“A Box Full of Darkness”

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Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.

― Mary Oliver

For some reason yet unknown to me, I am remembering those words today. At the same time, I have vivid memories of persons I loved — many of them through the years — who gifted me with “a box full of darkness.” Each time, it felt like anything but a gift. I accepted the boxes because I believed I had no choice. I reached out to take the boxes from people I loved and immediately discovered that it was the darkness I held in my hands. Unfortunately, the darkness in my hands was potent enough to engulf me, and for a good amount of time, the darkness was my constant companion. All around me. Above and below me. Darkness so deep that I could not begin to see the path ahead.

What would I do with these ominous gifts? How would I escape the deep effect they had on my soul? How will I cast off the heartbreak? In time, I was able to think beyond my initial acceptance of these boxes moving to the reality that they were given to me by persons I loved. These were loved ones who might ordinarily have given me gifts, but these gifts — these boxes — were filled with darkness! Why? What did these gifts mean?

I held on to the pain of those “gifts” for years, feeling anger on some days, or betrayal, or loss, or rejection. The experiences changed my life in many ways, and changed the very course of my life. Being a person who so values friendship and loyalty, I was left despondent and a bit lost. Okay, a lot lost!

Yet, the passing years actually did bring healing relief. I could not avoid the darkness that my loved ones gave me. I could not get around it, slip under it, or leap over it. It was just there with me, in my life, and feeling like it would be permanent. The boxes were to me a heart rending breach of covenant. And yes, I did experience despair in the darkness, and loneliness and lostness, and bitterness wondering how these gift boxes had such immense power over me.

When the darkness finally lifted, it brought me a brand new love of life. It gave me new courage and new excitement. It gave me an awakening! I experienced a holy transformation. I knew then that I could get on with my life, joyously, and moving forward following my dreams. So Mary Oliver knew something that I had to learn the hard way, over many years. Here’s what she wrote: “It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

And then there is this wise and wonderful postscript that Annie Dillard wrote about her writing. It applies to every vocation or avocation that we love, and it’s really about living life — all out!

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now . . . something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water . . . The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is shameful, it is destructive.  Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.  (Annie Dillard from her book, The Writing Life)

Finally, James 1:2-4, a Scripture passage very familiar to us says it another way:

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

So real and true it was when the people I loved betrayed me with a terrible “box full of darkness.” I had faith in each of them. I trusted them and held their love in my heart. My box full of darkness was indeed a trial and a testing of my faith. But the promise of The Epistle of James is there, in my face. It may just be a Holy Letter addressed directly to me. My challenge was to “consider it nothing but joy,” and to know that the testing of my faith most assuredly created endurance. Thanks be to God.

 

Holding Hope

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A new year has dawned. We’re in it, ready or not! While we cannot control what 2020 brings to us, we can control the way we respond —- to times of joy, times of sorrow and all the times that are just ordinary. No doubt we will greet them all, ready or not!

As the poet reminds us, “Live the year that lies ahead with energy and hope. Be strong, have courage. It is time now for something new.” And so it is. But embracing something new is sometimes difficult. Sometimes our hope is small. Sometimes following our journey into an unknown future is frightening. If the year past still holds us in a place of suffering, if illness lingers with us, if depression and anxiety still rages in us, if persistent grief comes with us into the new year, it is difficult, if not impossible, to leave the past pain behind and embrace something new. So if you feel that you cannot leave past suffering behind you, this little message is for you.

The most important thing you can do is to honestly acknowledge the suffering and accept the fact that it will not leave you just because the new year has arrived. Spend some time contemplating your suffering, how it impacted you in the year past. Can you find any newness at all at the beginning of a new year? Is there some of the suffering  you can see in a different light? Can you respond to it differently? Can you find a way to endure it that is better than the way you endured it in the past? Can you make a concerted effort to learn something from your suffering?

Still, if you are in the throes of suffering — physical, emotional or spiritual — the suggestions above can illicit the strong response, “You’ve got to be kidding! This way of looking at the same thing I’ve endured for years is simply impossible!”

