O God, be gracious to me, For my soul takes refuge in you; And in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge Until destruction passes by.
— Psalm 57:1
Last night we had thunderstorms, loud ones. All of us were awakened from a deep sleep—me, my husband Fred, and Kikí the cat. And all three of us ended up in the bed together, Kikí snuggled between us in the soft covers. Sleeping in our bed is not Kikí’s normal habit, but the storm frightened her, and it was her safe place for the long, long night of the scary thunder!
Most of us tend to take feeling safe for granted. It’s all about knowing we live in a safe home, in a safe neighborhood, with the things we need. Typically, we aren’t stranded outdoors in a storm or wandering about in a scorching desert. For the most part, we are not left outdoors in freezing weather. We are the fortunate ones who have choices, but there are people all over the world who do not have the comforts they need and deserve.
In this season, we think about people who have needs more than we do in other times of the year. We may give more to organizations that help them, or we may reach out ourselves to offer a safe place for them. As we think about gifts and ribbons and bows (and gift cards for our teens), I hope all of us will remember the many people in our communities who truly need our gifts and our caring.
Truth is, we all need safe places almost more than we need anything else—physical safe places as well as emotional safe places. I suspect the little puppy in the photo above found both in the shelter of a goose’s wings. The animal kingdom is truly incredible. While we assume that animals are only focused on the safety and survival of their own kind, this simply isn’t true.
We have all heard stories about interspecies friendships. A dog who makes friends a cat. Or even a dog and a cow who have become friends. Usually the story is about an animal who went out of his/her way to comfort another, even though the two animals might be of different species and have very little in common. I want to share a true story with you.
It’s the story of a goose who sheltered a puppy from the cold during some dangerously low temperatures. The original story of this unlikely couple went something like this: In January of 2019, a polar vortex hit North America. In Montana, an especially frigid place, a passerby spotted a goose cradling a freezing puppy under its wings.
This goose’s motherly instincts immediately kicked in when she saw the puppy. Not wanting the tiny puppy to suffer, she covered the baby with her plumage to shelter it from the bitter cold. She hoped that her efforts would keep the puppy alive. Another source of this story tells us that the goose and the puppy—not at all of the same species—were adopted together. What a truly beautiful thing to witness!
There are plenty of humans that love and respect one another and even go out of their way to help those in need, even those who are not like them. But there is still far too much hatred and intolerance in the world. What might it be like if every person, animal, and every part of God’s creation could count on safe places, shelter from the danger, protection from fear, or a refuge in troubled times?
And how graced we are when we believe the Psalmist’s promise . . .
In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge Until destruction passes by.
During your meditation time, you may listen to the lyrics of this song. Original Songwriter/Composer: Scott Brenner, Cheryl Thomas
Do you wonder sometimes where God is while people are being oppressed? I mean all kinds of oppression — racial injustice, human trafficking, violence and abuse, prison injustice, sexism, cissexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism. The list can go on and on, all the way down to specific stories about specific oppressed individuals. At that level, the down to earth level where we see a living person suffering, is the heartrending place. It’s the place where we find ourselves face to face and up-close with someone pouring out their story. It’s the place where we learn to talk less and listen more. It is for us an experience of holy listening with just one person.
Have you ever been in that kind of space listening to just one person? Have you ever been with a person suffering oppression who is freely sharing a heartbreaking story with you? I know that this kind of face to face encounter can be intimidating, even frightening. It can be beyond frustrating to listen to someone when you’re pretty sure you can’t do much to help.
There are at least two options for those of us who have a deep desire or calling to liberate those who are oppressed. We can offer what we have, even when we do not have a way to fix things. What do we have? Our presence, our emotional and spiritual support, our ability to advocate, housing assistance, financial assistance, employment assistance, safe shelter, understanding, constancy, presence, presence, presence . . .
The other option is to rail against a God who makes pronouncements about caring for oppressed people, yet seemingly does nothing to liberate them. This may not be our best option. Scripture reveals that God has a way of dealing with complaining people, and it is almost never a positive experience for the complainer. Moses comes to mind, and Miriam, and Job.
