A business executive wanted to encourage his staff to take more risks; to understand that life at its best or fullest, means not always playing it safe. At a staff meeting he passed out little pieces of paper, each stamped "Forgiveness Coupon." Each employee received two coupons.
I woke up on the floor of the hotel foyer. I saw a lot of blood. I didn’t remember falling. Let’s just say that my week didn’t go quite as planned.
Brandie and Della had dropped me off, after a speaking event in Spokane, WA where I talked with the Inland Empire Garden Club about how gardening is good for the spirit. Brandie had asked Della to wait before they left the curb. Because of that, she saw me when I fell.
I said, “I’ll be okay,” holding paper towels over my eye and nose. “No,” she said, “you’re going to the hospital.” No reason to argue with a woman, especially when she’s right. They took me to the ER. And stayed until I was discharged.
I learned that while coughing deeply, I passed out, and face planted. The floor won. Who knew? There’s a first for everything.
I’m not a fan of moral lessons for every episode. “Everything happens for a reason,” I heard one preacher say. Well, maybe. But that’s only if you need everything to be tidy.
I’m not sure that life is about tidiness.
Maybe life happens when it’s not tidy. When it doesn’t make sense. When there’s blood on the floor. Paying attention to the life that is, and not just the lessons to be learned.
If I’m impatient to find the lesson, I miss every opportunity to stop and just see. To not rush by. Who knows, maybe to create a window, where I’m open and available to receive.
In a memorable M*A*S*H* episode, there is a wounded bombardier who thinks he is Jesus.
The camp is mixed. Some say he’s crazy, most say he’s doing an act in order to get discharged from the Army.
One person in camp believes him. Radar O’Reilly.
It’s time for the man’s release. Radar walks out to the jeep where the man sits. “Excuse me, Jesus, sir. Could you bless my friend?”
“Yes,” the man replies.
And Radar pulls his Teddy Bear from behind his back. Jesus blesses the bear.
“Excuse me, Jesus, sir. Could you bless me?”
Radar steps back in deference. “Thank you. And my name. It’s not Radar, sir. It’s Walter.”
What is Radar asking for? Many say that to “be blessed” is to be granted God’s favor and protection. To be safe even in the darkest time. (And just for the record, this is not a game rigged in the favor of people with more faith or favor. Blessing plays no favorites.) Other definitions include the bringing of welcome pleasure or relief. Another, to be consecrated or made holy.
Regardless of the definition, there is good news in all of this. We live in a world where we are bombarded–daily–by the need to achieve, or pursue; where we are rewarded by consuming and having more, or by being “somebody.”
So, we create layers between what is and what should be. And we feel less at home.
To be blessed, is to know that place of no striving.
To be blessed, is to know that place of rest and dignity.
To be blessed, is to know that I am loved by a gracious Creator, and that I can own and celebrate my identity–this identity–knowing that it, and it alone, is enough.
So here’s what I believe. If I need my life to be tidy, I’m not available to receive a blessing.
This weekend I’m with the good people at University United Methodist in Syracuse, NY. Their Lenten theme, “Let Justice Roll Down.” My sermon title, “Jesus in Skin.”
Before church, there is a breakfast in the basement. Eggs, sausage, pancakes, gravy, the works. The kind a southern grandmother would cook for her grandson. It’s free to the community. The room is filled with people. Folks from the neighborhood. Some from the street. Some homeless, or under the weight of poverty. A few parishioners and volunteers. So yes. Eccentrics. Loners. Characters. (My swollen face and black eye did not look out of place. My suit did.) It would not be unkind to say that the collection of people at breakfast represents groups we tend to exclude from our churches. We like things tidy. But that’s the best part about grace and mercy… they don’t need tidy.
I confess that I have spent much of my life making sure that I’ve earned enough attention being recognized for the suit. In other words, my resume.
Meaning that I’ve done my best to not be the one with the black eye.
And when I do that, I miss the blessing.
