Friday's Theme: Messengers
My Mom died in October 2005. Don’t tell my sisters, but I was always my mother’s favorite. Truth be told, each of us would say that same thing. And how Mom pulled that off, I’ll never know. Even after her death, Mom has had a way of showing up at all the best times for my sisters and me. Wordlessly, intuitively she has offered support and encouragement. She did that for me a year and a half ago, and it was such a gift.
I was going through one of the hardest times of my life. On the same day that my world stopped on its axis, I went on a retreat with women from our church. When we arrived at the retreat, we were given a couple hours to wander around the property. There was a lake, and I headed that way. I found a spot in the sun and tried to catch my breath and find my heart. Earlier in the morning, I’d been told life-altering news and I was still reeling. Time passed and I noticed that dragonflies kept circling round, some landing on my arms and legs. [I hadn’t really experienced dragonflies and didn’t know if they had stingers. As they kept landing on my I decided I’d wait and see before I swatted at ‘em. Turns out they don’t sting.] The folks hosting the retreat were artists and it wasn’t until I was walking back to join the group that I noticed the 20-foot metal, red dragonfly looking as though it was sitting on the water. I remember wondering how I could have passed it earlier and not seen it. I wondered about that and moved on. Right foot, left foot.
Throughout that summer, I kept seeing dragonflies. Most sightings were when my friend, Kimberly and I were playing golf. I could always see one or two or three when we were teeing off at the 9th hole. Those were hard days for me. I felt robotic, conveyer-belting my way through most of my days, with very few moments of feeling alive and awake. Right foot, left foot. During that summer, I was also training for 2 triathlons, one in June and the other at the end of August. It was on the day of the June Tri at Calloway that I realized Mom’s gift.
Sister, Betsey was my coach and tri-partner. We had finished the swim and were on our 10-mile biking challenge. I’d gotten off the bike for two hills already and on my third hill, I got off and put my head on the bike seat, “Go on, Bets. Leave me here. I can’t do it.” Sweet sister just grabbed her water bottle, took a sip and said something kind like, “It’s OK. I can wait. I’m not leaving.” And she didn’t. Soon after I re-mounted, finished the bike, went on and finished the 5K. And (proud to tell you) I achieved my two goals: “I won’t be last, and I won’t die.” Later that afternoon we all went to the pool to cool off. I was sitting on a lounge chair, reading a book when a dragonfly landed on my knee. In that moment, the dragonfly - finally - had my full attention. She (my dragonfly friend) turned and faced me, and when she did, I said, “Hi, Mom.”
In that moment I knew that Mom had been with me all along. She'd been right there from the day my world stopped turning, until that moment at the pool. She was always with me. She had been there in that 20-foot red dragonfly sitting on the water and she was still there with me on that sunny, warm June day after the triathlon. She continues with me, still.
Sometimes messengers come in events, sometimes in music or just words; sometimes messengers appear as a presence that holds no real form, sometimes messengers come as dragonflies. For those of us receiving the messages, we just have to do our best to keep our hearts open and pay attention. For me, Mom was just there. She didn’t have advice or words of wisdom; she didn’t solve my problem or take away all my pain. She was there. And the gift for me was, she’d been there the whole time.
Tuesday’s Theme: Cornerstones of Our Faith
Grace is finding a light shining on a cold, dark, stormy night. These past months with the Pandemic have felt much like a cold, stormy night. Zooms with family and friends have been a godsend for me. There are four weekly zoom gatherings that have helped me make it through this time. I’ve come to measure my days by them. I’ve come to count on them for support and for laughter. These weekly practices have become a touchstone for me, keeping me in balance when my days feel off-kilter.
