Friday, March 30, 2018

Psalm 88

I am out of sync with both Psalm 88 and Good Friday. Today is Tyler's 60th birthday, and that is worth celebrating. The weather promises to be beautiful. Our dog has been ill, but seems to be recovering, enough so that we are planning a family outing.  Therefore, I take some solace in what Emile Griffin shared in Small Surrenders about a time when she, too, felt out of sync, when family life kept her away from an Easter vigil: "The answer, of course, is in the interior gaze. Jesus is present to us when we are present to him, and that can be anywhere, whether we are riding eastward or westward. We can think of him when we are stuck in grocery lines and traffic jams."  

This I know to be true, though at times I forget that practice.    
Psalm 88 is a deep lament. The anguish is tangible, and the line "I begin each morning in lament" is heartbreaking because we all have experienced such times and we know we would much prefer to not return to them. Yet, the psalmists courageously dig deeper into their sorrows and sing of them to God. The struggle is lifted to the heavens as an offering drenched in earthly tears. Gethsemane gardens can grow anywhere.   
Yet, today, I offer my joy to God for this small family that I am a part of.  Psalm 88 asks, "Could you work miracles in this lost land, in this countryside of dreams?" The answer, I believe, is yes.   
Blessings on your journey to the Easter season. Know that whether the countryside you are moving through is rough terrain or a gentle footpath, you do not go alone.  Eastward or westward or on our knees, we are on sacred ground.   

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Serving Grief

When I arrived at the skilled nursing community last week, I was greeted by a room of sorrow. I learned the source was Tony's death the day before. The activity director asked if we could hold a memorial service. He said that he thought some people would want to speak. I knew Tony to be a humble man who would sometimes come to worship, but who would often need to leave right after Communion for a cigarette. I learned he was a veteran (probably Vietnam), and was deeply loved. My love and respect for this community has always been high, but it increased as I listened. Here, room is made for friendship and for grief, both essential for any healthy community.
I wove the hymns printed on the song sheets around the people's reflections, and the more we sang, the more I felt the presence of both Tony and Christ and how now they were one. The tears did not stop, but the room seemed to fill with light as we sang  "The Old Rugged Cross", "Man of Sorrow", and "Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross". Eventually we found ourselves concluding with "He Lives".  I believe I did hear the voice of conviction, even if it was a little wobbly.   
Margaret waited until the end to speak, and asked me if I knew Tony smoked (her tracheostomy leads me to believe she did as well). I replied yes, and how grateful I was that he was not a smoker any more. That struggle was over; it did not journey with him across the threshold, and our struggles won't either. Heads nodded.  After the service, Tom, who tends to be stoic, had tears in his eyes as he told me that Tony had been his roommate, and that he had simply died in his sleep. Quietly he added, "the best way."     
Many of those gathered were not the old old, and many, despite their relatively young age, may very well spend all their last years in skilled nursing.  Into that grief I walked. I have been preaching more about Jesus, for I find I need him.  I need his nudge to walk down those halls and to cross those thresholds. I need the assurance that he walks with me, continually reminding me to touch and to be touched.  The people yearn to hear the reassurance that he is near, and so do I. Jesus is tangible proof that our struggles are not in vain, and that our lives are not the results of some some flukey accident.  Tony probably did not know that in him, in both his strengths and his weaknesses, in his life and in his death, he gave people a chance to see a glimpse of Christ. He was indeed an old rugged cross. 
Thank you, Tony, for daring to live in this world. May the memory of your service stay with me a good long while.      
Grief is holy madness. It is not a puzzle to be solved, a problem to overcome, or a situation to be managed. It is a wilderness we wander in search of the sacred - an absent other, a missing self. No one can take this wilderness from us, and no one should. You who grieve, stay away from people who want you to get over it fast. They don't know the work you're doing is holy.  

