Sounds of silence…

When I was in college, I loved a song by Simon and Garfunkle–“The Sounds of Silence.” In it, silence was presented in a negative way…as a cancer that grows…as something that separates people.

But silence can also be a profoundly powerful experience.

I just returned from a weekend contemplative retreat…an opportunity to use silence as a way of “going deeper” in a community that is taking a spiritual journey together.

We had opportunity to come together and share with each other verbally–but we also had significant time to choose not to have to speak. That didn’t mean we ignored each other…far from it! We discovered there are other ways of communicating, ways that often say more than our words do.

When we did talk, we discovered that taking time to intentionally consider our words meant that what we did say had the opportunity of being more meaningful.

But perhaps more importantly, we had the opportunity in the silence to listen for the voice of God…a voice too often drowned out in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

And we heard that voice in many ways…in the songs of the birds…in the gentle breeze…in the smiles and hugs we shared with each other…and yes, even in the words that came to our minds as we intentionally listened for them.

 

Shingles suck!

No, not the kind of shingles you put on your house. The kind that is a second version of chickenpox–and generally shows up as a band of blisters on your waist.

A couple of weeks ago I went to my doctor for my yearly wellness exam. I had had the original shingles shot several years ago, but she suggested I look at getting the new version, since they’ve apparently discovered that the earlier one tends to degrade over time. The new shot is difficult to find, so I was going to need to call pharmacies to see who might have it available.

That was on a Tuesday. By Sunday night I was in the emergency room with pain so severe I couldn’t find any kind of comfortable position. After an IV of pain medication and a CAT scan, I was eventually sent home with the probable diagnosis of a kidney stone. Yay!

I had a follow-up with my doctor the next Tuesday. As she was checking things out–and saying that the kidney stone diagnosis didn’t make sense with the symptoms I was having–she lifted my top…and found the rash. Shingles!

Okay, I knew there were challenges with shingles, but she was going to put me on an anti-viral and some pain meds…so I figured I’d still be able to take part in my denomination’s conference the next week. I had committed to playing the piano and organ for several events during the week, and my doctor had told me I’d be non-contagious by then.

Things didn’t work out that way. I was in enough pain that I eventually decided I needed to back out of my commitments and give time for replacements to be found. I didn’t want to–I haven’t missed being involved in a conference for 50+ years (earlier they were held every 2 years, currently every 3). But I didn’t want to wait until the last moment either.

I’m glad I did. I’ve spent the week of conference lounging on the sofa or in bed…napping…trying to distract myself with reading or coloring…and sharing in the conference through the webstreaming that has been available. There is no way that I would have been able to honor my commitments.

The rash is well on its way to clearing up. The sensitivity to touch is still pretty intense–and the pain is currently bearable…most of the time. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t be in the small percentage that has post-shingles pain…and I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that this doesn’t trigger an exacerbation of my MS.

Asking for help is not easy for me–but I’ve been blessed by the folks who have stepped up to cover for me. And I’ve been blessed by those who have been supporting me in prayers and warm thoughts from a variety of backgrounds.

So yeah, shingles suck…but there have been blessings through it all as well.

Joy

Advent 4

On this last Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of joy.

What is joy?

Perhaps we should start out by saying what it is not. Joy is not necessarily happiness. Happiness can be fleeting, dependent on events happening in our lives–or the lives of our loved ones. If circumstances change, happiness may disappear.

But joy…joy is an emotion that comes from deep in our heart. We can find joy even in the most difficult of life circumstances…even when common sense says we should be completely down in the dumps.

So what makes the difference?

Joy may include happiness, but it goes deeper. We have joy when we know we have a firm foundation we can build our lives on–someone we can trust to always be with us through both good and bad times…someone who loves us, no matter what.

Joy acknowledges that life is not always easy, but it also knows that we are never alone, even when it may feel like we’ve been abandoned. Our human family, our friends may turn away from us–but the One whose birth we are preparing to celebrate never does.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite stories (and movies) this time of year–Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The Cratchit family lacks much of the “things” that we tend to think are necessary to find happiness, and also are dealing with the illness of the youngest child–and yet when they are preparing for their Christmas dinner, Bob Cratchit (the patriarch of the family) is still able to offer a toast of thanks and gratefulness for what they have…the love of family. They have joy.

And so…as we light this candle of joy, my wish, my blessing for each of you is this quote from Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!” And may you be blessed with true joy, not just this day but throughout the year.

 

Love

Adventskranz 3. Advent

Today we lit the third candle of Advent–the candle of love.

What is love?

There are many ways to define it. I remember as a child enjoying the Peanuts definition – “Love is a warm puppy.” But is that all there is to it?

English can be a challenging language because many times, we only have one word to identify multiple emotions. That’s true of “love.”

When Prince Charles and Princess Diana held their first news conference so many years ago, when someone asked Charles if he was in love with her, he replied “Whatever in love means.” That did not bode well for their marriage–but there is a lot of truth in his statement.

We love ice cream…if you’re a woman, you may love a particular dress…we love the weather…or a sports team…or our spouse…our children…

Do we really know what love is?

The One whose birth we are preparing for came to show us true love…a love so strong that he was willing to give his life for others. Occasionally we see that in other human beings around us. Unfortunately, far too often we settle for an “easy” definition.