One of these is the Sunday night family zoom. We have been gathering each week since the spring. My aunt, sisters, cousins, and the next generation (cous-nieces and cous-nephews) have made up the roster, although the role is never called. We are truly a mixed bag of nuts every week. And the graceful part is that every week it feels like a Balm in Gilead. Last night I put my two sisters and six cousins on the spot and asked them to tell me what they think of when they think of grace. This is what I heard them saying:
Karen (Olympia, WA) told a story of how small the world can be and how somehow everything is connected. She and a dear friend, Elizabeth attended Holy Trinity Lutheran in Port Angeles for years. This past summer, Elizabeth’s nephew was in Minneapolis participating in protests around the killing of George Floyd. He was injured by teargas and was taken to a church that was providing assistance. The church where they took Elizabeth’s nephew was Holy Trinity Lutheran, a sister church to Port Angeles. Karen spoke to “grace that happens in circular ways that sometimes we can never understand, we just know is there;”
Betsey (Clarkston, GA) used the word `serendipity,’ saying “Sometimes things just happen in unexpected way, and the best word for me is grace;”
Lisa (Santa Barbara) told a story of the Spirit of Generosity. Years ago, Lisa and some friends were on a tourists’ bus in Hawaii, going from one side of the island to the other. Lisa said, “The bus driver seemed so happy. He knew he had a captive audience. He talked about how wonderful it was that they were all together in Hawaii, that it was such a beautiful day and that they were going to spend the day on the most beautiful beach. `You will be so happy if you always lead with the Spirit of Generosity,’ he’d said to them.” Lisa said, “I’ve always thought about that being grace;”
Julie (Carpenteria, CA) reminded us of the story of when our Aunt Sis was killed in a car accident. We’d been afraid that she’d suffered and had felt alone, and we thought we would never know the answer to that. “A week later, Les you learned in the most fantastic way that a man you knew happened to be at the CVS across the street from the accident and had run out to be with her as she died. Grace is acceptance and allowance;”
Thomas (S.B.) said, “Grace is acceptance;”
Chuck (L.A.) said, “There but by the grace of God go I. Other words for grace for me are compassion, forgiveness and kindness.” He told us about a movie he had seen, Unbroken that was a good example of his understanding of grace.
Claudia (Decatur, GA) used the word `softening’ to speak of grace. She said, “If ever there is a tense, difficult situation, insert grace and then somehow there is a softening that comes and settles in. `Grace’ can be a one-word prayer.” She added, “Remember when Bets got her golden retriever years ago and named her `Grace Abounds’? `Grace abounds’ can be a two-word prayer;”
Jeanette (Oakland) said, “Grace speaks to patience and tolerance in this time. Grace holds hope for all of us. Grace brings us tolerance when others don’t wear masks or are mean to someone or impatient, grace comes right to that place;”
Andy (cousin-in-law in Olympia) said, “Grace is forgiveness. It is letting go of anger, sharp feelings. It is a softening, like Claud said of all of our hard edges.”
And of course, grace found me yesterday as I was writing about it. I was giving a Spanish-speaking dad a tour of the kitchen on the cardiac floor. For those twenty or so minutes, I had been communicating with him through a Spanish-speaking interpreter on my phone. When we were back at the bedside, in somewhat broken English, the dad said, “You and I can talk also in English. It is good practice for me to keep speaking it. We can try to do that next time we talk. I understood almost everything you were saying to the phone. It is good practice for me to speak English with you.” This kind man who is going through one of the hardest chapters of his family’s life story came three-quarters of the way across the bridge to meet me. Grace abounded in that moment for me. How amazing.
I love my family. I love that they jump into the deep end with me. I love their lenses on the world. And I love how I will now be borrowing their lenses as I am continuing to make my way in and through this Pandemic time that is held in our season of Advent.
Monday's Theme: Relying on the Moon
There is a tender, yet mighty faith that companions us on our darkest nights. This faith journeys with us when we feel lost and find ourselves on the dark side of the moon. It is here when we feel the emptiness and despair of our deep, deep grief. This faith is with us, even when we forget. It is with us when grace finds us. Our faith is with us when we are reminded that there is no place where we are forgotten by God.
This mighty and tender faith is with us at a loved one’s bedside where we are keeping the final vigil and, in this moment, we are remembered. It is with us when we are walking out of the doctor’s office or reading that much-awaited email, when all the tests are in and we live with the results, and in this moment, we are remembered. It is with us when we are told that our “services are no longer required,” and in this moment, we are remembered. Even here – here in the depths of life’s most broken moments – even here – in this moment, we are remembered. It is here in this most lonely place that we continue to be connected to the One who remembers us. Especially here, Emmanuel, God is with us.
