I remember you, Grandpa Tom.
Resilience forged in World Wars and dust bowls.
Kindness shaped by love and generosity.
Faith cultivated in times of struggle and uncertainty.
You grew vegetables in the back yard,
Three rotated crops,
Food harvested from March to November.
That was the way your people survived.
The garden — a statement of faith
In the One who created the seeds, the sun, the rain.
The garden you called your “Fitness Center.”
In these days of pandemic, I remember you.
Your resilience, your kindness, your faith.
I think of you, at the end of my day, when I put on my work clothes
And walk out the door to my “Fitness Center.”
Trimming bushes, sowing seed, spreading mulch.
Hoping that I, too, in this time of challenge
Might be a person of resilience, kindness, and faith.
When the 9/11 attacks happened, I was in Colorado on vacation and away from television. We had scheduled a hike on that day and decided that since there wasn’t anything helpful we could do, a hike would be a perfect response — a sort of physical prayer. The images I remember from that day are mountains and water, fragile flowers and blue sky. It wasn’t until over a week later when we were finally able to fly home that I saw all the images of devastation. I’m grateful that pictures such as the one above are what I associate with that terrible day.
I know that anniversaries of tragedy are especially difficult. It’s been over 25 years since my mom died and I still feel the loss deep in my spirit when that date comes around every year. I cannot imagine the pain I would feel if her death was a part of such a gigantic national tragedy. I pray for those for whom this news event brings such deep pain.
This week’s gospel reading from the lectionary is Matthew 18:15-20. Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has wronged him. “Seven times?” And Jesus’ answer, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” And then Jesus goes on to tell a parable about settling accounts.
I’ve been thinking about this scripture falling on the anniversary of 9/11 and wondering what will be preached in churches this Sunday. (I’m grateful that I’m not having to prepare a sermon for such a difficult day!) I’m wondering what God is saying to me, to us, through this scripture and through this season of remembering. I’d like to invite you to take some time to pray the scripture using Alive Now’s Audio Lectio recording.
Here are a few random thoughts from me:
We are a broken and fragmented people. Our culture is divided to the point that we often jump — too quickly — to judgment, labeling, and condemning others rather than seeing them as human, vulnerable, children of God.
Forgiveness is our calling as Christians. It’s perfectly appropriate that we study and pray this scripture at this time.
Yes, we are called to forgive — over and over and over. But forgiveness is a very individual step, part of a process of healing and reconciliation. I cannot say to you, “It’s time for you to forgive.” Forgiveness is a gift given by God at the just the right point in a person’s healing process.
I wonder what Jesus would say to us today? to our national leaders? our faith leaders? to our children?
Share your thoughts. What does it mean to be people of faith in a post-9/11 world? What message is God giving you through this week’s Audio Lectio?
I had every intention of continuing to nurture my Centering Prayer practice. I started working on it in February in anticipation of a special event in my life: becoming a parent. I had visions of early mornings, peaceful moments in the quiet, anchoring my soul to God’s presence to get me through the day, etc., etc., etc.
So … now, it’s happened. I’ve become a parent to an 11-year-old. And my centering prayer practice has gone out the window, along with most of the quiet and peace. (OK, folks. I can hear you laughing even from here!) I’ll have to take a break on the centering prayer until another time.
I first wrote this piece after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. I rewrote it for the sorrow in the world today.
350 dead. … 1,000 dead. … 10,000 dead in one prefecture. Trains, boats, entire villages washed away. Thousands missing. How many will have died when the counting is done? My ears hear, but my mind cannot comprehend these numbers … In this place far away from Tennessee, in a country I do not know and may never visit, people are suffering, people are crying.
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
– Matthew 2:18, NRSV
These words of the prophet Jeremiah apply today, too.
Voices are heard in Tokyo, Sendai, Kesennuma,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers,
friends and strangers weeping …
They refused to be consoled, because they are no more.
What can I say? How can I respond? These grieving, devastated people live so far away. But they are my sisters and brothers. They are children of the Most High, the God who must be weeping, too.
God of Compassion, with you and all the world family, we weep and mourn. Comfort all who are alone or afraid, who wail in loud lamentation, who cry silently. Let us be your heart reaching out to those who grieve. Let us be your hands working to assist those who still live. For you are the God who stands with the least and the lost. Come by here, Lord. Come by Sendai, Minamisoma, Ichihara, and Tokyo. Come by all the places that need your comforting and healing presence. Amen.
[I wrote this article after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. But I return to it as new disasters occur and I find myself overwhelmed by tragedy. 2010 has been a difficult year — from the earthquake in Haiti to the Nashville floods to the Gulf oil spill. How do we care without numbing?]
The earth seems to in great chaos — shootings, wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, oil spills, floods, tornadoes. As we follow story after story of heartbreaking disaster, I wonder: “How can I continue to see, to hear, to read about these tragedies of human life? How can the aid workers continue to do their tasks as they hear the stories, see the losses, attempt to respond to the incredible needs? How can the survivors reach out to others when they have lost so much? How do they do it? And how did Jesus continue to care for people, day after day after day?”
