A friend sent me a lovely blessing today and I want to share it with you. These days, many neighbors and friends — people all over the world actually — have a new dream, a new calling to change the world. It’s an important dream right about now. Pandemic and protests — and all the causes lying underneath them — desperately need to change, and it will take huge dreams to change them. Trouble is, most people like me and you have only small dreams, a few small dreams that sometimes seem so insignificant. Certainly, they are dreams too small to change the big world.
But maybe not!
The message my friend sent me (actually she posted it on Facebook) reminded me that huge change can most certainly come from small acts. The message was today’s grace for me. So I share the message with you. It comes from The Cosmic Dancer* and is written by Scott Stabile.
She felt like doing her part to change the world, so she started by giving thanks for all of the blessings in her life, rather than bemoaning all that was missing from it.
Then she complimented her reflection in the mirror, instead of criticizing it as she usually did.
Next she walked into her neighborhood and offered her smile to everyone she passed, whether or not they offered theirs to her.
Each day she did these things, and soon they became a habit. Each day she lived with more gratitude, more acceptance, more kindness. And sure enough, the world around her began to change.
Because she had decided so, she was single-handedly doing her part to change it.
— Scott Stabile
Hope is tucked into these words, hidden there and bringing to mind that God highly values gratitude, acceptance, kindness and our smallest, powerful dreams. My dreams and yours can change a world filled with violence, hate, grief, fear and so many more hurts and harms.
There is a lovely Hebrew phrase, Tikkun Olam, that means “repair the world” or “heal the world.” The call of Tikkun Olam has always inspired me to more fully offer my life to be a part of the healing God desires for creation, for the earth’s protection and for kindness, equality and justice for all people.
Can we heal the big world with even the smallest acts of kindness and compassion? Doesn’t God whisper to us that we should begin healing the injustice, the violence, the hate, the fear, the mistrust and the deep divisions in the world? Doesn’t God inspire us to know the truth that our dreams are never too small? And doesn’t God promise to guide us and to lead us in following the compassionate footprints of Jesus until we see the world begin to change?
Resting in the grace of inspiration given to us by God, we truly can cast off the gloomy thoughts that our dreams are too small, too weak and too insignificant. And we can hide inside our hearts God’s promise that our dreams can become reality, that our tiny dreams really can change this big world. God will enlarge our smallest dreams if we offer them. We can count on it!
May each of us live “with more gratitude, more acceptance, more kindness” and may even our smallest dreams change — heal — the world.
* The Cosmic Dancer is a Facebook community that shares insights through art, poetry, dance and other “revolutionary rhythms.”
I have asked myself these questions before — many times before. I have asked these questions when teaching classes and writing my blog. I have asked these questions in a sermon — actually multiple sermons. So one might expect that, through my sermon preparation through Biblical study and other research, I might have found an answer by now. I have not. Because my finding the answer is as complicated as the myriad places of brokenness i see in the world around me.
Of course, I have to pay attention to the image of a hungry child, a refugee family at the border, entire African villages that subsist without clean water, the violent streets in cities across the United States, the mother protecting her children from abuse and herself from domestic violence, racially motivated hate crimes that terrorize, the climate crisis that to some is so real and to others just a hoax, the active shooters that have terrified school children and threatened life at many other places where people are vulnerable. I can continue this list into perpetuity.
But then I have to acknowledge the more insidiously evil side of the world’s brokenness — not the actual broken places, but the injustices that create them. I have to be woke to the societal and political forces of greed that deny complicity in the oppression of the most vulnerable among us.
So when I ask myself the question, “What do I have to give in a broken world?” I am really asking if I will: 1) personally tackle a person’s specific need; 2) seek radical change of the societal and political forces that cause oppression; 3) become both a political activist and a compassionate hands-on Samaritan; or 4) engage in a contemplative life by getting in touch with the mystic inside that prays and longs for an end to every form of brokenness.
If I were a mystic, if could pray away the brokenness, I would most assuredly enter my prayer closet and do so. Admitting to being a mystic, though, is slightly uncomfortable. I’m not completely sure what a mystic is or what a mystic does. And isn’t being a mystic reserved for monks and nuns?
Richard Rohr is my go-to person on the duality of action and contemplation. One can find in his meditations —every day — the inseparable link between our compassionateacts and the inner spiritual work that drives us. Matthew Fox writes:
Deep down, each one of us is a mystic. When we tap into that energy we become alive again and we give birth. From the creativity that we release is born the prophetic vision and work that we all aspire to realize as our gift to the world. We want to serve in whatever capacity we can. Getting in touch with the mystic inside is the beginning of our deep service.
