New birth–and peace

My denomination has a daily service called the Daily Prayer for Peace. It is offered every day, 365 days a year. It’s not long–only about 15 minutes. But it is a service focused on a number of different aspects of peace–personal as well as world.

I have sat in it for many, many days. Sometimes over the last couple of years, though, I have found it difficult at times to sit through–because I was not at peace…with my job, my church, or myself.

My spiritual advisor helped me get through this time, and one thing that helped was a book we spent a lot of time in–Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction by Margaret Guenther. A lot of books about spiritual direction are written by men, but this one by a woman brought some new perspectives! One chapter talks about the spiritual director as midwife–being present and assisting (when appropriate) in a new birth.

I’d never thought of the spiritual journey in that way before, and it was an image that helped me get through some very difficult times–what St. John of the Cross has identified as “the dark night of the soul.” Birth is rarely easy…usually messy…sometimes seems to go on forever…and yet usually results in something that can be celebrated.

So how are these two things related? Yesterday I was sitting in the Prayer for Peace, looking out at a the garden through the window–and I became aware that finally I was able to look at…and really see…the beauty in that place. I’ve looked out that window before and seen the various plants carefully designed in a Japanese garden, but I didn’t really see. I was still too focused on the process.

I’ve been thinking about the birth of my own son 30 years ago and how thinking of that process has helped me think through this:

I remember that there was pain–and that I almost panicked…no, I did panic. But I can’t bring back the severity of the pain.

The same thing is true of spiritual (re)birth. There is pain, and you will feel the pain for a while. Then you will remember that there was pain–but not the severity of it. Instead, you will grow into the new life you are called to.

What a promise of celebration and peace!

Remembering…

Jay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This weekend is Memorial Day…

It’s a time for remembering…and, perhaps, for wishing that we would never need to use this day for remembering those lost because of war.

I remember when we visited the Vietnam Wall a number of years ago. When that war broke out, it seemed so far away–until a friend of mine…whose parents had signed for him to enter the military because he was underage…was killed. Then it became personal. When we went to the wall, I found his name and traced it. It’s hard to think how Jimmy might have turned out–he is forever locked in memory at the age of 17.

Then it became even more personal, when my then-fiance (and now-husband) left for Vietnam right after we became engaged. He was in explosive ordnance disposal–dealing with disposing of booby traps of various types.

Years passed, and war seemed far away…until our oldest grandson entered the Marines. He was so proud… He went to Iraq for a year–and came back home…but not the way we wanted. He arrived back in the States in the fall…called us on Thanksgiving–and was excited about being home for Christmas. We knew he had not had a good experience in Iraq, but we could hardly wait to give him hugs.

Then two Marines came to our daughter’s house–on Jay’s 21st birthday. In trying to deal with his experiences in Iraq, he became one of the casualties. He didn’t die from a bullet, but he was also a war casualty, Tender-hearted young men–men who want to make a difference…but who find themselves in situations that require them to make choices they never thought they would… We need them!

And now his younger brother is in the Army. He’s served a stint in Afghanistan but is back in the States. His enlistment is up this fall, and he’s going to go into the Reserves.

I honor them this Memorial Day weekend–honor their willingness to respond to a call, even though I may not agree with their choice. But I hope and dream of a day when our children will no longer learn war…when we will learn to see each other as brothers and sisters…and find a way to live in God’s peace.

Listening…

Have you ever thought how important listening is? And I don’t mean the everyday cursory type of listening we often do…I mean true, heavy-duty listening–when nothing else interferes with the attention you are paying to what someone else is saying.

I was reminded this week what a significant ministry listening can be. And it doesn’t require any degree or special training…it just requires a willingness to be present.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been struggling with some work-related situations, situations that have raised some major concerns. I’ve seen gaps between what was said and the actions that followed…I’ve seen holes that aren’t being filled…I’ve had concerns about a body of knowledge being lost….I’ve raised those issues with a number of people I thought could (and should) make some differences. Sometimes I just wanted them to listen.

But I didn’t feel like I was being heard. It seemed as though the words just fell into a void. There’s a song from the musical 1776 that says “Is anybody there? Is anybody listening?” That’s what it felt like.

This week, though, I had an opportunity to visit with someone who has more authority/responsibility. And she listened! She closed her door and put her phone on “send calls.” She didn’t tell me “You shouldn’t feel that way”…she acknowledged my feelings, even though she probably has a different perspective. She leaned forward, her body language telling me that she was truly listening.

I spent about an hour with her. And when I left, I realized how much she had blessed me. The circumstances hadn’t changed–and even though she said she would do what she could to help bring about some changes, that may not happen. But I can deal with that now.

Why? She listened.

The Least of These…

I’ve been a little quiet the last couple of weeks. A scripture has kept running through my mind–the one in which Jesus is quoted as saying “If you have done it [given food or water, visited, etc.] to any of the least of these, you have done it to me.”

That’s always seemed kind of vague. How do we know when we’re doing something to help “any of the least”?

The last couple of weeks we’ve been beginning to learn, I think. We’ve been helping a young man who has made some mistakes in his past that have come back to haunt him. He’s rough around the edges–not necessarily someone I’d have reached out to…but he needed someone to stand up for him and believe in him.

So…he stayed with our son for a week (as long as our son’s lease would allow) and is currently sleeping on our couch until the issues can be resolved.

On a board I’m active on, a friend of mine said “Many people think they want to reach the lost, but get squeamish when they discover that the lost may not smell like them, may not look like them, may not speak like them, and may not have the same values as them.” The key is in recognizing that they are still children of God–my brothers and sisters.

Then last night I was able to attend an opera through the gift of another friend–it was part of the world premiere of a new work titled “John Brown.” The composer of the opera saw past the caricature that John Brown often is presented as–the saintly abolitionist or the crazy fanatic–and presented him as a real human being struggling with a very real issue that he saw as incredibly evil.

John Brown’s vision was in seeing those the world dismissed as “the least of these”…and living out his understanding of what the scriptures called him to do.

So…how do I do that?

Where are “the least of these” that I come in contact with? If I keep my eyes open, they’re all around. I can’t change the whole world–but I can help change my corner of it…one person at a time.