Life’s Darkest Place

IMG_5929Sometimes, the heart cries out in anguish, โ€œComfort me, God, in this my lifeโ€™s darkest place.โ€ There are times when all of us find ourselves in the midst of darkness. Almost despairing, we hope beyond hope for a new dawn. We speak our prayers, often with groanings too deep for words. We look deeper within, hoping that in the depths of our spirits, we will find an enduring faith. We turn to the comfort of Scripture.

If I had to choose one passage of Scripture that has been for me a source of constant comfort, I would turn to Second Corinthians.

In times of betrayal, I turned to this passage. In times times when I felt persecuted, I turned to this passage. In serious illness, I whispered the words of this passage in the deepest darkness of the night.

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed . . .

For all things are for our good, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.

For which cause we faint not; but though outwardly we may perish, inwardly we are renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works within us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;

So we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporary; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

– From II Corinthians 4 (paraphrased)

I can only imagine how many survivors of the recent natural disasters have spoken the words of this passage, prayerfully and with hearts disconsolate. I can imagine many of them crying out from what feels like lifeโ€™s darkest place. The hymn writer expresses so eloquently the presence of hope for all of us who find ourselves languishing, inviting us to bring our sorrows to the mercy seat of God.

Come, ye disconsolate, whereโ€™er ye languish,
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heavโ€™n cannot heal.

– Thomas Moore, 1816

May those who are disconsolate this day find consolation in the lavish grace of God. May those who languish find respite in Godโ€™s never-ending mercy. May those who are suffering in what feels like lifeโ€™s darkest place experience the brilliance of a new dawn. Amen.

 

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A Perfect World?

IMG_5924When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.

– Buddha

Perfect is not a word I would use to describe the world. Ominous storms, wildfires, demonstrations of hate, violence, terrorism, threats of deportation, leaders devoid of compassion, homelessness, war, refugees seeking safe haven and shelter . . . This is just a partial description of the world we call our own. So perfect is but a dream. And yet, it is perhaps our calling to expend ourselves creating a more perfect world.

Today, my friend Elaine posted this passage on her wonderful blog, โ€œThe Edge.โ€

Learn where there is wisdom, where there is strength, where there is understanding, so that you may at the same time discern where there is length of days, and life, where there is light for the eyes, and peace.

– Baruch 3:14

The wisdom in these words prompted a time of contemplation for me. I pondered the refreshing possibility of finding โ€œlength of days, life, light and peace.โ€ Sounds like getting closer to a perfect world.

In these unsettling days, that is the kind of world we long for, the kind of life we desperately want. And yet we find that at times we are crying out for peace, and there simply is no peace.

Baruchโ€™s words present us with a task, a rather difficult task to be sure, but one that leads to the goodness of life we seek. Baruchโ€™s wisdom calls for us to learn, to increase our ability for discernment. And most importantly, Baruch proclaims our critical need to discover where we might find wisdom, strength and understanding.

My world is filled with incessant voices โ€” politicians, governmental leaders, media personalities, newscasts that include everyone who has an opinion on every possible subject. Certainly, I have the choice to turn off the news and listen to soothing music on Pandora. And I do that frequently.

But the state of the world is so volatile that I am compelled daily to be aware of what is going on. In fact, that is a part of my personal mission โ€” to know what is going on and to respond by making my voice heard advocating for justice and compassion. Which is exactly the reason it is so important to โ€œlearn where there is wisdom, where there is strength, where there is understanding.โ€

So may we all create moments when we can silence the incessant voices and instead enter into quiet times of solitude, contemplation and prayer. That is what we can do for a very imperfect world that seems to be falling apart. In the process, we will more clearly hear the voices that lift hope high before us. In that holy space where hope abides with us, we will find โ€œlength of days, and life . . . light for the eyes and peace.โ€

Tikkun Olam is a lovely jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to heal the world, to perfect or repair the world. The phrase is found in the Mishnah and is often used when discussing issues of social justice, insuring compassion and care for persons who are oppressed.

Tikkun Olam! Heal the world! This is our highest calling.

Is it even possible to create a perfect world? Maybe not. But shouldn’t we envision it, work for it, pray for it, ennobled by God to return our world into the perfect creation of God?

May God guide us in making it so.

 

(Visit my friend Elaineโ€™s blog at https://theedgeishere.wordpress.com/2017/09/08/contemplative2017-wisdom-4/)

 

 

“This is our cry, this is our prayer, peace in the world.”

