An eleven-year-old girl lived with her grandmother. Labeled “different,” adjustment to school was not easy. Her mother was not a reliable presence. As if life is not tough enough, her father had been recently killed. She knew him only vaguely, and had not seen him in years.
Her school celebrated Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead), building private altars honoring the deceased; using sugar skulls, marigolds, and their favorite foods and beverages; a time for visiting graves with these gifts.
“What does it mean,” the little girl asked a woman who volunteered at her school.
“It’s a three-day window of time when our ancestors who have died can come back. And we leave gifts for them.”
The girl paused, “You mean, like my Dad?”
“Yes,” answered the woman, “like your Dad.”
“I get to keep his wallet,” she said, her gladness unreserved. And then added, “I’m keeping the 60 dollers that was in it.” She paused, “Because he touched it.”
“Life is difficult,” Scott Peck’s Road Less Traveled begins. And even when we’ve finally gotten our “act together,” or risk love or passion or delight or compassion or caring of any kind, we can break or fracture in the hidden places of our heart.
So. What do we do?
I am gratefully drawn to (and refueled by) a story Henri Nouwen tells about his time with the community at L’Arche:
There is one of my friends who is quite handicapped but a wonderful, wonderful lady.
She said to me, “Henri, can you bless me?”
I remember walking up to her and giving her a little cross on her forehead.
She said, “Henri, it doesn’t work. No, that is not what I mean.”
I was embarrassed and said, “I gave you a blessing.”
She said, “No, I want to be blessed.”
I kept thinking, “What does she mean?”
We had a little service and all these people were sitting there. After the service I said, “Janet wants a blessing.” I had an alb on and a long robe with long sleeves.
Janet walked up to me and said, “I want to be blessed.” She put her head against my chest and I spontaneously put my arms around her, held her, and looked right into her eyes and said, “Blessed are you, Janet. You know how much we love you. You know how important you are. You know what a good woman you are.”
She looked at me and said, “Yes, yes, yes, I know.” I suddenly saw all sorts of energy coming back to her. She seemed to be relieved from the feeling of depression because suddenly she realized again that she was blessed. She went back to her place and immediately other people said, “I want that kind of blessing, too.”
I want that kind of blessing too.
I’m keeping it, said the little girl, because he touched it.
My translation? I’m keeping it… because he blessed it.
And yes, I know, our unfortunate reality makes both stories more imperative and heartfelt in a world where we are unable to physically touch, where isolation and loneliness for so many is profoundly real.
And yet, let us never forget, we do not lose our capacity to care. To make space. To be present. To bless and be blessed.
We will find ways. This week, I stood (with two others) at street level outside of UW Medical Center (Cancer Care unit), phone in one hand, looking up eight floors, to wave at my friend Rich, who begins intense treatment for leukemia, a diagnosis this week that shook his world (and the world for those who love him). He stands at the window, we look up, wave, tell stories, find ways to “touch”, to bless and be blessed. My heart hurts for my friend.
Because here’s the deal: Blessing is not separate from fraught or broken lives. On the contrary; we pass this blessing on to one another, even from splintered and imperfect selves. And even in our Covid-world-hugs, there is blessing. (It makes sense to me that the word salvation, from the Latin “salve,” means a balm or ointment to heal.)
Yes, we miss one another… we miss opportunities to love and to touch. But here’s the part that befuddles me. So often when we do touch (or are blessed)—and it does happen very often—we don’t see it. Ahhh, but when we do see it (even when we are broken)… it is the very kiss of God.
I confess: It’s easy to close my eyes, and emotionally take a pass, because I know how to do that. And I can let gloom get the best of me because I know how to do that too. But this isn’t the time for any one of us to be trapped by fear, judgment, demonization or division.
And that’s why I love these stories. They remind me that… Grace wins. Hope wins. Compassion wins. And none of it is tied to a religion or a political party.
So, what am I going to do?
Tomorrow I will wake up with my eyes open.
I will do the good work of loving those whose paths I cross.
I will fight for sanctuary for the broken and the lonely.
I choose to be a voice for compassion and mercy and second chances and healing and hope and grace and inclusiveness and restoration and kindness and bigheartedness.
Will you join me?
Be a voice where you live.
Be the giver and dispenser of blessings.
Know that deep down there is a light that cannot be extinguished by hatred or judgment or cynicism or fear.
Because this is a time for storytelling and music and dancing and listening and joining together and being a presence for mercy and justice.
Sabbath Moment readers are Democrat and Republican. Christian and non-Christian. Catholic and Protestant. Jewish, Buddhist, and still searching or on the journey. Straight, gay, lesbian, black, white, brown. And every single one with a heart. A heart that bleeds. A heart that loves. And I wish for everyone, a blessing.
Out my window, I smile bit at the claret colored leaves on our Bloodgood maple, now reaching past the second floor. When I planted it almost twenty years ago, it was just a little taller than Zach.
A blessed All Saints Day and Día de Muertos.
Oh yes… did you see the moon last night? My Oh My.
Quote for your week…
I think it is very important that when we are in touch with our blessedness, that we can then bless other people. Henri Nouwen
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–OMG, I am overwhelmed by the richness of this “Sabbath Moment”….I will have to come back to this several times to take it all in. In the meantime I am off to sign five documents, and have them notarized and witnessed. Do I sound important? No! These are just the products of much planning over the past 10 months! It has been a schizophrenic challenge to stay in the present while planning for the future. I am grateful is is finished and look forward to more time available to read, write and be present to my life and the lives of others. Thank you, Terry, for being there with your sheep! L, on a beautiful rainy, cold morning…
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Love God. Love a neighbor. Be a neighbor, and let us not complicate things by arguing about the specifics. You know what it means to do love because some time or another you have been on the receiving end of love… If you want the world to look different next time you go outside, do some love. Do a little or do a lot, but do some, and do not forget to get some for yourself… Just do it, and find out that when you do, you do live and live abundantly, just like the man said. Barbara Brown Taylor
My Sweet, Crushed Angel
You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to hold hands with the Beautiful One.
You have waltzed with great style,
My sweet, crushed angel,
To have ever neared God’s heart at all.
Our Partner is notoriously difficult to follow,
And even His best musicians are not always easy
So what if the music has stopped for a while.
If the price of admission to the Divine
Is out of reach tonight.
So what, my dear,
If you do not have the ante to gamble for Real Love.
The mind and the body are famous
For holding the heart ransom,
But Hafiz knows the Beloved’s eternal habits.
For He will not be able to resist your longing
You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to kiss the Beautiful One.
You have actually waltzed with tremendous style,
O my sweet,
O my sweet crushed angel.
This week is a doozey.
If anxiety produced a sound, it would be deafening right now.
Open my ears to the sounds I need most: the wild geese overhead, Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace (1972); the sound of my friend on the other end of the phone; the sugar-high laughter of children who need us to dial down the doom.
If fear could be seen, it would be obscuring everything else.
Open my eyes to the sights that I need most: my puppy underfoot with a toy in her mouth, ready to play; the brightening of my neighbor’s eyes under their mask when I pass them in the stairwell; that sidewalk covered in an oak tree’s fallen leaves like nature’s confetti.
If sorrow could be tasted, the bitterness would overcome me.
Open my mouth to the sweetness I need: words of kindness; deep, unhurried kisses; and absolutely as much Ben and Jerry’s as I deem necessary.
Help me remember that you are in the other side of Tuesday, no matter what.