Physician Richard Selzer describes a scene in a hospital room after he had performed surgery on a young woman’s face: I stand by the bed where the young woman lies, her face, postoperative; her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, one of the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be that way from now on. I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut this little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to be in a world all their own in the evening lamplight… isolated from me… private. Who are they? I ask myself… he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously.
The young woman speaks.
“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”
She nods and is silent.
But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “it’s kind of cute.”
All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with the divine. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to her; to show her that their kiss still works.
In a national survey this past week, the top three words to describe 2020; exhausting, lost and chaotic. (Washington Post)
No surprise; it’s been a heavy, heavy year; physically, mentally, financially, and spiritually. Conversations with so many whose Christmas tables will include empty chairs. Made more difficult because grieving is for many, now only virtual.
Covid has wreaked havoc and caused destruction like a tornado, meaning we won’t know the damage until we can go through the rubble.
So, here’s my confession. If I give in to the mental exhaustion, I begin to believe (and internalize) that empathy can be overwhelmed, compassion can seem helpless, suffering can be too much to comprehend, and the level of public quarrel too much to absorb. Mercy.
And it doesn’t help that we look for comfort through orchestrating our world—wanting all ducks carefully and neatly in a row. And then… life happens.
“Life,” Lucy tells Charlie Brown, “is like a deck chair.”
“Like a what?” asks Charlie Brown.
“Like a deck chair. Some people put their deck chair at the front of the ship so they can see where they are going. Some people put their deck chair at the rear of the ship so they can see where they’ve been. On the cruise ship of life, Charlie Brown, which way is your deck chair facing?”
“I haven’t figured out how to get mine unfolded yet.” says Charlie Brown.
Ahhhh. Wisdom. Bless you Charlie Brown.
And here’s the deal: Tender and fragile is okay. There is nothing to fear.
While I may have no magic to heal the pain and loss of others, or power to erase suffering from the world, I can stay grounded, and do what I can to help one person at a time (even myself), with small acts of kindness—to show people that their kiss still works. And who knows, maybe small acts of kindness will make heroes of us all.
Part of the weight is this: when I’m exhausted, it’s tempting to want to fix or make things right. And I forget the power of pausing, breathing, embracing, savoring, finding joy and grace and well-being… in the sacred present.
When we acknowledge the broken places (where nerves have been cut) (or unfolded deck chairs), there is now an open space, a place for gestation and receptivity (what the Japanese call “hollowness to the divine”), where new things are hatching and being born, if only we do not panic. These are the times and places from which we can truly and wholeheartedly, give of ourselves.
–These are the times (albeit “nonproductive”) when new things are hatching and being born in the darkness… if only we do not panic.
–These are the times when we will learn compassion (what in Buddhism is called bodhicitta, the awakened heart).
–These are the times when the unbearably wounded will themselves emerge as healers and leaders.
–These are the times when we know that there is a place from which we can truly and wholeheartedly, give of ourselves, remembering that we are healers, restorers, and lovers of every kind.
Which begs the question: What do we do with our brokenness? Henri Nouwen suggests that we need to “embrace it.”
Because we are beloved of God, we can dare to embrace and befriend our own brokenness; and in befriending, to really look at it: “Yes, I am hurting. Yes, I am wounded. Yes, it is painful. And… I no longer need be afraid.”
Conceptually, I get it.
But how do I have to invite my brokenness into my life? Or, how do I embrace it (as Mary Oliver says, “row toward the embattlement”)? We start here: No one of us is on this journey alone. Remembering that every one of us has been warmed by fires we did not build; and drunk from wells we did not dig.
It is winter solstice. And tomorrow there will be a wee bit more daylight. But tonight, a marvelous gift: A “Christmas Star”: Jupiter and Saturn will almost appear to collide, becoming one super-bright point of light (looking like a “double planet” for first time since Middle Ages). Check it out.
