Daily Devotional: What Have I Ever Lost by Dying?

letter writingSo today I begin fresh content on my blog.

My daily readings I post have always been written for me, then cleaned up for others.   I write what I am getting spiritually out my meditations so that it might help others grow.

I am doing that now, but I know that what I’m about to share is not for everyone.

For right now I am in the pit of grief.  At times I see light over the horizon.  But at times it is only darkness and shadows.   For those who don’t know, on October 23, 2015, I walked in to find my beloved wife of 12 years not breathing.  Despite all I or the paramedics did, she has not breathed since.

This has been heart-wrenching and traumatic.  So now my spiritual journal is a journey through grief.

I invite you to join me in it, but I understand that it is not for all of you.  When you have been touched by grief, you can find solace in other’s journeys.  But at those points in my life in which such agony had not touched my soul, I pulled back from the site of it.

I am calling this series of posts, however long they run – and they will run until I feel I am done – “What Have I ever lost from dying?”

This  one of my favorite poems of Rumi, written after the unexpected rumi quote 2death of his soul-mate and dear friend (if not lover) Shams.   It is one that may not be helpful for anyone, but since I encountered it shortly before Kat’s death it created a frame for Kat’s death that is helpful to me.  I like to imagine Kat “soaring past the angels” now when I can as Rumi describes the one who dies. I have let these words give me courage as I face into the many daily deaths of life in grief, life lived in the midst of the emptiness her passing leaves me. Yet its question “What have I ever lost from dying?” is what I feel I confront in my grief. Unlike Rumi in this poem, I find I have lost much in this death of grief, when my dear love has gone.   But I do find I am learning, gaining, becoming new through this journey. So I can understand its hope that in my dying God may open up to new life.   I pray that my sharing my journey with some of you will help you find new life along your pilgrimage of grief, trauma, loss, and new beginning.

Here is Rumi’s beautiful words:

galaxies“I spent millions of years in the world of inorganic things as a star, as a rock…

Then I died and became a plant–

Forgetting my former existence because of its otherness

Then I died and became an animal–

Forgetting my life as a plant except for inclinations in the season of spring and sweet herbs–

like the inclination of babes toward their mother’s breast

mother with baby in lead sunsetThen I died and became a human

My intelligence ripened, awakening from greed and self-seeking to become wise and knowing

I behold a hundred thousand intelligences most marvelous and remember my former states and inclinations

AngelAnd when I die again I will soar past the angels to places I cannot imagine

Now, what have I ever lost by dying?”

May you find new life in all of your dyings.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Daily Devotional: (repost) Squirrels, Birds, and Eternity

Due to the death of my wife, I’m re-posting some old devotionals for a while.  This is one very relevant today, on All Saints Day, which also speaks to me on the loss of my wife.

Hope it helps you celebrate All Saints Day.  Remember, love is right with you, all around you, over you, through you.

Resting in the everlasting arms,

Micah

Squirrels, Birds, and Eternity

ImageThis morning, cup of coffee in hand, sitting on my porch in Carrboro, I’m drawn into the presence of eternity.

My mother-in-law bought me a bird feeder for an early birthday gift. Today is one of the first warm mornings in a good while here in the Carolinas. And as I sit and sip my coffee, I am surrounded. I’m surrounded by the light which slides through the tree branches like a summer rain, falling as quiet around me as oak leaves in autumn, and wrapping around me like the blanket I put around my shoulders to keep out the early morning chill. I am surrounded by the rising music of bird-song, and the chitter of squirrels.

While I grab a bite to eat, a bird hops beside the table, a small tattered brown leaf in its mouth, and looks me right in the eye.

In moments like this I sense the nearness of my grandmother, who I shared about last year when I Imagewrote The Power of a Southern Grandma: How My Southern Belle Granny Helped Me Become a Progressive Christian . Grandma Myrtie is the only grandmother I remember, since the rest of my grandparents died when I was very little. After her husband, Charles, died she had a stroke and came to live with us. Our back window looked out into a wooded area and often the scene I saw this morning would play out through that large window – squirrels chasing and playing, birds singing and flittering, and the sunlight falling through the tree branches like a shower of light. I remember Grandma Myrtie sitting in rapt attention watching those scenes. She had a particular fondness for the squirrels. She would sit, her hand on my little fingers, and point out all the little in’s and out’s of the squirrels’ running, jumping, and dalliances through the window.

