Small gestures of grace
Andre Dubus wrote stories about regular people, like bartenders, mechanics, waitresses and the like. In 1986, after publishing several books of short stories, Dubus stopped to help a woman and a man stranded on the side of the highway, and he was hit by a passing car. Dubus saved the woman’s life by throwing her out of the way, but he lost one of his legs and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
He wrote, “Some of my characters now feel more grateful about simple things—breathing, buying groceries, sunlight—because I do.”
“The real voyage of discovery,” Marcel Proust wrote, “consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
In Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote that “he allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
What a gift. And here’s the deal: Rebirth is not just for getting my act together, or punching a ticket for eternity, but a reclamation of a part of me that has been buried or lost or forgotten.
There is no doubt that we are living in a time of rebirth, when life invites us (maybe even obliges us) to give birth to ourselves again. With all due respect to the church of my youth, I have been born again and again and again, and each time, I have found a life and a world to love with all my heart.
Because there are times when I forget. That the light—of compassion and empathy and kindheartedness and gratitude (humanity)—spills from ordinary lives, in ordinary moments, one gesture at a time. One moment of wonder at a time. One moment of being fully alive, fully awake, fully present, at a time. (And yes, even in moments tainted by crisis and tragedy, as each ordinary moment is the hiding place for the holy.)
As I write this, many find yourself in the crosshairs of the debate about going back to “church” (meaning back to a building). Thank you John Pavlovitz for this, “That’s the beautiful truth of these dark days: even in the middle of a terrifying pandemic, even when schedules are interrupted, even when chaos is ever-present, even when people are scattered, even when buildings filled with chairs and pews and class rooms are closed—the Church is still the Church and love is still love.”
Yes. That’s another thing we forget; that every day of our lives we are walking sermons in gestures small and heartfelt. That we, in this new and awkward and frustrating and enlivening dance of needing and wanting and caring without the capacity to touch, find the compassionate love of Jesus incarnated in our work and our words. In cards and letters and zoom connections. In artistic creations and phone calls and meals delivered to those who are without. In errands run and masks made and prayers lifted. Each single gesture, a portal to grace with power precisely because of our bigger world uncertainty.
In rebirth, we draw from the well of compassion. Beginning with self-compassion.
We wake up to the affirmation that “what lies behind us, and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
A new core to our own spiritual life, a new sense of gratitude,
a new affirmation of stillness and silence and prayer,
a new appreciation for relationships and community,
a new sensitivity to the vulnerable and the needy,
a new understanding of our own capacity and enoughness,
a new realization that our God has always been too small.
This is not easy. Birth never is. But “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts,” Henri Nouwen writes, “to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
This morning with my congregation, the sheep, I just stood by the fence, and watched, my spirit a bit downcast.
“Are you going to preach,” one asked, “or not?”
“Not today,” I told them. “I just want to talk if that’s okay. And I need you all to listen.”
“Oh good. That’s much better than a sermon.”
“I’m thinking about my other ‘congregation’,” I tell them. “I travel and speak to groups. But now I can’t, and won’t be able to for some time.”
“Do you miss them?”
“Yes, I do.”
In one email this week, “How, exactly, does one find sanctuary and replenishment in the middle of what feels like nationalized craziness?”
Good question. Here are the choices. When life turns left, we can…
Fight it. Pretend it isn’t real. Feel hemmed in and cornered, so there has to be an enemy. We name them. And we draft God to fight on our team. This choice is never good for the blood pressure.
Feed it. Fan the flame with worry and fretfulness, finding solace in Armageddon. This one also needs an enemy and blood pressure medicine.
Numb it. You name it, anything in order to not feel, or see.
Or. We can sit with it a spell. We can listen, notice, pay attention, learn. We can make space for vulnerability and precariousness and grace and humility. We can lay down what encumbers us (anger, restlessness, etc.). And we can invite rebirth.
The cover of my NYT this morning made my heart hurt. A list of 1000 names of the 100,000 lives that have been lost to Covid. With a brief eulogy… Regina Dix-Parsons, 75, Schenectady, N.Y., stalwart church gospel singer. Lakisha Willis White, 45, Orlando, Fla., was helping to raise some of her dozen grandchildren. June Beverly Hill, 85, Sacramento, no one made creamed potatoes or fried sweet corn the way she did…
Last week a milestone. My son, Zach, graduated from The University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA. Virtually of course. Sad, not to see the regalia and pomp and the diploma hand off. But real even so, I’m one proud Papa.
