Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Lesson in Attendance

I seem to be at the age where spiritual legacies are on my mind and heart.  I am not referring to the act of physically sitting and writing out what we believe our legacy to be, although that exercise can be very helpful.  However, ultimately that may not the legacy that counts.  What really matters is our legacy that others experience, and how they live out that legacy - or perhaps avoid it at all cost.  
 I recently was reminded of this when I attended the memorial service of a long-time neighbor, educator, and life-long Christian.  Sally was in her late 80s and had been ill for awhile. As I sat and listened to the testimonies of adult grandchildren and others who loved her deeply, I felt gratitude for this elder who obviously lived her life and faith in such a way that it influenced, and will continue to influence generations.  While we saw many pictures of Sally and her family on the large screen front of the chapel, the focus of the memorial was really not so much on her, but rather her deep abiding love of Christ.  The church she attended is large (the main sanctuary holds between 1200 to 1500 people), so we gathered in and filled their chapel that probably holds about 200.  The family and many of the friends who attended the service also attend that church, so there was very much a sense of a congregation who comes together regularly to listen, to pray, and to take the teachings to heart. They seemed to listen in and with one body.  Very moving and very tangible.  For the first time in a long while, I felt the poorer for not having grown up in a church.    
Too often when I attend memorial services, I hear the deceased described as "a person of faith," and  then we listen to a reading of Psalm 23  (sometimes sung) because just about everyone likes it and nobody actually knew what the favorite scripture was of the one who passed. Somehow, in the busyness of life, those deeper discussions never happened.  The legacies we are left with are thin and weak - not much substance for the long road ahead.   
On the day of Sally's passing, one of the daughters told me that several of her family members were at her bedside singing her favorite hymns. While she had spent most of the last several months living with a daughter, her last day was spent in her home.   I also understand that for several days before she passed, she had private conversations with each family member.   

Several times in the service  I heard a phrase I was unfamiliar with: "winsome (perhaps win some?) for the gospel."   I think in Sally's life, the legacy of the joy of the gospel did indeed win.  We were not treated to a reading of Psalm 23, but rather one from Isaiah 40.  Her pastor laughed and said that the last time he saw Sally, she requested that he read to her from that text.  He asked, "Which verse?"  She replied, "All of it."    
Attending to our legacies is really not all that difficult, but it does require living life intentionally and lovingly.  It requires the courage to talk of God, of life, and death.  Of joys and blessings.  Of mistakes made and lessons learned.  What we might do differently, and what we can accept as finished.  Yes, all of that, and probably more.   Let's make it a little easier and start now.      
May your legacy be rich, and may all reap the rewards of  really knowing you.         
God gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD
shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
                                                  Isaiah 40:29-31 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Prayer! Faith! God! Love!

We have started most our worship services this month by singing, "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus."  After we sing the hymn, I have been asking, "How do we do that?  How do we turn our eyes to Jesus?"  Usually I am the one giving the response, but today in a convalescent hospital, I immediately heard these answers: "Prayer! Faith! God! Love!"   I am not making this up.  I told them they were ready to preach.  Truthfully, they have been all along. 
I then asked them, "Do you know how I turn my eyes upon Jesus?"  The room grew quiet.  I said, "I come and worship with you."  I meant that quite seriously.   I have been worshiping in this hospital for close to six years, and the people who gather with me, often 40 or 50 in number, still amaze me.  They sing. They laugh at my jokes.  They are gracious enough to nod their heads as I speak.  Almost everyone takes communion.   Yes, some are quite ill, and most spend their waking hours in wheel chairs and gurneys.  Today I noticed the arms of one gurney had been repaired with duct tape.  The piano is a mess, and I have learned the art of not losing my train of thought as I pause while announcements are being made over the intercom (I am kind of proud of this skill).         
On my way home, I found myself wondering why I was tired.  I realized  I had finished my day with arriving at the hospital a little early.  The residents were singing karaoke so I joined them.  We then had worship.  Afterwards, the pianist led us in a lively hymn sing.    
It is not easy trying to keep up with Jesus. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Down (and maybe across) to Heaven

Mother Teresa once said that if she ever was made a saint she probably would not stay in heaven very long - the temptation to keep returning to help the poor would just be too great. I have always thought that about Jesus as well.  I really cannot comprehend a Jesus who sits on a throne in heaven while the white horse and the cloud stand by, ready to whisk Jesus in at the final judgement.  No, Jesus is right here today.   And I have no doubt that each of us has been Jesus at least once for someone else.  Yes, that is strong love.  Such potency is exactly what God created us for.      
Last year a good friend introduced me to this poem entitled The Truelove by David Whyte.  I love the image of the old man saying his prayer to the turbulent Jesus hidden in the water.  I am reminded of an old woman Tyler and I met years ago in Mendocino.  We passed her as she was making her way to the cliffs overlooking the ocean.  She was quite bent, and as she passed I noticed that the back of her much worn lime green jacket was so bleached by wind and sun that was almost the color of dried bones.  I believe the elements had been having their way with her for some time, but she seemed quite content with that. While I know that the temptation to romanticize the sea, Jesus, and old age is great, today they seem one in the same to me.   
This poem is long, so you may not have time to read it at this very moment, but I encourage you to do so when you can. In the meantime, I pray that each of you knows that you belong and that if times are turbulent, you will take a look to see who might be waiting for you in the midst of it all.    
The Truelove

There is a faith in loving fiercely 
the one who is rightfully yours, 
especially if you have 
waited years and especially 
if part of you never believed
you could deserve this 
loved and beckoning hand 
held out to you this way. 
I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness
and what we feel we are 
worthy of in this world.  
Years ago in the Hebrides
I remember an old man 
who walked every morning 
on the grey stones
to the shore of the baying seals,
who would press his hat 
to his chest in the blustering 
salt wind and say his prayer 
to the turbulent Jesus 
hidden in the water, 
and I think of the story 
of the storm and everyone
waking and seeing 
the distant 
yet familiar figure 
far across the water 
calling to them, 
and how we are all 
preparing for that 
abrupt waking, 
and that calling, 
and that moment 
we have to say yes, 
except it will 
not come so grandly, 
so Biblically, 
but more subtly 
and intimately in the face
of the one you know 
you have to love, 
so that when we finally step out of the boat
toward them, we find 
everything holds 
us, and confirms
our courage, and if you wanted 
to drown you could, 
but you don't 
because finally 
after all the struggle 
and all the years, 
you don't want to any more, 
you've simply had enough
of drowning 
and you want to live and you 
want to love and you will 
walk across any territory 
and any darkness, 
however fluid and however 
dangerous, to take the 
one hand you know 
belongs in yours.