"Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." Jesus
I am an ordained Baptist minister now serving in the world as retired clergy. I am a wife, mother, grandmother, friend . . . pastor, hospital chaplain, spiritual director, patient mentor, victim advocate, trauma counselor, child forensic interviewer, teacher, writer, watercolor artist, iconographer, calligrapher, chef and blogger.
How often we find ourselves wandering in what feels like wilderness. We wander, and then wander some more, in barren places — in parched, dusty and dry deserts of the soul. We wander in aimless travel that moves us from one nowhere to another. The truth is that we have been nowhere and we’re going nowhere.
It’s a long, hard way, this wilderness wandering. I have found myself there at times. You probably know the desert, too. Like the people of Israel, we don’t much like wilderness wanderings. Remember their laments and complaints?
The Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Exodus 14:10-12 (NIV)
Other Biblical passages speak more favorably about walking in a desert wilderness and about finding there comfort and hope. One of my favorite passages is rather obscure, so I want to share it with you.
The Lord said, “Therefore, I will now persuade Israel, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. From there I will give her her vineyards, and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. Hosea 2:14-23 (NRSV)
Finding ourselves wandering in a parched and barren desert can cause us to feel, not only exhaustion, but also exclusion. How bewildering it is when we are excluded, left alone to wander and feeling that no one is near, no one hears our laments, no one cares. My hope for you this day is that, whenever you have to wander in the wilderness, you will find on your way a friend beside you and at the end of your path, a door of hope.
I leave you with these words, a benediction spoken by a dear friend.
I was amazed today by this breathtaking image of a ranch in Oklahoma. Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot to amaze me, but today the object of amazement for me is quite stunning. It’s art, an image to contemplate and appreciate, an image in which one could find meaning. Finding meaning in it is exactly what happened for me.
I see a play of lightness and darkness and I see that to experience light is also to experience darkness. We cannot really embrace one without the other. The beauty of one enhances the beauty of the other. Light and darkness are inseparable. I have always been intrigued by the wisdom of this thought written by Gregory Maguire, “The eye is always caught by light, but shadows have more to say.” I find such truth in these words, and they are illustrated by the shadows — the times of darkness — in my life.
Oh, the stories I could tell about the many times when my reality has been lightness and darkness together. Both juxtaposed and moving, blending and coalescing, always showing me a kind of dance, a holy movement that makes both appear beautiful. But this “light and darkness together”thing came to me late in life. Emotional and spiritual maturity offered me this important insight that both darkness and light are in me and around me simultaneously. I experience them both together.
I also remember the past when I feared the darkness, wanting always to be in the middle of the light of things. During my illness and long hospitalization in 2014, I hated the nights. I had come to believe over the years that in hospitals, bad things happen at night. That thought was cemented in my mind when I was a hospital chaplain. In thinking of the many nights when I was on call, what I recall most were dark crises that happened at night — deaths, terrible accidents in the ER, patients on the psych unit having meltdowns.
What I’m recalling today is one particular night in the hospital. I was so sick for so long and so lonely at night. This particular night remains in my nightmares. It was actually in the middle of the night when I experienced an excruciating pain in my kidney area. I almost screamed in pain, but tried to stifle myself. The pain continued for several minutes, long enough that I felt as if I would pass out. I called for the nurse, who could hear panic in my voice and came immediately. The doctor followed within minutes. By that time, I had been given pain and anxiety medications, so I was in a kind of twilight. I knew that the room was now full of people doing things, but I had no idea what sort of things they were doing. The ultrasound people came and soon after that, the crisis team came to get me. I was moved to a hard stretcher and was quickly transported to . . . somewhere for some kind of procedure.
The only words I really understood were, “Call her husband and tell him to get here immediately!” Not such a calming message to hear, but in a medication-induced twilight, it really didn’t matter. The crisis team moved me into the inner sanctum of the hospital. They moved me through the cold halls so quickly that the wind felt cold and the ceilings of the corridors were a blur, one minute bright lights above, the next corridor completely dark. The speed of the ride made the corridors look as if they were one seamless movement of light and dark.