Poor, pitiful Job had a rough go of it and he wanted God to do some explaining and answer some questions. After all, he was a devout and faithful man, so why would God allow him to suffer so many losses? Right after Job is schooled by his three “friends” on several theological matters, including that he should never question God, God appears to Job out of a whirlwind. It was probably grand entrance, and then God basically says to him, ”I’ll ask the questions, buddy!”
Here’s a snippet of the long exchange between God and Job.
Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.
2 “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
— Job 38:1; 4-7 (NIV)
Job was oppressed. God was aware of it. God seemed unconcerned for too long, but there actually is a redeeming conclusion for Job. As the story goes in the last chapter of Job, God restored Job’s fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All of Job’s brothers and sisters, and everyone else he knew, went to his house for Sunday dinner and they consoled him for all the trouble he had been through. Then each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. It worked out!
Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz’s sculpture, ‘Monument of Oppression’ depicts hands emerging desperately from behind bars.
“I can’t think of one single nation of the world that did not practise slavery, including among Indigenous people,” the sculptor says.
(Photo by Handout)
What does Job’s story say to us? What does it teach us about oppression? In my mind, in order to confront oppression and free persons from every yoke on a societal scale, we must first be aware that systemic oppression exists. It is stark reality! It darkens our world! Right now, approximately 40 million people are trapped in slavery in the world. One in four of these is a child. This shame that pervades and plagues the planet does not seem to disturb people very much. Unfortunately, it is in some people’s best interest to maintain the oppressive systems that benefit them, that is fill their pockets with wealth (which is the primary reason for trafficking human beings, for instance).
Systems of oppression are very large, very complex and very powerful. Ending oppression is way too big for us to tackle alone. After sincerely asking the all-powerful God to help us bring down these all-powerful oppressive systems, we can add our hands and feet to the holy project. Contact senators, representatives, governors, mayors. Urge them, persist with them to use their position to help break down injustice. Know what you’re talking about when you contact them by reading about the work the many of anti-oppression organizations that exist. Join in their work. Look for those resources at this link.
Finally, we must open our eyes to the people in our own communities who need our compassion, our concern, our caring presence and our advocacy on their behalf. It takes some creativity, some committment and compassion, a lot of courage and a covenant with our God of justice to change an unjust world. The outcome might just look something like what the prophet Isaiah described:
Is this not the fast that I choose: To release the bonds of wickedness, To undo the ropes of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free, And break every yoke?
7 Is it not to break your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him . . .
8 Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will spring up quickly; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; You will cry for help, and He will say, ‘Here I am. . .’
10 And if you offer yourself to the hungry And satisfy the need of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness, And your gloom will become like midday.
11 And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
12 Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairers of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.
— Isaiah 58 (NASB)
I don’t know about you, but I want to be among the ”repairers of the breach.” I don’t want to live in a situation where I “hope for light, but there is darkness.” (Isaiah 59:9) Instead, let me find myself looking far beyond the world’s darkness, looking to the Creator who demands justice, looking upward to claim the promise, ” . . . satisfy the need of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday . . . And your light will break forth like the dawn.”
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.”
Advocating for the Women of Afghanistan
The Taliban have been in charge of Kabul for 48 hours. Women have already disappeared from the streets.
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.
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.”
Wouldn’t it be grand to be an angel
and have as your address
“The Realms of the Glory of God”?
And swing on rainbows
and gather stars in your pockets,
winging in and out of earth
in a flurry of moondust
with the messages of God?
Comforting the distressed, warning the righteous
delivering the just, guarding little children?
Of course, we can comfort and warn
and deliver and guard.
Maybe, if we get that right,
we can swing on rainbows later.
— Ann Weems
I have to say that this morning I really feel as if I could swing on rainbows. I was released by Mayo Clinic today after my kidney transplant on November 12th, and I am happy to be going home to Macon. I have missed my friends, my Sunday School class, my family and my church family. And my kitty, of course, who probably wonders where we’ve been for a whole month!
Ann Weems’ poem today speaks of angels swinging on rainbows, gathering stars in their pockets, winging in and out of earth in a flurry of moon dust sharing God’s message. And then there is the work of comforting the distressed, warning the righteous, delivering the just and guarding little children. The poet’s overarching question is this: “Wouldn’t it be grand to be an angel and have as your address ‘The Realms of the Glory of God’”?
