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.
“A soul in transit.” What does that phrase even mean? It sounds a bit ominous to me, like something bad couched in flowery language. Maybe like words of a poem that make little sense because they point to something otherworldly. Perhaps it means something related to a soul that lives, gets old, and dies — in transit from birth to death and beyond. Pondering!
I’m not up for those thoughts right now, because I am in the troubling place of feeling old sometimes. It’s something like aging anxiety, I think. Feeling old should not be so surprising to me since I really am kind of old. But sometimes I feel old in a bad way, the way that sends negative thoughts through my mind. Thoughts like . . .
I can’t do much anymore, I don’t feel well most of the time, my joints hurt, or even, I may die soon.
It is not helpful for my soul to entertain such thoughts, even though some of them are downright truth. Pondering! You have probably heard that “getting old is not for sissies.” It holds some truth, I imagine, for those of us who have come face to face with normal aging, aging that feels not so normal at all. But what about the great juxtaposition? What about the positive exercise that puts thoughts side by side so that we can see what is life-giving instead of what is troubling? For instance . . .
I am old. — I am wise.
I feel weak. — My spirit is strong and still vibrant.
My back aches when I exert myself. — I can still move.
So much for pondering juxtaposed thoughts. They may not be all that helpful, although re-imagining so that we recognize what is spirited and sparkling about ourselves can be very helpful. Still my words on this subject are pretty empty. I think I need assurance from someone else’s words, and I can’t help but turn to a very wise and insightful spiritual guide, Bishop Steven Charleston, whose thoughts are captivating, enlightening and filled with wisdom. And on top of that, the wise bishop is the one who offered up the phrase, “a soul in transit” in the first place.
We will not grow old, not in spirit. In mind and body, yes, we will age as all things age, all making the pilgrimage through time to find the place of sources. But in our spirit, no, we will not grow old. The child that was us will run forever through the fields. The dreams we spun from the fine wool of cloud watching will forever lead us to the next wonder that awaits us. The love we knew, so quiet, so life giving, will always be there to lift us up and hold us close. The spirit of life is eternal. It does not diminish. It does not forget. It does not alter. The spirit within us is the sum total of our sacred experience. It is what we were sent here to be and to do. Our spirit, a soul in transit, has a life outside of time. It will not grow old because it is on loan from a source more ancient than time itself.
Bishop Steven Charleston
Still pondering! I see more clearly that the “soul in transit” has “a life outside of time.” Eternal! That is what our faith has taught us for generations, for ages, always. But it is a truth that we can barely fathom, much less find comfort in. It’s not so easy to accept a truth that ultimately represents death, even if it includes that timeless and stunning place that is called eternity. The introductory words of 1 Peter give us a most glorious glimpse of eternity, a living hope.
May grace and peace be yours in abundance. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
— 1 Peter 1: 2-5 NRSV
Pondering still as I ask, “what does it all mean for me, the words, the images?” I feel much like the Psalmist who said, “my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” (Psalm 131:1) And yet, I do search and struggle with the thought of aging, of what it means for me and of what comes next. I hear the words:
“. . . in our spirit, no, we will not grow old. The child that was us will run forever through the fields. The dreams we spun from the fine wool of cloud watching will forever lead us to the next wonder that awaits us. The love we knew, so quiet, so life giving, will always be there to lift us up and hold us close. The spirit of life is eternal. It does not diminish. It does not forget. It does not alter. The spirit within us is the sum total of our sacred experience.”
I hear the words, and the spirit of me understands, even if my mind does not. When I write, I ponder deeply. In my pondering this day, I am compelled to admit that I definitely feel the sting of aging. I am very human, after all! But I can usually move from anxiety to a good kind of awareness. That good awareness shows me that it is comforting to hold on tightly to the thought that the spirit is eternal, that my spirit is eternal. Dwelling on aging isolates me, but knowing in my heart that my spirit is eternal is a grace-gift that sets me free to really live.
