The Truth Is

3F006831-75A4-4D11-AABD-DDA91B9AF938The truth is I never expected to have an illness with the ominous descriptor β€œend stage.” I never saw it coming, but after a very brief, sudden and inexplicable illness, I was diagnosed in 2014 with end stage kidney disease. I was put on dialysis immediately and spent the rest of that year struggling and suffering.

The truth is I lost myself that year. For a time, I lost the ability to walk, think, name my colors, write my name. I lost my ministry and my ability to engage in the work I so loved. I ended up on seven and a half hours of dialysis daily.

The truth is that those many days, most of them spent in the hospital, may well have been sent to me as a call to awaken from my predictable existence. It was as if an inner, divine grace was demanding my spiritual growth. The truth is I was plunged deeply into a state of being filled with questions and voices I did not really want to hear. If all of this was a message from God, it was the message that all of my illusions, realities and identities were about to spill over the sides of my life, forcing me to stand still in the chaos.

The truth is that apart from this level of life upheaval, I would have lived on as usual, comfortable in the life I had built for myself. But in the middle of those long nights in the hospital, I asked God if this was a new summons to me, an urgent summons that called for my transformation.

I have trouble describing that time of my life. I have struggled for the words to express what was going on in me. Then I found a brilliant description written by one of my favorite authors. This is how she described a similar season in her life.

For months I had been lost in a baffling crisis of spirit . . . I had awakened to a growing darkness and cacophony, as if something in my depths were crying out. A whole chorus of voices. Orphaned voices. They seemed to speak for all the unlived parts of me, and they came with a force and dazzle that I couldn’t contain. They seemed to explode the boundaries of my existence. I know now that they were the clamor of a new self struggling to be born.

– From When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd

Bingo! Whatever my year of illness was about, I knew it was about β€œthe clamor of a new self struggling to be born.” The truth is that is exactly what occurred in me. The new self was about to show itself. It was on the verge of emerging and morphing so that β€œwho I am” became someone I hardly recognized. My family commented often that I had become very quiet, that I seldom spoke (very unlike the person they knew).

The truth is I really was quiet, even silent at times. But I see now that it was all about this season in my life, my time to listen to God, to listen to my deepest self, to hear those β€œorphaned voices” that had been silent for a lifetime. Would this be a transformative experience for me?

The truth is I did not want to be so sick. I did not want to feel that bone-deep fatigue. I did not want to be tethered to a dialysis machine for so many hours every single day. I did not want to lose my ministry. I did not want to lose the self I was so comfortable with. I did not want to lose my gregarious personality, becoming quiet, introspective and silent. I did not want to live this season of life.

The truth is I did not want to build a cocoon around my life and wait, wait, and wait, and wait some more for my new life to emerge. And I did not want to give thanks to a God who employed such a severe means of transformation for me.

But the real truth is that I found this tiny scripture passage to be completely and mercifully true.

In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:18 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Raising Cain

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“The Resurrection of Lazarus.” Oil on canvas painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1896Β 

As someone born and raised in the south, I know a lot about β€œpiddlin’ around.” I do it all the time, and when the day’s light comes to an end, I always wonder if I have done anything at all worthwhile.

Don’t get me wrong. I heartily approve of some piddlin’ around in life. Especially holy piddlin’ like getting quiet and getting in touch with God. Holy piddlin’ like sitting in silent contemplation can bring God close to me. Praying can take me to a special place for sensing God’s touch. Listening to sacred music opens my soul to the whisper of God.

Piddlin’ can be a very life-giving pastime.Β On the other hand, some of us God followers long to change the world, to face off against oppression, to do justice, to end wars . . . to do something of eternal meaning.

Our problem is that changing the world can be a heavy burden that we simply cannot carry around for long. The secret, I think, is a balance between pensive spiritual moments with God and those once-in-a-while moments of sparkling mission and calling, those moments when we rise courageously above ourselves and almost see miracles. Truth is, it is not a common happening for us to find ourselves raising anyone from the dead or healing someone who is suffering illness.

It seems that the best we can do is to say to God, β€œI offer you, God, my silent devotion. And I offer you my willingness to follow your highest calling and your most extraordinary mission, wherever it leads and whatever the cost. Here’s my heart. Do with my life as you will.”

I very much enjoy the writing of Annie Dillard, and she has written eloquently on this very subject. Here’s what she writes.

There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end… But I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous…more extravagant and bright. We are…raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

– Annie Dillard

I hope that you will find many of those sacred β€œbe still, my soul” moments with God. But I pray also that you will, along the way, have eyes wide open for those bright and extravagant miracle moments when it just might be possible to raise Cain or raise Lazarus.

Reach for the Stars

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We greet this year’s Independence Day still reaching for the stars. We also come to this day with a measure of confusion, disillusionment, and even fear. We have a president who is revered by some Americans and feared by most Americans. We feel concern when the president Tweets divisive messages. We feel concern about the ways he interacts with international leaders. We feel concern about health care. We feel concern about the loss of the freedoms we have enjoyed for centuries. We are concerned for our neighbors who have come to America as immigrants and who now face an uncertain future.

This Fourth of July we remember that eight immigrants signed the Declaration of Independence we celebrate today. We recall the words written on that historical document that was signedΒ on July 4, 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

. . . And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

We are still the United States of America. We persist in loving our brothers and sisters and in cherishing the unity that goes far beyond our differences. Creating β€œa more perfect union” remains our sacred calling though we know that mutually pledging our lives to each other requires constancy and dedication. It requires our willingness to accept one another and to honor each other’s differences. It requires offering mutual respect. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about the sheer work of human progress, work to which we must commit and recommit.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable . . . Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

– Martin Luther King, Jr. in Stride Toward Freedom, 1957

On this day that is a celebration of our independence, we know that we we cannot always determine the destiny of our country. We know that our freedom often feels precarious. We know that we cannot always be led by the president we prefer. But we also know that the citizens of this country will always reach for the stars as we labor for our nation’s honor, and in the end, will join hands and rise to meet a brighter future.

More than any time in recent history, America’s destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom and our way of life . . . Yet the true measure of a people’s strength is how they rise. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars.

– President Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing

No Words

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Today, I have no words, at least none that seem meaningful. I have learned not to struggle with my writing, but instead to let it be what it is. Today it is nothingness. Expressions won’t come to me. Phrases are forced. So it is time to simply be quiet, to let my spirit speak to me, and to refrain from doing all the talking. So I’ll cross the bridge ahead quietly, silently, embracing the peaceful quiet of the morning sky and the dark ripples of the river that flows below.

I think our deepest love finds its voice when we have run out of words to express it. There is no language that can capture what a lifetime has brought to be, the private journey of a single soul through the twists and turns of time. We are the sum of what we feel when feeling defies reason and runs to places no logic has ever seen. As careful as we are to wear our masks among the crowd, alone we know the untamed extravagance of a spirit that wants to care more than to control. So let us, each one, in silence share our truth, seeing in one another’s eyes the mirror of our own silent story.

Bishop Steven Charleston