Prayer:

Prayerfully review your life, noticing the ups and the downs, and claim the gifts that accompanied both.

For further reflection:

“There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty. . . In God alone it can rejoice. . .(James Nayler’s last words, 1660).

Love Your Enemies

There is a certain woman who interacts with me in a way that results in my feeling as if she has shoved me into a corner with her arm pushed up against my neck, threatening bodily harm if I don’t do what she wants. My feeling is irrational, but it makes me think about Jesus’ call to us to love our enemies.

How can I love this woman!? Much less a real enemy–someone who threatens my very existence and what I value most dearly. My first reaction is to find a way to strike back.

Jesus tells us that anyone can love those who love them. He seems to see that kind of love as simply natural (See Matthew 5: 43-48). Yet for Jesus, something different has become possible for those to whom he speaks. Some people read this injunction and give up on being able to follow the teachings of Jesus, or decide that this passage is one to ignore. But I find the charge an invitation to consider what, at least at first, doesn’t seem possible.

When I can know myself inwardly as loved and acceptable (that is, find myself grounded in God), then I can allow the other person to be who she is. I recognize my own fears and shortcomings. I feel compassion. I let her carry herself the way she wants to, and I respond without having my response be determined by how she’s acted toward me. I calmly provide the information she asks for and let the results be what they are.

Queries:

Who do you see as threatening your existence or what you value? What is weakness and what is power in the face of threat from an enemy? (What are you called to in response to the killing in Charleston?)

How does being in Christ change how you can respond to an enemy?

Prayer:

“Pray for those who persecute you.” Holding the person or situation in your heart, with your eyes closed and using your imagination, or by writing in a journal, ask to be given insight about your reaction and what door would open you to love.

For further reflection:

“Love your enemies . . .” (See Luke 6: 27-36).

“Do not fret because of the wicked . . .” (See Psalm 37: 1-8).

“Trust in the Lord”

When I began the practice of Centering Prayer, the teacher explained that the prayer reflects an intention to consent to the presence and action of God in one’s life. To further explain what we were doing he used the words of Mary when she is told that she is to give birth to a child conceived by the Holy Spirit—“Let it be to me according to Your will.” To say those words—what trust!

They immediately kicked up my distrust. What might God ask of me? What might God do to me? How can I give up control of my life, and why would I want to? Who is God? I thought I believed that God is love. After all, I was taking time to learn to pray in this new way, wasn’t I? And yet . . . I wasn’t certain. I wrestled.

What does it mean to trust in God? It certainly isn’t being passive and letting whatever happens happen. What is God like? I already know that sickness, diminishments, and death are coming. Can I trust God with my life? But if I’m not trusting in God, in whom am I trusting? If I’m trusting in me, how good a bet is that? If I’m trusting in someone else, how safe is that? We are always letting one another down, even those we love the most.

Over the years I have been enabled to trust God at deeper and deeper levels. I do know a felt sense of living in that trust and the peace that comes with it. And yet, even so I find myself over and over acting as if the story depends only on me. “Trust in the Lord, rest in the Lord, abide in the Lord” is a beautiful, chant-like song that Conservative Friend Deborah Shaw taught to a group of which I was a part. The song was simple, but what it invites us to do doesn’t come easy.

Queries:

Where do you place your trust? What stories can you tell of your trust being betrayed or upheld?

What are your questions?

Prayer:

God, hear our prayer. Lord, have mercy.

For further reflection:

Read the story of the healing of Namaan the leper in II Kings 5: 1-14.

“My strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away . . . But I trust in you, O Lord.” (See Psalm 31: 9-24.)