Friday, April 21, 2006

Pieces of the Puzzle is my favorite place to go on the internet to relax. Choose your picture, choose your puzzle cut, and drag-and-drop until all the pieces fit together and make a coherent picture. Sometimes I think about nothing while I do this. Sometimes I sort through other issues.

A friend spoke today of recent events and conversations in her family and how she felt they must all fit together. She just didn't know how. It was enough, for now, to put them away, like puzzle pieces, and save them all together in the same box. One day, when she knows more about the whole picture, she will be able to put them together, in three dimensions--not just the flat drag-and-drop of the computer monitor--and understand her life in a new way.

"O Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, through paths as yet untrodden through perils unknown."

That's from one of the prayers in the Lutheran Book of Worship's Evening Prayer service. I think it is older than the LBW. It comes, perhaps, from the Book of Common Prayer?

I love the rhythm of the words, how the syllables keep moving forward through the paths and perils and "un" words, like the repetitive shapes of puzzle pieces scattered in confusion across the table. Indeed, we "cannot see the ending." We don't know what that final picture will look like.

We had Mark's Gospel last Sunday for the Easter story--with the abrupt final verses of the book: "And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid." (RSV) (The NRSVs seem to walk away from my desk like they've got feet.)

"They" were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. They took some puzzle pieces with them as they fled the tomb: the rolled-back stone, the young man dressed in white, words like "risen" and "goes before you to Galilee." Trembling and astonished as they were, they tucked these bits of information away in the back of their minds and said nothing to no one.

At least for a while. Something new was happening.

As servants of God we are called to keep moving forward, though we cannot see the ending. Wait a second--forward is pretty much the only way we can go. Time moves in only one direction, at least from where we human beings are standing. It's scary going forward, when we cannot see how the pieces fit. God our Creator endowed us with minds that endlessly try to make sense of things--even at 4 a.m.--but the insight doesn't always fall into place just because we're trying.

The prayer ends: "Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Led by God's hand, pushed along by God's love, seeing where we're going doesn't matter. Pieces of the puzzle may click into place as we pass by, or as sometimes happens to me on Jigzone, the browser quits and the puzzle vanishes when it is only half done.

My friend doesn't have all the answers to her life. I'm looking at lots of questions myself. But courage! Something new is happening.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Full moon

I can see the full moon in the window next to my desk. It's very bright. Slivers of white light slip through the closed slats of the blind. If I move my head the roundness of it appears through the slits, like one of those old fashioned pre-movie camera gadgets where you looked through a slit and spun the drum to make the picture move.

Easter follows the full moon--the first full moon after the vernal equinox. In other words, the first full moon of spring. How delightfully pagan that this most Christian of days is subject to the cycles of the moon.

The moon grows full as the days lengthen and the smell of awakening earth weighs on the night air. The sequence leads inevitably to Holy Week and Easter.

Moonlight meant more in the days before streetlights. You could walk home by the light of the moon. It made the darkness less dangerous.

Did moonlight shine in the Garden of Gethsemane the night that Jesus was arrested, as he prayed? Did it light the streets as he was hauled from priests to Herod to PIlate? Did the light of the moon allow the crowd to gather, allow the people to see each other's faces, so that they fed off each other's fears and became an angry mob? Did the moon rise the next night over the new tomb?

Light is not benign. Sunlight can bleach fabric and burn skin. Moonlight casts sharp shadows where friends watch, wait, betray. Yet we seek light when we want to know what's true. Don't do things in secret, we say, do them in the light of day. Enlighten me. Light a candle and hope. Light makes things possible. My computer screen uses light to show me all the information on the internet.

Jesus said, I am the light of the world. But on Good Friday, he took that almighty light into darkness: the darkness that covered the whole earth, the darkness of the tomb, the impenetrable darkness of death. And brought it back triumphant on Easter Day.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Let us carry it for you

It is an awesome thing to watch the women in my bible study group circle the wagons and move in to help one of our own.

