Kissing the Leper

Kissing the Leper

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I read  a book review this morning of “The Shattered Lantern” by Ronald Rolheiser on Spirituality & Practice, a website I use daily. In part it quotes a story in the book about St. Francis of Assisi.    Click here to read the review.

“One night prior to his conversion, Francis, then a rich and pampered young man, donned his flashiest clothes, mounted his horse, and set off for a night of drinking and carousing. God, social justice, and the poor were not on his mind. Riding down a narrow road, he found his path blocked by a leper. He was particularly repulsed by lepers, by their deformities and smell, and so he tried to steer his horse around the leper, but the path was too narrow. Frustrated, angry, but with his path clearly blocked before him, Francis eventually had no other choice but to get down off his horse and try to move the leper out of his path. When he put out his hand to take the leper’s arm, as he touched the leper, something inside him snapped. Suddenly irrational, unashamed, and undeterred by the smell of rotting flesh, he kissed that leper. His life was never the same again. In that kiss, Francis found the reality of God and of love in a way that would change his life for ever.”

Later it said, ” Concrete contact with the poor is Christian contemplation. It knocks the scales off one’s eyes.  ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me,’ Christ assures us. In the poor, God is ever-present in our world, waiting to be met. In the powerless, one can find the power of God; in the voiceless, one can hear the voice of God; in the economically poor, one can find God’s treasures; in the weak, one can find God’s strength; and in the unattractive, one can find God’s beauty.”

“Perhaps the only way we have of not letting ourselves be swallowed whole by our culture is to kiss the leper, to place our lot with those who have no place within the culture, namely, the poor with their many faces: the aged, the sick, the dying, the unborn, the handicapped, the unattractive, the displaced, and all those others that are not valued by the culture. To touch those who have no place within our culture is to give ourselves a perspective beyond culture.”

It struck a chord in me.  I t reminded me of an article I read a couple of years ago that I have since lost track of.  It talked about  getting close to the poor in the broader sense of the word, increasing our ability to better understand the issues they face daily and the ostracization they experience daily,.   The article, written by a Catholic bishop, urged us to change our language.  Instead of speaking of people as “the” poor,  he urged people to use the words, “our poor”.

We are all one in God, we are his people, his sheep, and we are all each other’s neighbor.  Therefore, those who have health, financial and societal struggles, are our poor.  Hear the difference between “the poor” and “our poor”.  Hear the distance “the” allows and the intimacy of “our”.  One way allows us to create a good, comfortable gap, like not sitting too close to a stranger in the pew.  The other demands we pull people close to us, make their worries our worries, their cares our cares, their success our success.

Consider that those who are depressed or grieving are often given wide berth.  We say the right words, give the hugs, send the cards.  But mostly, we don’t step into their pile of sadness.  Those who look or live differently than we do are accorded the smile, the acknowledgement, the peace be with you even, but we never invite them into our home for a meal.  Yet, God calls us to feed his sheep, not in an impersonal, stand outside the fence way, but in an up close, look into their eyes and hear their heart way.feed-my-sheep

I experienced this recently at a memorial service.  My husband and I had sat down when I noticed a woman sitting alone in a pew opposite ours.  I looked at her for a while.  Then I felt a nudge.  It wasn’t my husband.  “Let’s move over by that woman sitting alone.”  We did.  We introduced ourselves and our connection to the friend we had lost.  She shared her name and explained quietly, with tears, that she was a former in law who still thought fondly about the man who had passed away.  “I knew him for so long.  Maybe longer than anyone else here.”  I hugged her and before the ceremony began, she shared some memories.  During the service, I noticed her crying and put my arm around her.  She took my hand.  After the service we walked out together and hugged.  I don’t remember her name but I will never forget her heart.

This, the week of Thanksgiving, we celebrate a first meal in America, likely fictionalized, to represent a coming together of peoples, vastly different but similar in their kindness.  As the story goes, it was not a meal of silence, of distance but one of open thanksgiving and caring.