Wouldn’t it? The grace-filled truth is that God has gifted each of us with ministries of comforting the distressed, bringing sight to the blind, offering hope to those who have lost hope, guarding little children and hundreds of other works of compassion. We are the hands and feet of God — of Christ — in our world. I am always moved by this quote by Joseph B. Clower from his book, The Church in the Thought of Jesus. This is my imperfect recollection of his words:
If the Living Christ is not confined, then our hearts are moved with his compassion, our hands are coarsened with his labor, our feet are wearied with his walking among humanity.
In some way of holy mystery, when our hands reach out in compassion, we become the incarnation of Christ in the world. Advent is about incarnation, God incarnate in Jesus. In turn, Jesus left us as his embodiment — chosen, ordained, empowered to do the works that he did when he walked among us.
. . . The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. (Matthew 14:12 NRSV)
And so Advent’s message urges us to do the work of angels and, yes, the works that Jesus did in his years on earth. What a divine and holy calling this is — sharing compassion, giving hope, comforting, caring, giving, working for justice, offering mercy. On top of that, Advent hints that we might also gather a few stars in our pockets, winging in and out of earth in a flurry of moon dust.
Swinging on rainbows is a possibility, too.
That just might be a glorious way
to journey through Advent 2019!
On many fronts, I am troubled today by the appointment of Paula White as head of the White House’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, a successor to previous administrations’ faith-based office that coordinates outreach to religious communities. The news reports point out that she is neither seminary trained nor qualified to hold this position, and yet the president identifies her as his “pastor.” I cannot help but wonder: When did it become acceptable to evangelicals to tolerate a woman as their president’s pastor?
It appears that Donald Trump has employed a Pentecostal televangelist from Florida, an outsider whose populist brand of Christianity mirrors his own conquest of the Republican Party. She is in many ways a quintessentially Trump figure: a television preacher, married three times, lives in a mansion.
And like her president, Ms. White has survived accusations of financial misconduct and ethical improprieties. Among Christians, she is a divisive figure because of her association with the belief that God wants followers to have wealth — commonly called the prosperity gospel. This theological perspective is highly unorthodox, and is also considered heretical by many Christians.
The Rev. William J. Barber II, who organized the Moral Mondays protests in North Carolina and who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, calls White’s appointment “a very ominous sign” and signals that “Christian narcissism” has come into the White House. He said this:
The so-called prosperity gospel is a false gospel that can be compared to the theology that justified slavery because of economic prosperity. It is an attempt to interpret the gospel to be primarily about personal wealth and personal power, which is contrary to the theology of Jesus where the good news was always focused on caring for the poor, the least of these, the stranger, the sick.
I just spent five paragraphs trying to show Paula White’s face to the world when what is infinitely more needful is showing Christ’s face to the world. With that in mind, I feel compelled to switch focus to the theology of Jesus that insists upon caring for the oppressed.
Some of you may know that I am an iconographer and one who is very interested in the theology of icons and their call to holy introspection. An iconographer colleague of mine gave me this wise counsel:
Look at the eyes first and see the light that shines through them. Stand reverently and quietly before the icon until the image speaks to you.
Icons hold a spiritual effect, a history and a message. So in thinking about caring for the oppressed, I turn to two icons depicting the Mother of God and her Son.
The first, an icon by Kelly Latimore, is Mother of God, Protectress of the Oppressed. Russian Christians for centuries have called Mary the Protectress of the Oppressed. While some icons embrace traditional forms, this one has been re-imagined. It reflects current political morés related to the treatment of refugees and migrants at our southern border. Christ has assured us that He will always be found among the poor and oppressed. In that light, this depiction of Mary is a refugee mother and child behind the fence our government has erected to separate them from “God-fearing Americans.”
The second icon, written by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, is Mother of the Streets. Each year, larger numbers of homeless people live in the streets of our cities — jobless workers, battered women, the untreated mentally ill, or simply those too poor to get by. They tend to be “invisible” to us. This icon depicts the Mother of God as the mother of those on the streets. Her garments, and those of her Son, are covered with jewels and gold decoration, making manifest the hidden worth and dignity of street people, who are living icons of God. In 1984 the Catholic bishops of the U.S. declared, “To turn aside from those on the margins of society, the needy and the powerless, is to turn aside from Jesus. Such people show His face to the world.”