JESUS MODELS CARING
The scriptures tell us that people followed Jesus everywhere. There were so many people with so many needs around him all the time. And Jesus met the needs of those people — touching them, healing them, feeding their spirits and their bodies. Jesus’ eyes saw the hurt; his ears heard the crying; his hands touched the wounded places; and surely, his heart felt pain — their pain, his pain — at seeing so many people with so many needs. I wonder, “Did Jesus ever experience compassion fatigue?” (I surely do.)
The scripture also tells us a little bit about how Jesus dealt with all the needs around him.
First, Jesus took action: He spoke with people. He touched them. He listened to them. He healed them. He gave of himself whenever he could. We can’t and don’t need to be Jesus; but we, too, can take action. Many of us can give financially or donate material goods to those in need. We can participate in community events responding to the disaster. We can help our families, friends, and children think of ways to take action.
Second, Jesus prayed: He lived his life through a series of “holy moments.” He sought God. He listened to God. He made time for his relationship with God. We can “pray the news.” Whenever we hear, see, or read about the disaster, say a prayer. Let that intersection become a way that you connect with God, asking God to be present to those in need around the world. Write a prayer list and pray it at least once a day.
Third, Jesus took time apart: He went away in a boat. He went up the hill and left his disciples behind. He sought out times to be alone with God. We can take time apart also. It may not seem that it’s ever possible, but think about the times in the day when you are alone. Standing in line at a store, driving in the car, sitting at your computer … these are times when you can take some deep breaths and turn your attention to God. Time apart for us today might mean “time away from the media.” Take a daylong fast from the news. Instead of watching the news, take that time to meditate or read the scriptures. Allow God to take care of the hurting places in the world by turning the world over to God during that day.
CARING FOR OURSELVES
Intense pain in the world and in our lives can be distressing and overwhelming, reminding us of our own grief and sadness. Just as Jesus took time away from hurting people, we also need to take care of our physical, mental, and spiritual selves.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, try praying this “rope’s end” prayer by Flora Slosson Wuellner:
As I think about how I can respond to the people, the pain, the tragedies that surround me, may I remember Jesus’ example: his compassion, his action and interaction, his life of prayer, and his trust in God.
Loving God, touch and heal the hurting all around the world. Give us wisdom, compassion, and loving hearts to respond as members together in the family of God. Help us to follow the example of Jesus in our actions, in our spiritual lives, in our families and communities. Show us how to love without tiring, to care without numbing, to pray without ceasing. Amen.
Excerpted from a sermon I preached on Psalm 23, April 20, 2010, Scarritt-Bennett Center, Nashville, TN.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” – Psalm 23:1, NRSV
I wonder — Who are your shepherds?
My dad — Charles Richardson — is one of my shepherds. I grew up watching him every Sunday morning as he led worship in little Methodist churches in Oklahoma. Because of him, I wanted to work in the church. Dad gave me many gifts–love of nature, music and photography. When I was ordained, he was here to lay hands on me in the ordination service.
Now he’s walking through the shades of death … the disease of Alzheimer’s. Every day, his world shrinks just a little bit more. When I was with him two months ago, we sat and ate dinner with my brother and Anna, my step mom. Dad said to me, “So, tell me where you have lived.”
I answered, “Well, I was born in Norman, you know, and then we moved to Mooreland.”
Dad said, “Oh, I did a stint there in Mooreland. What’s your last name?”
“It’s Richardson,” I said. (My heart was getting heavy.)
“Well,” he exclaimed, “My last name is Richardson! Who’s your daddy?”
I said, “You’re my dad! I’m your daughter, Beth.”
He turned and looked at Anna and she nodded to him and said, “That’s Beth. She’s your daughter.” He looked a little uncertain, and then he stood up, opened his arms to me and said, “I need to give you a hug.” I stood up and we hugged — a good, long embrace.
We sat back down at the table and he listened as I told him about myself: how I had been to seminary, was ordained in the United Methodist Church, worked at The Upper Room, had written a couple of books. He was delighted to know who I have become.
Our dinner conversation turned to other things, and then he turned to me and asked, “Do you know my daughter?” And I said, “Yeah. Isn’t she great?” As the rest of us chuckled, he looked at me closely and said, “Oh. You’re her, aren’t you?”
I know there are so many like him — wandering through dark valleys of illness or depression or struggle.
My dad’s shepherd is his wife. He is tethered to life through her presence. But there will soon come a time when he doesn’t know her as his wife. And he will depend on shepherds who will care for him even though he may not know who they are. It’s heartbreaking to think of him in this way, and I trust that God, the great shepherd, will tether his heart in love. That “goodness and love will pursue him every day of his life.”
I need shepherds to guide me through these days of the loss of my Dad. I need to know and trust that he will have shepherds who will take good care of him. And I want to watch for opportunities to be a shepherd to others — to serve, to love, to witness to goodness, to give comfort, to nurture hope.
It’s not an alien life form. It’s a red potato. I found it on the floor in the pantry behind the recycling bin. Who knows how long it had been laying there in the dark, sending out shoots, looking for life. It’s another image in my series of pictures on growing in adversity — how living things (including people) are able to survive and grow in the face of overwhelming circumstances.