This Thanksgiving, many of us are headed to tables laden with food but empty of understanding,  a wide chasm between us and our meal partners.  Perhaps instead of looking at each other as a political party supporter, we get closer and look into each other’s eyes and hear their heart.  Perhaps, we find a similarity of kindness.  Perhaps we see each other as belonging to each other.  One of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes says, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”

I wish you a Thanksgiving of plenty and enough.

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A Living Death

A Living Death

When I was a child, I spent most of my time waiting to grow up and be independent. I wished my childhood away. Blessed with the opportunity to attend college away from home, I could not believe or fully comprehend my good fortune. Then something unexpected happened during my first visit home from college. I experienced a sense of detachment from the rest of my family. I did not belong there in the same way I did or like my siblings who were still living there. They saw me differently and perhaps I acted differently. I was independent. It was what I had always wanted but when it happened I was sad. In that moment I recognized the end of something big and my heart was struck by the loss of it. Life flooded me with classes, studying, new friends, a boyfriend and the excitement of college life. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Engaged before graduation, I was neck deep in wedding planning, job hunting and moving to a new city before I ever left college. I loved school but it was time for my college days to be done. I was running in the direction of adulthood and married life. Wedding PhotoThe life I knew in school was over and the person I was as a student was gone. There was deep sadness with that realization but the busyness of preparing for my new life did not allow me to think about it but for a moment. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

As the wedding approached, I practiced signing my new name. I struggled with taking my fiancé’s last name. It was not that I was terribly attached to the name I was given at birth but I did not want to erase it either. It was culturally what I was expected to do. Every other married woman I knew changed her name. I understood that I would be someone new after the wedding even without a name change. People I met as a married person would never know me as an individual. I would from that time forward be defined by another person, by another family, without much evidence of who I was previously. I practiced and practiced writing my new name until it began to look familiar. When I was handed the marriage certificate I signed it with a trembling hand. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

A few years later, pregnant with my first child and on bed rest with preterm labor, any evidence of my youth was shattered. There was a transforming pressure in the realization that I was completely responsible for another human being. Every decision I made would directly support or threaten my unborn child. I prayed for us both to survive. I prayed for the pain to subside. I prayed for the pregnancy to come to a swift and positive end. Every moment of every day for more than 6 weeks I spent trying to stay pregnant, manage pain and cope with the life threatening implications of a situation I could not control. On February 21, 1990 at 2:32AM my daughter burst into the world a month early, yellow and limp. My body was torn apart. Immediately after birth, a nurse rushed our newborn to the ICU.   My Megan as a newborn 022492husband worried about leaving me alone but sprinted behind the racing nurse after I made him promise to not allow our daughter out of his sight. Several days later, a tiny child was placed in my weakened arms and I was wheeled to the door of the hospital. There was no time to rest or heal. There was a child who needed me, depended on me for survival. I needed to devote all my strength and energy to being a mother. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Standing in the parking lot of a popular daycare center, I wrapped my colic baby in my arms attempting to picture myself entrusting her to the caregivers on the other side of the glass door in front of me. The thought of it caused me physical pain. I reminded myself that every mother I knew went back to work a few weeks after giving birth. I spent time and money earning a degree so I could have a career. It was my dream. Many people fought and sacrificed for me to have the opportunity to go to school. How could I let them down? How could I let myself down? In that parking lot clinging tightly to my child I made a choice that changed everything. I decided that I wanted more than anything in the world to take care of my child full time. I did not accept the title “stay-at-home mom” easily but there was nothing in this world I desired more definitively. The person I thought myself to be was redefined in that moment. The trajectory of my life shifted in a direction I never before considered. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Life continued at fever pitch bringing with it love, struggle, fun, loss, self-discovery, self-doubt, health issues, another challenging pregnancy and a second child. I often teased about earning an honorary medical degree with the hours I spent in doctor’s offices, addressing all of our health challenges. While other mom’s complained of scattered toys or the toilet paper roll unfurled around the house, my heart soared with gratitude for the normal play of a healthy child. Some days lasted forever it seemed but the years sped by. Sleepless nights spent feeding babies were replaced with sleepless nights waiting for teenagers to arrive home. There were concerts and games to attend, leotards and football uniforms to wash, holidays to celebrate, birthday parties to plan, homework to complete and college applications to submit. Suddenly it seemed my young adult children did not require my assistance as they once did. My role as mother morphed into trusted adviser and observer. I was transformed from one person into someone new without so much as a breath between. Version 2I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Today both my children are college graduates and working in other states. I cannot help but laugh when I think about it. It seems they are each living the dream I once held for myself. I have plenty of time to ponder such notions now. What might have been? What actually happened? It is as if I died and now my life is flashing before my eyes. While reflecting on my life, I now see I have died this sort of living death many times before. At the end of each stage of life a part of me had to give way in order for me to continue living. The difference this time is that another task or responsibility is not bearing down upon me. Life seems oddly suspended and pregnant with choices or nothingness depending on the day. Instead of hurrying to the next thing, I am left to rest, to wonder about the future. While I rest I pray that I am purposeful and intentional with my choices about the person I am becoming. There is now time to look back, gather all that life has taught me and set that knowledge into action as I begin yet another new life.