“Our gift to the world,” he writes. And all around that “gift,” he lifts up prophetic vision, the energy to come alive, touching our inner mystic and engaging in deep service to people and places of deep need. I can never broach this subject of a broken world without revisiting the Jewish concept known as Tikkun olam – “repair the world,” that manifests itself in acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. The phrase — found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings — is often used when discussing issues of social policy, insuring compassionate remedies to those who may be at a disadvantage.
As for me . . . I really do want to touch my inner mystic, to enter into a silent, deep inner space that compels me to serve humanity. I also want to enter a place of tikkun olam. I want to repair the world and tangibly care for the persons who have need. Is it even possible to do both? Isn’t it imperative for a follower of Jesus to do both? Is it not because of the hope of the Good News in Christ that I must be about ministries of compassion and justice?
It seems pretty clear when reading the words of Jesus that caring for broken persons in a broken world is most certainly a compassionate imperative.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
— Matthew 25:31-40 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV
It’s just downright confusing and complex. Bottom line is this: I have no idea how to repair the world or how to get in touch with my inner mystic. But I also do not want to be permanently consigned to the goat-group mentioned in this Gospel text! I would rather struggle to figure out what I must do to care compassionately for my brothers and sisters and to get in touch with the contemplative mystic that makes me come alive.
Sound advice comes from a plethora of good and wise people. This time Howard Thurman gets the last word:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
May God make us people who have come alive. Amen
On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant currently scheduled for November 12th at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. I am so grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:
A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link
This morning, I read a meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation as I often do to start my day. In it, Sister Joan Chittister explores the relationship between prophetic witness through compassion and contemplation. Sounds risky to me! And that’s very close to the point Sister Joan makes:
. . . contemplation is a very dangerous activity. It not only brings us face to face with God, it brings us, as well, face to face with the world, and then it brings us face to face with the self; and then, of course, something must be done.
Something must be filled up, added to, freed from, begun again, ended at once, changed, or created or healed, because nothing stays the same once we have found the God within. . . . We become connected to everything, to everyone. We carry the whole world in our hearts, the oppression of all peoples, the suffering of our friends, the burdens of our enemies, the raping of the earth, the hunger of the starving, the joyous expectation every laughing child has a right to. Then, the zeal for justice consumes us. Then, action and prayer are one.
Bolder prophetic words were never written! Would that all of us who profess a relationship with God might rise from our knees and be ennobled by our prayers to do justice and love mercy! Largely, this is not the case for us. Our prayers feel empty, devoid of the compassion of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. After we have prayed, have we changed? Has our heart been softened by moments of communion with God? Does our heart move into a tragic world with the tenderness of a compassionate Christ?
As we are praying, children and families still languish at our borders, suffering in living conditions that seem impossible in America. And we hear the distant echo of Jesus asking for the children to come to him.
As we are praying, the ever-changing climate exacts its harm on oceans and rivers, having significant impact on ecosystems, economies and communities. Rising average temperatures mean balmier winters for some regions and extreme heat for others.Flooding, drought and violent storms take a dangerous toll on our beloved earth.
As we are praying, gun injuries cause the deaths of 18 children and young adults each day in the U.S. And every day, 100 Americans are killed with guns. Can we ignore the fact that nearly 1 million women alive today have been shot, or shot at, by an intimate partner?
All the while, we comfortably rest in our own kind of contemplation. Yet, contemplation must be redefined. We must learn to experience it as a change in consciousness that forces us to see the big picture, to see beyond our own boundaries, beyond our denominations, our churches. Sister Joan again says it best:
Contemplation brings us to see beyond even our own doctrines and dogmas and institutional self-interest, straight into the face of a mothering God from whose womb has come all the life that is.
Transformed from within then, the contemplative becomes a new kind of presence in the world who signals another way of being. . . . The contemplative can never again be a complacent, non-participant in an oppressive system. . . . From contemplation comes not only the consciousness of the universal connectedness of life, but the courage to model it as well.
Those who have no flame in their hearts for justice, no consciousness of personal responsibility for the reign of God, no raging commitment to human community may, indeed, be seeking God; but make no mistake, God is still, at best, only an idea to them, not a living reality.
So we struggle, Christ followers in a world of cruelty and insanity. Our struggle is about what exactly we can do when we face the world after our contemplative practice. Isn’t contemplation and compassion a pilgrimage to the heart, my own heart and God’s heart? When our moments of contemplation reveal a clear-eyed view of a suffering world, what does Christ’s love and the Holy Spirit’s prompting move us to do?
I often refer to the words Tikkun Olam, the Jewish teaching that means repair the world. Tikkun Olam is any activity that improves the world, bringing it closer to the harmonious state for which it was created. So how does our contemplation lead us to practice Tikkun Olam, to repair the world? What is it that “must be filled up, added to, freed from, begun again, ended at once, changed, or created or healed?”