The psalmist reminds us to call out to God, “Out of the depths have I cried unto you, O Lord.” (Psalm 130:1). In what feels to be the most Godforsaken place, out of this place, we are told to cry out to Emmanuel.
As we move through our time of grief, we are aware of how our crying out to God is always, somehow changing. At times our cries are in anger, other times we cry out as one lost in the wilderness. And we well know the times when our cry is only a silent lament. Either in our words or in ourselves, as we tonight companion the New Moon, may we be paying attention and begin to sense something moving, shifting within.
We know that this night is both the darkest night and the first night of the moon’s new journey, Advent’s new beginning. We have come to 2020’s final new moon. Perhaps when we listen for the sound of our cry in the dark, we are reminded of the strength that accompanies the prayer. Perhaps in giving voice to our deepest despair we are given the greatest gift in return - God’s promise to always be with us. Perhaps on this darkest night, when our eyes are straining to see, on this night we are reminded to look instead with our hearts.
(a chapter adapted a little bit from my book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days)
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, King James)
Sunday's Theme: Time
To every thing there is a season, a time, a moment to hold on to, a moment to treasure. At times that is very true for our lives. And to every thing there are other times, other moments that level us and stop us from knowing how to catch our next breath. Throughout there are also times of `feeling in-between’ when there is only left foot, then right foot.
In this season of, this time of, in these moments of Advent we are invited to slow down and pay attention. We are invited to step out of our ordinary, everyday living and moving and being. We are invited to wait for just a bit before we do. December can be such a time of doing things. Many of us have grown up with that practice of December-doing. This year is so different.
Even in these pandemic days, we are invited into a both/and. Moments held in this season and this season holding onto moments. Advent welcomes us into moments: a smile on the face of a loved one (even in this time of masks), or a pause in a conversation with someone where words are not needed, or the first taste of something fantastic. Moments are somehow set apart. They are bigger and longer, deeper and wider that just a second. Moments somehow hold us in our life’s story.
Likewise, Advent invites us into this season: songs sung that are just for this time, that are known by heart; bright, colorful lights as we drive through neighborhoods; lighting candles at the end of the day. This season that moves from hour-to-hour, from day-to-day. This season that somehow for as long as I can remember has held my life’s story.
We are in a time of a global pandemic, a time of hospital’s being pushed to bursting, a time of one president’s leaving and a new one gearing up to start, of kids not knowing yet how they will be learning when school starts up again. We are in a time of mask wearing and social distancing. We are in a season of zooming and facetiming our most precious relationships. We are certainly in a time. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. 2020 has defied logic. I am wondering and wandering around what purpose is to be found in these days. I know that there will never be a logical answer that will satisfy, 2+2 is just not adding up.
The writer from Ecclesiastes invites us to consider the balance of this season, the balancing of this time. These words remind our spirits that time isn’t just linear, it is also circular. We come round and round again, you and I. As with the giving and taking and giving again. As with the battling and peacemaking and battling again. This circular living is about moving in and through. This circular living invites us to learn, un-learn, and re-learn in a new way.
We are following this star to Bethlehem. We are seeking a new light, a new hope, a new way of being. This Advent season is calling us, even though we are weary to continue on. Even though we feel the nights growing darker, we are called to continue on. This season, these moments remind us that we are not limited to the way we are feeling or thinking minute-by-minute. Advent encourages us to see beyond what may be painful or feel impossible right now. Advent encourages us to trust that what is right here and right now is not all there is. We are still journeying on; we are still following what is yet to be.
Saturday's theme: (De)light
Son Sam and I went camping on possibly the most humid weekend ever recorded in the history of time. It was the weekend before Sam headed off to Emory and we wanted to `snatch one more little bit of time” before he went.
Our camping friend, Shelly found us a spot in a State Park in South Carolina. We booked two nights, borrow two tents, a cooking stove, grabbed some blankets and chairs and headed to the campground. It was hot. It was humid. And we were a little bit out of our element, Sam and I. But that turned out not to matter much.