Dear God,  Thank you for this time of rest, reflection and rebuilding. Please help me to remember with gratitude all the beauty and blessings I have received in this lifetime as well as the challenges. Help me to see struggle and loss as preparation for becoming the person I will be in the next phase of life. Teach me to recognize when others are experiencing times of transition from one life to another so I can show them compassion.

Thank you for another chance at new life here on earth. This unhurried time is allowing me to learn from my past and see the potential life holds for me still. You continue to provide examples of life, death and new life each day. Help me to lean on those examples to embrace and appreciate what is happening now and what is yet to come.

Love, Jean

John 11:25,26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

Mark 1: 29 – 31 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Story of Random Acts of Kindness

Soothing balm for the headlines in the news these days comes to us courtesy of six teenage boys in Colorado.  Some of our Advent activities have been centered around random acts of kindness.  Fill your heart with the story found at this link   A Random Act of Snow Shoveling Link.

Colorado shoveling

Share your stories of random acts of kindness.  As we share our stories, we encourage each other and fill each other’s hearts with the joy of the love that enfolds us during the Advent season.

 

November 30, Day Two of Week One – The Way of Peace through Hope

Bible 2Luke 24:  13 – 16   “On the Road to Emmaus. Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.”

Word of God Speak      Song Link

God Speak

Word of God Speak

I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what You would say

REFRAIN:  Word of God speak  Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
Your majesty
To be still and know
That You’re in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness 
Word of God speak

I’m finding myself in the midst of You
Beyond the music, beyond the noise
All that I need is to be with You
And in the quiet hear Your voice  REFRAIN x 2

I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay

Reflection 4Reflection:  As a kid, I walked everywhere.  Walked to the little general store where penny candy still reigned.  Walked the backroads with cousins, talking all the way.  Walked to school, uphill one way.  Walked with my best friend in junior high school giggling about boys and singing songs.  Walked in the woods and along the beach, soaking in dappled leaves and vibrantly messy sunsets. As an adult, I walked the church aisle to my future husband who waited with love in his eyes.

I wonder how often Jesus walks with us, while we are unawares?  Was he with my cousins and I as we walked and talked about the web of dysfunction that ruled mine and my cousins’ lives?  Was his companionship what kept our hearts open to love and to treasure the families that created the chaos against which we would fight our whole lives?  Was his presence there when my best friend and I walked and shared secrets of our hearts and made plans for a future that ended for her at 20?  Was his presence what kept her hope in the future even as leukemia rampaged through her blood?  Was he there when I hobbled the church aisle with a sprained ankle and new heels, on my own, with no father to guide my steps, walking toward the man who owns my heart?  Was his loving hand what kept me steady and fearless about a second marriage? How often was he there, forming my heart into a place of hope, filling my soul with peace, encouraging me with a trove of resilience?