I think my life-long love of nature, particularly of sitting in the spring weather watching the birds build their nests and the squirrels at chase with each other, is something I in part learned sitting beside her on that grey tweed couch, watching the squirrels go by the window.

ImageGrandma Myrtie passed in my early teens, in a nursing home near my parent’s house in Fayetteville. Momma had taken care of her as long as she could, but Grandma’s dementia got worse, to the point she needed constant care. I always remember that the night before she died, momma pointed out to me – “Every night I could hear her praying to us, ‘God give me strength to be here one more day, to be here for my family’. Tonight I heard her say ‘Lord, I’m ready. Take me home’”. That next day Grandma Myrtie had congestive heart failure and passed.

Yet every time I see the squirrels play, I feel she sits beside me, her wrinkled hand on my little palm, whispering words of comfort and of strength. I remember it when I would go to a creek in adolescent distress, just to be alone, and saw the squirrels in the tree. I remember when I learned to pray by the lake side on my own as a teenager finding my own faith, seeing the birds dip into the water. I remember feeling that sense of not being alone one afternoon sitting outside the bookstore at Campbell University having just gone through a painful breakup and said bye to many friends who graduated. I looked up and two squirrels were circling my table, staring at BLT. Each moment when I sit with the squirrels, I am reminded of a truth of the faith Grandma Myrtie’s life was a testament to – I believe in the communion of the saints.

Anyone who grows up in a church that recites the creeds of the church knows those words. I did not grow up reciting them, but I have come to see the truth behind them and hold them close to my heart.Image

“The communion of the saints” is the Christian phrase used to describe the experience those open to things of the Spirit have found of sensing that all of us are connected and that even though we might be separated by miles or continents, if we both remain open to the Spirit, that same Spirit who breathes life into the budding flower and fluttering bird will connect us despite the miles. And that this connection continues even after we leave this earthly body, for death is not the end but the beginning of a new kind of life.

This has been an important reminder this past year, when I’ve sadly had to face many close to me pass. It can be quite heart-wrenching to say “good-bye” or, at times, to hear the news another has passed without the chance to say good-bye. But even then there are moments where I sense the fact they are ok, that their life continues in a way that I could not have expected, and that their love and care for me goes on.

ImageA few years ago, a dear friend from college passed, one who had been a true friend during tough times. Though she had been sick for a long time, her death was sudden and without warning.

Yet in the days before I got the news she passed, I remember having moments I felt a presence standing near me, one familiar and full of love. I remember once swearing I could hear her laughing. Then I got the call that next day that she had passed after falling suddenly. In my heart I know in some way, God had let me sense that she was alright; that this was not the end for her but the beginning of something beautiful I could only begin to glimpse. And in moments here or there that led to my friend’s funeral I could sense again that feeling of presence, peace, and love which told me she was entering into new and deeper life, a life where I was not forgotten nor any she cared of.

I wrote the following about one of those experiences:

On Golden Streets

Image

The last time 

I saw you

a-twirl with 

a kaleidoscope of color

was it you I saw

or some phantasmic vision

of my desperate mind?

My heart knows.

Has always known.

Finally I saw you that day

as you’ve always said

you were

in your dreams.

As you have always been

though too few saw it.

Your crumpled form

I had been told fell lifeless,

and without warning

like some rag doll dropped

by an untidy and careless child

was such no longer,

but now you stood alive

before me,

more alive than ever.

You stood almost three inches taller that day.

But, how can I call it standing?

Your feet were ever moving

your body swaying like a ballerina.

You were dancing,

moving as always

to music you alone could hear,

dancing upon that marble altar

as if it was transfigured into some disco-balled club,

and no longer the altar before which cold preachers droned on

like the foghorns of Fort Fisher

mournful in the mist

announcing the coming of the night.

Your laughter chimed out its own song,

a thousand hand-bell choirs

in joyful unison

cheerfully echoing on the tin roof of my soul

like summer rain on my old home,

drowning out those other more ghostly voices.

I could have sworn this brilliant form

all crutches and wheelchairs layed aside

curtsied

and you giggled

whispering of joys

that mournful company could not dream of.

Another secret you whispered

like the many we shared

as friends so long ago.

You were a gift to me, dear one,

a friend and big sister

when friends fled

and my own big sister forgot me.