After 55 minutes of reading and re-reading how to pop up a pop-up tent, Sam assembled both (damn) tents in about 10 minutes. By that time, we were both starving and scrambled around to build a fire to roast some hot dogs and settle in for the evening. When it was all said and done on our first night camping, we sat wearily down with about an hour of sunlight left. I got out a book and Sam was looking at his phone. Pretty soon, he asked me if I could see the snail on the tree about 20 feet away. Then Sam (as only Sam can do) told me all kinds of amazing things about snails. The ooze they produce is apparently remarkable. The Navy and the Air Force have been studying it for years, trying to replicate it. To no avail. They’d hoped to use the ooze as a lubricant in missile silos to reduce friction. Who knew? Our first camping night ended with Sam telling me all kinds of fun facts about snails.
We said good night and went to our tents for bed. Because Sam is a teenage guy, it really didn’t surprise me when he asked if it would be alright if he went into town (20 miles away) to get something to eat and bring me back some ice cream. “Sure. Be safe. I’ll wait up for you.” He came back 2 hours later, “Sorry no ice cream, it melted on the drive back. He’d gotten a double baconator and large fries at Wendy’s.” As we were both (finally) settling in for the night, I said, “Hey Sam, can you put the car keys just inside your tent, so I can get them in the morning?” “Sure.”
The next morning is when this (de)lightful story’s second chapter begins. I got up and unzipped Sam’s tent to get the car keys out. I reached in and right beside the keys was a snail. I’m not kidding. There was a snail just sitting (lying?) there beside the car keys. All I could think was, “Why in the heck would Sam take that snail off the tree and put it in tent?” Again, Sam is a teenage guy, so I had to wait until noon when Sam finally rolled out of bed to ask him that question. When I asked him, he said, “What are you talking about? What snail?” I went over to his tent, unzipped it and pulled out the snail and brought the snail to the picnic table. It was tightly in the shell. Sam put some water out, and then some different kinds of food – Captain Crunch, Broccoli, Lettuce on the table. And we watched. And we wondered.
Months later I still wonder how a snail (was it the snail from the tree or another one?) appeared in Sam’s zipped up tent? How did it show up right beside the keys where I was reaching in the early morning light? Was this just a wild coincidence? A message? If a message, then what? And why? Did we learn what we were supposed to learn? Did Sam? Did I?
It became apparent as we were “sharing breakfast” with our new camper, that s/he needed a name. Sam started calling him “Ringo” and the name stuck. You’ll have to ask him why that name, I honestly don’t remember. Ringo hung out on or under the picnic table on that hot and humid Saturday. It was fun to watch his progress. Gotta say, Ringo wasn’t much of a conversationalist, so I don’t feel like I came away with much of a knowing of him as much as an appreciation. Saturday night Sam carried Ringo back to his tree to `start again.’
What makes this story (de)lightful for me is the mystery of Ringo’s joining the party. What are the odds of such a thing happening? What are the odds of things happening in that order? It had been so easy for me to keep my attention on my book on Friday night. Not Sam. He was paying attention to the detail of what was around him. And Sam (because he’s Sam) had at some earlier time read-up on snails. Then at some point, somehow a snail got into Sam’s zipped-up tent and settled in. Is anyone old enough to remember the song, “Scarlett Ribbons”? It’s a Christmas song and worth googling, if you don’t know it. I just can’t help thinking about Ringo’s bunking in with Sam on Friday night as being a remix of that old song, “If I live to be one hundred, I will never know from where…”
Especially in these days that are growing darker and colder, in these nights with warm cups of hot chocolate, I love a story of wondering. Ringo’s Wild Adventure is one for me. Not sure what would make this story (de)lightful for Sam, you’ll have to ask him. For me this story holds a moment in time for me and my son. The week before he headed off to college, before he stepped into what would be an important rite of passage, he and I marveled at a mystery. Don’t know if it gets much better than that.
Friday's theme: Messengers
Most every day I am humbled. I work in Family Support at Egleston’s children’s hospital. Mainly I work on the cardiac units (ICU and Acute Care). Day after day, I encounter families in perhaps the hardest chapters of their lives. There are patients ranging in age from one-day old infants to 21-year-old young folks. Most every day as I walk the halls, offering chocolate and encouragement, I am humbled by the courage and the kindnesses, the strength and generosity. Some days I am humbled by patients and families, some days by colleagues.