It matters whose face we show to the world. It matters whose face we see. We can choose to “see” the Donald Trumps and Paula Whites of the world, or we can turn our eyes on Jesus. It matters whose face we “see!” And it really matters whether or not we will be found in the city streets, on the border and at the fences, at the margins of society where so much oppression holds sway. It really matters whether or not our every day, holy acts of compassion show Christ’s face to the world.
May God create in us compassionate hearts. 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
In this frenetic and fractured world, we can use all the comfort and assurance we can get. We want to know that everything’s going to be alright. We want to know that we will be alright. And we want to know that the people we love will be alright. Yet, these are things we cannot know, not really.
While we cannot have knowledge, we can have faith. Scripture offers us so many promises of care and protection:
“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”
(2 Corinthians 4:9)
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; she will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
“The Lord will keep you from all harm; she will watch over your life; The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:7-8)
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2)
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.” ( Psalm 56:8)
What a gift that we have faith and friends! I never minimize the care and comfort I receive from my friends, the many ways they offer blessings on my life. Sometimes a kind word from a friend far away brings me deep comfort just when I need it most. Sometimes a phone call from a friend, just to check on me, feels like the warmth of the sun. Sometimes one of my doctors will know exactly what to say to ease my concerns. And so often one of my dialysis nurses hones in on a worry that’s just underneath the surface and helps me bring it to the light that begins a healing process. Caring friends — and family — are most definitely grace gifts from God.
The truth is that we do not have to bear our burdens alone. Faith gives us the awareness of a God who cares and comforts. The promises of Scripture are not merely words on a page. They are messages of hope that we can hold onto when nights are long and frightening.
So faith brings us hope and comfort from a caring God who knows what is in our hearts. And life’s journey brings us friends willing to walk with us. It is not unusual for a friend to know intuitively when I really need to hear a comforting word. When that happens, our conversation often results in tears, probably tears that I had held back in an effort to “be strong.” My friends show me, in so many ways, that I don’t have to be strong and that I can just “be.” When we talk, I feel that lump in my throat that is both an awareness of a hurt I’ve been holding onto and a response of gratitude for a friend who truly cares.
I’m pretty sure it’s not cool to get emotional about having a medical evaluation. But I did. I passed a life milestone yesterday when I completed my week long medical evaluation at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Getting to an actual kidney transplant is a long journey, five years, ten years, people wait even longer.
I arrived exhausted and holding on to a fair amount of cynicism, barely able to believe that I might actually get a kidney transplant some day. As is my custom, I have trusted God along the way for the best outcome for me, most of the time. But five years of dialysis — every single day for eight hours a day — can wear down one’s hope. Five years of waiting on a transplant list with thousands of other waiters can test one’s faith.
About a month ago, I had a very bad experience with my first transplant center. It took me to a very low place of feeling that I had been devalued by the caregivers who had known me for almost four years. I was on the transplant list, but there was virtually no communication with me during those years. And just as we were about to turn a corner with a transplant actually in view, they abruptly took me off of the active transplant list. It became very clear that the process with this particular transplant center would probably not lead to a transplant for me anytime soon. I was emotionally devastated, but more importantly, I no longer felt comfortable placing my life in their hands. So I gathered up all my emotional baggage and took it with me to Mayo Clinic. I did not expect what happened to me there.
We turned in to the Mayo campus on a road framed with lush, spreading trees. Palm trees were interspersed among the large trees and plants covered the ground. The landscape was made even more beautiful by a large pond with a fountain sending water into the air. It reminded me of the Living Water that quenches our thirst forever. I looked up and saw the words, “Mayo Clinic” and suddenly felt a sense of being home, of being in a place with people who would care for me. A silent tear slid down my face and I felt very full, the lump in my throat extending into my chest.
The week was full of appointments and medical tests, beginning with the transplant nephrologist, Dr. Mai, who is one of the most compassionate and personable physicians I have ever met. He took a complete history, examined me thoroughly and answered ever question we had.
I must say that every single employee at Mayo Clinic was professional, pleasant and kind. It was an atmosphere of caring and compassion. It was a busy place that never felt rushed. They pulled off a “medical miracle” of a sorts, scheduling about thirty appointments for me and never being off schedule for even one of them.