I watched Barack Obama’s video address to graduates, “I hope that you decide to ground yourself in values that last. Like honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others. You won’t get it right every time, you’ll make mistakes like we all do. But if you listen to the truth that’s inside yourself—even when it’s hard, even when it’s inconvenient—people will notice. They’ll gravitate towards you, and you’ll be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”
A blessed Memorial Day to you. And to the memory of the men and women who gave their lives in service. We are grateful.
My garden keeps my soul replenished. And it’s warm enough tonight for wine on the patio.
The Louisiana Iris beginning to bloom. A purple that bundles awe with gladness. Lord have mercy.
Stay safe and healthy my friends.
Quote for your week… “Houses of worship are not essential, but true worship is: ‘When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was thirsty, did you give me a drink? When I was a stranger, did you invite me in? When I was naked, did you clothe me? When I was sick and in prison, did you visit me?’” Rev. William Barber
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Thursday I did a committal service for one that died from COVID-19. The typical prayers just didn’t cut it in a time like this as it is so much an experience of “okay when I wake up this will all have been a bad dream” and then the ‘dream’ is real. There we were, all masked, all gloved, extremely cold and windy for this time of year, even for MI, that added to the already cold spirits and the unbelief. Immediate family was there and some others were there in their cars to offer support but the real support comes when the reality steps in and first will be the experience of Mother’s Day without Mom. Always those Hallmark Days will come and it will stir up all the loss and grief. But, as people of faith, we know that God has those big shoulders that can hold all our denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as we move through those waves over and over. Our prayer must be to give it all to God, not cast blame, and never stay in one of the waves too long. God Bless Us All. Thank you Terry for all you do. KatieD+
–Thank you, Terry! I feel the space in my lungs expand, my body let down, and I remember to let go. In peace and love, Janine
–As a retired Lutheran parish pastor I would first like to thank you so very much for the power of pause eCourse. During this time of staying home, except for walks around a neighborhood, the stories, videos, etc were a real gift. Secondly, I have told people this past Holy Week was the most meaningful since retirement back in 2011. Worshipping with Oceanside daughter and son-in-law and then having coffee hour via zoom, celebrating Passover with same son-in-law, his parents and my wife and daughter via zoom, and finally doing the same for Easter Sunday was very moving. Never felt so connected being disconnected. Thirdly, your Sabbath Moments each Monday are a read God send. A few years back we spent a month in Gig Harbor looking over at your beautiful island, enjoying happy hour each day during one of those few rainless months, always commenting “The mountain is out.” Although all my ministry was and is as a clergy coach in Minnesota, truth be told, I am a Pacific Lutheran University graduate from 1968. Will never forget the mountain or the sound. Pastor Phil “Flip”
–I have loved this Sacred eCourse. I’ve called it the “pandemic pause”! It’s given way to a joyful rhythm during this time of staying safe at home. I’ve referred several friends. I am hoping that I can hang on to the peace and practice of pause when all returns to the way it was. Thank you. M
–Good morning Terry, thank you for the updates. I am a little behind you all as I am working from home and my escape from it all are the quiet Sunday mornings I have to myself away from the busy weeks. I am really enjoying each session and have been taking time each week to send letters of gratitude to whoever comes into my mind during the sessions. It has been healing and life giving when I receive the response from people happy to hear from me and how good they feel after reading my text. Our world is in a state of healing and so I now realize that I too need healing. Healing that I have neglected. So, thank you for making this possible for me. This new opportunity to take time to read, feel, listen, breathe and be in the Holy presence of God. Martina
–This was a very beautiful study (Sacred Necessities). It was just the right time. Simply stated: Thank you! Molly
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
It is a big risk to love deeply, yet not to love is not to live.
We need to love not just for the good stuff,
but simply love for no good reason!
So: Live freely. Sing your heart out.
Cry until all your tears are spent.
Laugh till you can’t even catch your breath.
Dance with wild abandon. And don’t forget to love.
Jesus our rewarding friend,
You knew need.
You knew thirst and hunger.
And so do we.
We praise and honour
The surprising providers
Of comfort and care.
We praise and honour them.
May their work increase.
We praise and honour them
Because without them
“For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose their reward.” Gospel of Mark
Pádraig Ó Tuama
Lord, help me
to live this day quietly, peacefully.
To lean upon
Thy great strength trustfully, restfully.
To wait for
the unfolding of Thy will patiently, serenely.
To meet others peacefully, joyously.
To face tomorrow confidently, courageously.
St. Francis of Assisi