But perhaps the best definition–and the challenge–of living in love can be found in a verse often used during weddings. But it’s a good challenge for each of us as we continue our preparation for celebrating the baby who came 2000 years ago–and whose coming we look forward to now:

What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others.

Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.

Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered.

It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do.

Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil.

Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting.

Love never fails!

 

When is the dawn?

There’s a rabbinical story that I have always liked. There are several versions, but it goes something like this:

A rabbi was talking with his students. He asked them this question: “How can we know when it is dawn–the time at which the night ends and the day begins?”

The students were puzzled. One asked, “Is it when you can look from a distance and tell whether it’s your house or your neighbor’s?”

“No,” the rabbi answered.

“Is it when you can tell your animal in the field from your neighbor’s?”

“No,” answered the rabbi again.

“Is it when you can see a flower in the garden and distinguish its color?”

The rabbi was frustrated. “Why do you think only in terms of separations? The dawn has come when you can look into the face of another human being and recognize that they are your sister or your brother. Until then, it is still night.”

That story seems particularly appropriate in light of the last couple of weeks…when we seem to have been unable or unwilling to see the humanity of those we disagree with.

For some right now, it seems as though we are in night, a night that feels as though it will never end.

And yet…

There’s another saying as well that seems appropriate. It first seems to have appeared in 1650 and has been used in various ways, including in a recent movie about England in World War II: “It’s always darkest right before the dawn.”

And that’s what gives me hope.

In what appears to be a very dark time, I have hope that the dawn is not far away…that there are those who can help us see it coming as they help us see the sister and brother in “the other.”

Healing spiritual wounds…

I’ve mentioned before that a few years ago I was deeply wounded by people in my church–people who were in leadership positions and who made decisions that impacted me and many of my friends in negative ways to the point that I wondered if there was a place for me in the church that I had spent my entire life in, worshiped in, and worked for. Thanks to some wonderful counseling, the gift of presence from a couple of other individuals in leadership positions, and the grace of God I’ve been able to come through that situation with healing, although the scars will always be there.

Recently someone (and I can’t remember who) recommended a book that I checked out of the library and have been reading through. It’s a book I wish I had had during that very dark night–but I also am not sure that I would have been ready to read it then. Because I find myself still sometimes dealing with feelings triggered by actions or words that remind me of that time, it’s a book I’m going to buy and actually work through. With it being a library book, that’s been harder to do…I can’t write in it, and I need to get through reading it so that it can be returned on time!

It’s titled Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God after Experiencing a Hurtful Church by Carol Howard Merritt. While her experiences were different from mine, she has some good exercises for working through hurts that have been caused by churches and church people. 

Some of those hurts sometimes seem to be intentionally caused because of a specific theology. Sometimes the hurts are unintentional–people simply fail in living up to the ideals they espouse.

But either way, the hurts can be deep…and they can leave us wondering how–and if–we can heal…whether there is a place for us in our spiritual home.

It is possible–and this book can be very helpful in working through the process. 

Without a past…

Those of you who know me know that I love to read. I’m currently reading a book whose title intrigued me (The Woman without a Past)—and inspired this post. (That’s the only thing the two items have in common!)

What happens when we live “without a past”?

I’ve been musing about America…and wondering if, in many ways, we are a country without a past. Perhaps not in the way people might think—after all, we have a 200+ year history.

But…if we are not willing to honestly come to terms with our past, perhaps we really don’t have one.

What do I mean by that?

We need to listen to each other…all of us.

We are not simply a white Christian country. There were indigenous civilizations before the white people came to this country—and we have yet to truly become aware of their history…and how the interactions between their civilization and the white civilization impacted them and continues to do so today.

Others came to this country by choice (or semi-choice)—and yet, even they were not all welcomed or their culture acknowledged. We can look back at newspaper articles and posters of a couple hundred years ago and become aware that Chinese, Irish…and members of other cultures…were not allowed in certain places. Unfortunately that has still been true until recently. I had a Chinese-American friend who—with her white husband—was not welcome in certain communities because she was not white.

And then there’s the elephant in the room that no one really wants to confront. Africans were brought to this country under duress for many years—torn away from their families of origin…and then separated again from their families under the burden of slavery.

It is true that none of us alive today had anything to do with those atrocities—but we are all still impacted by them. Once a culture has been so terribly broken as the African cultures were for those who came to this country, it is difficult to find something to hold on to. It may take many, many generations for that brokenness to be healed—if it ever can be completely. And those of us who are white are also impacted. Many of us have been comfortable with who we are—and we may find ourselves getting angry with those who want to continually harp on past wrongs because we don’t understand what that has to do with us.

But we have to confront that past. Our history is not the sanitized and whitewashed history of Gone with the Wind where the slaves were part of the family and well taken care of. It is more the history of 12 Years a Slave if we are truthful with ourselves.

Fear of each other—and each other’s stories—keeps us from truly having a past. It allows us to continue to perpetuate myths about who we are and how we got where we are today. It creates an environment where neo-Nazis can march openly on college campuses, chanting slogans from a past that we thought we would never see again…where a biracial 8-year-old boy can have a noose put around his neck and be tossed from a picnic table by a group of white boys…where young black men fear any kind of interaction with policemen…and where policemen (whether black or white) fear themselves about their actions being second-guessed and whether they are walking into danger.

We DO have a past. It is both wonderful and horrifying—but we will never really understand it…or ourselves…until we are willing to be honest with ourselves and with each other.