Twice now I’ve participated in an Honor Walk on the Pediatric ICU. When there is nothing more that can be medically done for a patient, the family is offered the choice of donating their child’s organs to another person. There is a practice called, an Honor Walk in which the staff line both sides of the hallway as the child and family are escorted from the PICU to harvest the organs. Twice now I’ve stood with nurses and techs, with unit secretaries and doctors, with housekeeping and social workers, with child life therapists and officers from security as the chaplain accompanies the family from the hospital. Twice now the only sound I could hear was weeping. Then the door closes behind the family. After a minute or two the Egleston staff slowly, quietly heads back to our units and our work. I believe many of us are praying for a miracle for the next family.
Recently after the second time I’d witnessed the Walk, I started back to continue my day. I just couldn’t quit crying. It was the day before Sam’s 19th birthday. Walking down the hallway I felt an arm drape over my shoulders and a big, strong hand gently squeeze my arm. It was Brad, an engineer that I know a little bit from passing in the halls. We walked side-by-side in the quiet. And when it was time for us to go our separate ways, I turned and thanked him. He said he was glad to do it and walked on.
The next day, he stopped me in the hall and said, “I need to tell you something that I realized yesterday after the Walk. Not long ago you told me a story about one of the cardiac families and you ended it with, `It’s the least we can do.’ Yesterday when you thanked me for walking with you, I wished I’d said to you `It is the least I can do.’ That feels more accurate and more true to me.” Then he nodded and smiled, squeezed my arm and walked on.
Messengers are all around us. Sometimes they share a bold revelation. Sometimes they tell us things we already know. It’s the least we can do is more often than not exactly what needs to be done at the time.
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Not do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe
that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from your desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
therefore, will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
~ Thomas Merton (published in 1958)
Thursday’s Theme: Prayer
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. This first line from Thomas Merton’s prayer has been echoing down through the years. It speaks so well to this past year. It speaks well to this Advent journey. Early on we were invited to slow down, to pay attention and to wait. Over these past months, I’ve felt like my heart is willing, but my head just does not seem to be up to the task. As I move through this Pandemic, I find myself emotionally and mentally rushing through my days. Truthfully, “what’s the hurry? And where are we going?” It reminds me of one of Dad’s favorite jokes (he used an Italian accent when he told it): An airplane pilot’s voice came over the intercom, “Folks, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. First the bad news, we’re lost. Now the good news, we’re making pretty good time.” How I wish I could hear Dad’s interpretation now of how that joke plays out for these days.
Most days I have this overwhelming sense of feeling lost and disoriented. Merton’s confession of “not knowing where I am going,” rings true. I’m grateful for his words because it matters that they are spoken and not left stuffed down deep within me. It matters in 2020, it matters with our praying. It matters that we move in and through that first line. If we stop at that first painful, vulnerable and sometimes terrifying sentence then we stop. Full stop. This prayer gives us hope for continuing on. This prayer gives us space and place to not-know, and yet, and still continue on.
We are not alone, you and me. Even though so many of these blustery, December days can feel so isolating. We are not alone. This ageless prayer reminds us of that. I can hear my grandmother Bobbee’s voice reciting it. My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. Can you hear your grandparents’ voices? Can you imagine their grandparents speaking this same first line of Merton’s prayer?
Thomas Merton’s prayer companions our hours and our lifetimes. As we move in, through and beyond these unsettling, topsy-turvy Pandemic-experiences, may we continue to pray Merton’s as well as our own prayers. These are the words that gather us up, embrace us for a bit, dust us off and send us on to what will be next.
Thanks to Susie Gentry for her beautiful glass nativity
Wednesday’s Theme: Grief
Sam and I went for a walk last night after I got off of work. Walking with my sons is one of my favorite things to do in the world. Walking with Sam, all bundled up on a clear, cold December night felt precious. Our conversation moved from this to that and then on to something else. Our multi-subjected walk could be related to the cold, or that his legs are so darn long, and we were walking so fast. My heart was full as we talked about everything and then some. As we headed back to the car, I asked him what he thought about Empty Chairs at the holidays. Of course, he took me to a place I hadn’t thought about. So, here’s part of what we talked about – and where my heart has landed since:
Sam began with “Empty chairs aren’t just because someone has died…” We talked about COVID and how much emptying COVID has been doing to our lives for these past months. We’ve already experienced one holiday where a chair or many chairs were empty because the virus kept us away from loved ones. My Thanksgiving was certainly different from what I had been looking forward to, hoping for, counting on. There was an empty chair for me, and I know I’m not alone with that.