There we were, slugging through Romans 8. Slugging, as in making our sluggish, slow, chapter-by-chapter, digression-by-digression way through the book. (After seven months we're on chapter eight.) We paused a while to consider the Holy Spirit's corner of the Trinity and to think, but not speak, of times when the Spirit has interceded for us with sighs too deep for words (v. 26). (Apparently it is hard to talk of those experiences--no words!) We went on to side-swipe predestination (v. 29-30). We scraped it a bit, but didn't stop to make the full accident report.

But something happened in the middle of all this amateur theologizing. I forget just when, and I don't remember why. But the woman who was speaking had to stop for a moment. Her eyes focused on the wall, the ceiling, as she tried to collect herself. And then she spoke of something that has been bothering her. Deeply. Persistently.

We all listen. We want to help. What does she need? What can we say? We talk of anger, of quirky revelations, of emotional burdens, and of how the dull tasks of daily life provide no significant distraction from the passions that eat away at us from within.

But most tellingly, we talk of sharing the burden. Not the actual anger, worry, hatred and frustration tied to this one story. But the fury and the guilt and the fear of being consumed by it all. Let us take that, we say, and carry it for you until time can heal the other stuff. Till you can feel like yourself again.

"Let us do that for you." It was a familiar phrase. It echoed this woman's own words of comfort to someone else in a similar situation, months ago.

Another of those circle-the-wagons moments: "I don't know what you all will think of me." We said, "Think of you? Oh please, let us think well of you."

"I feel so alone" was the cry in the grey days of mid-winter. "Why do you have to bear it alone?" was the reply. "Let us carry it for you."

And so it goes. We rally around. No one person--not the pastor leading the group, no single stand-out saint--takes the lead. We circle around, and we all bring something to the communal pot: beans, cabbage, seasonings, a spoon, a ladle, garnish. Each gift is offered hesitatingly. Will this make good soup? Is this the right time to add this new thought? A little salt? A little of something else? Is it soup yet? Substantial enough for a soul in need?

We take great care, careful in the way that women are--careful not to offend, not to be offensive. We stay circled until the trail is safe again, for all us.

Eventually, with just a few minutes left before it was time to go, we charged ahead to the end of Romans 8, at full-speed, though we will have to go back and retrace our steps when next we meet. At the finish line was this great crescendo of a promise, one of Paul's best moments:

"For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."

With friends who pick up and carry our crosses for us, making themselves like Christ, even the nasty, brutish stuff inside us will not separate us from God's love.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Stress and Destress

Got an email forwarded to me called "Destress the Christian Way." It's got 36 different suggestions, in small print. More stuff I gotta do, or do better, or do more deliberately. Keep extra keys handy. Go to bed on time. Eat right. (Yup, went to the kitchen for a stack of Oreos.) Allow extra time. Pace yourself.

I get stressed just thinking about all the ways I could organize my life better so that I will be less stressed.

But there were other ideas too. Ones that rely more on being quiet and less in control. Like "talk less, listen more." Laugh. Develop a forgiving attitude. Laugh some more.

And be grateful. The last item on the list says, "Every night before bed, think of one thing you're grateful for that you've never been grateful for before. GOD HAS A WAY OF TURNING THINGS AROUND FOR YOU. 'If God is for us, who can be against us?' (Romans 8:31)"

I wonder what the many different people who have received this email think of this divine promise at the end. What do they want turned around for them? A business? A relationship? A life? Or themselves?

I'm thinking that God doesn't turn "things" around for us nearly as often as God turns us around. God spins us in circles, like we're playing "Pin the Tail on the Donkey." Hands us things in life that confuse us, challenge us, surprise us. When we can again focus on the horizon, we see it differently.

Thinking of things you're grateful for that you've never been grateful for before is a way of saying, God, turn me around. Help me to see how you, God, are for me in all things. I am stressed as I struggle to get my life under control. Yet letting go and, as item 35 in the "Destress" list suggests, reminding myself that I am "not the general manager of the universe" frees me to see the grace of God at work.