One repaired internal bleed later, the pain was eased and I was comfortable, back in my familiar hospital room full of cards and flowers, and with late night television still on. Obviously, I survived the darkness and lightness of my transport and the repair of my bleed. And I still survive, every day, the darkness and lightness that is my life. I did not know that night what I have learned since: that darkness and light always exist together.
Darkness and Light: Together
To be certain, I have experienced darknesses that seemed to smother me completely and leave me with only the darkest dark. I have felt the unrelenting darkness of the soul at times. My spirit has cohabited with the deepest darkness in life that seemed never-ending, with not a single source of light anywhere.
Thankfully, the great Teacher has taught me to see the darkness and the light all at once, moving together through my life. I have learned that light is almost always a welcomed force, but it is in the darkness that I find the most life-changing, cherished moments. in myself. The darkness is the place where my soul sees itself, where my spirit entertains its longings and urges and dreams. The darkness is where my heart can break into a million pieces in mourning and lament. In those dark moments, I can see the dance, the slow and soothing rhythms that enfold me in both — darkness and light — because the two exist together. Thanks be to God.
Darkness was and darkness was good. As with light. Light and darkness dancing together, born together, Born of each other, neither preceding, neither following, Both fully being, in joyful rhythm.
I like to think that God whispers, that God never shouts at me or speaks to me with a harsh, loud voice. I like knowing that when God speaks to me, God will always whisper. Because shouting frightens me and harsh speaking causes me to cover my ears so that I cannot clearly hear what God is saying.
I heard once that, more important than all the loud, big proclamations preachers speak from the pulpit, the people in the church pews truly listen when preachers whisper. That’s when preachers say the most important things, it seems. Or so I’ve been told by people who know that sort of thing.
It turns out I have always known a whispering God, from the very beginning of our relationship. That first whisper of God, and all the others I have heard in my long life, reached my ears as “a still, small voice.” I’m not really sure about this, but God may very well shout once in a while. I have never heard a loud word from God myself. I have heard only whispers, gentle whispers of very important things I needed to hear clearly and surely.
I’m thinking today about the bombings at the airport in Kabul. I’m praying today tor the Americans who are currently trying to flee from Afghanistan, the U.S. military with an impossible task, our Afghan allies who also need to leave quickly and the Afghan people who are hopelessly and helplessly stuck in a country filled with danger. I mourn those who died today and I lament the volatility of the situation that exists there. I can only imagine the chaos, the fear, the sound of the bombs, the screaming and shouting, the loud calls for help. The people surely can’t hear themselves think in such a situation.
Maybe it’s even too loud to pray. Maybe even God cannot be heard over the ear-piercing sounds of a bombed place. I believe that God is present there, hearing prayers and speaking softly to the terrified people with whispers of comfort . . .
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41: 10
In all the noise, the people near the bombings most likely could not hear, not even yelling or shouting. I like to imagine that what they can hear is God whispering to them, whispers of comfort, whispers of peace, whispers of hope. That is the voice of God I have always known, the God who whispers to me when I am still and quiet, waiting to hear God’s holy whisper. But I have also heard God’s whispers in the midst of deafening noise. In those noisy times, I have heard God’s whisper still. God’s voice — the whisper — has talked me through many seasons when fear, pain, grief and other negative things were literally shouting at me from every direction.
I have learned to hear the whisper of God. It is the balm for my soul, the sound that keeps reminding me that all shall be well. I have loved the thoughts of Prathia Hall who was an American leader and activist in the Civil Rights Movement, a womanist theologian and ethicist. She was the key inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech and she often found herself immersed in trouble of every sort. These are words she spoke that offer encouragement in frightening times:
“Out there in the brush arbors, the wilderness, and the woods, the God of our ancestors, the God we had known on the other side of the waters met us and whispered words in our ears, and stirred a song in our souls.” — Prathia Hall (Quoted by Courtney Pace in Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall)
I wonder if you could tune your ears to God’s holy whisper. You will hear it when everything around you is quiet and when everything around you is reverberating with noise and clamor, tumult and uproar. I pray that, even in all the turmoil visited upon the people who suffer in Afghanistan this night, they will be able to hear God’s comforting, healing whisper.
