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Repairing the world

Some days, we wake up in a world that is not a friend of grace. At least, it doesn’t feel so.
This past Thursday put a spotlight on what we know to be true, we live in very broken world. I’ve had many conversations from different parts of the country. All have been tainted with pain. And it hurts my heart.
Talking with a friend in the grocery, we shook our heads as if to say, “Where do we find sanity and sanctuary? And where do we find hope?” “It helps when I distinguish between big world and small world,” he said to me.
With that, a light bulb came on. You see, with big world, news is in your face and stoked with anger. No wonder we feel as if our control is demoted. And we ask, how can I make a difference in a broken world?
Well that’s just it, we make a difference in the small world. The small world is the place where we stand. Today. Where we care and give a damn. And hug and give and try and love and fall down and get up and repent and cry and embrace and challenge and reconcile and heal.

Jeffrey Rubin tells the story about a young man who found a wallet on the street. It belonged to a city police officer. He found the precinct and returned the wallet that he found.
The detective was grateful and surprised. “Thank you,” he said to the young man. “Here’s forty dollars.”
The young man replied, “Thanks, but if I wanted the money, I would have kept the wallet.”
Makes me smile. Yes. Making a difference in the small world with compassion free of ulterior motive and straight from the heart. The path we walk (the choices we make), is not arbitrary, or because we mentally assent to a certain creed. It is guided by and fueled by an identity that is grounded in and spills from sufficiency, and not scarcity. Sufficiency is that place where Grace is received and given freely.  Sufficiency where we remember Jesus’ words to each of us, “You are the light of the world.” He didn’t ask us to make the light. Just shine it.
When I live from scarcity, I lose my mooring. I’m driven by “not enough.” I clutch, and I blame.
When I live from sufficiency, I am not compensating for what is missing, the world does not make me hate, I trust my heart, and any assumed scarcity (of kindness and compassion) does not get to say how the story ends.

But how? And where do we begin in a broken world?
There is a well-known story concerning a Rabbi who came across the prophet Elijah, and asked him: “Tell me—when will the Messiah come?”
Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.”
“Where is he?” asked the Rabbi.
“He’s sitting at the gates of the city,” said Elijah.
“But how will I know which one is he?”
The Prophet replied, “He is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and bind them up again, but he unbinds only one at a time and binds them up again, saying to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed; if so, I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.’”
In his book The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen adds, “What I find impressive in this story are these two things: first, the faithful tending of one’s own woundedness and second, the willingness to move to the aid of other people and to make the fruits of our own woundedness available to others.”

I’ve known about the story of the wounded healer for many years.  I first read it in seminary.  I understood it cerebrally.  Now, I get it, in my gut.  I just don’t like those wounded (flawed, broken) parts of me.
But I do know what it is to be wounded.  Though I do my very best to hide it.  I see nothing good there. But what if?  What if brokenness is not a “fixable problem,” but an opportunity for grace and love and ministry?
Many of us live under the illusion that one of these “experts” has created a life to die for, to be emulated.  If that’s the case, knock yourself out, but just remember that there’s no one to complain to when you find out that, in the end, you—the flawed and broken you—can be a pretty trustworthy guide on this expedition we call life.
Nouwen writes, “Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?”  When we do, we are Tikkun Olam, repairers of the world.

This week I read Gracie; Love is Blind, about the power of shining light in our small world even in our woundedness. Gracie is a Petite Basset. And Gracie is blind. “Life doesn’t always go as planned and love doesn’t always make sense,” Patsy Swendson writes. “I was to be profoundly blessed to witness Gracie as she would take control of rooms full of patients or in private visits with warriors returning from combat missing arms, legs or eyes. She commanded these moments and filled them with nonjudgmental love and warmth. I am certain that Gracie was put on this earth to help alleviate pain, if only for a moment. To know that you are loved unconditionally, completely and wholly, can allow you to take the first step toward learning to be who you are despite what has happened to you… she offered light in places where people needed it the most… Gracie has been a heart healer from the first moment I saw her.”

So where do we begin in our broken world? In our small world? Rear Admiral Thornton Miller Chief was the Chaplain at Normandy in WWII. Someone asked him, “Up and down the beach, with the shells going everywhere, why did you do that?”
“Because I’m a minister.”
“But didn’t you ask if they were Catholic or Protestant or Jew?”
“If you’re a minister, the only question you ask is, ‘Can I help you?'” 

Here’s the deal: We are all wounded healers (where our wounds cease to be a source of shame and become a source of healing). No, this is not a strategy.  This is a fact.  It spills from those parts of our life that have been broken open, from those parts of us flawed and imperfect. So. What if this is not about accepting imperfection as some kind of divine teaching moment? What if the gift is in the inimitability of our humanity? When we embrace what is already inside, we live from the power of sufficiency.

I love the autumn garden. The plants accept fragility, as if unafraid of the temporal and the broken. They have only this moment, days with golden light. Absent now is the manic pace of a spring garden. And the plants shine without striving.
I am addicted to golf, so spent this morning watching the Ryder Cup, a team event, US against Europe. Europe won convincingly, and it showcased the power of being a team. And the joy in celebration.

Quotes for your week…
I need something to believe in
Breathe in, sanctuary in the
Easy silence that you make for me.
The Dixie Chicks

Notes: 1. A variation of this story appears in a discussion in the Talmud–Sanhedrin 98a

Our eCourse Sanctuary begins this week… there is still time to join us.  Here’s the information you need.


The great mystery of God’s love is that we are not asked to live as if we are not hurting, as if we are not broken.
In fact, we are invited to recognize our brokenness as a brokenness
in which we can come in touch with the unique way that God loves us.
The great invitation is to live your brokenness under the blessing.
I cannot take people’s brokenness away and people cannot take my brokenness away.
But how do you live in your brokenness?
Do you live your brokenness under the blessing or under the curse?
Henri Nouwen


What I see, from the airplane
Off to the west
​​​​​​​I see Mount St. Helens
​​​​​​​her crown rising
sitting on a​​​​​ textured
​​​​​​​and layered cloud cover.
A blanket of fleece.
​​​​​​​The sun glistens
​​​​​​​off a snow face
now ​​​​​​​wearing the scars
​​​​​​​and visible evidence
​​​​​​​of damage.
​​​​​​​A history, a past, a story.
​​​​​​​and heartrending.
​​​​​​​A world altered forever
​​​​​​​Now identified, known
​​​​​​​and celebrated
​​​​​​​for its disfigurement.
​​​​​​​No different than our own lives,
​​​​​​​waiting for the sun to touch
​​​​​​​whatever wounded us.
Terry Hershey

Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love,
unconditional, everlasting love.
​​​​​​​Henri Nouwen







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