It is a critical question for all of us and each of us. Indeed, each person must find her own answer and must follow her own path. The way ahead may lead to U.S. border towns. The way ahead may lead to phone calling or letter writing. It may lead to community activism or bearing witness in places where injustices occur. It may lead to protesting and marching or teaching and preaching. It may lead to deeper communion with God through even more time spent in prayer and contemplation.
It will, beyond any doubt, lead us to the places in our world where compassion touches pain. Dangerous contemplation will most definitely lead usto those places.
The Day of Pentecost — my favorite Sunday of the church year! A grand and glorious celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus told his friends. “I’m going to prepare a place for you. And in the meantime, know that I will ask the Father and he will send you another Comforter to be with you forever.” (From John 14:1-18,paraphrased)
On the day we celebrate as Pentecost, Jesus made good on the promise that the Comforter would come. They gathered in the upper room that day, men and women, disciples and kinfolk, perhaps waiting to be baptized with the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised. (Acts 1) Or maybe they were just there to have good conversation, to discuss the politics of the day. Or maybe they just wanted to hang out.
Whatever their reason for gathering, they were in for the surprise of a lifetime, the coming of the Holy Spirit. I can try to find the best words to tell you how it happened, but I cannot say it any better than this:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
The Church was born on that day, born on the wind. The rush of the violent wind blew through their lives. Tongues that looked like flames of fire rested on every one of them, and from that dayon, their lives were changed. They left that room with renewed courage, with a confident boldness. Maybe they even believed they could change the world!
Ah, that renewing Holy Spirit! That breath of life that sweeps through us and prepares us for holy mission. In these days of ours, so many things need the kind of change that can only happen through the wind of the Spirit. There are divisions to heal and children to protect. There are wrongs that need to be righted and truth that needs to be told. There are walls to tear down and people to shelter. The world, so broken, needs repairing. To be summoned to the mission of repairing the world is our honor.
I am inspired by the Jewish teaching Tikkun Olam, which means “repair the world.”Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson described tikkun olam as the mission of every human being. With a voice of urgency, he spoke with the conviction that in our times, one small deed could bring the world to the resolution for which it has yearned since its creation.
For this kind of mission, the Holy Spirit comes to us, bringing the breath of holy change and inviting us to be a part of it. That refreshing, renewing Holy Spirit, Pentecostal power, wind and flame that can change our world! May the wind blow among us and the flame kindle our passions to bring that change!
It is as the hymn says:
O Breath of Life, come sweeping through us,
revive your church with life and power;
O Breath of Life, come, cleanse, renew us,
and fit your church to meet this hour.
Bishop Steven Charleston writes, “Help me call a blessing down, for I think our poor old world needs it.”
I have listened this week to folk bemoaning the downward movement of the stock market that diminished their retirement savings. I have heard expressions of real fear about what the president is doing and might do. Many people seem despondent about children taken from their parents and placed in detention centers. People are angry that two young children have died there in the past couple of weeks. People are embarrassed about the way other countries now view America. Every day, there is another reason to feel concern, anger, fear,and many other emotions about what our nation has become.
And on top of that, we see the grief and pain of people all over the world. They face repressive governments in countries like North Korea, Syria, Equatorial Guinea, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Yemen, Uzbekistan and the Central African Republic.
They have endured natural disasters like the earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia, volcanoes in Guatemala and Hawaii, the dust storm in India, the wildfires in California, flooding and mudslides in Japan, numerous earthquakes around the world. People are living in countries in the midst of wars that persist for decades.
They have witnessed with horror events like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school ahooting, the Waffle House shooting, the shooting at Santa Fe High School, the Capital Gazette shooting, the Jeffersontown, Kentucky shooting, the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, the Thousand Oaks bar shooting, the Chicago Mercy Hospital shooting. All over the world, disasters — natural disasters and disasters caused by humans — have the power to bring us to our knees.
On our knees is perhaps the very place we must be. And as we fall to our knees to pray for our world, perhaps we might whisper the Hebrew phrase, TikkumOlam, heal the world. Perhaps we might repeat the prayer of Bishop Steven Charleston:
Help me call a blessing down, for I think our poor old world needs it, a blessing of peace, a blessing of the ordinary, a blessing of national life without chaos and personal life without fear.
Help me pray a healing down, for I know how much we need it, a strengthening of the bonds between us, simple respect and patient listening, a new beginning for us all.
Help me welcome the sacred down, the wide-winged Spirit, drawn from every corner of heaven, to walk among us once more, to show us again how it can be, when justice is the path and love the destination.