The following story printed in the Daily Beast tells how the villagers of a small Afghan village rescued and saved the life of a gravely wounded U.S. Navy Seal. Their motivation? What motivated them was their culture of kindness and their respect of the ‘Pashtunwali Code’, which admonishes that hospitality, asylum, mercy and shelter must be provided for all who require it, friend or enemy.
Nearly eight-and-a-half years after Mohammad Gulab and his fellow villagers harbored and saved the life of a gravely wounded U.S. Navy SEAL, they say they are still proud of their courageous action and would do it again in spite of the disappointments and troubles that have followed.
In the face of point-blank Taliban threats to overrun the small village of Sabray in remote Kunar Province, along the porous and mountainous frontier with Pakistan, the villagers bravely protected, gave first aid to, fed, and clothed Marcus Luttrell, the wounded Special Warfare Operator, the only survivor of a four-man SEAL patrol. A village elder even secretly carried a note hidden inside his clothing—written by Luttrell and indicating the exact spot where he could be rescued—through Taliban lines at great personal danger. “I have no regrets for what my family, my fellow villagers and I have done,” Gulab tells the Daily Beast. “We knew what the Taliban’s reaction would be from the day we carried him in our door.”
Gulab and the other villagers insist that they saved Luttrell out of obedience to the ages-old ethnic-Pashtun tradition known as Pashtunwali. That ancient code obliges Pashtuns to help and protect anyone in need, friend or enemy. “We did not rescue Marcus for money or privileges,” Gulab says. “By rescuing and keeping him safe for five nights in our home we were only doing our cultural obligation.”
And Jesus told us, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Advocating for the Women of Afghanistan
The Taliban have been in charge of Kabul for 48 hours. Women have already disappeared from the streets.
As an advocate for women for many decades, I must share today the terrible plight of Afghan women as a result of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
In only 10 days, Taliban militants captured dozens of provincial capitals left vulnerable by the withdrawal of US and allied troops.
In only 10 days, the freedom of Afghan women was taken back 20 years.
In only 10 days . . .
The speed of the militants’ advance caught the people of Afghanistan off guard, especially Afghan women. Some women said they had no time to buy a burqa to comply with Taliban rules that women should be covered up and accompanied by a male relative when they leave the house.
To Afghanistan’s women, the flowing cloth represents the sudden and devastating loss of rights gained over 20 years — the right to work, study, move and even live in peace — that they fear will never be regained.
Burqas hang in a market in Kabul on July 31. The price has surged tenfold as women rush to cover themselves to avoid attracting the militants’ attention.
Over the last 10 days, a succession of Taliban victories over dozens of provincial capitals took Afghan women closer to a past they desperately wanted to leave behind.
When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, they closed girls’ schools and banned women from working. After the US invaded in 2001, restrictions on women eased, and even as the war raged, a local commitment to improving women’s rights, supported by international groups and donors, led to the creation of new legal protections. But gains for women were partial and fragile. In 2009, the Elimination of Violence Against Women law criminalized rape, battery and forced marriage and made it illegal to stop women or girls from working or studying.
Afghan women stand to lose 20 years of gains as the Taliban seize control.
According to an article by Mitchell Hartman published today, the situation is fluid and chaotic in Afghanistan, as the Taliban continue consolidating power over the country and the capital, Kabul. Afghans with connections to the U.S. Embassy or military over the past 20 years are still hoping to get out of the country. But many who stand to lose rights and jobs and possibly their freedom under a new Taliban regime are hunkering down, hiding, covering their tracks.
Especially women, and when it comes to women’s freedom to participate in society and the economy, people who’ve been observing the Taliban aren’t optimistic. “The Taliban are no friends of girls and women. And for many years they really had control over the country, girls education and women’s education was forbidden,” said Rebecca Winthrop, who co-directs the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. Winthrop helped get Afghan girls into new government schools after the Taliban fell in 2001.