I know from experience that pondering can be hurtful, leading me through all kinds of unpleasant scenarios. But sacred pondering, the kind that allows one’s faith to sit with a problem until it seems acceptable, can open the mind and heart to the eternal and empower us to see the plans for good that God has for us, “a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
So, after a time of sacred pondering, I am blessed with a fresh awareness. I can see more clearly God’s truth that my spirit will remain with my grandchildren, always. My spirit will hold on to the sweet love I have known. My spirit will immerse itself in the beauty of nature that has always been present. My spirit will run through the fields like a young person, and through the forests, it will love the trees I have always loved.
My body will do what bodies do, but my spirit will not die and will not grow old!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6 NIV
Don’t be anxious about anything? Not so easy.
Everyone struggles with anxiety at times — religious people and not-so-religious people, the wealthy people who have everything and the poor people who will always be with us. After all, Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). We don’t understand exactly what Jesus meant, but the disciples did. They would have been very familiar with the verse from Deuteronomy, and therefore would have had in mind the rest of the verse that Jesus was quoting.
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.
To be sure, people who are poor become anxious at times. So do those people who have everything. Any of us can be anxious. There is plenty of “stuff” inside of us to cause us to be anxious and, all around us, there is just as much to be anxious about. I don’t know about you, but I am pretty obedient to the words in Philippians. When I am anxious, I most definitely present my requests “by prayer and petition” to God.
Trouble is, sometimes I think that God doesn’t hear me. I feel worried beyond my normal worry level. My anxiety rages on uncontrollably, and there is no sign of relief, no glimpse of hope, no word from God. In those times, I ask myself, “What exactly do I expect God to do?” One of my dearest spiritual teachers, Bishop Steven Charleston, would answer my question by saying, “Open your mind and heart to the living presence of love that surrounds you.”
I had to sit with that answer for quite a while, breathing into it, searching for the silence I needed to take it in. It was definitely not a clear answer for me at first. But the more I let my heart receive it, the more I began to know how to open my mind and heart to the living presence of love the Bishop described. And then I read all that he had written. These are his words about being anxious.
“Whatever comes into your life, do not be anxious. There will be someone standing beside you. You will not be alone or forgotten. A great and compassionate love will hold you up, even through the longest night. A wisdom, as ancient as the stones of the earth, will whisper in your ear to help you in your choices, to comfort you in your losses, to show you the path forward. You will not be left unknowing and uncertain, but filled with a deep sense of hope. Whatever comes into your life, whether sunlight or shadow, open your mind and heart to the living presence of love that surrounds you. Listen to the urgings of your own common sense and the call of what you know to be sacred. Your life will be secure, come what may, for faith will be your home and kinship, your blessed band of believers.”
As Bishop Charleston suggested, when I listen to my common sense and the voice of what I know to be sacred, the love of God and the love of my friends gently lift me from the depths Every time! I cannot give you any wiser words about being anxious than Bishop Charleston just did from the very depth of his spiritual wisdom. I will simply pray that you will know the grace of the “great and compassionate love” he speaks of — to hold you up, to give you hope, to fill you with peace.
By the way, “not to worry, there is a Love that will not let you go. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Come now Spirit of power.
Come now quickly and seize this moment.
Come Spirit from all four sacred directions,
from every color and culture,
come and use this sorrowful moment for good.
Very often, the prayers of Bishop Steven Charleston become a part of my meditation time. His prayers have a way of calming my heart, comforting my spirit and inspiring me to greater works. His words are expressive and full of energy. He paints pictures of things as they are and things as they should be.
In response to the tragedies in El Paso and Dayton, Bishop Charleston speaks of the deep divisions in our nation and the old wounds that have been opened. Indeed. He is right. But then he calls us to better things, to a time for love that has the power to heal.
So let us pray this prayer today, in this moment, as we long for healing.
Come now Spirit of power, come now quickly and seize this moment. The conscience of our nation teeters on the edge of change. Old wounds between us have opened. Deep divisions have been revealed. We are stunned by the cost of our own behavior.
Now is the time. Now is an historic opportunity for love.
Pull prejudice from us like a poison.
Draw out the fear that breeds our racism.
Open our eyes to behold our common humanity.
Silence the justifications and the denials before they begin and keep our eyes fixed firmly on the prize, not on the politics.
Come Spirit from all four sacred directions, from every color and culture, come and use this sorrowful moment for good. Heal our racism now.
May God make it so. Amen.
Art: “Four Sacred Directions” by Drea Jensen, 2002