Afghanistan, Maren Tirabassi, Prayer, Women

Afghanistan: Grace and Mercy

Afghan woman in traditional cover, known as a burka, at the Blue Mosque in Mazar.
Photo: Jawad Jalail


Part One

A Story of Grace and Mercy


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.”


Part Two

Advocating for the Women of Afghanistan

The Taliban have been in charge of Kabul for 48 hours. Women have already disappeared from the streets.

Photo: AP News
https://apnews.com/article/religion-taliban-7ab054c063e4ea1c14be9e4811f42982


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.

She said the U.S. has invested more than $700 million in girls’ and women’s education, and attendance has increased. So has Afghan women’s participation in the labor force — up from 15% to nearly 22%. 

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.”

Caged children, Child protection, Child trafficking, Children, Prayer, Sheltering children, Taking immigrant children

The World’s Children Need Us

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, domestic labor, 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.

I wish 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:

        1. Nevada 
        2. Mississippi 
        3. Florida 
        4. Georgia 
        5. Ohio 
        6. Delaware 
        7. California 
        8. Missouri 
        9. Michigan 
        10. Texas 

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 malnourished
      • 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: “I wish 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.

Chat with the National Human Trafficking Hotline via www.humantraffickinghotline.org/chat

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.

The information you provide will be reviewed by the Trafficking Hotline. All reports are confidential and you may remain anonymous. Interpreters are available via phone call only. Learn more about the Hotline’s approach and policies regarding reporting trafficking situations to law enforcement.

Report missing children or child pornography to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-THE-LOST (843-5678) or through their Cybertipline.

Another good resource is “Not for Sale” at https://www.notforsalecampaign.org/about-us/

Gun violence, Prayer, School shooting

Prayer for Peace in our Schools

Sometimes prayer is literally all we have. I share with you this poignant and moving prayer from my friend, Maren. I call her the pray-er of prayers.

God, hen, gatherer of chicks,
Savior, weeper over all places
that have no peace,
Spirit, whom to receive
is to feel the breath of wind
in a breeze across a playground,

we pray this morning
for Rigby, Idaho,
where a sixth grader started shooting
in the school hallway …
for two students and an adult injured,
and for all the fear,

and we pray this morning
for Columbia, South Carolina,
where a school bus hijacker threatened
driver and eighteen children
with a rifle,
and for all the fear.

Holy One, we pray for everyone
who has power
to take the guns away –
would that they know,
maybe their hearts tipped over
by this day

the things that make for peace.

amen.

Posted on May 7, 2021 by Maren

Birdsong, Calm, Creation, Fear, Grace, Knowing, Life’s meaning, Listening, Paul Simon, peace, Prayer, Quiet, Reflection, Sacred Pauses, Sacred Space, Self Awareness, Self care, Self-understanding, Serenity, Silence, Simon and Garfunkel, Soul, Soul work, Spirituality, Stillness, The Sound of Silence, Whispers of the Soul, Wholeness

One Day I Listened

I wonder if you would be willing to stop what you’re doing right now and spend a quiet moment with me, just listening? Your time might well be a needed time for you and for your soul.

There is always so much to listen to — traffic, sirens, video game sounds, annoying household noise like the washing machine/dryer, food processor, mixer, fans, buzzers and alarms and the awful sound of the disposal trying to crush that inadvertent chicken bone. These, of course, are not our favorite sounds, but they are the myriad sounds and noises we hear in a typical day.

There are sweeter sounds, too, like the sound of a gentle, falling rain or the sound of rain when it hits hard on the roof; the sound of a gusty breeze as it rustles the leaves on a tree; the sound of a flowing stream, a rolling river and constant, ever-rushing ocean sounds; the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings; the sound of cicadas on a Southern summer night; the sound of a child’s laughter; the sweet, peaceful sound of a purring kitten; and birdsong, always birdsong.

Of course, listening as pure joy is listening to music — quiet music, lyrical melodies, rhythms that slow the pulse, the sound of a bow moving across a cello’s strings, the mesmerizing sound of a harp, the velvet sound of voices in harmony or the enthralling sound of a symphony orchestra.