Know you are never forgotten.

I can still remember our late night talks

stories and jokes

singing in my Chevy Sprint

en route to each visit our youthful loves,

and the whispered stories

we both shared of our romantic endeavors

on returning.

Nor can I ever forget

the wonder of

seeing in you

a person more alive

than I’d ever known,

never worried what the world would say

free to be herself.

Dance on, bright spirit.

Dance!

And one bright morning I shall don my dancing shoes

and join you in moving again

to the music of the spheres.

Dance on, bright spirit, dance on!

Recently while reflecting on my life and especially the ways in which we take with us so much from our families, including some things we so deeply appreciate and also areas of brokenness we have to work with God’s help to heal, it dawned me another way we experience the communion of the saints: we carry with us all who are dear to us every moment of our lives, choosing which aspects of who they are to embrace as a gift. I carry my daddy’s love of fishing, of story, of good preaching, and I make that a part of who I am. Yet I also carry my dad’s temper, his tendency to be a bit workaholic, to drink more than he ought. I choose each moment which part of him that I have taken into myself I will be faithful to and how. So I listen to Garrison Keillor’s Prayer Home Companion, I preach my heart out, and I choose to find peace in my soul that doesn’t need a bottle nor flies off the handle. It is more than memories we carry – it is all those good qualities others have that we can let shape us, all the mistakes they have made we can learn from, and all the quirky uniqueness they have we can celebrate.

What is your point of connection to the communion of the saints? Who has been that point of light shedding the way for you, whose presence in one way or another continues to inspire you, though separated from you by distance or by the veil of death & the life after? What qualities do you choose to embrace from those who’ve touched your life, and what do you choose to take as lessons to walk another path?

May you sense the nearness and love of all who have gone before you, and hear the invitation of our faith – “So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage … that trips us up,and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, Common English Bible)

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

2013-07-10 07.19.16

Daily Devotional: Letting Go of our Need to Cut Out the Lights on our Moments of Heartache and Pain

jesus-414397_640Mark 15:33-39

Hanging on the cross, while being executed on trumped up charges as a traitor, Jesus cries out in prayer praying Psalm 22, an ancient prayer of God’s people expressing confusion and loss.   Jesus prays alongside the people of God through the ages “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”.

As a chaplain and pastor, I have heard so often the voices of people facing illness and loss, overwhelmed by the darkness crashing into their lives with no light at the end of the tunnel express exactly these words.   They feel betrayed by God. They feel forgotten by their Maker or, worse yet, unfairly attacked.   If you have ever been through unexpected illness, job loss, the sudden death of someone you love, you know I’m sure all to well such feelings.

Many of them express to me uncomfortability with these feelings. They say that they are afraid to voice them – for their families or the church tells them to think on the positive, to not give up faith, to believe.   They are told that their anger, fear, uncertainty, and sense of rejection is wrong and chaplain 1dangerous. It is putting a barrier to God. Some tell me they have heard “If you feel God isn’t there, who moved?” Sometimes these words of theirs cut right to my heart to hear for I remember saying just such things in a well-meaning way early in my Christian life and ministry, not realizing the heartache I was inflicting with my well-meaning words.

Now I make space for such cries of pain, for such questioning and fear, communicating it is ok.   I do because of this example of Jesus’ and, when asked, I share about his example.

Jesus knows the way of God better than I ever will, as God in the flesh, and he follows the pattern of Scripture which is not, as I had for years been led to believe, of pushing down and denying our pain but instead boldly confronting it, presenting it before God openly and truly. images-of-jesus-praying-to-godxSo Jesus raises to God a prayer openly expressing his own feelings of being forsaken, being cast aside and forgotten, being trampled on by the Almighty.   Jesus joins the cries of God’s people through the ages found in the Psalms who cry out “How long o Lord, hide thou away? When will thy wrath not burn like a flame?”

This is so different than what popular religion and spirituality often presents. Too often what we see is more like the caricature of pop spirituality presented in this clip from the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” –

Jesus instead is fully honest with God, with Himself, with others.   He lets Himself feel, know, and express the depth of his pain.