As we talked about all the reasons for chairs being empty, we wondered and wandered around the idea of whether not those chairs can ever be filled. Some can. Some of those chairs were empty only because we didn’t want to travel and endanger anyone with getting sick or spreading the virus. Sam talked about all the ways we have adjusted our lives with Face Timing and Zoom calls, “our screens have almost taken the place of our chairs,” he said. [What an odd thought…]
And then we talked about all the chairs that will never be filled. We’ve lost loved ones. For some of us of a certain age as we sit down at holiday tables, we are looking into the faces of the saints who have gone before. Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, partners, dear, precious friends. Missing from the chair, but most certainly in our hearts.
As Sam and I walked through the old neighborhood and my heart was thinking about all those chairs that are now empty, I felt a profound knowing of both/and.
It’s true that I am missing deeply loved ones who are no longer here to share in the holidays. My mom loved Christmas and for her it began with that first ornament on the tree and continued until all the ornaments were wrapped back up again and stored in that box that went up in the attic. This week has brought another loss. A funny, generous, life-loving friend died this past Monday night. For the last several Christmas Eves in between all our various church services, a number of friends have gathered in her living room for Christmas Carols and one of Carolyn’s `you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me martinis.’ I will raise an empty glass to my friend this year. Lord knows that I am mindful of many empty chairs in 2020.
AND it is so very important that my heart stay present to this time, this moment. As I think about my walk with Sam and all that we talked about, and about the many loving conversations that continue in my head and heart each day, I know that it matters to not miss any of it.
2020 is holding many empty chairs this year. So many to pray over, too many to count. It matters that we pause and acknowledge that. Maybe raise a glass (empty or full), or place an extra ornament, or light a candle – any or all of these – some act of thank you and I remember. It matters also that we continue to go for walks or whatever your practice is for connection and reflection. It matters to continue in conversations that remind and renew. It matters that we re-member.
Tuesday's Themes: Cornerstone Words of Faith
Surely Goodness and Mercy
I wonder where mercy begins. I wonder if there are kernels of growth already present in the very first moment of the act that causes the pain, the wound. I wonder if mercy is there (somehow) from the very beginning. Or does it come later, when the dust has settled after the event has occurred?
These days since the Pandemic’s beginning feel more like years. For all of us, for all of us the world feels like a different place. We all have our own tellings and understandings of these past months, for sure. Sometimes I think about how interesting it will be years from now when we sit around tables and talk about it. Right now, though it doesn’t feel very interesting. It feels endless, cruel, heartless even, unforgiving.
When I asked my friend to tell me four words that have grounded her faith, she said the first three pretty quickly and afterwards (perhaps realizing she’d only said three) she added, “and mercy.” “And mercy” feels very much like an important way of making my way through these Pandemic days. It feels like a vital way of making my way this year to Bethlehem. Mercy-mindedness should be the thing I reach for before I grab my keys and walk out the door. Because without mercy, who am I?
My hunch is that all of us have had a “worst year.” Last year was mine. Hard and painful changes happened that came unexpectedly. I found that most days I was reeling. It felt impossibly hard. Everything felt uphill and inside-out. And throughout that impossibly hard time, I experienced mercy. Mercy from childhood friends who had kept in touch, from high school and college friends, from seminary friends and church friends, from family in such generous ways…I experienced mercy. The best way to describe what I felt was the notion of being held. Sometimes I felt rocked, sometimes carried – always securely held by one or more dear, loving souls.
Last year and many times since I have learned that mercy is a holding space. It takes whatever time is needed. It sets few, if any demands or expectations. It treads water, right there beside you, until you’re ready to continue on. Mercy never seems to give up or give in. Mercy believes in what is going to be next, and somehow holds onto me as what is going to be next unfolds. For me, mercy came unexpectedly. Over and over, I found that I was surprised by joy; over and over again, I was re-minded of hope.