Sounds fill the space that surrounds us, all the time. What is rarer for us is to hear the sound of silence. Some of us fear the silence or dread silent moments. Others of us avoid it at all costs because the silence tends to bring up whatever we are afraid to hear. So the noise that enfolds us fills the place that might otherwise hear the sighs of the soul — its cries and laments, its laughter, its sound of contentedness. It seems to me that this is the place we long to be, in the soul’s sound chamber where whatever we hear — if we’re listening carefully — is the song of the soul that tells us who we are and why we are.

There is a poem that many of you will remember (if you’re old enough) as a Simon and Garfunkel song from the 1960s. The poem was written by Paul Simon and it presents a frightening picture of the modern world doomed by the lack of spirituality and the people’s aversion to the true meaning of life. It is not so different in these days that spirituality and life meaning can be elusive, no matter how hard we may search for it and yearn for it.

The poem, entitled The Sound of Silence, is written by the voice of a visionary asking people to be serious about the true meaning of life. The poem’s message is that people are moving further and further away from true happiness because they have ignored life’s true meaning. They debate and quarrel about worthless things. They listen to or watch meaningless things. The poet writes that the people “speak and hear without listening. Like we often do?

Throughout its five stanzas, the poem presents the conflict between spiritual and material values. The poetic persona is a person of vision who warns against the lack of spiritual seriousness. The poem begins with an address by the poet persona to the darkness, saying that he has come to talk with the darkness. When he awakens, he says that the vision still remains as the sound of silence.

Some of us fear the silence or dread silent moments. Others avoid it at all costs because the silence tends to bring up whatever they are afraid to hear. So the noise that enfolds us fills the place that might otherwise hear the sighs of the soul — its cries and laments, its laughter, its sounds of contentedness. It seems to me that this is the place we long to be, in the soul’s sound chamber where whatever we hear — if we’re listening carefully — is the song of the soul that tells us who we are and why we are.

The words of the poet . . .

And in the naked light, I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said,
“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sound of silence

All of that trivia about the poem certainly moved us a little farther away from my point, which is that most, if not all, of us have a deep emotional and spiritual need to listen to our souls, really listen. Even if we don’t know it, we long to hear what the depth of our being wants to say to us. We want to find our true selves, a quest only our souls can accomplish. If we are honest, we would say that we want to do the soulwork that leads us out of the darkness of our own making and into a place of light.

When we do carve out a sacred pause, when we wait in the darkness of that silent space, and when we open ourselves to deep listening, we will likely hear God’s whisper. We will probably move slowly out of darkness and realize the promise that as “God’s own people” we will “proclaim the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”   (1 Peter 2:9)

This is the place we long to be, in the soul’s sound chamber where whatever we hear — if we’re listening carefully — is the song of the soul that tells us who we are and why we are.

— Rev. Kathy Manis Findley

Hearing God’s voice moves us to a deeper experience of life, but hearing our soul’s sighs may take us deeper still, because we open ourselves to self-knowing. It’s not a surface knowing. It is a deep knowing of who it is that lives in our skin. Without hearing the sighs our souls are making, we might never enter into fullness of self. I suggest that only the fullness of who we are can stand before the God who knows us even better than we know ourselves. 

In my own experience, I think that perhaps I cannot be in deep communion with God if I try to face God as my superficial self. Perhaps God seeks relationship with my soul, my deepest place of being. To find and define my soul for myself, to know myself fully, I must find the sound of silence and sit with it patiently and expectantly. Maybe that is the essence of spirituality.

So there are a few lessons in these words and these are the obvious lessons:

  • Limit the harsh sounds in your life.
  • Surround yourself with tender, gentle sounds.
  • Make sacred space and holy time to listen deeply for the sounds that speak to your soul.
  • Listen for God’s whispers. They are important to hear.
  • Always consider what is, for you, the true meaning of life.
  • Listen to your soul — its sighs, its cries, its songs. 

And who knows? If you linger for a while in your sacred listening space, you might just find the very essence of grace by hearing what your soul whispers to you. It will be the most beautiful sound of all.

— Rev.Kathy Manis Findley


One day I listened — really listened. And I heard the whisper of God and the song of my soul. Thanks be to God.



