Telling My Myth

Enlight106

The village of Aperi, Karparthos, Dodecanese, Greece

A myth is a story thatโ€™s told again and again and serves to explain why something is the way it is. (vocabulary.com)

Our stories, the stories that emerge from living our lives, are myths. I tell a number of stories that my grandmother told me, from stories her grandmother told her. My Yiayia shared stories of life joys and life tragedies. She told stories of her losses and her fears. In tears, she told me about weddings and funerals, birthdays and name days. She told stories of faith and worship. She told me about all the ways God ordered her life.

Her stories, from her tiny island of Aperi in Greece to her later years in Alabama, became her life myth. So as I retold her stories and they became mine, my myth. It’s interesting that both my grandmother’s stories and mine tell of loss and pain, of dark moments that indelibly mark life.

Those dark moments make us who we are. They become an eternal part of our myth, our story that is told again and again as the years pass. The myth we tell reveals why ย life is the way it is. The telling is the cleansing that makes life bearable and meaningful. The myth we tell is full of the kind of power that propels us and gives us wings.

The truth is that we are our tragedies, even more than we are our joys. Joseph Campbell writes about the power of myth.

One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.

โ€• Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

(From The Edge, a beautifully written blog; https://theedgeishere.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/contemplative2017-myth-ix/)

I will always tell my myth, because in the telling, I find boldness and perseverance for my life. In the telling, I find inspiration. The myth I tell definitely speaks of “the bottom of the abyss.” It also tells of the transformation that I find in the abyss. My myth proclaims with strong certainty that, in my darkest moments, I always found the light.

The Lord is my light and my salvationโ€”
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my lifeโ€”
of whom shall I be afraid?

– Psalm 27:1, New International Version

Beautiful and Terrible Things

IMG_5469

We live in a world where beautiful things happen every day. The dawn lights the dew of the night. The sun rises and warms the earth. The rain satisfies the thirsty ground. The foliage wears its lush green and the flowers bloom again and again.

Just in my own family new babies will soon be born. We will celebrate two high school graduations. Our young ones, just babies yesterday it seems, will begin college. To be sure, in the world beautiful things happen.

But terrible things will happen, too. A news story tells of an infant being found with almost a hundred rodent bites. An eight year old boy takes his own life. Syrian children are orphaned by war. The United Nations reports more than 14 million Yemenis are going hungry, 370,000 of them children. Certainly, inย this world, terrible things will happen.

I am comforted by these words from Frederick Buechner.

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

The challenge to our hearts is to live in the world without fear, to live courageously, to live fully with hope and joy.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

– Isaiah 41:10

Chains

IMG_5468

Chains.

Some folks see a golden necklace with sparkling links. But others see chains as cruel symbols of enslavement. History records thousands of inhumane acts of enslavement. A review of history is about real people whose lives were oppressive, whose chains were heavy, whose slavery was permanent. We remember their lives with a sense of shame and we honor them with genuine repentance.

But we must also bring the reality of chains closer to home as we recall the times of our lives that held us in chains. Serious illnesses. Violent relationships. Troubled children. Careers that became personal enslavement. No, the chains that bound us were not made of steel. Instead, they were chains that bound our very being, holding us fast, oppressing our spirits.

In all of this, there is hope. It is the hope of God’s grace that empowers us to break free. I am reminded of one of my favorite Scripture passages.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

– Galatians 5:1, New International Version

Of one thing I am certain. God does not desire for us a life of enslavement, but graces us with the courage to free ourselves from all that holds us hostage. Life in Christ is not a life of chains. It is a life of freedom to live, to love, and to thrive. Though we may have been hurt by circumstances that left us in chains, our souls can never be chained.

Laurie Halse Anderson writes this in her brilliant novel series, Chains: Seeds of America.

She cannot chain my soul. Yes, she could hurt me. She’d already done so . . . I would bleed, or not. Scar, or not. Live, or not. But she could not hurt my soul, not unless I gave it to her.

Please listen to a beautiful arrangement of “Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone” sung by Noteworthy. ย https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Mtpk4jeVA

 

A Living Hope

Design

When an eight year old child takes his own life after being viciously bullied, a mother is left in deep bereavement ย holding a deep sadness that will forever mark her life. Every day, life stories like hers come through on our news feeds. We hear them; we feel a moment of strong empathy; we move on to the next like task.

The reality is that any of us, all of us, may face the worse of life’s pain at any time. None of us is immune to tragedies that turn life upside down. Each of us will at times endure gale force winds that rearrange everything we hold dear.

As always, we are left to figure out how to navigate hard times, how to summon the faith we need to persevere. We must find within ourselves a living hope that cannot be destroyed. Only then will we be able to endure the difficulty life can hand us.

Often, I find wisdom and comfort in the words of Bishop Steven Charleston. This is what he writes about faith during difficult times.

