Monday was my first All Souls’ Day remembering my best beloved.
While I miss him dearly I am also grateful that for him all sickness and suffering is past.
John lived with metastatic prostate cancer for more than nine years and took time to consider a farewell. As I establish a new rhythm of living and return to blogging (at least that’s my intent!), I thought I’d share his final word.
‘Biography’ by Shel Silverstein (from Every Thing On It, 2011): ‘First he was born / And then he was warned / And then he learned how to swim / And then he was married / And then he was buried / And that’s all that happened to him.’
“I do not have any ancestors of note. My descendants are presently in the midst of busy lives and, should they distinguish themselves, it would be presumptuous to claim credit for their success. I stand in death just as I did in life. To paraphrase the words of Sir Winston Churchill, I was a modest little man who had much to be modest about.
“Let it be said that I have had the companionship of an exceptional person over the last twenty-five years. She brought joy to my existence and there is no way that I can express my gratitude for her presence.
“I am also grateful to the countless bright, humane people who have shared my life’s journey. Thank you. May your lives be as rich as mine has been.
“Gerolamo Cardano (1501-1576, physician, mathematician, astrologer, gambler, philosopher) summed my life accurately when he wrote, ‘Although happiness suggests a state quite contrary to my nature, I can truthfully say that I was privileged from time to time to attain and share a certain measure of felicity. If there is anything good at all in life with which we can adorn this comedy’s stage, I have not been cheated of such gifts.’ (from The Equation That Couldn’t Be Solved by Mario Livio, 2006)
“As Lt. Colombo might say, ‘Just one more thing’. Since life is not quite as simple as Shel Silverstein has put it, there is one last detail that must be added. Human relationships are complicated and messy. To those I have offended or treated badly, I apologize.”
Whatever happens, those who have learned to love one another have made their way into the lasting world and will not leave, whatever happens.
– Wendell Berry, 1998 I, in This Day: Sabbath Poems Collected & New 1979-2013 (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2013), 183.
The note I wrote in the margin is “love one another.” It’s the new commandment Jesus gave after washing the disciple’s feet.
“I give you a new commandment, that you loveoneanother. Just as I have loved you, you also should loveoneanother. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for oneanother.”
– John 13:34-35, NRSV
Today I’d circle the phrase “whatever happens.” The pandemic has made life seem surreal. A month ago my best beloved said, “We are living in a science fiction story.” He’s right. Whatever happens isn’t likely to be what we might have expected two months ago.
I wonder… Are we learning to better love one another? Are we discovering the lasting world? Have we experienced love that will not leave?
Whatever happens, dear friends, may you know you are loved. And may you make your way into the lasting world.
Note about the illustration: We have been doing art (or maybe just playing) with colored pencils, watercolor, soft pastels or acrylic paints every Tuesday and Thursday since social distancing and stay-at-home orders started. But not on our own! We’re following Facebook Live Instructional Art Videos by Paula Rotshafer. Look for The Creative Quarantine public group on Facebook or click here.
After getting out the colored pencils on Sunday, we’ve used them everyday this week! So grateful to have found FREE RESOURCES to help us pray and learn and simply pass the time during this period of staying home for the good of all. Note: click on the name of the each organization below for more information.
PRAYING for others using an intercessory prayer from The New Century Hymnal;
LISTENING and humming, and singing along to the “Lord of Light” CD by the St. Louis Jesuits (Bob Dufford, S.J.; John Foley, S.J.; Tim Manion; Roc O’Connor, S.J.; and Dan Schutte);
and PRAYING as the Spirit led with paper and colored pencils.
But the time is coming–and is here!– when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth.”
John 4:23a, Common English Bible
In ordinary times we gather on Sunday morning with other Christians. For now, this works.
Be well, Friends.
Please wash your hands and keep a physical distance from others.
And, if it’s in your spirituality, offer a prayer today for patients and their families, for the the many, many people working to care for those who are sick, for researchers and lab workers, for decision makers, and for everyone who’s regular routine has been upended.
It’s not just about being neat. It’s about being safe.
You must not insult a deaf person or put some obstacle in front of a blind person that would cause them to trip. Instead, fear your God; I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19:14, Common English Bible
I led a memorial service not so long ago for a man who became blind at the age of 18. He participated in programs at Iowa Commission for the Blind and quickly learned to read and write Braille. He also learned to cook, do laundry, keep house, get around on his own, be independent.