It is a chilly wet gray day here. On my walk this morning, I’m missing the sheep, and undeniably on the lookout for a new “congregation”. Each morning Seagulls gather on the fifth fairway. But they are loud and fidgety. I smile, and tell them they remind me of my time in youth ministry, and make me need a nap.
The golf course is also a way station for Canada geese. They gather daily, and when I stop to chat, they give me the look, like I’m trespassing on their land.
“I’ll stop back another time,” I tell them.
“You’re the guy who talks to the sheep,” one says. “We heard about you.”
A blessed Christmas and holiday season to each and every one.
Quote for your week…
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 (Lecture at Scarritt-Bennett Center)
Note: I am so grateful you are a part of the Sabbath Moment Community. We do walk one another home. Thank you for being with me every Monday (and many for Daily Dose). You have kept me going. That’s the truth. May this new year be one of acceptance, love, forgiveness, and hope for each of us until the end of God’s time (A tip of my hat to Maria Shriver).
I’m grateful for those who have joined us for the NEW Sabbath Moment Daily Dose. Tuesday through Friday. A quote, a paragraph and a prayer to refuel us. Daily nourishment. This is in addition to Monday’s Sabbath Moment.
My new book is here. Order today. The Gift of Enough–a journal for the present moment (Franciscan Media).
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SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD
Today’s Photo Credit: “Dear Terry, I am appreciating and cherishing the Sabbath Moment Daily devotions. Your words speak to me so profoundly. I am living and working in Japan and because of the pandemic have been unable to visit family in the US for the past ten months and it will be June next year before I will be able to come home. Your devotions bring me comfort and strength to continue doing my job here as a school counselor and provide empathy and care for my middle school students and the faculty and staff in our school community. Thank you. You are a blessing. I was fortunate to have two days to get away from the city this past weekend and enjoy the island of Oshima, just off the coast of Japan. My friends and I were treated to two stunning sunsets. God Bless you, Jackie Douglass… Thank you Jackie… Keep sending your photos… send to firstname.lastname@example.org
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Dear Terry, Sabbath Moments puts a smile on my face and is a gift of calm in our ever-present storm of life. Thanks. Carole
–Thank you, Terry, for the wonderful email this morning… although I know it went out to many, I somehow felt it was just for me! I’m not sure what I would do if you decided that your Sabbath Moment was not on your priority list… it jump starts my week! I am very grateful! Attached is what I call the “Almost” Christmas Star. I have begun the watch as Jupiter and Saturn get closer and closer…I know the weather will not be ideal each night … but tonight it is perfect… I am ever grateful for my life and the beauty around me! I wish for you a smooth transition and a 2021 full of peace and grace! You are a lifeline to many and for that I am grateful! Mary
–Oh my… your daily dose has been my lifeline. Each morning I spend so much time in prayer. Thank you for your wisdom, care, and concern. So happy your move went smoothly. I’m sure the sheep miss you, but you find beauty and peace wherever you roam. I get that when I read you in the morning, Raedene
–Dear Terry, The first fingers of morning light are coaxing dark into light as I read your news of moving and beginnings. My heart is full for you for all that is to come and be. Thoreau’s words come to mind: “Live in each season as it passes: breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit and resign yourself to the influence of each.” Blessings “difference maker” Linda
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The best thing about brokenness is loving it. Mary Lee Schaded
The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
The sheep huddled against this big rock.
Jake keeps watch while I wrestle with sleep:
—wool prices down, third year
—owner talks of selling out
—Jake and me—Where do we go?
—Martha’s carrying our fifth child
—rumors that Herod’s at it again,
—this time killing babies.
—Same old story:
the Empire trades in fear.
Where can we run?
Like papa says, “I hate being poor.”
Then a light out of the sky.
Am I asleep already?
I hear voices.
A rumor, they say:
A refugee couple living in a box
Had a baby. Screaming. Cold. Hungry.
The voices are singing,
“All will be well,”
All will be well.”
Like papa says, “Dreaming is the only
hope poor folks have.”
Harry C. Kiely
(Co-author of One Nation, Many Gods, retired UMC clergy)