A funny thing happens through this. At the end of the story, a Roman centurion recognizes Jesus as truly God.   This is a man in the occupying army that oppresses Jesus’ people, grinding them beneath his boot.   It is a man with a hand in killing Jesus. It is a man with little to no knowledge of the God of Israel and of Scripture.   Yet not despite Jesus fully feeling, recognizing, and expressing his depth of anguish, questions, doubt and fear but because of him doing so, this man is able to see Jesus as God in his midst, one in whom the Sacred fire of heaven is burning bright.

woman_praying1This is a powerful lesson to us. In actual fact, honesty about our questions, doubts, fears, pain does not drive us further from God.   Trying to ignore, deny, “turn it off” when those are our reality does.   Truly being honest to God, to ourselves, tears down the barriers and allows us to truly experience God – even if we cannot in that moment use “God” to describe what we experience.   And when people see that honesty, they are able to see the Sacred that dwells in our hearts and lives just as the Centurion saw the Sacred presence in Jesus.

Instead of turning it off, we are called to open ourselves to know and feel the fullness of who we are, and share that with God.   This is what Hebrews means when it tells us to come boldly before the throne of grace.   I think it is also what mystic and theologian St Ireaneaus meant when he said the glory of God is a human life fully alive.   For God is present and alive in powerful ways in all aspects of our lives – in our joys and moments of peace, in our commitment to careful living, in our passions and sexuality, and yes in our moments of pain, of doubt, of fear. God is not the one far off and untouched by our suffering. Rather God is the One in whom we live and move and have our being who is ever in, with, under, through, and surrounding Question Mark on Road - Uncertaintyin embrace all living things and us as well. So that if we experience pain, doubt, anguish, and even feelings of God-forsakeness in some mysterious way God is also present deep within, through, and around those feelings and moments.   We discover that presence not by ignoring those feelings but by truly facing into them and expressing them for by doing so we open ourselves up not just to ourselves but also to the One who dwells deep in every soul, life, and moment.

May we learn to embrace each moment, however dark, as a place in which we can be fully ourselves and in being fully ourselves know God more deeply. Let us also learn to be ones like the Centurion who are able to see and help others see the Sacredness present in their lives in these moments of pain by giving them person to fully be themselves rather than being like those who try to tell people to shut off the light of their true feelings.

And I sure ain’t whistling Dixie,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: Discovering Depth of Spirit In our Bottom-lands of Despair

Psalm 137

This powerful and evocative psalm first came to life to me in hearing the moving rendition in the musical “Godspell” —

The speakers in this psalm are stuck in a dark predicament. Full of grief, how can they sing the songs of their people, the songs of God sung at the temple?   It was especially difficult as, to all appearances, it seemed that God had abandoned them. The nation had fallen. The temple was flattened. They were hauled away by foreign troops into captivity.

babylon_2Yet the existence of this song in the Psalms, the hymnbook of Israel, of Jesus, and of the church, suggests ironically that in those moments they could not but sing, pray, grope toward the God of Israel yet God was as near to them as their gripping pain. 

This time of despair in the history of God’s people known as the exile was painful and heart-wrenching. Yet out of that deep despair such beautiful poetry and music was borne.   It is in this time that the faith of Israel evolves and much of the previously disparate stories and texts about God’s work with Israel and humanity are woven together into the first versions of what we now would consider Scripture. The great epics of Genesis and the Exodus story appear to have been compiled in this time, to remind Israel that they have been exiled before – in Egypt – and the God of their mothers and fathers did not forget them too. The recording of the babyloncreation stories of Israel into Genesis at this time, as well as the recording of the words of prophets like Isaiah, helped awaken awareness in Israel that the God they’d experiences was not just a national deity, a local spirit, or a family god. This God is the one true God who created all that is and whom every person, in all lands, experiences on some level. The first hints of a hope of heaven begin to emerge in the parts of Scripture composed out of this experience, as Israel gropes to understand how God can be faithful to them when so often the life of exile is one of seeming hopelessness.   Even death cannot break the promises of a God who can tell the prophet to prophesy so that dry bones live, and those lost in death return to life without suffering and pain.

The experience of despair this psalm describe then, though heart-wrenching, actually deepen the people of God’s awareness of their Creator. It leads them to come to know God in a more profound way, and to see the world with new eyes. Ultimately it is their experience which lays the foundation for the birth of the world-transforming faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

I don’t know about you but I’ve faced times which, though they pale in comparison to the pain of the exile, truly were by the rivers of babylon 2times where it was hard to see God with me and when prayers and songs of praise were hard to speak.   I can think of times I sat, tear-filled, in despair and fear.