Action 3Action:  How often has God walked and talked with you?  Today, walk and talk with God.  Look and listen for his presence.  Let his heart be yours.  Let go of grievances.  Make a gesture of forgiveness.  Breathe life into your dreams even if they seem far off and unattainable.  Take God with you as you journey toward what your heart desires most.  Feel his steady guidance and find courage in his presence.  Let hope be your way to peace today.  And then again, tomorrow.

Dear God, our greatest thanks for walking with us, even when we don’t see you.  Just as a seed doesn’t need to be told how to grow, fill our hearts with your peace so we know how to grow without hesitation.  Help us to Dear Godwalk with forgiveness, abundant hope and perpetual courage.  In this time of Advent, slow us so we are still and know that you’re in this place. Let us find ourselves in the midst of you.  Walking with you, Amen.

The Way of Peace

 

Advent Candles 2

“I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue.”  Pope Francis

The theme for Advent this year is The Way of Peace.  This year we are using the traditional weekly Advent themes to emphasize the Way of Peace.

  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Hope
  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Love
  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Joy
  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Peace

Peace 2

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”  Mother Teresa

In our world today, peace seems to be in short supply.  Our world is noisy, demanding, overloaded with information and technology, filled with ongoing world discourse and multiple situations in own country that fly in the face of all that is peaceful.  What does it matter if we seek a way of peace for ourselves this Advent?  How will it make a difference in the world?

I boldly say it makes a vast difference.  Just as loose change adds up to dollars, small bits of peace dent the noise around us.  Peace begets peace.  Peace can be something as simple as a smile.  When you smile at someone, they will return the smile.  When you say hello, they will respond in kind.  Physiologically, these acts send good nutrients to our brains.  A kind act of peace will encourage the other person to do the same.  Some of my most tender and remembered moments have been when someone has visited an unexpected kindness on me or when I have shown a small kindness to someone else.  When we realize we belong to each other, no matter our differences, we are headed the way of peace.

There is no path to peace

Our own peace reflected outward is how we create peace in the world.  Seeking peace in ourselves and in our worlds – that is peace.  Choosing to respond to our world in a way of peace and not anger or indifference, is peace.  Meaningfully finding ways to accept our own life, wrapped in a context of peace, is peace.

Peace doesn’t mean to not have chaos or angst.  All of us have parts of our lives that are not how we wish them to be.  Peace describes how we respond to the chaos and the angst.  Peace is the God in me seeing the God in you and letting that vision rule my heart and my responses, knowing peace is the path.

Peace I leave with you

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

During the Last Supper, Jesus prepared his disciples for a world after he has left them.  Thomas asks how they will know the way to him if they don’t know where he is going?   Jesus answers, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  He goes on to say if they love him, they will keep his commands.  He promises that God will give them help through the Holy Spirit, who “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  He tells them, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”  And finally he tells them, “Peace I leave with you and my peace I give you.”

This Advent, we will reflect on the way of peace. As we ready ourselves and our hearts for the baby Jesus, we will consider Jesus’ life as a guide to the way of peace.  We will look for ways to walk in peace in our daily lives, in our prayers, in our own keeping of Jesus’ words.  We will look for the way of peace through hope we can offer others.  We will explore the way of peace by the way that we love, by remembering we belong to each other.  We will exult our way of peace through the joy we find in His world and the joy we scatter for others.  Finally, we will share the way of peace by showing the peace that flows within us and recognizing that peace in others, knowing peace is the path.  When we come to the night when the star shone bright, we will stand in the sanctuary, singing Silent Night, Holy Night while the peace of God wraps around us, sending us on our way knowing the true gift that is Christmas.

Peace Be With YouPeace Be With You  Song Link

Life so full I give to you
As the Father sends me so I send you
Spread my light throughout all life
Peace be with you


Dear God,
Ready us, as we journey again through the Advent season, preparing our hearts to seek Jesus through his peace.  Still us, so that we can absorb your peace and not stay the same.  Let our hearts rest in your peace so we can whisper it into our days.    HelpPrayer candle us keep it close in our everyday, reminding us, challenging us to act in peace. Hear our thanks in our songs and our prayers for bringing us a tiny babe that granted us your unworldly peace.  In Glory, Amen.