It is hard. Life is hard. The losses, the sudden arrival of illness, the struggles within families, the pressure of a world trying to find a reason to hope. Spirituality that is sugar is no help in such a reality. Feel good philosophy cannot withstand the weight of what many of us have had to face. If it is to endure the gale force winds of chance, faith must be deeply rooted, anchored in trust, strengthened by courage, able to bend but never break. So here is a prayer for all of you living in the real world: may you find your faith as tough as you are and as resilient as the love that keeps you going.

– Steven Charleston

The good news is that God graced us with a resilient faith that perseveres when we endure trials, a living hope that can never fail. Thanks be to God.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,ย who through faith are shielded by Godโ€™s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.ย In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.ย These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faithโ€”of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fireโ€”may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

– I Peter 1:3-7

On Resentment and Bitterness

IMG_5263

Resentment and bitterness . . . emotions we tend to hold on to for years. I have known long bouts of bitterness and resentment in my life. One because of a personal betrayal by someone I trusted. Another, after our home burned. Still another, the many years of resenting my father’s abuse. Each time, bitterness and resentment took over my life for a while.

Someone asked me recently why we tend to hold onto resentment and bitterness, and it made me spend a few minutes pondering that thought. I think we hold on to bitterness and resentment because a part of us believes:

– We are punishing the person/thing that hurt us.
– We deserve to be bitter.
– We don’t have the strength and ability to get past it.
– It feeds our anger. And anger feels better than hurt or sadness.

Paul Valery writes:

Latent in every person is a venom of amazing bitterness, a black resentment; something that curses and loathes life, a feeling of being trapped, of having trusted and been fooled, of being the helpless prey of impotent rage, blind surrender, the victim of a savage, ruthless power that gives and takes away . . . and crowning injury inflicts upon a person the humiliationย of feeling sorry for him/herself.

That is such an ominous thought about bitterness, “a black resentment.” And yet, I am convinced that those who are spiritually and emotionally healthy will hold the bitterness for a while, and then will realize that hanging on to it releases a toxic poison in the soul. When holding on to bitterness, most people really are working through it, and that’s healthy. It would be denial to never feel bitterness at all.

I look at times of bitterness as a season for learning and growing. And although I know from experience that bitterness can take hold of us and have its way, I also know that we can work through it and emerge with renewed peace and just a slight memory of the hurtful experience.

What’s the good in resentment? My answer is that it is a real and raw emotion that must be owned and worked through. The bitterness and resentment will eventually transform into just another life memory that, frankly, may always hurt a little.

Maps

IMG_5258

“I like to know where I am, not just where I’m going.”

That’s a statement made by my husband, who absolutely loves maps. In fact, he doesn’t like the GPS in the car to determine his route. Instead, he wants to see the map of the entire area so that he can determine his own route.

He gets this love of maps honestly from his father before him. And what’s more important is that he never, ever gets lost. He possesses a keen sense of direction that can take us through any city, on any highway, over any country road. He always finds the way back to familiar territory.

Knowing maps, reading maps is a gift, a gift I definitely do not have. But here is what I think is most important: to know where we are, not just where we are going. Knowing where we are is a part of knowing who we are, and that is a necessary part of a content life.

No doubt, many of us are not self-aware. We fail to spend time getting to know ourselves and getting comfortable in our own skin. There are no maps that can adequately chart our humanity. Maps do not show deep down emotions. Maps do not reveal the passion of our hearts. Maps cannot describe what lives inside a soul.

We must explore those things ourselves, in earnest and in prayer, discovering the person God wants us to be.

Change and Hope

Enlight90

Change happens always, but not always for the better. It is simply a reality of living life. Change comes to us; we try our best to navigate it; and with any luck, we will end up stronger for it. In the best of all worlds, going through change will strengthen our hope and bolster our faith. To be sure, best laid plans change all the time, often leaving us shaken. But it is good to know that God knows all about changes and what they do to our equilibrium.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

– Jeremiah 29:11

Change does not always feel like hope to us. What we face tomorrow, and all the tomorrows to come, is always an unknown, an unknown that causes fear in us. And yet, so much of our contentment depends on our outlook, how we see change, how we move ourselves through it, how we end up on the other side. I like the outlook that journalist, Linda Ellerbee shares in this statement.

What I like most about change is that it can be a synonym for hope. If you are taking a risk what you’re really saying is, “Ibelieve in tomorrow and I will be a part of it.”

– Linda Ellerbee

So if there is any good advice here, it is to hang on to your life even in the face of change. Try to see change as hope. Navigate those life risks, all the while proclaiming, “I believe in tomorrow and I will be a part of it.” Living that way is the way of God, the way of faith, the way of hope.

Life’s Narrow and Wide Gates

IMG_5244

Life is full of narrow and wide gates, beckoning us to choose which gate to enter. On one hand, the idea of gates — narrow ones and wide ones — is a Biblical idea describing the kind of life a Christian person might choose. On the other hand, narrow and wide gates are simply a part of our life pilgrimage.