One day he arrived home to discover his mother had rearranged the furniture. She’d unwittingly designedan obstacle course which they quickly dubbed a “bear trap.”
Shoes by the front door are a bear trap. Throw rugs are bear traps. Moving the spices in the cupboard makes a different sort of bear trap, but a bear trap all the same.
Any obstacle that might trip one up is a bear trap.
The more I consider the verse from Leviticus (above), the more I think that it’s not just about the physical stuff that might block another’s way. It’s also about the obstacles we set up that, intentionally or not, make life more difficult for another.
Steer clear of bear traps, friends. Don’t set up obstacles that cause another to fall. And remove bear traps for others. It’s not only kind. It’s faithful.
It started with a call from a funeral director. He had a family who was not connected to any church but wanted “prayers said for Craig.” I met with the family the next day and led the memorial service a few days later.
Everyone who knew Craig knew that he always carried a bottle of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. When asked why he’d say, “Everything tastes better with Lawry’s salt on it.”
It’s one of those quirky things remembered when someone has died. Having never met Craig, I would have forgotten it except for two sermons I heard the following weekend.
A retired Catholic priest talked about throwing salt around. Be generous with it. Everywhere you go, fling it out into the world.
I’m still not sure about throwing salt at anyone. But I really like the image of indiscriminate extravagance. Spreading goodness and joy, love and laughter and kindness – anything that makes life a little easier or a bit more pleasant.
My pastor talked about being salt. Be seasoning. Add flavor wherever you are, wherever you go in the world.
The challenge: be salt even when it’s hard.Shake up a conversation when it turns negative. Speak up on behalf of one is marginalized or oppressed. Stand up for what is right no matter the cost.
May you be salt, dear friends. May you share salt with indiscriminate extravagance. May everything taste better because of you and your salty goodness.
For local churches who follow the Revised Common Lectionary last Sunday was “The Baptism of Christ.” It is one of those holy days on the liturgical calendar that I rather like. Not only does it go without notice in the wider world, it has few – if any – expectations associated with it.
Since I was leading worship for a colleague, I wanted to use water in some way to help us remember our own baptisms and the promises we have made to follow Jesus.
Plain bowls of water seemed boring (i.e., not visually interesting). Buttons have no liturgical significance. But I wanted something in the water and was reluctant to buy blue “stones.” And I have plenty of blue buttons on hand!
One image of baptism is to “take of the old and put on the new” – symbolized by the baptismal candidate wearing a white gown. I refrained from suggesting it Sunday, but maybe the buttons could be used to secure the new.
On a more serious note, here is a prayer from the Confirmation liturgy adapted for use on The Baptism of Christ Sunday.
By your Spirit, almighty God, grant us love for others, joy in serving you, peace in disagreement, patience in suffering, kindness toward all people, goodness in evil times, faithfulness in temptation, gentleness in the face of opposition, self-control in all things. Then strengthen us for ministry in your name. Amen.
Adapted from Order for Confirmation: Affirmation of Baptism in Book of Worship, United Church of Christ.
Christmas has come and gone. Except for Orthodox Christians who are celebrating today. As I get ready to pack up decorations two memories and a poem come to mind.
My favorite new memory: the cheering of a child at the end of every Christmas carol at the family friendly Christmas Eve service we attended. It felt like a celebration of the music. But could easily have been a cheering of the lyrics. Joyful and absolutely appropriate.
Another lingering memory: the Peace Candles at both Urbandale United Church of Christ and Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart Catholic Church (Ankeny). Each had been lit from a flame that began in Bethlehem and was carried to Austria and across Europe, flown to New York City and passed throughout the United States. So many, many prayers for peace.
The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and the princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flocks, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among people, To make music in the heart.
Christmas, for my husband and me, means gathering with other Christians to hear the old, old story of Jesus’ birth and to sing the old familiar Christmas carols.
When serving as a pastor in a church, Christmas Eve worship is a holy celebration I’ve considered skipping (not that that was an option!). Too many expectations. Too many traditions to be kept. So many memories held by the community. So many stories that could be told – some bittersweet, some heart warming, some simply silly or fun. So much love and joy. And always, always, a moment of wonder and of hope (which is why I’d never skip it!).
Candles on Christmas Eve are part of the tradition. The top photo shows the Advent candles – symbolizing hope, peace, joy, and love – with the Christ candle in the center; they were lit at the beginning of the service. The bottom photo shows a much cherished traditional end of Christmas Eve worship: holding a lit candle and singing “Silent Night.”