Enlight138A twelve year-old girl, Sadako Sasaki, died of radiation induced leukemia ten years after the atomic bomb had fallen near her home in Hiroshima. Her story has inspired millions around the world, and her memory transformed a simple paper crane into an international symbol of peace and hope.

Sadakoโ€™s leukemia progressed rapidly and she was confined to the hospital just one month after her diagnosis. She knew the prognosis wasnโ€™t good. She knew also that she didnโ€™t want to die. Her father told her a Japanese legend that said if you folded one thousand paper cranes you would be granted a wish.

While hospitalized, Sadako began furiously folding cranes. She made a thousand and started on a second thousand. She was only able to fold 644 more cranes before she died on October 25, 1955 โ€” not quite a year after being diagnosed, but her classmates continued folding after her death and created 356 more cranes. They made sure that Sadako was buried surrounded by a thousand cranes. They also collected money to build a statue in her memory, a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane erected in Hiroshimaโ€™s Peace Park. A plaque on the statue reads: โ€œThis is our cry, this is our prayer, peace in the world.โ€

Living just beyond the terror of Charlottesville and watching hate-inspired language and actions, people of faith long even more deeply for peace in a hostile world. We saw hate on our television screens. Our children saw it โ€” groups of people beating each other with flagpoles and bats, throwing punches,ย dousing people in raw sewage, using chemical sprays on each other,ย chanting hate slogans, driving a vehicle into a crowd of people, leaving one person dead and many others injured. With great vitriol, the demonstrators trumpeted anti-black racism and anti-Semitism, displaying swastikas on banners and shouting slogans like โ€œJews will not replace us,โ€ and โ€œblood and soil,โ€ a phrase drawn from Nazi ideology.

So our hearts are heavy, our spirits nursing despair. We are desperately searching for ways to immerse our lives in the quest for peace and justice, but there are moments when hope is small. There are times when the skies above us look ominously dark, without even one sparkle to light our way. There are moments when we are filled with fear and doubt, convinced that peace in our world, in our nation, in our communities, even in our hearts, is all but impossible. The words of Russian author Anton Chekhov offer a glimpse of hope.

We shall find peace. We shall hear angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.

Can we really hear angels? Do the skies still give light? Shall we make a thoudand paper cranes? Shall we pray more constantly and fervently? Shall we look deeper into our own hearts to find the core of our own peace? Shall we move and speak and act with courage in places where evil reigns?

Perhaps we must do all of that, and more โ€” whatever it takes, however long it takes, whatever the cost. But most importantly, we must not lose heart, holding hope high so that those who see us will see hope, new and fresh and full of faith.

Once in a generation’s life, there is a spectacular lineup of the sun, moon, and earth causing a solar eclipse. Today millions of people will look into the sky to experience it. Everyone who stops to look skyward — regardless of their age, race, nationality, sexual identity — will see the very same moon and sun.ย When we experience the darkening of the sun today โ€” a stunning darkness in the midst of daylight โ€” perhaps the experience will remind us that, even in the dark, the sun still shines.

The darkness demonstrated in Charlottesville will not prevail. People of good will and kindness will stand together in solidarity to work for peace. People of faith, peacemakers called by God, will not allow the darkness to cover all that is right and just in the world. The music of hope inspires us still . . .

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

This is our cry, this is our prayer, peace in the world.

Afraid of the Night

Design

From the poem, “The Old Astronomer to His Pupil” by Sarah Williams.ย The last line of the poem was used as an epitaph for an Astronomer-couple
buried at Allegheny Observatory.

 

 

Almost every night as bedtime approaches, I experience a feeling of panic. I have thought a lot about what is going on in me when this happens. Hoping to overcome the fear, I say to myself again and again, “I need not be afraid of the night.” And yet the panic persists. What I do know is that there is a part of me that fears going to sleep and never waking up. I have thought long and hard about where such a feeling might come from.

I recently worked through this and discovered that the panic is related to my many nights spent in the hospital in 2014. I remember well the long nights of sleeplessness and anxiety. I remember the irrational fear that clung tightly to me following a few brushes with death. I remember that, even when I was stronger and out of imminent danger, I continued to be afraid. And I remember that the nights in the hospital were lonely and seemingly endless.