The Scripture reference is found in the Gospel of Matthew.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

– Matthew 7:13-14 New International Version (NIV)

The pilgrimage that we call life is, most certainly, a series of challenges we must face. How common it is for us to complain when the gate before us is narrow and the road ahead is rocky. Why do I struggle financially? Why must I endure failing health? Why am I in the middle of a failing relationship? Why did I lose someone I love so deeply?

Didn’t I choose the narrow gate, God? Did I not commit my life to the way that leads to life? Then why? Why the suffering?

God seldom answers us when we ask these questions. We listen constantly for God’s voice and a satisfactory explanation of life’s suffering.

We hear nothing.

Just relentless, ominous silence. It can try one’s faith.

Gratefully, I came across an encouraging quote. Before collapsing on my life’s dusty road, I found a place to lean in the words of Brother Luke Ditewig. Here’s what he said:

After making much fuss about our great accomplishment at having found a narrow and obscure gate and walked through, weโ€™re often surprised at the ordinary challenges of life that follow, again and again. Iโ€™m embarrassed by how much I say: โ€œWow, this road is hard!โ€ or โ€œWhy are we still in the wilderness?โ€ But if you look around right now, you’ll notice divine love in the ordinary stuff of life.

– Brother Luke Ditewig
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

So let us persist, moving forward with even a tiny fistful of faith. And may we look around on the way, passing through the gates we encounter and always noticing the divine love that is ever present in the “ordinary stuff of life.”

Extreme Situations

IMG_5228

And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

Extreme situations are definitely all too common. Around 14 million children suffer hardship and trauma from the war in Syria and Iraq. UNICEF estimates that 140 million children worldwide are orphans. According to the World Health Organization, 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.

Extreme situations.

Closer to home, a dear childhood friend of mine is fighting for her life in a hospital ICU. Her illness resonates loud and clear to me, shouting out the truth that life is filled with extreme situations, situations that assail us and leave us helpless and hopeless. And we are left with no control.

Extreme situations.

I found this little gem of a quote in a friend’s blog post today.

In extreme situations, which have been emptied of all shelter and tenderness, that small voice whispers from somewhere beyond and encourages the heart to hold out for dignity, respect, beauty, and love.

– John Oโ€™Donohue

So in the throes of extreme situations that come our way, let us give thanks for the whisper of that small voice, the voice that does not give us control, but does give us hope.

The Biblical character we know as Elijah faced off against an extreme situation.

. . . A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

– I Kings 19:11-12

If you find yourself hopelessly trapped in an extreme situation, may you find hope in the gentle whisper of God.

Christ Is Risen!

Enlight87

How do we worship during this time of passion and pain, rebirth and resurrection? There are many ways to remember these events, events that so solidly form our foundation of faith. This is one way I imagine, a way that brings together all the roots of my own faith experience.

Darkness falls upon the place of worship. It is now but a few moments until midnight. All the lights are out. The cross is draped in black. We have walked with Jesus to his death. And now we sing the Passion Chorale, expressing all the suffering, all the anguish, all the shame.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown:
how pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered
was all for sinners’ gain;
mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor,
vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.

Grief holds sway, while we remember these words.

The angel spoke to the women. โ€œDo not be afraid!โ€ he said. โ€œI know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.”

Then midnight passes, ending the darkness. The minister lights one candle, shares the flame with another worshipper who then shares it with another. The darkness is vanquished by the light of dozens of flames.

He is not here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.

He is not here! He is risen from the dead!

In this, the glorious day of resurrection, voices arise in celebration, singing the ancient hymn . . .

ฮงฯฮนฯƒฯ„ฯŒฯ‚ ฮฑฮฝฮญฯƒฯ„ฮท ฮตฮบ ฮฝฮตฮบฯฯŽฮฝ, ฮธฮฑฮฝฮฌฯ„ฯ‰ ฮธฮฌฮฝฮฑฯ„ฮฟฮฝ ฯ€ฮฑฯ„ฮฎฯƒฮฑฯ‚, ฮบฮฑฮน ฯ„ฮฟฮนฯ‚ ฮตฮฝ ฯ„ฮฟฮนฯ‚ ฮผฮฝฮฎฮผฮฑฯƒฮน ฮถฯ‰ฮฎฮฝ ฯ‡ฮฑฯฮนฯƒฮฌฮผฮตฮฝฮฟฯ‚.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs, granting life.

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen! Christ is risen from the dead! Alleluia!

 
“O Sacred Head Now Wounded”
Text: Anonymous; trans. by Paul Gerhardt and James W. Alexander
Music: Hans L. Hassler, 1564-1612; harm. by J.S. Bach, 1685-1750
Tune: PASSION CHORALE