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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Happy Thanksgiving?

Editor’s note: Thanks to Chris Cairo for this Thanksgiving reflection. 

Recently I was traveling with customers who were from London England, and in discussing schedules the fact that Thanksgiving was coming up prompted the question from one of my English friends:

“Exactly what is Thanksgiving, and what are you giving thanks for?”

I started with a poor summary of the history of the pilgrims, but ended with the simple thought ‘we give thanks to God for all He has given us’.

I know my friend who asked the question is not a church-goer, as we have discussed religion before, and the English are not very religious. The conversation moved on, but I was glad to have had the opportunity to bring God into the conversation, even if just for a moment.

Hill cross --Advent program--from Julie McCarty--smaller with sigWhat about on Thanksgiving Day? Do we bring God into our conversation? …maybe just for a moment??

Psalm 95:1-2; “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.”

It sure sounds like Thanksgiving should be joyful…and last longer than a moment.

Thursday, how will you give thanks to God? Will it be for a moment while someone says Grace before you eat? Or will it be all day? Everyday?

If you take the time to think about all you have been given, you will find you have much to be thankful for. Thanking God, is the least we can do.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris

Chris Cairo is a member of Easter Lutheran’s Vision Board. 

Grateful with a Chance of Grump

Autumn Lubin writes: 

It’s a foggy day at the end of October. Thickly plush, the fog envelopes the world like a soft, silky blanket. When I was little, someone told me that fog is how God hugs us. That may be why I find fog so comforting. Wrapped up in the blanket of God, I say a prayer of gratitude for all the physical reminders God places around our world to remind us we are loved.

Foggy hillsides--photo Julie McCarty

(click on photo to enlarge)

Most of the time, I find the prayer of gratitude an easy one to send up. So, so much has been given to me in this world. How could I not be grateful for it all? Well, God made us in this quirky human form, that even when we are surrounded by a bounty of gifts of people, riches, experiences, nature and love, we will find the one thing that is missing or not quite right. That place where curmudgeon and envy live in our souls and snatches away the gratitude, replacing it with a lump of grumpy dissatisfaction.

I’ve been working on prayer that leads me from my lump of grump and back to gratitude. A favorite quote reminds me that being grateful is the only true response.

“You cannot be grateful and bitter. You cannot be grateful and unhappy. You cannot be grateful and without hope. You cannot be grateful and unloving. So just be grateful.” –(Author Unknown)

In Timothy 4:4 – 5, we read:

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”

I pray for these words to enter deeply and become the blood that pumps my heart. Breathe in heaven, breathe out gratitude.

I’ve come to find that gratitude is an intentional place in us. It doesn’t just spring from us. It requires sight and insight. It requires a desire to appreciate all of what is ours, that which we love and that we dislike very intensely and everything in between. It demands something I call painful gratitude – finding the gift in even that which hurts, angers, humiliates, makes us cry and saying a prayer of thanks. Not every gift we are given is one we recognize or understand its value or purpose. But as I was taught as a child, you say thank you even if don’t like it, don’t want it, don’t know what it is or already have it. With a smile.

The sun has set now and the darkness has vanquished the fog from my vision. But I know it remains outside my window. Gently blanketing my home, I lean back in God’s love and say thank you. Thank you for it all. I will remember to take each and every gift with grace and want for nothing more. This is what I pray. And then I pray for the grace I’ll need to honor my promise because I know some other day, maybe tomorrow, I will find myself again with a lump of grump obstructing my view of gratitude.

How do you practice gratitude?

How do you find you way back when your lump of grump is getting in your way?

~~~

Autumn is a writer, educator and a non-profit consultant. More importantly, she is a wife, mom, grandma, cousin, friend, neighbor and owned by a dog and two cats. You can reach her at amlubin@gmail.com.