With skin on it

A little boy was having nightmares. The kind that require a momma’s reassurance. (Dads, from my own experience, are typically not wired for nightmare duty.) So, to his momma’s room the boy went, “Momma, momma, I’m having nightmares.”
“Its okay honey,” she told him, “here’s what I want you to do. Go back to your room, kneel down by your bed, pray to Jesus and he’ll fix it.”
Back to his room, the boy knelt by his bed, prayed to Jesus, hopped back in bed, and… more nightmares. All momma’s know this story. Back and forth to momma’s room, throughout the night.
On the sixth visit, “Momma, I know, I know, I’m going to go back to my room. I’m going to kneel down by my bed and pray to Jesus and he’ll fix it. But before I do that, can I just lay in bed with you and have you hold me?”
“Sure honey, why?”
“Because sometimes I need Jesus with skin on it.”
To that I say, Amen.

If you are like me, there is a good deal of comfort in identifying life as a series of problems to be solved (or messes to be tidied up).
If there’s a pill, I’ll take it.
If there’s a clever book, I’ll buy it. (You can’t beat, How to fix everything, for dummies.)
If there’s a can’t-miss-prayer, I’ll pray it.
After all, Jesus will fix it.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against problem solving. More often than not, I’m for it. But here’s the thing… life—wellbeing, wholeness—is not just about the fixing. Or finding the right answer.

Because here’s the deal: The little boy knew the secret. Life is to be found in the embrace. In the presence of the other. In the touch, we can be present.
As our southern kin might say, “That’ll preach.” Yes… that’ll preach regardless of your faith or creed. That’ll preach even if you are not a member of any particular faith group. That’ll preach even if you don’t believe. Because in the touch, we can be present.

This is the freedom and the power of the incarnation: the immediacy of the present moment. That the Holy (the sacrament of the present moment) has skin on it.
Bottom line? This changes the way we live and relate.
So, before we fix anything (or resolve it or move on), let us live it—bring my whole heart to feel it, see it, know it, and taste it in all its messy, quirky, complicated, problematical and confusing richness and fullness. Why?
Because God (or whatever name you choose for the holy) is here.
In this moment.
In this conversation.
In this embrace.
In this confusion.
In this untidiness.
Even in this nightmare.

Scottish minister George MacLeod tells the story about his young daughter’s first day of school. “I was busy. I was writing letters. I was self-important. My little daughter was going to school that morning for the first time. She came into my room, in her first school uniform. I said, ‘Your tie is not quite straight.’ Then I looked at her eyes. She wasn’t crying. She was unutterably disappointed. She hadn’t come for tie inspection. She had come to show she was going to school for the first time. A terrific day, and I had let her down… I ran downstairs. I said all the right things. I crossed the road with her. I went to school with her. I had missed the moment, missed the point. I will always see these eyes. Sometimes when I am very busy. Sometimes when I am writing letters. I am forgiven, but I won’t forget.”

To be honest, so much of what I wish for is the unmessy.
But the little boy’s story is about empowerment to walk into the fray and tussle with skin in the game.
My need for control prevents me from seeing. If it is only about accurate answers or approved solutions or correct theology, I concentrate on having a better faith, or enviable devotion or superior morality. And, like George MacLeod or the young mother, I too easily remove myself from the moment. And when than happens, I do not see. Or more accurately (to quote St. Benedict), I do not “Listen with the ear of my heart.”

In her poignant memoir, Eat This Bread, Sara Miles writes, “There was an immediacy of communion at St. Gregory’s, unmediated by altar rails, the raw physicality of that mystical meal. There was an invitation to jump in rather than official entrance requirements. There was the suggestion that God could be located in experience, sensed through bodies, tasted in food; that my body was connected literally and mysteriously to other bodies and love without reason.” I love the image. It is so much bigger than my creed. Or my church affiliation.
St. Ignatius called one of the spiritual exercises, Finding God in All Things.
In both the nightmares and the prayers.
In the untidy school uniform, and in the tears.
In the blunders, and in the serendipitous.
In the loved one, and in the outcast.
It led St. Benedict to write (in The Rule), “Let everyone that comes be received as Christ.”
Count me in…
I choose to inhabit my days,

to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart 
(Thank you Dawna Markova.)

If that is true, I need to be ready today. I will meet, and I will be, Jesus with skin.

I wanted to tell this story this week because I needed a hug. Not answers. A hug. And I know I am reluctant to ask. And I see so many people in our world who are famished in their spirit, undone by disaster and life’s calamities. They need to be seen. They need to be held.
Pictures of Puerto Rico continue to tear at our hearts, infrastructure woes, where isolation is real, “They have forgotten us,” one survivor is quoted. I resonated with San Juan’s Mayor, quoted in the NYT this morning, “You can’t make life better if you are in a helicopter. You can’t make life better if you can’t touch them.”
Yes, with skin on it. Let us find a way to reach out and help our extended family in Puerto Rico.

Autumn is here. The leaves begin to liter the pathways, café, auburn, ginger, orange and russet. Off the back patio, the Bloodgood Maple begins its transformation to leaves of wine red.

Quotes for your week…
One reason we don’t have peace is that we have forgotten that we belong to one another. Mother Teresa
Faith isn’t an argument, a catechism, a philosophical proof. It is instead a lens, a way of experiencing life, and a willingness to see. As the Bible says: Taste and see. Sara Miles

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POEMS AND PRAYERS

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.
Dawna Markova

A Time to Be Silent
There must be a time when we cease speaking
to be fully present with ourselves.
There must be a time when we exclude clamor
by listening to nothing whatsoever.
There must be a time when we forgo our plans
as if we had no plans at all.
There must be a time when we abandon conceits
and tap into a deeper wisdom.
There must be a time when we stop striving
and find the peace within.
Amen.
David O. Rankin (U.U. Minister San Francisco)


 

 

 

 

 

 

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