I invite you to hear the poem, “The Sound of Silence,” through music. It can rightly be said that no group or person could ever sing this as well as Simon and Garfunkel, but I thought you might enjoy it covered by a very popular contemporary a cappella group, Pentatonix. 


The Sound of Silence by Paul Simon

anxiety, Calm, Comfort, Emotions, Fear, Feelings, God's Faithfulness, God’s promises, Grace, grief, Hate, healing, Hope, Pain, Pandemic of 2020, peace, Prayer, Preaching, Present moment, Resilience, Sacred Space, Spirit, Violence

What Do You Say to a Broken World?

I once preached a sermon entitled, “What Do You Say to a Broken World?” In this week, after our nation’s Capitol was breached and defiled, I have wondered if ministers who will stand before congregations in two days are asking themselves a similar question: “What will I say on this day to a broken world?”

A friend of mine is preaching this week. I am praying that she will have an extra measure of wisdom, because standing before a congregation while the nation is in chaos is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. My first feeling as I thought about preaching for this Sunday was relief that I was no longer a pastor with such a heavy responsibility, that I did not have to summon the wisdom to speak to a people with heavy hearts who need to hear of healing grace and hope. But my most intense feeling was envy, not hostile envy, but heart envy about my deep desire to speak Gospel Good News to people who need to hear good news. Still I envied my friend and wished that, this Sunday, I could stand before a congregation with wisdom, open my spirit and invite God to speak through me. It is a heavy responsibility and a sacred calling.

Dr. Greg Carey, Professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, wrote an essay this week entitled “Preaching When It’s Broken.” In the essay he says this:

God bless you, preachers who will address congregations this Sunday . . . Here in the United States, things are broken, most people know they’re broken, and we all need healing and truth.

For many of us, the invasion of the Capitol and the response to it by people we know, love and admire, brings this brokenness to the foreground. Since that terrible, violent day, I have heard dozens of interviews that expressed anger, frustration, contempt, indignation and all manner of raw emotion. I have also heard wise leaders express their resoluteness to lead this nation into healing, unity and hope.

Indeed, the questions about this Sunday’s preaching call us to attention: How do our pastors, our priests, our rabbis, our imams, our bhikkhus and bhikkhunis stand before their congregations offering comfort when our nation is so broken, so angry, so mournful in the face of violent acts? What will they proclaim? What will they preach? What will they pray? What will they sing?

Minneapolis Pastor and Poet, Rev. Meta Herrick Carlson, has given us a grace-gift with this poem entitled, “A Blessing for Grieving Terrorism.”

A Blessing for Grieving Terrorism

There is sickness
with symptoms as old as humankind,
a rush of power born by inciting fear in others,
a wave of victoryin causing enemies pain.

There is a push to solve the mystery,
to isolate the suspect and
explain the evil simply
to a safe distance from the anomaly.

There is a temptation
to skip the part that feels
near the suffering
that shares the sadness,
that names our shared humanity.

There is a courage
in rejecting the numbing need for data
in favor of finding the helpers,
loving the neighbor,
resisting terror through random acts of connection.

There is a sickness
with symptoms as old as humankind,
but so is the remedy.

From Rev. Meta Herrick Carlson’s book “Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Everyday Life.” Used with permission.

So much truth in her words, so much wisdom “for the living of these days.” In her words, I feel all over again the desire of my heart, the impossible dream of standing in a pulpit this Sunday, speaking to a congregation that needs strength in the midst of adversity. I will not stand behind a pulpit this week, but I will pray for those who will stand in that sacred space. I will pray for them, the proclaimers, and I will pray for their hearers across this nation. I will lean on this beautiful prayer written by Reverend Valerie Bridgeman:

May God Strengthen You for Adversity

A blessing for today: 

May God strengthen you for adversity
and companion you in joy.

May God give you the courage of your conviction
and the wisdom to know when to speak and act.

May you know peace.
May you be gifted with deep,true friendship and love. 

May every God-breathed thing
you put your hand to prosper and succeed.

May you have laughter to fortify you
against the disappointments.
May you be brave. 

© Valerie Bridgeman, December 18, 2013

When all is said and done, more important than what the “proclaimer in the pulpit” says is what the hearers hear. For in this time — when violence, riots, terrorism, pandemic and all manner of chaos is so much a part of life — those who listen need to hear a clear message of a God who dwells among us, a Christ who leads us, a Spirit who comforts us under the shadow of her wings. For hearts in these days are heavy, souls are wounded, spirits seek hope. And all the people want to believe that they do not walk alone through their present angst.