But where the Taliban have taken control in recent years, Winthrop said, “we were seeing girls not being able to go past seventh grade – which is when they hit puberty; bombing girls schools; targeting female teachers.” In the big cities, many women have gone to university and entered business, government, academia and the media. But now “they’re literally finding safe houses where they can hide,” said Elisa Lees Munoz, who directs the International Women’s Media Foundation.
You and I may feel helpless, unable to find ways to ease the fear and desperation of women a world away. We cannot know their world, and we definitely cannot fix it. We are at a loss when we consider options that could help. And yet, the words of Jesus remain, imprinted upon our hearts . . . “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” And we know that one important thing we can do is to pray for the well-being of every Afghan woman and girl. At least we can pray, and pray with a fervency that holds the power to change hearts and minds. We can pray even without words because the Spirit intercedes for us.
So as we pray, I want to share with you this moving prayer for Afghanistan written by my friend who always prays prayers from her beautiful and compassionate heart. It was published today on her blog, “Gifts in Open Hands.”
God of many names, the Generous, the All-Merciful, the Source of Peace,
we pray in thanks for Afghanistan land of pomegranates and grapes, birthplace of Rumi, and ‘I am the beggar of the world,’ landays of contemporary Afghan women.
We celebrate people – Tajik and Hazaras, Uzbek and Pashtun. We hear tabla, sitar, santur, tabur, flute, and watch the attan danced. We gaze upon art ancient and new – miniatures and the weaves of rugs, like no other in the world.
All earth opens its hands and receives the gifts of Afghans, and all the people pray, each in their own many names and words for safety of Afghans in these days – seeking evacuation in the airport moving quickly on the street, hiding in homes, wondering about schools.
For those who evacuate and for those who wait for what is next,
for those who are foreign nationals, and those bone-deep with history in the hills,
for faithful journalists still reporting, and medical facilities desperate for blocked supplies,
for Sikh and Hindu communities and their holy places,
for the welcome of Australia, and families across the ocean and near at hand grieving loved ones lost, life, body, mind in the long war.
for the afghan elder who has seen much and the child born today who will grow up to give a new gift,
we pray, O Compassionate, O Preserver. amen
— Maren C. Tirabassi
*Please take time to follow this link to a poignant, timely and very real story about the fears of Afghan women published by “Vanity Fair.”
Some of us feel compelled to rescue the world, and we try to do it in so many ways. The ways we rescue may be simple or complex, close to home or global. We try to repair them all, from multiple interventions when our kids get in trouble at school to advocating for an end to the climate change that’s currently burning down the beautiful Greek island of Evia.
For me, it’s a given that I should rescue things and people. After all, I am a minister. Isn’t that what we do? I really do want to save the whole world from whatever ailments or tragedies are inflicted upon it — the earth itself and the people in it. The thought that writer and theologian Frederick Buechner writes about this makes so much sense to me: “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” I suppose that my desire to change, rescue and fix could very well be my undoing, because the stark reality is that I — one person — can do very little that would make much of a difference.
That’s the overwhelming part. How can we watch the world’s great need and not answer our inner compulsion to repair it? When asking myself this kind of question, I always think of tikkun olam, which is a jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world.
The phrase tikkun olam is found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings. It is often used when discussing issues of social policy, insuring a safeguard to those who may be at a disadvantage. In modern Jewish circles, tikkun olam has become synonymous with the notion of social action and the pursuit of social justice.
To those who, like me, have this inner desire to change things and fix things, I can not offer any easy answers, because I do not have any. There simply aren’t any. I’m fond, though, of this idea: do the next right thing. When faced with big needs and small ones, sometimes that’s all we know to do, the next right thing.
I think that’s okay. The “next right thing” is like following the light we have or following God into the pressing needs the Spirit shows us. One thing I have learned is that before any act of repairing or helping, there must be a time of waiting, a time when the soul finds a sacred pause and waits there for holy direction. Then, just maybe we will have discovered what we need to “save the whole world.”
I love the way that poet and author Martha Postlethwaite describes a way forward for us fixers. I also love the way she invites us to find “the song that is our life” and to open our hands to receive it. Her thoughts come through so powerfully in her beautiful poem, “The Clearing.”
Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently until the song that is your life falls into your own cupped hands and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world so worthy of rescue. Creating a clearing.
“The Clearing” by Martha Postlethwaite
We probably can all agree with the song John Mayer sings that we’re “waiting on the world to change.” We need changes big and small for bees, elephants, giraffes, oceans, blue whales, sea turtles, polar bears, monarch butterflies and all things nature. And then we need to clearly see the humans who probably need help most of all. So many humans live lives of deep need through no fault of their own, suffering because they’re facing incredible hardships and personal tragedies.
Martha Postlethwaite would suggest that we clear away the forest of our life and wait patiently in the clearing until what she calls, “the song that is our life,” becomes crystal clear. With that song, we will find the place of the world’s great need that is calling out to us for help.
So be present and mindful in the clearing. May God help each of us open our hands to receive our song, and then go out into the needy world singing. Amen.
Here’s the bottom line: in every nation of the world, one can see the oppression of children. No matter how one views the wars and the skirmishes, the occupations and the trafficking, the rationed medical care and the failure to administer the Covid vaccine, the stark reality is a picture of child endangerment and physical, sexual and emotional abuses.
The estimated number of children trafficked around the world is 5.5 million. They suffer violence, exploitation and abuse — ending up in forced marriage, prostitution, illegal adoption, labor, drug smuggling, begging and armed recruitment. They are taken from all around the world and sold by human traffickers as slaves. Child trafficking is linked to demand for cheap labor, especially where the working conditions are poor. Children may be forced into many dangerous and/or illegal situations, including slavery, domesticlabor, sexual exploitation or prostitution, drug couriering and/or being turned into child soldiers.
And then, we must remember the immigrant children who have been separated from parents or guardians. An NBC News report on June 8, 2021 cites a 22-page progress report submitted to President Joe Biden last week by the task force for reuniting families. The report indicates that 2,127 children are awaiting their reunions. The report also states that 3,913 children separated from their families between July 2017 and January have been identified. The ACLU has said more than 5,400 children were separated at the border. The discrepancy, the DHS official said, is due to thousands of yet-to-be-reviewed files by the task force.
The estimated number of children trafficked around the world is 5.5 million. They suffer violence, exploitation and abuse — ending up in forced marriage, prostitution, illegal adoption, labor, drug smuggling and armed recruitment.
I could give many more statistics, hundreds of them, but we have all learned to hear statistics and simply dismiss them as irrelevant data. And yet, one single number in a spreadsheet of statistical information represents one particular child. A child stolen from her parents. A child exploited and enslaved. A child taken from the arms of protection and forced into danger. There is high lethality in child trafficking. A child loses his or her life forever because it is impossible to return to the life the child once knew.
So I will spare you from any more abysmal statistics. Instead, I want to share with you a portion of passionate, heartbreaking message I read today.
Iwish to request that all those receiving this email pray for the children of Palestine living under a brutal Israeli occupation. Hardly a week goes by when 3-4 Palestinian children are summarily shot. Worst yet, Israel has not allowed the COVID vaccines to be administered in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. If this is not a genocidal act, then what is? And to think that a $3.8 billion dollar aid package was only last week sent to Israel . . . Folks, if this generous give-away of your hard earned tax dollars does not peeve you, then I urge you to start reading the papers and informing yourselves about the many genocidal acts of terror against brown people – Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan. As Christians, we are called upon to stand up for the oppressed.
In Deep Sorrow, Raouf J. Halaby
What does this tragic situation as expressed by Mr. Halaby have to do with us? Maybe nothing. Probably nothing. But wait! I want to talk more about the inconceivable practice of modern day slavery — child trafficking.
Could my child be kidnapped and trafficked? It doesn’t happen here!
A very common misconception about human trafficking is that it does not happen in the United States. The truth is that the United States is ranked as one of the worst countries globally for human trafficking. It is estimated that 199,000 incidents occur within the United States every year.