Grief's Compass, Walking the Wilderness with Emily Dickinson, Patricia McKernon Runkle, copyright 2017.  
One of the most touching and insightful books on grief (her brother died by suicide) I have read to date. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Psalm 87

Jill lives in a memory care community, and often attends our services.  She sits in a wheelchair, and her eyes remain closed most of the time. Yet, when I greet her by name, she will look up with gentle brown eyes. She will usually smile, and sometimes even speak. The experience is rather like standing at a beautiful pond, and suddenly seeing a rare creature surface just for a moment.  You long for her to stay, but she returns to the depths and journeys on. Nonetheless, you feel enriched and even encouraged by the sighting.  You begin to make plans to return.   
The image in Psalm 87 of God walking the walls and gates of the city is a haunting one. As we humans bustle and worry through our lives, we forget that God is so near. It behooves us to pause, look around, and call out to God by a name that has meaning. In these moments of connection our souls can rise in beauty once more.       
There is a holy mountain and upon it is a city which God built, 
and more than any other place in all of Israel, 
God loves and walks her walls, her gates. 
And in that city that belongs to God, 
it is said that beauty reigns, and splendor. 
And peoples everywhere, 
from North and South, from East and West, 
And across the seas, 
go to find a home there, a place in which to dwell. 
They say, "It is as though in Zion I was born." 
You see, it is a homeland, a sacred birthing place, 
for many people across the earth, 
For there God's presence dwells, and draws them in, 
and makes everyone her own. 
And each soul leaves that place a singer and dancer, saying 
"All my fresh, creative springs flow out of you, my Mother."    
Psalm 87 
Ancient Songs Sung Anew 
Lynn C. Bauman    

Monday, March 12, 2018

Psalm 86

Estelle, who may be younger than I, always sits in the back and plays dominoes with the men. Everyone at the table greets us cordially when we arrive, but they do not look up from their game for long. She struggles with speaking so I am grateful she has this way of engaging with others. Her eyes are a lovely brown, and while they reveal much love and recognition, they also reveal much sorrow. I think her life has been difficult, and I have gleaned that she has an adult daughter whose lifestyle is of some concern.  Sometimes, she weeps. 
Last week, the pianist had a doctor's appointment and could not join us.  However, another volunteer also comes to this community. She does not play piano, but she does have a nice alto voice. I found a song sheet with some familiar hymns, and we boldly carried on, finishing with "Amazing Grace." I am grateful that this hymn was written. We sing it often, especially when one of our volunteer pianists cannot come to a service. Almost everyone can sing at least a portion of it, and it holds meaning for many.
 As I listened, I heard one elder singing the melody using no words. Her voice added a surprising lightness as other voices joined in with varying pitches. I was surprised to also hear some sort of drumming. I looked around and saw Estelle smiling as she filled in some really nice rhythm by tapping on the table.  This activity room has a lot of windows, and sounds reverberate, highlighting distractions and conversations. That day, however, for just a few moments, we became one voice. We were  truly making music with what we had, which was pretty much just ourselves with a lot of of Christ joining in and holding us -  a sweet sound indeed.        
If you will teach us, we will seek to walk by what we learn, 
your truth, our path, 
your name, our heart's desire alone. 
Bind our hearts together, 
both yours and mine and make them one, 
that there may be one praise alone, one song.
So give us strength when weak, 
and fill our want with mercy's greatest gifts. 
These signatures of grace you write across our lives.    
Psalm 86:11-12,16-17
Ancient Songs Sung Anew
Lynn C. Bauman 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Psalm 85

"The season of Lent is a gift to us. You and I and the church - we need the discipline of stopping for a time, of letting go of our regular routine for a period, of discovering anew what it means to be the people of God."  
 Dr. Tim Hart-Anderson   
The question "What are you giving up for Lent?" or even "What are you doing for Lent?" probably misses the point. Perhaps what we should be asking is "What is Lent teaching you?"  I think our yearning for Lent is greater than we realize. In this journey we learn again that whatever hunger we are experiencing is actually our deep hunger for God and the union of Christ.  To try satiate that hunger with anything else is futile.        
To everyone who turns their face towards you, 
you come so close 
and glory fills the landscape of the soul. 
And in the secret places of the heart 
your mercy and your truth 
shall meet at last in full embrace, 
and right-relationship and peace kiss one another there.     
Psalm 85:9-10 
Ancient Songs Sung Anew 
Lynn C. Bauman  

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

An Invitation

I got it into my head to host a poetry Lectio Divina on the 4th Thursday of the month at Hesed Community.  The first reading will be March 22 at 7:00.  So now comes the time for sifting through poetry for one that is not too short, not too long, and definitely not one with no hope. In last night's dream the name Rimbaud came to me, but I can't say his poetry ever really spoke to me. I also dreamed of a candle that refused to be extinguished. I think this may prove to be a curious journey, so if you want to join me, please do so. I would love some company.  Hesed meets at First Congregational Church in Oakland, 2501 Harrison Street. Park in the back, go down the stairs or the ramp, go through the door, turn left and go down the hall, through a gathering room. Our small meditation room is on the left.  There are signs.    
Whenever I am feeling unsure, I think of this poem by R.S. Thomas who was both a poet and an Anglican priest. I believe he guides me more than I realize.     
When we are weak, we are 
strong. When our eyes close 
on the world, then somewhere
within us the bush
burns. When we are poor
and aware of the inadequacy
of our table, it is to that
uninvited the guest comes.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Psalm 84