I pray that you know that you are not alone, that God’s grace-filled presence is with you and that “in God you live and move and have your being. As some of your poets have said, ‘We are God’s children.’” (Acts 17:28)

I pray that your heart will heal and be filled anew with hope. I pray that the wounds of your soul and spirit will heal and be filled anew with the peace of God. I pray that, when you listen in faith, you will hear the voice of God whispering in your ear, “You do not walk alone.”

I invite you to spend a few moments of meditation hearing the message of this music:

May you see God’s light on the path ahead
when the road you walk is dark.

May you always hear
even in your hour of sorrow
the gentle singing of the lark.

When times are hard

May you always remember when the shadows fall–
You do not walk alone.

Advent, Calm, coronavirus, God's Faithfulness, God’s promises, Isolation, Lament, Pandemic of 2020, Prayer, Rest, Stillness, struggle, Suffering, Waiting

ALL IS CALM

Watercolor art by Kathy Manis Findley
DE8FDF4E-684E-4427-9F72-C3CF6FE50F58
Watercolor art by Kathy Manis Findley


In Advent’s first week, I really want to feel that all is calm, but in the world that revolves around me, things are anything but calm. During this season of Advent — in the first week of Advent 2020 — hearts are not calm at all and nothing feels more appropriate to do than prayer and lament. 

13,822,249 Coronavirus cases in this country. 272,525 deaths.
And worldwide, 66,786,028 Coronavirus cases and 1,533,302 deaths.

Lament feels right. Calm does not. Lamenting during this season of waiting is not easy. The Psalmist offers us one of the Penitential psalms, Psalm 130 that begins with a cry to God from a place of deep sorrow, from “out of the depths.” The Psalmist also speaks to us of waiting:

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
— Psalm 130:5-6 

I’ve been trying to wait this year, to practice meditation and prayer that emerges “out of the depths” of my soul. How else could it be when I hear the story of five children who lost both parents when Covid ravaged their family? How could I not cry out from the depths when my own family members and friends are suffering with this deadly virus? How could I do anything but Lament as I watch my friends and family suffering the ravages of this virus that has descended upon the world?

My deep prayers and laments, as well as my practice of meditation, has not been going all that well. It’s just too still for me right now, too quiet. Being still makes me impatient to do something. When I stop moving, my mind whirls and all I can think of is all the things I want or need to do.

This voice in my mind is hard to resist, because it seems so reasonable. When I consider the world’s suffering and see it so clearly in my own circle, being still feels like a sin. With the pandemic surging, the injustice we see everywhere, the suffering people who have profound need, how can I justify being calm — still, quiet, resting, breathing, waiting? 

Into my place of anxiety and restlessness, the liturgical year invites me into the holy waiting of Advent. Into a culture that places productivity over presence, Advent invites us to believe that we need to be still. Into a culture that tells us if we don’t do it, it won’t get done, Advent asks us to stop working for a season. 

Isn’t is an act of humility and trust to stop moving and fixing and tending and meddling, to sit still during Advent? Advent teaches us that there are forces at work beyond our own working, beyond our own dreams of repairing the world. The beautiful reality Advent wants us to know is that even when we stop, God still works. So we really can lay down our tools, set aside our pridefulness, and wait for the morning that God always brings.

In these Advent days, practicing stillness is more important than ever, because in this pandemic winter of 2020, everyone’s most important vocation is to be still and wait — at home and distanced from others. Whether we are essential workers, working from home, unemployed, managing our kids’ education, or some combination of these – we are all being called to be still and wait this winter. We are being asked to wait to hug the people we love. We are waiting for visiting our friends, waiting to eat at our favorite restaurant, waiting to fly to places we want to see, waiting to see the ocean again. We are waiting with hurting hearts to visit our families. We are waiting with aching souls to worship together in our sacred spaces.  

Our stillness in this pandemic Advent matters more than it ever has. Yet, we wonder if we can survive it. We wonder if this interminable waiting will eventually make us give up, give in and just go out. Leave our homes. Disregard social distancing. Go visit our best friend in person. Go to church — inside the beautiful sanctuary we so miss — and worship God with loud singing.