I will be the first to acknowledge the truth of that response, but I must also ask, “What do you have to lose?” Even a change in your response to one place of suffering could bring a small change for you, a change ever-so-slight that has the power to offer you increased resilience and hope. It may be worth a try.

I think it’s important to repeat these wise words: “Live the year that lies ahead with energy and hope. Be strong, have courage. It is time now for something new.”

I suggest that, even if we are enduring suffering, we can greet the new year “with energy and hope.” Hope is always available to us, even when we cannot see it or feel it.

From the promises of Scripture . . . 
“ . . . so that we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place.
 — Hebrews 6:18-19

From the depths of our souls . . .
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”   — Psalm 42:11

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”  
— Psalm 130:5

But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more.”  — Psalm 71:14

The Scriptures can be comforting to us. They can lift up courage in us and they can give us strength to face all of our tomorrows, but the place where hope really lives is within us. We can reach down for it, hold it close, and allow it to help us move forward. No matter what manner of suffering we hold, hope can guide us.

I leave you and your journey into 2020 with the wise words of Corrie Ten Boom:

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

 

Mary’s Spirit Song

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The Thirteenth Day of Advent
December 14, 2019

*MARY’S SPIRIT SONG

Mary did you know,
that your ancient words
would still leap off our pages?

Mary did you know,
that your spirit song
would echo through the ages?

Did you know that your holy cry
would be subversive word,
that the tyrants would be trembling
when they know your truth is heard?

Mary did you know,
that your lullaby
would stir your own Child’s passion?

Mary did you know,
that your song inspires
the work of liberation?

Did you know that your Jubilee
is hope within the heart
of all who dream of justice,
who yearn for it to start?

The truth will teach, the drum will sound, healing for the pain;
The poor will rise, the rich will fall. Hope will live again.

Mary did you know,
that we hear your voice
for the healing of the nations?

Mary did you know,
your unsettling cry
can help renew creation?

Do you know, that we need your faith,
the confidence of you,
May the God that you believe in,
be so true.

— Lyrics by Jennifer Henry (inspired by the song “Mary, Did You Know?”)

On the eve of Advent’s third Sunday, the Sunday of joy, we reflect on Mary. On other Advents, we have been inspired by the angel’s visit to Mary, by her willingness to say, “I am the Lord’s servant,” by her confession of faith in God’s divine plan, by her song that we have loved and know as The Magnificat . . .

My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me —
holy is his name.

— Luke 1:46-49 NIV

But on this Advent, I hope to reflect on other truths about Mary and perhaps see another view of her. Perhaps her song was not merely a song of surrender, a willingness to be the handmaiden of God. Perhaps it was not just a song declaring that she would now be called “blessed” for generations.

This Advent, I invite you to ponder the song lyrics of “Mary’s Spirit Song” written by Jennifer Henry. The words reveal another side of Mary. The song leads us to look at all of Mary and discover some of the things she very likely held in her heart.

Perhaps this Advent we will recognize her as one with the courage to proclaim her society’s truth. Perhaps we will notice that she is singing about God scattering the proud, removing rulers from their thrones and lifting up those who are humble. Mary will sing to us of feeding the hungry and sending the rich away empty.

Is this the subversive Mary proclaiming justice, that “the poor will rise, the rich will fall. hope will live again?” The last part of Mary’s song reveals a Mary who is wise beyond her years, who knows the political climate around her, who is compassionate enough to proclaim mercy for those who hunger, who is strong enough to proclaim her Jubilee of justice and liberation, who is brave enough to say that tyrants will tremble.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.

— Luke 1:50-55 NIV

If we dare to understand the whole of Mary, we can more fully emulate her courage that called for justice and liberation. We will remember the words the angel proclaimed to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”

We will remember Mary’s fear and the angel who calmed her. We will remember her confession of faith in the God who sent the Holy Spirit to “overshadow” her. And, yes, we will always let Mary lead us to the wondrous gift of the Christ Child as she gently cradles him in her arms — with Bethlehem’s star shining over him, and the joyous song of the angels . . .04E87215-AC50-4CC9-B2F4-6612E56D0CB9

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward all!”