Coming across Psalm 84 is like turning the corner and seeing an old friend. I have always loved the image of a sparrow nesting in the temple.  I think of Anna and Simeon. I think of those in long-term care.  I think of the Lenten journey and I give thanks.    
O how I love you, God, your presence is my home, my high abode. 
I to go to be with you, my longing draws me there 
Where flesh and bone, and heart and soul flame up 
in joy that's yours, O Living One.
Sparrows have their nests and swallows build right next to you. 
Your temple altar is their safest keep, 
where they may lay their eggs and hatch their young. 
Anyone who lives near you is filled with higher purpose, 
and fuller joy. 
What else is there to do but go on praising you?
And joy fills all who gain their strength from you, 
who walk upon the pilgrim's path 
with hearts secure in yours. 
And though their journeys lead through desert wastes, 
even there they find that secret springs await them. 
The early rains you sent have filled the pools before they get there. 
Their descending pathways through the valleys deep
 in truth, are great ascents, 
leading upwards and further into you, 
until at last on mountain peaks they stand 
to see the shining visage of your face. 
Lord God of everything that is, God of my heart, 
listen to this humble prayer. 
Defend me now by simply looking at my face.
Your look will be for me a healing oil that covers all. 
To be with your for just one day is better far than 
having spent a thousand secured in my own room. 
Simply standing at the threshold of your door is so much more
than dwelling in the vast and wealthy holdings 
of the wicked-wise.
O God, you are for us the shining sun, the shielding shade, 
and both become the fullness of your grace and glory. 
And as we seek you on this pathway, we are found by good, 
and nothing lasting is withheld from all who walk 
with deep integrity of life, 
for they shall come to trust and find you in eternal rest. 
And then, O God, all life will be drenched with happiness and joy. 
Psalm 84, 
Ancient Songs Sung Anew, 
Lynn C. Bauman  

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Conversion to Vulnerability, Part 2

I have written of David and his anger before, and my struggles with trying to be present with him even in the midst of his aggravation. Conversations with him about prayer has indeed opened a way to less hostile ground, and he is even accepting Communion now.  When I saw him this week he had just returned from the hospital, and it seemed to mean something to him that our Communion meal was his first after his hospital stay.  

I think David realizes that he has been starving himself on his steady diet of anger. He is more approachable now, and perhaps he even understands that his complicated disease is not the fault of the staff who are trying to tend to him. I am sure he worries that his symptoms may become even more debilitating, leaving him even more dependent on the mere mortals around him. It is a rough journey that he is on, but I believe he is being healed into the life he has today which to me is true healing. Such a journey takes a courageous amount of acceptance, but I sense Jesus' presence as David takes up that cross.  He is undergoing a mighty conversion to vulnerability.  I pray that he can continue to find the sustenance he needs in a bland diet of a Communion wafer dipped in water as those around him do their best to stand with him in the storm.     
Most of us have very little practice in being appropriately vulnerable. When we do open up a little to God and to one another, relationship that is real and resilient starts to take shape. We don't invest so much energy in keeping the proverbial 'still upper lip.' Honesty, tenderness, and vulnerability go hand in hand - three qualities that are much needed in living with illness.    
Mary C. Earle 
Beginning Again, Benedictine Wisdom for Living with Illness  

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Psalm 83

At first Lent can be daunting because we keep bumping up against ourselves.  Yet, if we simply stay with whatever Lenten practice we have chosen, the experience will deepen. We can move beyond our impatience and frustration into trust and acceptance. At the heart of Lent is joy. How can it be otherwise?  Let us slip off our old and worn garments of despair and accept the garments of love.    

"Clothe us in the dress of your peace, 
and in the stronghold of your mercy, 
that we might bear the power of Love. 
Let us walk in shoes of integrity, 
and don the mantle of truth. 
Let us shed the tatters of envy and fear, 
the rags of anger and greed, 
and say, "We shall seek 
only the Truth, 
which will set us free."    
Psalm 83, abridged  
Psalms for Praying, 
Nan C. Merrill       
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience...Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Colossians 3:12,14