These words from Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” speak to a new-found strength that claims continuing on. It doesn’t sugar-coat what has happened, but likewise doesn’t show any intention of giving up or giving in. There is a turning of one’s heart toward what is next. That old spiritual, “I’m don’t feel no ways tired,” has roots in what mercy can bring. I’ve been seen and tended, and now I’m continuing on. Now. I’m continuing on.
I may never know when mercy truly starts. It’s almost like me trying to remember when God first loved me. It’s not a date I can find on a calendar, instead it just is. In many ways, after we have experienced what we have believed was an ending and from that received a new and different beginning, then and only then can we begin to speak of mercy. It comes with fresh scars, but it comes. For me, it was from that naming and claiming. Especially on this cold, December morning, speaking of mercy is a life-giving way of knowing what truly holds me and holds my faith.
Monday's Theme: Relying on the Moon
This time of the fall is a window into some of what nature has to teach us about diminishment. We see it as the trees grow barer and barer. We feel it in our bones as the cold enwraps us when we spend any time outside. And now as COVID is surging our sense of dread and diminishment feel like it is coming from the inside out. Fear can do that. It can shift our spirits. It can unsettle us. Fear can diminish what light we feel is holding us, surrounding us. Fear can sap our energy, our kindnesses, our sensibilities. It’s as important as it’s ever been that we not let fear keep us from living, not keep us from learning more from nature and one another.
Tonight, as we look out at the moon even though it appears to be decreasing in size, that’s not what is really happening. It’s not that the moon’s size is changing, instead it is only doing what it’s supposed to do. The moon is following its orbit. As the earth and sun and moon continue making their way, the rotation causes a shadow which slowly covers more and more of the moon’s surface, making it appear to decrease in size. This shadow is growing across the moon’s surface, but the moon at its core remains the same. It’s not the moon that is decreasing, but what we are able to see is less. Maybe this is just a reminder to believe even when we cannot see. I don’t mean to sound like Mary Poppins (God bless her), but the truth is the truth. The moon remains intact. With time we will see more of the moon’s surface. With time the light will show us more. It wasn’t that long ago that we were able to see in the dark. Remember? It was just a week ago. Part of nature’s lesson, part of journeying through Advent is for us to believe that we will see more light returning.
In my work at Egleston, I encounter a great variety of souls every day. I try to pay attention to the folks I encounter. It’s very much an intergenerational community. It’s a children’s hospital, so I encounter the gambit in ablenesses and alertnesses everyday with the kids. Most (certainly not all) of the nurses are in their mid 20’s to early 30’s. Then there are the parents and grandparents and older staff. Throughout this pandemic, I’ve been watching and listening out for how the nurses are coping (this is probably because my boys are nearing the same age). I am aware of a lot of sighing. I am aware of louder laughter and more tears throughout the day. I am aware of great kindnesses being extended. As I watch I see that like the ebbing and flowing of the tides, like the moon’s shifting in shapes and sizes, the emotions at the nurses’ station mirrors those peaks and valleys. There is more and less. There is holding on and letting go. As I am working at the hospital, I am trusting that as COVID is surging, as these days are growing darker, shifts will come. I am doing my best to believe that this isn’t all there is, that it isn’t all that will be.
On this day of the Waning Moon, I think that many of us are coming to understand diminishment in new ways. This COVID season has cost us all a great deal. It has had the power to affect every human on the planet. Loved ones, illnesses, job and money and possibly housing losses. We are living out this night’s sighting of diminishment. It is the time in the cycle of the moon that tomorrow night’s moon will be even less. And yet…and yet…we continue. Left foot, right foot. The story that has held me my whole life tells me, that even as the nights grow darker, especially as the night’s grow darker, God is with us. Here in our midst. God is as close as our next breath.
"Time is different here," I heard my Mom's voice say a couple months after her death. Journeying through these Covid-19 days, remind me of the gift of those words. You are invited companion me on this 2020 Advent journey to Bethlehem, as we seek Emmanuel, God who promises always to be with us.