Here are the 10 states with the highest rates of human trafficking:
Victims of trafficking frequently do not seek help due to language barriers, fear of their traffickers, or fear of law enforcement. Because human trafficking is considered a hidden crime, we can be diligent in reporting it when we see it happening. But we have to know what to look for. Several key warning signs can help us recognize potential endangerment and notify law enforcement. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has a list of indicators we can use to help identify victims. These indicators include:
Appearing injured or having signs of physical abuse
Avoiding eye contact, social interaction, and law enforcement
Responding in manners that seem rehearsed or scripted
Lacking personal identification documents
Lacking personal possessions
Every day there are things — bad things — that happen. Usually we think they have nothing to do with us, and usually they don’t, not directly at least. But the ministry of the Christ, who walked on this earth and who cared for the most vulnerable and endangered people he encountered, is our example. As Christians, do we follow Christ to the dangerous places? Do we pray for every child in every land, asking God to pay heed their circumstances and protect them from evil?
Prayer is the one thing, perhaps the most important thing, we can do. Mr. Halaby asks this of us: “Iwish to request that all those receiving this email pray for the children of Palestine.” Let us start there, with that single request for prayer. And then, may all of us become more aware of the lives of children everywhere and pray that they will be protected from all harm.
Prayer is one thing we can do! Will we?
AWARENESS . . .
If you believe you may have information about a trafficking situation:
Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888: Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking.
Text the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 233733. Message and data rates may apply.
Submit a tip online through the anonymous online reporting form below. However, please note that if the situation is urgent or occurred within the last 24 hours we would encourage you to call, text or chat.
What’s on your mind today? I ask because for me there are days, like today, when my mind is free-flowing without one thought, idea or plan. That can be troubling for a person like me who almost constantly churns out thoughts and creative responses to those thoughts. My blog, for instance, is a preaching platform for this retired and frustrated preacher. And there is almost always a sermon in me just itching to see the light of day!
But not today! You’ll get no sermon today, just words without organization and thoughts floating in the wind. Perhaps my thoughts will be energized by Spirit Wind, or not! It seems to me to be a good time for floating thoughts and random words, because in this pandemic world, there are simply no words.
When I look at pandemic facts and trends in my state, Georgia, I am aghast at this reality released today by WMAZ News: “The number of Covid cases in Georgia children has jumped in a month from 40 to 488. That’s more than 1,100 percent.”* Dr. Edward Clark, an Atrium Health Navicent pediatrician, says parents should be very concerned. “We’ve seen a spike in kids ranging from infants anywhere up to age 18,” he said. On top of that, children ages 12 and older have been approved only for the Pfizer vaccine at this time.
The truth is that some parents are very alarmed — even terrified — about the rising number of delta variant cases in children and teenagers. As well they should be, as they watch with great alarm the highly-contagious Delta variant cases increasing so rapidly in children. Parents are frightened and many of them worry that in-person school is not the best decision in these conditions. Teachers, too, are dealing with difficult issues as in-person school begins.
The number of Covid cases in Georgia children has jumped in a month from 40 to 488. That’s more than 1100%!
In the midst of my free-flowing thoughts today, I am finding focus enough to ask why we did virtual learning last school year when children were less likely to be infected, yet in this school year when the Delta variant is rapidly infecting children, we are sending them to in-person school, some schools without mask mandate. Someone far less cautious than I am must have made that decision! I would have never sent children into harm’s way, into a place where they could spread the surging Delta variant to each other! Is it time for another season of sheltering-in-place?
Let us be careful about the ways we inadvertently expose children to danger. Let us be mindful of our responsibility to protect all children. Let us be diligent in letting our faith inform our compassion and care for children.
After all, Jesus was clear about drawing children close and sheltering them from harm. We should be just as committed to holding children close in a shelter of protection. May God make it so!
Sometimes some things don’t work! Like today as I am trying to insert the image for this post. It’s a watercolor painting I did a couple of years ago titled “Grays.” I don’t remember what was gray about that day or why I felt surrounded by gray, but I know that something was troubling about the day.