When I was discharged and safely back home, I continued to be sleepless, eyes wide open every night, all night. I stayed exhausted, of course, and slept soundly during the day. It is interesting to me how the body adjusts itself to changing circumstances and schedules, physically and emotionally, even spiritually. Body and soul, I easily accepted an intense fear of the night. Perhaps I could just as easily embrace the reality of a caring God who watches over me through every dark time. Perhaps I could find the God of the Psalmist.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning,
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, โ€œSurely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,โ€

even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

– Psalm 139:1-13

I need not be afraid of the night.

It is true. Through every dark day, I could not flee from Godโ€™s presence. In the โ€œdark night of my soul, in every difficult time, there was a reality I needed to learn, an eternal truth waiting fir me to discover. My discovery was about the captivity of fear, especially fear that descended on me in the dark of night. My discovery was alsoย about a Light that is brighter than any darkness I could ever experience.

I need not be afraid of the night. Thanks be to God.

 

Light for a Dark Path

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Life can be a very dark path, frightenly uncharted. Inching through life often finds us hesitating in dark places, afraid to take even one step into an unknown future. The darkness can be daunting. Still, for me light has at times eased the darkness, and with even a tiny ray of light, I was able to move forward.

Brother Curtis Almquist writes of the grace-filled presence of beacons of light.

There have been people in our past who have been beacons of light, and whose life still shines into the present . . . and we remember them because they help us find our way and know our place in life, which is otherwise so terribly uncharted.

– Brother Curtis Almquist
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

How fondly I remember and give thanks for the people who were beacons of light for me.

Yiayia, my beloved grandmother, who was my faithful and loving protector and whose energy nurtured me.

Thea Koula, my favorite aunt, who was like a mother to me and who brought joy and lightheartedness to my life.

Ethel, my forever friend, who was a constant beacon of light, always helping me find my way.

In the darkness, the light of faith endured and made the journey possible. Most certainly, the people in my life strengthened my faith and were for me a welcomed light for a dark path. And yes, I stumbled over more than a few nasty obstacles and rough spots. But even when I languished in the darkness of an uncharted path, my faith was enough. My faith was my brightest light.

I will be forever grateful for the beacons of light that helped guide me on the journey and for the enduring, constant presence of a faithful God.

The Lord will guide you always;
will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

– Isaiah 58:11 NIV

Out of the Darkness

Design

The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds
that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we ourselves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light . . .

– Excerpt from “A Sonnet for Ascension Day” by poet Malcolm Guite

Out of the bombing in Manchester emerge brokenhearted families — mothers, fathers, grandparents, children. We live in a brokenhearted world. We wonder what we might do with our broken hearts. Do we respond with anger, sorrow, disinterest? Do we chalk it up as just another tragedy that is inevitable in a world of terrorism and unbridled violence? How must we respond in a way that honors our faith in the Prince of Peace?

I certainly do not have answers to all the questions we may be asking in the face of this tragedy, but these things I know. We must stand firmly, always, for peace. We must speak boldly when our words might ease violence. We must pray without ceasing for a world without violence, and hope constantly for a world that is gentle and hospitable for every person.

Finally, as poet Malcolm Guite writes, we must raise our voices in the strength that comes after weakness. We must sing on, people of God, for our songs might just help bring the world out of darkness into God’s wondrous light!

. . . You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, Godโ€™s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

– 1 Peter 2:9, NIV

The Balm for Our Heartbreak

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We do not anticipate much to happen on Holy Monday. It is a Monday, after all, not a great time for hope and expectation. It’s more a time for heartbreak. For on this Holy Monday, we need a reminder that God’s love is ever-present with us.

Mary has prepared Jesusโ€™ body for burial, for death, and we know all too well where the road to Jerusalem leads. We know thatย the hosannas have fallen silent. We know that the high ranking officials are meeting secretly to plan for the death of Jesus. We know that Judas will betray Jesus and Peter will deny him.

We know that what comes next will break our hearts. But broken hearts are not so bad. At least that’s what Glennon Doyle Melton says.

I have learned that when I run from heartbreak, from pain, I bypass transformation — like a caterpillar constantly jumping out of its cocoon right before it was about to become a butterfly.

Pain knocks on everyone’s door. It we are wise we will greet it and say, “Come in, sit down, and don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.”

She tells us to ask ourselves what breaks our hearts. And then she explains that the heart, like every other muscle, has to be worked, even ripped apart. That’s how it grows stronger. So instead of shrinking back from our heartbreak and finding ways to disconnect from our suffering, perhaps we should run right into the painful middle of it.

Heartbreak in our lives, like heartbreak on Holy Monday, is very real. That’s why the words of the Psalmist sing so loudly inย our hearts, bringing us hope and love and light.

Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the great mountains;
Your judgments are a great deep;

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.

They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house,
And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.

For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.

— Psalm 36: 5-9

God’s love is the balm for our heartbreak — today, tomorrow and forever.

The Light in the Harbor

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Photo from the February 13-20 cover of the New Yorker magazine featuring the light of the Statue of Liberty snuffed out.

Lady Liberty’s torch went out last night due to a power failure. New York harbor was absent her light. There was even online speculation that the move was deliberate, to show solidarity with the “Day Without A Woman” inequality protests taking place today. We will possibly make more of this than we should, seeing the loss of her light as a commentary on our times. For certainly these days, some of our citizens experience the light going out on their freedom.

For those young people we call Dreamers, the light seems dim and their dreams seem to be in jeopardy. For our Muslim brothers and sisters, freedom’s light has dimmed. For Mexicans seeking refuge, there is the shadow of an unwelcoming dividing wall. Women once again fear the affliction of inequality.

Is it true? Has freedom’s light really gone dark in our country? Is there no light in the harbor?

The answer is a resounding “No!”

The Light was out for only two hours. What is more important is that America — the land of diversity, freedom, welcome and acceptance — will endure. The Statue of Liberty lights the harbor again, and the inscription on her base will remain as a testimony of welcome to the immigrants, immigration ban notwithstanding.

Inscribed on the base of the statue is the poem that Emma Lazarus penned in 1883. Protesters across the country cite the Moving poem as a clear argument against President Donald Trump’s travel ban and immigration crackdowns.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

God grant that America will always welcome the tired, the poor, from every corner of the world.

Morning Mercies

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Every new morning reminds me that I have been given a gift, another day to live, another chance to make a difference in my world, another day to love and grow and enjoy. Not so long ago, I lived some days of fear. Each dark night brought a sense of dread, and I allowed myself to believe that another morning would not dawn. I was afraid to let myself sleep, and did not expect to make it through the night.

Obviously, I was wrong. Fortunately, I got beyond those dark times and willed myself to believe in hope and new dawns. But the process of finding hope again was no easy task. It took time, prayer, and talking about my feelings with a trusted friend. It was a process that required persistence. Most of all, it required getting re-acquainted with God’s grace and faithfulness. I learned to find hope again in each morning’s new mercies.

The writings of Steven Charleston were a part of my process toward hope. These words gave me an extra measure of strength.

Here is the hand of morning, coming so quietly to part the curtain, letting in the first light, welcoming the wide-eyed day into the sleepy corners of our lives. A new beginning is the miracle that awaits each one of us. We are the people of new beginnings, each one of us, brought here by more mornings than we can count, fresh chances from an older life, a turn of events, a change of mind, an unexpected friend, how many different mornings have we seen? You and I are made of morning, set free by the new light, forever being welcomed into a life that is just beginning.

– Bishop Steven Charleston

Now I expect mornings again. I fall asleep these days with new hope that morning will come. As for all of us, new days are not guaranteed. We live with that reality, but we do so without fear and with faith in the faithfulness of God. The beloved hymn says:

Great is thy faithfulness . . .
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed, thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

The Scripture says it this way:

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lordโ€™s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

– Lamentations 3:21-23 New International Version

Thanks be to God.

New Light Chases the Darkness Away

enlight1

It was an old dream proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah. He dreamed of an earth filled with justice, righteousness and peace. He dreamed of a world where children do not fear, a world where all people live in God’s light. The people of God have dreamed the very same dream, just as we dream it today. Hear the words of the Prophet:

With righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

and a little child will lead them . . .

They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

– Isaiah 11:4-6, 9 New International Version (NIV)
We must keep dreaming, seeking the dream with hearts and hands, giving ourselves to the work of justice. Bishop Steven Charleston, as always, eloquently expresses the thought.

I dream the old dream, the one that has been with us for centuries now, passed down from heart to heart, shared by great leaders and simple believers alike, the dream of a day when the scales of time will tip, when the long suffering will end, when justice will finally bring the peace we deserve. The tyrants will be history. The wars only a distant memory. The Earth will sparkle beneath clear skies, every hungry child will be fed. I dream the old dream, the one you have dreamed too, the one that arises in the long hours of night, before the new light chases the darkness away.

We dream of the day when tyrants will be history, wars a distant memory, where every hungry child will be fed, and the long night of suffering will end for every person. Though we may experience the deepest, harshest darkness, it is the new light of our dreams that chases the darkness away. May this be our prayer.