We all need a glimpse of hope and comfort in these troubling days. Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters of the Tree of Life Synagogue, and we are shocked at this and other recent acts of violence and evil. So today, I share with you the writing of Jemma Allen* in hopes that you will find her words as compelling and comforting as I have.
This week in many liturgical traditions we observe All Saints Day, and perhaps All Souls. In some places there is an opportunity to say the names, to light candles for, to ring the bell for those we love but see no longer, parted from us by death.
All Saints and All Souls compel us to look death squarely in the face,
to acknowledge our mortality, and the mortality of those we love,
and still to make our song: Alleluia!
This is a season where we boldly proclaim
that death is not the last word.
Death, and fear of death, does not hold the power
to determine how we will live.
We are the dearly beloved children of the living God,
we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection,
we are looking to a future where justice and mercy kiss,
where nations will not learn war anymore,
where the lion lies down with the lamb,
where all things are reconciled to God.
This is our hope.
It is a hope that no power can destroy, tarnish or mar:
not white supremacy,
not any kind of hatred,
not any system of domination,
not any disease,
not any heartbreak.
And when we cannot hold that hope for ourselves,
let us lean into the hope we can hold together
as communities of life, as communities of resistance,
as hope-bearers and pilgrims on the Way.
Give rest, O Christ, to your servants, with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You only are immortal, our Creator and Maker;
and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth we shall return.
All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
– Russian Orthodox Kontakion of the Departed, Jim Cotter’s translation.
*Jemma Allen is a priest in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia and a counsellor and spiritual director in private practice. She serves on the Board of RevGalBlogPals and counts the RevGal community as one of her communities of life and resistance.
So many people have been broken. I join them in their brokenness, for I, too, have been broken. Not just once, but again and again. So I know how it feels to look down in the dust at my feet and see the shards of a broken spirit. I know the emotional response I have when I sit on the ground examining the broken shards, and I know how I despair of the dauntingtask of putting the broken pieces back together.
I know the fear of doubting that I will even be able to put them together again. I know the terror of believing that my broken life will forever be broken. I know the suffocating feeling of having been broken beyond repair, without hope, without the faith I will need to repair my own brokenness.
And then, we look at our world, lamenting its groaning in so many ways and in so many places around the globe. Ours is a world that seems broken into pieces. I often find encouragement in the Jewish concept known as Tikkun Olam, a phrase found in the Mishnah that means to heal or repair the world. While Tikkun Olam is used today to define social action and the pursuit of social justice, the phrase has ancient roots with origins in classical rabbinic literature. It means so much more than examining broken pieces and finding a “glue” that might possibly put them back together.
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria* pondered the world’s brokenness and came to believe that, even before time, something must have gone terribly wrong with the world. As he continued to mull it over in his mind, he proclaimed that the world had shattered. He taught that we are anointed to repair a world which he defined as “all that is eternal,” insisting that “at the very core of reality is G-d’s shattered dream, waiting for us to pick up the pieces.”
Things break. The world breaks. Dreams break. We break. Such is the reality we know. And yes, we can become disconsolate as we take on the task of putting the pieces back together again. But there is a higher truth, a more noble calling than just putting together broken pieces. It is the calling to make things whole again, to make the world whole again, to make your spirit whole again.
In Scripture, we find many stories of persons being made whole. Each one looks like a miracle. Remember the story of the woman who had suffered for twelve years?
A woman, who was very ill for twelve years, came behind Jesus, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, “If I but touch his garment, I shall be whole.”
Jesus turned about, and when he saw her, he said, “Daughter, be of good comfort; your faith has made you whole.” And the woman was made whole from that hour.
— Matthew 9:20-22
Surely it was a miracle that this woman received. But for us, miracles are rare. We are burdened heavily by the brokenness, usually without the benefit of miracles. So what is it around you that is broken? What broken shards do you have before you? A broken relationship? A broken faith community? A broken dream? Is your city broken? Your nation? Your world? Or it it your own spirit that lies in broken pieces at your feet?
I cannot promise you a miracle. Even so, you must pick up the broken pieces and get started. You may get a little help from the people in your life. Then again, they may offer no help at all. But I do know that you have within yourself all the strength you need to take what is broken, put the pieces back together and find yourself whole again.
She is a beautiful piece of broken pottery, put back together by her own hands. And a critical world judges her cracks while missing the beauty of how she made herself whole again.
— J.M. Foster
The Japanese art of repairing broken pottery is called kintsugi. Repaired with pure gold, the Japanese art embraces the imperfections of the broken object. The flaws are seen as a unique part of the object’s history, which adds to its beauty. The glistening gold cracks are seen as very lovely features of the pottery, and Japanese artists say that the pottery is even stronger at the broken places.