Like today! No, it’s definitely not gray outdoors. No gray skies above while the sun is shining brightly. Yet, I feel the “gray” closing in on me today, and for the past few days. News of the world’s hurt certainly has something to do about it. I can’t bear to hear of the spike in Covid cases, the danger of the Delta variant, exhausted health care providers gasping for relief, maltreated children at the overcrowded migrant center in Fort Bliss, Texas. I can hardly bear to hear another report about my friend who is very ill or about another friend I spoke to this morning who lost two love ones this week.
It feels gray in me right now. I think the gray feeling has a lot to do with the chat I had with my nephrologist at Mayo Clinic this week. He was beyond concerned about our current pandemic situation for his transplant patients. Of course, I am one of those patients. He was adamant that we immunosuppressed patients must begin isolating again immediately.
So again, the outlook for me is bleak. Not only am I one of his patients who are on high doses of immunosuppressant medications, but also I am one of the people for whom vaccines are not very effective. So while the general vaccinated public is around 90% protected from the virus, we are 50% (or less) protected. My doctor ordered an antibody test and, sure enough, it revealed that I have zero antibodies, which means I am not protected from Covid and that I can infect others.
I think that means retreating again from public gatherings — from stores, from groups of friends, from medical offices, from church. The time I was so looking forward to — seeing my grandchildren — is now a more distant possibility. All of that looks pretty darn gray to me!
I know in the depths of my soul that there are no simple answers for the gray times, the times when I am disconsolate and despondent. I know that I cannot change every adverse circumstance of my life. I know, too, that we cannot always change our soul’s response to those difficult circumstances. Sometimes, the “gray” of despondency simply has its way in me, and I cannot pull myself up and out. Sometimes I feel as if I am in a desert wilderness, and although streams of water may be there, I do not find them.
In such times, I have found that my ability to hold on to my very self comes directly from the Spirit, who is my sure and certain comforter. And I have learned that, while Holy Scripture and contemplative space do not always mysteriously rescue me or magically change my circumstance, I receive the peace and strength I need to live.
Jesus said to them: “I must leave you, butI will ask God, and our Mother snd Father God will give you another Comforter. This Comforter will stay with you forever. She is the Spirit, who reveals all that is true and real about God. . . . So when I go, you will not be left all alone . . . I leave my peace with you. I give my peace to you. So do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not be afraid.”
John 14:1, 16-18, 27 (my translation)
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
May you find that Spirit wind is moving gently within your spirit, and may God be the strength of your heart forever. Amen
What is it about this statement from God and recorded by the Prophet Isaiah?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
This statement, or this promise, recorded in Isaiah 43 touches me to the core. It reaches into my soul that is so often parched by the events of life. As for the watercolor painting above, A Way in the Wilderness, you may have seen it before. I published it in this blog already. But this time, I would like for you to engage with me in a few moments of art appreciation. Consider the following questions.
What do you see in the painting?
What strikes you about it?
If you could choose one word or phrase or sentence in it that most relates to your life, what would you choose?
What do you see in the images and colors?
What do you see as the overarching theme of it?
What does it say to you? Or ask of you?
Okay! So maybe the painting says nothing to you! You’re not into art appreciation and it has no deeper meaning than paint to paper! I totally get that, but still, I want to tell you what it meant for me as I was creating it.
So much more than paint on paper, painting it was an emotional and spiritual release from my own wilderness. It was my way of learning to find rivers in my desert. Understand, it did not mean I could leave the desert and put the wilderness in my rear view. Instead, it allowed me to express my reality: that I live in the wilderness, but streams of river water quench my soul’s thirst in the desert.
That’s real and honest. A gut-punch of reality for me. Wilderness and desert terrain are common life habitations, for me and probably for you as well. I don’t live near the breezes of an ocean or on a ridge in breathtaking, snow-capped mountains.
I just live on a regular street in a regular town, and sometimes that can feel like wilderness.
What does that have to do with anything? Just this: During the times I feel as if I’m living in a desert wilderness, I need to remember the river. Or putting it another way, what I feel emotionally may be MY reality, but it is not THE reality.
It is not the ultimate reality of a life that is so filled with deserts and streams, storms and sunshine, smooth ways and rocky pathways, despair and hope, doubt and faith, sorrow and joy, death and life . . .
May your life be filled to overflowing with all of those things.