There are places throughout the buildings to stop and rest, many of them filled with the sounds of soothing classical music. It is a place that values art, which you will find in every nook and cranny. And then there is the atrium for meditation, a space closed off from the rest of the clinic. When you enter, a large flowing fountain makes the only sound you will hear. In that silent place, the lighting is dimmed and there are comfortable places to sit. A beautiful altar-like table draws your focus.
After the full week of tests, scans, blood draws and consultations, we were back with Dr. Mai who patiently explained every test result. He was encouraging about the kidney transplant and said more than once that I needed a transplant as soon as possible. “But what do I know?” he said. “I’m just a regular doctor. The surgeon is the one who will tell us if a transplant is possible.”
Then we moved to our very last appointment with the transplant surgeon, the one who would hold my fate in her hands. I feared this last appointment and worried about it throughout the week. The surgeon would have the last word.
How delighted we were to meet Dr. Perry, a rather young woman who obviously knew her craft. She looked over all the scans and examined the potential site of the incision. After a lengthy Q & A, she sent us on our way. She had the final word, the last words of the week. “Let’s get you a kidney!” she said enthusiastically, and all the hope I thought I had lost rose up inside me.
When we drove away, I felt incredibly sad to be leaving that caring place. The lump in my throat came back and I was filled with gratitude, confident that God had chosen Mayo Clinic to help me take back my life.
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.
My friend and sister blogger, Maren, never fails to inspire, convict or challenge me. I look forward to her blog posts, knowing that by the end, I will find myself in a gasp, or at least a sigh. She is gifted at helping her readers stay in touch with the current angst of the times, the events and realities of our world. This is her latest post:
My little hand holds (and not the great world)
the small shining of shook foil
and there is no beauty that I see,
only the blankets on children detained —
alone and frightened, cold,
and without care,
without — O you grand and broken God,
toothpaste and soap,
without justice, compassion,
but not without hope,
because that alone, hope
is never spent, but lights the western sky
as night falls
on the long walk from the south,
even if dimly, touches
with fingers a rim of east
every morning, every detention center.
Hope brought them here
to the terrible inhospitality
all this country ever thought to be.
And it is left to us and the Holy Spirit
over those who are lost,
and bend the world
so that the living children
might someday be found
by bright wings.
And here is where it grabbed my heart . . .
What does it mean for me to join with the Holy Breath of Life “to brood over those who are lost, and bend the world?” What would that look like? How do I do it? Does it mean to “brood” over the lostness of our world and call forth life?
What a need that is! How desperately we need to bend the world toward mercy and justice. To lift up the children who sleep on cold concrete floors. To lift them high above the world’s cruelty to the place of “bright wings!”
May God help us to comprehend the brooding Spirit and her open arms. And may she reach down to grab us and hold us up inside the wind that heals.
What a caring and compassionate ministry it is to sit beside someone who is grieving and remind them of God’s grace. In recent days, I have wept for and with so many friends who are grieving for what they have lost because of the Florida hurricane. To be sure, there were losses in Georgia and in the Carolinas, but the devastation in and around Panama City was catastrophic.
Hordes of compassionate people traveled to Florida to help. They will clean up debris, repair or rebuild homes that sustained damage, do electrical work, provide help in the shelters, share their hearts and God’s heart, and stand beside families as they pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. Mostly, they will weep with people, and that’s what will help more than anything else.
Author Ann Weems paints a sparkling vision with her words that speak of the “godforsaken obscene quicksand of life.” But then she tells of a deafening alleluia arising from the souls of those who weep and from the souls of those who weep with them. From that weeping, Ann Weems tells us what will happen next. “If you watch,” she writes, you will see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one.”
I like to think that the caregivers who traveled to Florida did a lot of weeping with those who needed it and that they stayed near them long enough for them to “see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one.” When all is lost — when you learn that your loved one has died or you stand in a pile of rubble on the ground that used to be your home — seeing the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies would be for you a manifestation of pure and holy hope.
Without a doubt, Florida is experiencing “the godforsaken obscene quicksand of life.” Their memories of this devastating time will be cruel and long-lasting. They will remember better days, neighborhoods that once thrived, schools that were destroyed and friends who are trying their best to recover. But what grieving people will remember most is the care someone gave them and the loving compassion of strangers who became forever friends. I am reminded of the words of poet Khalil Gibran:
You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept.