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).

Wrestling

What is it like to be an academically successful college student wondering if you will be deported before you graduate, sent back to a country you left when you were so young you can’t remember it?   What is it like to be a parent of children you sense won’t have now the chance for success that you had when you were growing up?  Or a parent of children who still suffer the deck-being-stacked-against-them that you lived with years ago?  What about those who study the oceans, fish, and coral reefs, and who are already counting the destruction that is happening?  What about feeling ill but not knowing why, having tests and waiting for the results, fearing the news that might be coming?

Serious worry, fear, anger, hurt—how does one live in these times?  How does one avoid reacting in ways that hurt oneself and maybe others?  Where is hope?

This kind of time may be one in which to wrestle with God, being deeply and rawly engaged—to cry out, complain, be angry.  Faithful wrestling can uncover theological misunderstandings and superficial ideas that may be broken open to allow a stronger and more vibrant faith to emerge.  A quick look at the Psalms will let you know that in your complaint you are in good company:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  “Why must I walk around mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” “How long, O Lord?”

As a chaplain in oncology there were times when situations were just too hard to bear.  I remember on such occasions finding a place by myself and having a talk with God.  Sometimes I wrote, sometimes I was able to be in my thoughts and feelings at the core, and to give voice to the pain.  (You could say I raged at God.)  I stayed with those feelings until I felt heard and I was finished.  (There certainly was no formula.) And then there came some measure of peace, some comfort or guidance.  Often the situation didn’t change but I did.  Certainly these have been times of spiritual growth.  I learned a lot about prayer and who God is, and I found greater trust.  Most importantly, I was enabled to live the next day, in the love of the Beloved.

Queries:

Think about a time when you felt frightened, angry, or in pain.  How do you handle such times?

Where is God in hard times?  Does Jesus enter your picture?

Prayer:

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for you, for the living God” (Psalm 42: 1-2a).

For further reflection:

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (See Exodus 32: 22-32.)

[Jesus said,] “I am deeply grieved, even to death . . . And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed . . . (See Matthew 26: 36-46).