In the waiting, in the stillness, how do we find the calm we long for? In the stillness, does God still work in us? We may not be so certain about how to answer those questions, but we do know that this stillness is exactly what will save our neighbors’ lives. This winter, the most important way that we can love our neighbor is to practice stillness.

This winter, we practice Advent as an act of love and an act of hope – hope that this too shall pass. The year 2020 will pass. The pandemic will ease, and we will someday see light emerge from of this dark time. Winter’s cold darkness is not forever. Winter always moves to spring. Night always turns to day. The solitude of Advent always gives way to the Immanuel, God with us of Christmas.

The Psalmist reminds us in poetic verse that the night will pass. “I wait for the Lord,” the poet sings, “more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” 

Julian of Norwich might remind us that “All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” I am struck again, as always, by these words . “All will be well” is her golden thought. It is a provocative saying, as much in its calming, repetitive sound as in its assurance of a future reality beyond our grasp. In these days, it is a deeply grounding promise in the midst of a chaotic, painful world. Somehow, despite our current experiences, “All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.”

And yet, all is not well. We have a growing awareness that our current public health crisis will continue in waves, for God knows how long. Schools and businesses will struggle to prepare for the looming unknown. The economic situation is staggering. And the recent murders of black Americans are forcing yet another reckoning with systemic racism in this country. We yearn for calm while we nurse mixed feelings about how we can navigate this troubling time.

Julian would understand these mixed feelings. Julian lived in isolation during a pandemic — the Black Death. The Black Death (also known as the Pestilence, the Great Mortality, or the Plague) was the deadliest pandemic recorded in human history. The Black Death resulted in the deaths of up to 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. 

In 1373, at age thirty and so seriously ill she thought she was on her deathbed, Julian received a series of visions or “shewings” of the Passion of Christ. While Julian was struck down with the illness, she experienced the visions, which have been passed down to us as “The Revelations of Divine Love” or the “Showings.” For Julian, her revelation that “all will be well” was not calming or soothing, at least not at first. Instead it shocked her. By her own account, the Showings included the divine words “heavily” and “mournfully” and with “very great fear.” Lament perhaps.

“All will be well?” Her instant response was, essentially, how could this possibly be, given the reality of pain, suffering and human frailty we experience? Or in her words: “Ah, good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great harm which has come through sin to your creatures?” 

According to the final chapter of Showings, she then spent at least 15 years isolated in her cell, immersed in a deep struggle to comprehend the divine meaning of the words that had filled her spirit. Just imagine. Fifteen years contemplating that one line. In other words, she lamented, how can it possibly be that all will be well? 

Through love, she concluded — not that fleeting feeling but the divine love itself, a power and an action that beckons and encompasses everything, even the enormity of human suffering. Without context, without the awareness of Julian’s life-long struggle and spiritual quest, her calming words — “All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” — becomes mere platitude.

No, all is not calm in these days, at least in the world we can see. But all is calm in the places we cannot see, in our spirit depths and in our longing souls. Advent helps bring holy calm as we wait in the quietude God desires for us. Advent helps us practice stillness. Even when we are lamenting “the sufferings of this present time,” Advent teaches us to trust that the sun is always going to rise, that the night never goes on forever, that into dark, long periods of history — God comes. Every time.

On the starry, silent night we wait for, all is calm.

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Those Who Dream: An Advent Journey

 

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Image from “A Sanctified Art” at https://sanctifiedart.org

Before we begin Advent’s journey on November 29th, I think we need start a few days early to create some peace for our souls — enough peace to open ourselves to Advent’s life-giving message. For you see, the Advent journey always has a particular and unique message for each of us. The message weaves through our spirit as Advent days move on, gently sparking tiny lights is us that open us up to beginning again, to dreaming again. Advent nurtures and caresses us until we can dream new dreams.

Since we saw Advent past, we have languished in the chaos of 2020. Held in bondage by a terrible pandemic, lamenting racial unrest and the violence that caused it, watching political rancor and division. This was the year of “I can’t breathe” and also the year when we found that we could not breathe. Nor could we dream, because the future was unknowable — not at all conducive to dreaming.