Extraordinarily, blessing begins quite simply… with the affirmation of my name (black eye or no).
Mother Teresa once told a roomful of lepers how much God loved them. She told them that they are “a gift to the rest of us.”
Interrupting her, an old leper raises his hand, and she calls on him. “Could you repeat that again?” he asks. “It did me good. So, would you mind; just saying it again.”
Yes. It did me good. Just say it again please.
We easily forget, don’t we… the cathartic power of grace?
It makes me wonder whether we trust our own goodness. Deep down I know that people tell me their story because there’s a shortage (or an absence) of mercy in their lives. They don’t need answers or advice or for me to make things tidy. They–as do we all–need the boundary of grace. They need a blessing.
Maybe we protect ourselves from it. Is it hard to admit that we need it?
I sit in the ER. Noise hums from monitoring machines. The crackle over the radio, an ambulance calling in reading the vital signs. Conversations between ER staff, “What are you doing for vacation?” “Nothing.”
I like taking it all in. After reading God’s Hotel, and the power of little things on the journey toward healing.
Chatted with the doc while she stitches up my eyebrow. “What do you do?” she asked. “Find ways to help keep people sane in a hurried and distracted world,” I tell her. “Oh, you should come talk to our staff.” “That would be great. I’d be glad to do it in exchange for the ER invoice.”
While I’m passing the time (waiting for the CT scan), I feel equal parts stupid, lucky (no broken bones in my face), inconvenienced, curious, resigned, and listening to my ADD tell me it’s time to get up and go.
Here’s the deal: We need a regular reminder that vulnerability is not a bad crossroads. We do need one another. We do need to look out for permission and freedom to receive. To allow ourselves to be cared for.
There is power in embracing vulnerability. To rest in that touch, that blessing.
Vulnerability is not my strong suit, I prefer self-sufficiency. And rising above.
Self-reliance sounds laudable, but can be an obstacle, because it is difficult to say the words, “Help.” Or “Thank you.”
The hospital cleared me to fly. But rushing past anything where life is real is not always a good idea.
We all know what it’s like to not be seen. Or to be missed. Or misunderstood. Or marginalized. To not be real. (And we tend to exaggerate it all by internalizing the tapes, playing them, Lord knows why, in the end buying whatever rhetoric and fabrication they are selling.)
My face doesn’t look so good. But I was blessed this week.
Given the permission to be, without the need for absolute certainty. Or answers. Or tidiness. Or striving. Not for what I’ve done or failed to do. Just Terry.
A great evening. A tour of the Syracuse University Campus. And dinner with the University UMC staff. I told them I am grateful for their ministry of inclusion and grace and blessing in an upside-down world.
I’ll head home tomorrow. And let the garden heal me. Grateful for the blessings I received from so many this week. And for the realization that there’s no need to hang on to it… so I’ll be looking for ways to pay it forward.
Quotes for your week…
The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. Maya Angelou
Sometimes in life we have to become less to be more. We become whole people, not on the basis of what we accumulate, but by getting rid of everything that is not really us, everything false and inauthentic. Harold Kushner
The eCourse begins today… How to Harness the Power of Pause. It’s not too late to register. If you can, please join us. If you wish to wait for the eCourse in May on Creating Sanctuary, click here for information.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
More than Mundane
If the mundane is
–all there is–
then I cannot ask the big questions.
The one about meaning or
What are we here for? or
Where do I go when I die?
If everything is sacred,
then you are fine
the way you are,
I can do this strange dance
though it may not be how I planned it,
and I learned, everyday that
Robin Heerens Lysne
We hold onto power, we hold onto greed. We hold onto things we don’t really need.
We hold onto hatred, we hold onto fear,
And close ourselves off till we can’t feel you near.
[pause] Open our hands, Lord. Help us let go. Open our minds so your justice may flow.
Open us up so your peace can pour through,
And make our hearts ready, so we can hold YOU. Amen.
by Mark Burrows