Faith and Friends

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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.

Thanks be to God for faith and friends.

A Life Milestone

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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.

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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. 0DDE1816-F2F2-491F-9AFA-ADD27234EEA7

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.”E9B0C9D8-E46A-40EA-A66E-B0117A8E3D14

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. AE0AB32B-2F0E-4485-9F88-D2EC33057A80

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.34233289-31E0-49AE-9D02-0D6B98DC5AD7

Dangerous Contemplation

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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.

250ACCE1-377E-4980-9A7B-546C7B31A8FEAs 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 us to those places.

May God make it so!

 

 

Brooding

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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,

and parents,

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
that smears
all this country ever thought to be.

And it is left to us and the Holy Spirit
to brood
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.

 

Maren C. Tirabassi served as local church pastor in the United Church of Christ for thirty-seven years in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  She is the author or editor of twenty books. Visit her blog at:
https://giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com/2019/06/26/prayer-for-the-immigration-crisis-an-homage-to-gerard-manley-hopkins-gods-grandeur/

Weep with Those Who Weep

AD620082-4B5E-47C6-B2B0-0D553454614BWhat 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.

― Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.    Romans 12:15