As both a pastor and a chaplain, I have seen so many go through such times. Like Israel, so often such times do not destroy the ones I’ve accompanied through those times but deepened their faith and awareness.

This poignant and powerful song reminds us your experience of pain, shock, loss, or estrangement need not destroy you. If you will not give up and work to open up through prayer, meditation, song, or other means of remaining open to God, it may be this experience that feels as if it will destroy you will instead deepen you. You may arise stronger, like the coal which under pressure births the diamond.

May it be so.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Daily Devotional: Grace in the Face of Tragedy

griefActs 1:15-26

This is a putting together of the broken pieces after a tragedy. At first it looked like the ultimate tragedy to wreck the new enterprise of the apostles’ ministry would be the death of their Savior, hung for treason on a Roman cross. But each of the disciples experienced something beyond words on Easter that demonstrated to them death had not defeated Jesus.  Instead somehow, beyond their ability to fully describe, and beyond all hope he was alive, victorious over death itself. In the ascension experience that happened before this scene of choosing Judas’ replacement, they saw even more.  They saw Jesus take the steering wheel of human history, entering the center of the dance of creation as Jesus ascended.  His ascension pictured this Jesus entering into the role of the Cosmic Christ who pervades all of creation, time, and space working tirelessly to turn all things toward healing, reconciliation, and new life.

Surprisingly Jesus’ death was not the tragedy they expected but the turning point toward a new beginning that they began to experience Easter morning and which still burned like a flame of hope deep in their soul. But a tragedy did happen – Judas’ death. Judas had been their dear friend, their colleague. Yet Judas had a mental breakdown in the face of the crushing pressure of Roman oppression. Mental illness breaking forth to wreak havoc in your life seems to me to be what ancients were describing when they described people becoming “possessed” by “spirits”, at least when it was not a neurological condition like epilepsy. And as often happens in such a mental health episode, Judas turned on those closest to him – Jesus and his fellow disciples. When Judas realized what he had done out of his illness, he was overcome by despair.  Feeling the pang of sorrow that came with knowing if he had been well he would never have done it, Judas took his own life.

This was a true tragedy, the loss of an irreplaceable human life.   Throughout the centuries Christians have opined about Judas, wondering his fate. Most have assumed him damned, but some like the writer of the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, imagined God extending grace to Judas since his tragedy allowed the story of the cross and Easter to occur. The Scripture doesn’t really tell us his fate, and in fact in places like the Sermon on the Mount and Romans 14 suggests we not put our noses where they don’t belong by judging other’s souls. God alone knows their circumstances.

My own guess is that grace is there for Judas.   Though many Christians feel that suicide is an unforgiveable sin, that isn’t what the Bible says. The Bible says that the only unforgiveable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, an act we Christians can’t agree what is but which all scholars agree is not suicide but some form of resisting or cursing the Holy Spirit which, once it happens, no one can come back from.   (I’ll reserve my thoughts on what that is for another time).   Killing maybe a sin, sure, but ultimately being sick is not.   And in my belief, people who overcome with mental illness as Judas was are not so much killing themselves as they are dying of an illness that became fatal. This is a true tragedy, to die at your own hand but not at your own will. To have your body turn on you, just as with cancer or other disease, but in a way in which it looks as if you are to blame.

We cannot know Judas’ fate, but I expect death for Judas brought also an Easter moment. I imagine a scene of judgment like this: Jesus meets Judas on that far shore beyond death arms open wide, offering him mercy and forgiveness in a scene much like Peter experienced on a much nearer shore in the last chapter of John.

Whatever the case, the point of this account is that in searching the Scriptures, they find that God included this tragedy in God’s plans.   That is why they can find it spoken about in prophecy. I don’t think this means God planned Judas’ death. I do not believe God made us or even nature itself as puppets on a string, but rather free so much that happens is out of our choice or out of an evolving process in nature which God participates in but doesn’t control completely. So much that happens is not what God chooses or God wills, but the cost of a world where we are free, free to choose love and compassion but also free to choice selfishness, hatred, and greed. But God isn’t caught off guard by our tragedies.   Instead, God expects them, anticipates them, and helps create a plan in which such heartaches can, like the death of Jesus, be transformed into turning points of new beginning in which our lives open up in new ways. These Good Friday can, if we seek and find God in them, become paths to our personal Easters.

Nothing can make up for Judas’ tragedy, but we sit with the disciples in the midst of their mourning, as they choose to continue that Good Friday journey in search of an Easter. I believe they begin to find such an Easter in the next section in Acts on Pentecost morning.

This is a reminder to us. When we face tragedy, we need to be slow to blame. We do not know what those around us, whether they are like Judas en route to tragedy or like the disciples scrambling to make sense of them, are enduring. We don’t know their pain, their struggles, and have no room to judge.

Likewise, we don’t know that God caused this situation. I tend to believe that instead of causing our pain we have a God who is facing much God does not cause nor does God will, which God like us cannot always prevent. I tend to think often our God sits beside us weeping salty tears along with us, yet also sits ready to help us pick the pieces together.

I do think this shows us that tragedy will come, and cannot be avoided. Those who sit in their well-pressed suits and fancy cars saying if you just had more faith, you would not get sick, face unemployment, struggle with mental illness or have family members who do, are not speaking for God. I cannot know where they get such thoughts, but I expect for some it is a way of shielding themselves against the fear that they too might be next.

Tragedy will come to all of us in its time, and this text recognizes that. It also recognizes such tragedies need not end us but can be points of new beginning. Let us take time to grieve our sorrows and sit with those who grieve. Let us also take time to embrace the journey to the Easters and Pentecosts that lie before us.

Daily Devotional: Experiencing and Becoming God’s Consolation

woman_praying12 Corinthians 1:1-11 has always been such a meaningful verse to me in considering our experiences of suffering and pain. If there is one part of human existence that is certain, it is that we will suffer.   This is why such old bluegrass and Gospel hymns as I remember my parents and grandparents sitting and listening to as a child have an undercurrent of sadness, struggle, and angst event when joy and celebration is the theme of the song.   In life, pain and heartache are what we may not hope to flee from, for they are an undercurrent of reality.

The Buddhists have a beautiful image of this truth in the Lotus. Buddhist authors I’ve read say that a part of the significance of the lotus is that it teaches them that to accept the beautiful flower that buds and grows to full blossom in a lotus plant requires also accepting as natural, a part of the lotus’ life, that do not seem as beautiful. It includes accepting the dirt that holds it in place, the rotting decayed materials used as fertilizer. It even includes accepting it will wilt at some point, for the passing nature of flowers adds to their beauty when in bloom and adds to their preciousness. Learning to accept both the pleasant and the painful as part of life is hard at first, but when one does it enables one to be fully present in each experience, in each moment. It enables you to appreciate the fullness and depth of your life in ways you cannot otherwise, and in fact changes your relationship even with the painful parts of your journey as they can become teachers readying you for the beautiful. And from them, in them, you can also begin to experience lotuses of beauty blossoming and growing.

jesus child abuse2 Corinthians 1 says something similar. It does not tell us why we suffer, but acknowledges our many sufferings as a part and parcel of human life, something that all will share in and cannot be avoided.   It encourages to accept suffering as something that is part of our existence, looking for lessons it can teach. Perhaps the greatest gift of suffering is the experience of comfort and consolation which God gives. This can come through mystical experiences in prayer. It can come through the feeling of being carried one gets through the practice of ritual, prayer, mindfulness, at the heart of one’s faith; or for some an experience of spiritual awakening in which God’s presence is felt near.   It can be experienced through God working through the hands of others – friends and family who are there for you, helpful nurses, social workers, chaplains who stand with you. It can come in the compassion expressed by a pet who nuzzles up to you in bed, giving you wet kisses that ease your pain. The experience of consolation is so beautiful and life-giving.

I have seen people discover beauty in such pain. It is one of the joys in my work as a chaplain, seeing how love, family, friendship, and spirituality are re-kindled in the face of loss, suffering, and pain. I do not know and cannot understand the answer to the question of “why” so many whom I support as a chaplain ask. That is one they must face, confront, chaplain 1and find peace with in their souls.   But I do know that I am amazed at the depth, compassion, love, peace, and friendship that emerge as God consoles them even when they do not have the language to call this One who embraces them in their pain Creator. Witnessing such life break forth in the midst of disease and death, hope break forth in despair, and love break forth in the midst of sadness in concrete ways in the lives of others is a part of what I love about work as a chaplain. Its why I rise with joy to the work of accompanying others into these liminal spaces at the edges of life and death, healing and sickness, which are the spaces in which I am called to serve.

2 Corinthians suggests our experience of being so consoled is not just for us alone, but is a type of fertilizer laid so that more beauty like lotuses can blossom into the world through us.   I see this, too, in my work as a chaplain. So many people enter hospice as family members needing support as their loved ones suffer through illness and death, yet return later as volunteers. These volunteers are quick to share their stories of how others consoled them, acting as the ones who helped love, hope, encouragement, friendship, and strength emerge in their darkest moments.   They were consoled, and so they console.   Whether they know it or not, they are living out this beautiful passage, becoming vessels of healing through whom God can continue the work of comfort.

I see it also beyond my work as a chaplain. As a pastor so often the people doing the most good in the church & community did so out of experience of brokenness in which healing or comfort came unexpected.   I think of a soldier nearly broken by addiction who found recovery through a 12 step program and became a voice for recovery in the church, and now is a veteran working to become an addiction counselor.

I think of many in churches I have served who were rejected by family and church for their sexuality or gender identity who found in their own soul a feeling that God did not abandon them, but loved and embraced them. Experiencing that led them to reach out to hurting LGBT people who experienced rejection, sharing their consolation, comfort, and acceptance with them.

I think of my wife who experienced horrible bullying as a teenager with a disability over her disability and ways it made her not fit the form, and later too about her sexuality, who found consolation in God, in friends, and in mentors in her life. She now reaches back, out of this experience, to comfort those who are so bullied through volunteer work with an organization called Operation Bullyhorn and also though her work as a minister.

All of these examples remind me of the beautiful ways when we accept our suffering as a part of life, we can find God granting consolation and comfort to us unexpectedly.   I am reminded to as we change our relationship to our experience of pain, how that consolation can begin to spill out into us becoming those channels of comfort, consolation, love & peace to others.

May it be so.

Daily Devotional: Prayer as Pain Experienced in Solidarity

griefPsalm 61

To me this is a beautiful psalm, whose images draw me into seeing myself in its words.

It talks about being dejected, down-cast. I can relate. As I meditate on the words of the Psalmist, I imagine the various situations the Psalmist might have been writing about. It might be a description of exile. Famine. Warfare. It might be a description of those times King David fled for his life in caves, or hid incognito among another land.

I think of the areas of my life where I have felt down-cast of late. In my case, these feelings are real and it helps to offer them to God as I do in reading this prayer. In my case, as I relate these feelings to those in the psalm, I realize these feelings are in part a symptom of my comfort and privilege. I am discouraged about not having opportunities I’ve been looking for and pursuing career-wise with the speed I’d like.   Yet, as I offer these feelings to God I have to acknowledge I am not unemployed, I am not struggling in my health, nor am I as the Psalmist may have been: in exile, or on the run, or in drought, famine, or war.   My feelings are real and right to offer to God, as are all people’s. But offering these to God in the context of this psalm provides a bigger picture. I offer my feelings of being downcast alongside those of saints who have paved the way before me. It removes the feeling of being alone in my struggles, yet also it challenges me to recognize the many way I am blessed, secure, safe, and provided for by God.   So it moved me to gratitude.

This moves me to think in solidarity with others whose feelings of being down-cast are in situations of deep threat. I remember Christians and believers in other faiths throughout the world facing religious persecution. I remember people facing famine, dictatorship. I pray for those facing illness, cancer, loss. I pray for those socially oppressed here in my home, and throughout the world. I recognize my need to be moved to care for and speak up for their crises.

Praying the psalms is, even when done alone, praying in community for it awakens me to how my ups and downs BroodySpirit3connect me with the moments of joy and liberation, sorrow and pain, faced by people of God in all times, lands, and situations. It reminds me of the value of communal prayer, mindfulness, and meditation.

Another image strikes me to – of God sheltering us under God’s wings. This is a repeated image in the psalms, of God as mother. The mother bird shelters her chicks under her wings in protection and for safety.   Whether my moment of trial is cosmically large or small, God treasures me and casts the mothering arms of grace about me. I am not alone. Nor are you. Nor are any of these far worse threatened ones I remember now in prayer.

Thank you God that you see our hurts, however small or large, and extend grace. Help our cries of pain, confusion, and fear to open us up to such feelings in others, motivating us to prayer, solidarity, service, and compassion.

Amen.