And yet, there remains this good word — Psalm 126:1:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

What does it look like to live as those who dream? The prophets, the psalmists, Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, Simeon, Anna, the shepherds and the Magi—they were all dreamers. They received, discovered, and responded to God’s dreams for the world. In Advent’s journey, we travel step by step into the mystery and awe of God’s dreams and we pray that they will shape our reality.

Advent is for the dreamers in all of us — those who dream of a deeper connection with God and those who dream of a better world. Advent is for those who dream of comfort and also for those who have given up on their dreams. Advent is for those whose dreams have been crushed and for those who wisely teach us that dreams take soul time. 

In this approaching Advent, perhaps we will dream alongside prophets and angels, Mary and the Magi. Perhaps we will seek and know God’s dreams for our world. 

Will you pray with me?


In this Advent of expectation, God,
draw us nearer to grace,
that our songs of worship
might echo in the hills and valleys of this journey
and also through our lives.

In this Advent of expectation,
grant us a sense of peace and silence and steady calm,
that the hope within our souls
might be the dreams we dream,
the songs we sing, and the melody of our lives.

In this Advent of expectation,
grant us a vision of a shimmering star in the night sky,
that the path we follow
might lead us from a stable
to a glimpse of eternity. Amen.

Those Who Dream Theme Song—PREVIEW VERSION from A Sanctified Art on Vimeo.

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Prayers of Lament



This morning, I prayed a prayer of lament. Lament was the only prayer in my spirit. It is difficult to express the deep sorrow I felt yesterday when I learned that no charges were brought against the police who shot six bullets into Breonna Taylor’s body.

Shortly after midnight on March 13, 2020, Louisville police officers used a battering ram to enter the apartment of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who had dreams of a bright career ahead. She and her boyfriend had settled in to watch a movie in her bedroom on that tragic night. Police came to her door and minutes later, she was fatally shot. Her death sparked months of protests in Louisville.

Yesterday, six months after the fatal shooting — six bullets — a grand jury indicted a former Louisville police officer on Wednesday for wanton endangerment for his actions during the raid. A grand jury delivered the long-awaited answer about whether the officers would be punished. No charges were announced against the other two officers who fired shots, and no one was charged for causing Breonna Taylor’s death.

For me, there was only lament. I imagine that for Breonna’s family, there was the deepest kind of lament. For her mother, lament was the only response she could express as she wept uncontrollably. And, even for the protesters who filled the streets, I believe there was lament. 

Theologian Soong-Chan Rah explains in his book, Prophetic Lament, that in the Bible lament is “a liturgical response to the reality of suffering and engages God in the context of pain and suffering.” He goes on to say that it is a way to “express indignation and even outrage about the experience of suffering.” Racism has inflicted incalculable suffering on black people throughout the history of the United States, and in such a context, lament is not only understandable but necessary.

Perhaps white Christians and all people of faith have an opportunity to mourn with those who mourn and to help bear the burden that racism has heaped on black people. (Romans 12:15)    — Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise


In the end, many people see only the rage, anger, impatience, violence of the protesters. Can we also see their lament for Breonna, as well as for centuries of racially motivated murder — beatings, burnings, lynchings and murder committed by police officers? 

People of faith — white people of faith — will we try to understand the rage of our black and brown sisters and brothers? Will we join them in righteous anger? Will we mourn with them? Will we lament when lament fills their souls and overflows in cries for justice?

We must, in the name of our God who created every person in God’s own image!

Last night, I heard an interview with Brittany Packnett Cunningham on MSNBC. Her words were eloquent pleas for justice. She spoke about how persistent and all-encompassing racism is in our country and about the murders and the protests and the political rancor that fuels it. She acknowledged racism’s strong, unrelenting hold on this nation, a hold that is virtually impossible to break. And she said something I have said for a long time, “Racism cannot be reformed. It must be transformed.”

To me that means a transformation of the heart and soul that compels each of us to lament, to comfort, to speak truth in government’s halls of power, to stand openly against any form of racial injustice.

May God make it so.

Will you pray this prayer of lament with me?