 
*Many thanks to Darlene Flaming for sharing “Mary’s Spirit Song” with me.

 

 

Spiritual Direction

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Transplant Day Thirteen
November 24, 2019

I have been offered a blessing. From a stranger. 

I met this kind person through a group of clergywomen called RevGalBlogPals. She is a spiritual director from British Columbia. Through the RevGalBlogPals Facebook group, she happened upon parts of my transplant journey in my blog posts. She began praying for me. Then she offered me the gift of spiritual direction as I pass through this complicated time in my life. 

9299C4C7-3373-43D8-A11E-C2349150F942It has been several years since I worked with a spiritual director, so I was very humbled and thankful to hear from her. These were the words of lovingkindness she wrote to me in our first session.

May you feel the gentle touch of Spirit in this session.
May you know that I am holding you in healing Love.
May you be reminded of your worth and strength…
As you rest.
~ This is spiritual direction when pain does not allow for words.

Burning BushOn the day I received her message, it was so true that pain did not allow for words. The assault on my body was unspeakable on that day. I remember when many years ago my husband’s cardiologist came into his hospital room a few days after his heart surgery. The cardiologist said this: “Let’s look at this terrible thing we’ve done to you.”

His words resonated with me post transplant when, in the throes of struggle and pain, I definitely was looking at the terrible thing they had done to me. I could not quite see a brighter, pain-free future. I could only focus on the physical systems that were in complete disarray after the transplant. It did not help when medical staff told me it was all normal. The way I was experiencing it all was far from normal.

I wondered if I would ever live “normal” again. Or if perhaps I would live into a new normal of life after receiving a transplanted organ. I was not sure, and definitely not confident, that all systems would levelize into something I could tolerate. My spiritual director’s wisdom knows that to have physical normalcy, I must also seek emotional and spiritual normalcy. That would mean healing wholly — from the outer visible body to the inner invisible one. It would mean transformation. It would mean living my life while watching constantly and diligently for any sign that something was physically wrong.

Red Wooden Directional Arrow Signs In Green Forest BackgroundWhen my spiritual director suddenly appeared, I knew that she would help me explore my spiritual state, entering into community with me and pointing to the healing I could not yet see.


Thanks be to God for the beloved community she has offered me, community that forms in unexpected places, in unexpected times, just when I needed community the most.

Speaking of Joyful Things!

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Watercolor art by Rev. Kathy Manis Findley. Prints available at https://kalliopeswatercolors.wordpress.com/category/watercolor-prints/

I may not be able to speak of joyful things today. The physical pain I am experiencing is far too strong, covering me with just a little bit of despair. More than one of my good friends told me in the past few days that I am strong. I am not and, thankfully I don’t have to be because the friends that surround me are being strong for me. They are calling on the minuscule strength I do have and bringing it into view for me. They have told me joyful things when I could not name joyful things for myself. In the process of loving me, my friends call out to the joy and strength that is in me to make itself known. And on top of that, they allow me, without judgement, to be where I am and feel what I feel.

So although I may not be able to speak of joyful things right now, I know that you have already tucked joyfulness into the recesses of your heart. I may not have much hope to send to you today, but you have hope in abundance and it breathes over your spirit during times of courage and times of fear, times when you feel certainty and times when you feel disillusioned. Out of your stores of faith, you encircle me and breathe hope into my spirit . . . and strength and joy.

For that, I am most grateful. And I am grateful that when I am weak, God is my strength. When I am joyless, God covers me with joy. I believe this by faith (a smidgen of mustard seed faith) in those times when I cannot experience those comforts within me, times like this present time of struggle and recovery.

I’ll leave you with these words of comfort that you already know so intimately, words that I also know intimately, but that I need to hear anew today.

And God, the giver of all grace, who has called you to share His eternal glory, through Christ, after you have suffered for a short time, will make you perfect, firm, and strong.   — 1 Peter 5:10

For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles.
   — 2 Corinthians 4:17

Though I cannot manage to speak of joyful things today, the writers of 1 Peter and 2 Corinthians most definitely can!

Thanks be to God.