O God, who heals our brokenness, Receive our cries of lament and teach us how to mourn with those who mourn. Receive even our angry lament and transform our anger into righteous action. Hear the anguish of every mother assaulted by violence against her child. Hear the angry shouts of young people as shouts of frustration, fear and despair. Grant us the courage to persist in shouting out your demand for justice, for as long as it takes. When deepest suffering causes us to lament, grant us Spirit wind and help us soar. If we resist your call for justice, compel us to holy action. May our soul’s lament stir us to transform injustice, in every place, for every person, whenever racism threatens, for this is your will and our holy mission. Amen.

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When Branches Are Flimsy and Songs Cannot Be Sung

I have a certain fondness for sparrows and the spiritual stories we have ascribed to them. That my blog is named “God of the Sparrow” is no accident. I have aspired many times in my life to live like the sparrow lives. I wanted my human, adult, mature and seasoned self to know, beyond any doubt, that God is watching over me. I do not live the simple, sparrow-like life I always hoped to live. But my unshakable faith has always told me that the God who watches over my every moment is also the God of the sparrow. I remember well the words written in the Gospel of Matthew . . .

So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 
— Matthew 10:41 NRSV

Such a comforting passage of Scripture! Yet, its message to us often pales in comparison to all the things that so frighten us. The state of the world that surrounds us in these days seems to have even more power over us than Matthew’s words about our value to God.

How is it that we are valuable to God when God does not act to protect us from all of life’s slings and arrows? Yesterday in my blog post I listed our world’s bad and scary things, so I won’t list them again today. But I will venture a prognosis that many, many people are suffering in many ways in this confusing season. I am one of those suffering people, feeling a bit of hopelessness in these days of racial unrest, coronavirus unsettledness and political divisions.

I heard a moving choral performance this morning. Its text lifted up my helplessness before me and turned it into a prayer so attuned to where I find myself.

God of the sparrow, sing through us
Songs of deliverance, songs of peace. 
Helpless we seek You, God our joy, 
Quiet our troubles, bid them cease. 

Jonathan Cook

I need the sparrow’s God to sing through me. Perhaps you do, too. I need that God-given song because my own music seems to have become quiet, my singing turned to mourning. (Amos 8:10) But this week, I took hold of that mourning. With strong intention, I spent most of one day this week singing my heart out. 

You need to know that I had to choose a day when my husband would be away so that I could sing loud, with abandon. Why did he have to be away? That’s a long story, but in a nutshell, my singing is awful these days. Probably my vocal cords have lost some of their youthful elasticity and, on top of that, I did not sing at all for more than a year. Serious illness took my music.

When I (literally) came back from the dead in 2015, I realized that I had lost so many of my former abilities. Singing was one of them. It felt strange to me when I realized I could no longer sing. My former life was filled with song. Since childhood, there was never a choir I did not join, never a solo I did not sing.

Acknowledging my inability to sing was difficult, just as my life after kidney transplant and this coronavirus is difficult. My isolation has been lengthy, most of nine months, and it is taking its toll on my spirit. Prayer has become both a burden and a grace to me. My singing was my prayer for so many years, and I really need my singing in these hard days. I need to sing my praises to God. I need to sing my lamentations. I need to sing like the sparrow who doesn’t worry about her vocal chords. I need to be like the sparrow who sits on her branch — without fear, without worry — because she knows that if she happens to light on a flimsy branch that does not hold her, her wings will lift her. 

The end of this story is that I need the God of the sparrow to sing through me once again — to sing through me in shadowy days, in times of trouble, in isolation, in fear, in hopelessness. That’s what God does, after all. In a troubled and despairing soul, God creates music, tucking it into every crevice, filling it with songs that can sing out both mourning and celebration. As an added bonus, I have it on good authority that God also turns mourning into dancing.

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Psalm 30 11-12 NRSV

So as you sing, dance to the new rhythms of your soul! Because you can!

Thanks be to God.

Please spend your meditation time today listening to this beautiful song with text written by Jonathan Cook and music by Craig Courtney. The video follows the text.

God of the Sparrow

God of the sparrow, sing through us,
Songs of deliverance, songs of peace.
Helpless we seek You, God our joy,
Quiet our troubles, bid them cease.
Alleluia.

God of the sparrow, God of hope,
Tenderly guide us, be our song,
God of affliction, pain and hurt,
Comfort Your children, make us strong.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

God of the sparrow, care for us.
Speak in our sorrow, Lord of grief.
Sing us Your music, lift our hearts,
Pour out Your mercy, send relief.

God, like the sparrow, we abide
In Your protection, love and grace.
Just as the sparrow in Your care,

May Your love keep us all our days.

Amen.

anxiety, Despair, Division, Exhaustion, Injustice, Isolation, Lament, Mourning, Natural disasters, Prayer, Racism, Repentance, Violence

“If my people . . .”


I watched the news last night before bed. Not such a good idea! Halfway into the broadcast, I felt a pervasive sense of despair and became very nauseous. I’m feeling it again as I’m writing this. It was the very real and very current events that were so upsetting: hurricanes bringing destruction in Louisiana; California wildfires threatening yet again; protests after the tragic and unwarranted shooting of Jacob Blake; 17-year old Kyle Rittenhouse, who took to the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin during protests, using a military-style rifle to kill two people; a president who is intent on meeting street protests with military violence; a president who gathers a crowd of supporters, not socially distanced and most not wearing masks; and the coronavirus hovering over it all to make situations even more devastating than they already are.

I turned off my bedside lamp and, in the darkness, pondered the news I had just seen. I could not sleep with the sorry, worry, desperation and helplessness I felt. There was not one thing I could do to change my world. My world seemed out of my control, engulfed in all of the events of our time. I wondered . . . how will we live with natural disasters, protests in the streets, killing, violence, military style weapons, police out of control, political rancor, a deadly pandemic and a seeming disregard for human life? How will I live with it? What can I do to change it?

In these times, we see before our eyes people getting very sick, people dying alone in nursing homes and hospitals because of COVID restrictions, people isolated and lonely for months, people divided by political polarization, people being killed by police, people protesting for racial justice, people pushing back hard, enshrined in their white supremacy, people losing their homes, people fighting out-of-control wildfires, people losing their jobs, people tired from working with so many hospital patients, people afraid to go back to school, people feeling angry and frustrated, people feeling complete despair. Most of all, people are hoping beyond hope for better days ahead.

My mind thought of nothing of any consequence I could personally do to reverse all of this destruction and despair. My heart memory, though, remembered some things God instructed us to do long ago. God addressed instruction to, “my people who are called by my name.” 

“I am called by God’s name,” I thought. “I know exactly what to do!” Of course, I could honor God by standing up for justice — engaging in political activism, contacting government officials to demand change or participating in peaceful protests. I could honor God’s creation by doing more to care for the earth. I could honor God by loving my neighbor and caring for those who have suffered loss. 

People of faith have God’s marching orders that dispatch those called by God’s name to practice all manner of good works. And this we must do. But the critical admonition from God that my heart recalled last night is found in Second Chronicles 7:14. If you are called by God’s name, you will likely know these words well.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (NRSV)

But wait, Second Chronicles 7:14 doesn’t apply to us. It was for Israel. Our Biblical interpretations must have a solid contextual underpinning. Right?

Of course, many Scriptures taken out of context have done great damage. The context of Second Chronicles is that when God brings judgment on God’s own people, Israel, as a result of their sins, that God would also heal their land. And God would re-establish their blessings when they would pray and “turn from their wicked ways.”

We may look around at all the destruction around us and say, “My sin did not cause any of this.” I don’t have military weapons. I didn’t shoot anyone. I don’t set wildfires, I always wear my mask in public. I certainly cannot stop the ominous storm surge of a hurricane.

True enough! Most of us didn’t sin by doing any of these things. Yet, we should remember two things: 1) While we did not commit those particular sins, we do not fully know the harm inflicted by other sins we may have committed; and 2) We cannot begin to know the transformative power of our sincere, repentant, intercessory prayer.

Instead of entertaining such deep and helpless despair, instead of feeling physically nauseous with worry, I think I will follow the admonition of the Chronicler who gave me God’s call to pray. Of course, the admonition in its historical context truly was for Israel, but if we intend to use the Holy Scripture to guide our lives, we cannot ignore a passage that begins with “If my people.”

Perhaps my prayers and yours will bring transformation, in our spirits and in our world.

May God make it so. Amen.