There is a story about a kind, quiet man who prays in the Ganges River every morning. One day after praying, he sees a poisonous spider struggling in the water and cups his hands to carry it ashore. As he places the spider on the ground, it stings him. Unknowingly, his prayers for the world dilute the poison. The next day the same thing happens. On the third day, the kind man is knee deep in the river, and, sure enough, there is the spider, legs frantic in the water. As the man lifts the creature yet again, the spider asks, "Why do you keep lifting me? Can't you see I will sting you every time, because that is what I do?"
A young boy had nightmares. The kind that make you go to mom. (No use going to Dad, who will tell you, “Go to mom.”)
“Okay,” the mom tells the boy. “Go back to your room. Kneel down by your bed. Pray to Jesus and he’ll fix it.”
Back to his room. Kneels down by his bed. Prays. And… more nightmares. Back and forth to mom. The sixth time. “Mom, I’m having nightmares.”
“Okay honey, here’s what…”
“I know mom. I’m going to my room, and kneel down by my bed and pray to Jesus. But before I do that, can I just lay in your bed and have you hold me?”
“Yes, honey, why?”
“Because, sometimes I just need Jesus with skin on it.”
Yes. We all do.
Nightmares. Or anything that calls my world (what I know to be real) into question. I can’t make sense of it. Although I want to. Or think I need to. But fear wins out. Anxiety churns, even though I may not let on.
And the irony? I’m still tempted to want to solve it, or fix it, or pray for a miracle, or at least assume that it’s my fault.
I say that we have it all upside down.
In difficult times our priorities are easily transposed.
I spent three days this week working with a corporate client. They were processing a cultural and organizational transformation. My reminder to them for each discussion, “What’s the question?” In other words, what’s at stake here? What is the non-negotiable?
Or, let’s use the health care metaphor. There is a difference between a cure, and a healing. In the story above, with a cure, Jesus will fix it. With healing, somebody holds us, because they are Jesus with skin on.
Healing reconciles us to a bigger picture.
In God’s Hotel, Dr. Victoria Sweet tells the story of one of her patients. Miss Tod was thirty-five years old. She had cancer. Her cancer was brain cancer, and what made it horrible was that it was just behind her right eye, and it had grown, despite surgery and radiation, right out of her eye. The surgeon had removed the eye and sewn the eyelid down over the cancer, but the cancer was still growing.
Miss Tod had never been beautiful, but, what with the radiation, which had caused her hair to fall out; the steroids, which had caused her face to balloon; and the sewn eyelid which had started to bulge, she was now very hard to look at. Yet she was pleasant and quiet. She always smiled as I passed her by.
I got used to her deformity, although only by blocking out, in some way, my experience of her experience.
One day I finally braved my reluctance and stopped by her bed. Full stop. We look at each other. She at me, white-coated, rushed, a bit disheveled. I looked only at her left eye.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked her, after we talked a bit.
“Yes,” she replied, “there is. The food here is cut up and bland. Do you think it could be changed? And could you arrange for me to visit to eye doctor? I need a new pair of glasses.”
Dr. Sweet writes, “I was, and am to this day, floored by her response.”
Miss Tod did not want a miraculous cure or euthanasia, did not want a second opinion or stronger pain medications, did not want pity or a need to vent. She wanted a decent meal and a pair of glasses. She was calm, matter of fact, saying nothing about her terrible misfortune.
Perhaps it is easier to “accept Fate,” but the lesson from Miss Tod is that the small things, the little daily things with skin on it, the ecstasy of ordinary greatness, are life’s greatest gifts.
So here’s the deal: before we fix or solve or explain, we touch. With skin on it.
This is not compulsory or obligatory. There is no should attached. Whether we like it or not, we are all Jesus with skin, because every one of us has the resources to feed and to nourish one another. To bring one another back to life. To make us all more and not less human.
This Sabbath Moment is about hitting the reset button.
Both in how we receive. And in how we give.
My Vashon friend Phil Volker talks about this. He has a right to. He has cancer and the odds aren’t good. So he was told. So he decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, and he learned early on that healing is more important than a cure. (Check out his movie, Phil’s Camino.)
In one of his blogs about Hildegard and medieval medicine and the book God’s Hotel, he relates the story of the power outage in Seattle and the Cancer Treatment Center running on 10% electrical power when things went medieval for an afternoon. The lights were low, the chemo pumps ran but without all their noises and alarms and buzzes. The computers were down so the nurses actually spent the majority of their time with the patients. It was a temporary shift that gave us all a different view, a view that favored quality for the patient and not the efficiency of the hospital. (Thank you Phil.)
Before we fix or solve or explain, we touch. With skin on it.
What does that look like?
A family went out to restaurant for lunch. The waitress arrives, “What’ll you’ll have?” The husband gives his order, and then says, “And the wife will have…”
The waitress turns to the five-year-old daughter, “And sugar, what’ll you have?”
With a smile the little girl pipes up, “I’ll have a hot dog.” “Oh no she won’t,” interjects the dad. Turning to the waitress he says, “She’ll have meat loaf, mashed potatoes and milk.”
Looking at the child with a smile, the waitress asks, “So, hon, what do you’ll want on that hot dog?” As the waitress leaves, the father sits stunned and silent.
A few moments later the little girl, eyes still shining, says loudly, “Mom and Dad, Mom and Dad… that lady thinks I’m real.”
Count me in…
This weekend I spent a lot of time in the garden. It helps me to breathe. It’s spring here. For real. Indian Plum is in bloom along the roadways. Forsythia, with butter yellow blooms. Red flowering currant. The wood ducks and the mallards are on the pond tonight.
In the garden the rhythms of life are real. Which means healing is real. Not easy, but real. There is no cure. Because death and rebirth and incarnation are all inexorably tied.
I’m grateful for all the notes and emails about Roscoe (our cat). He’s joined the others on the other side…
Tonight I’m on the patio. I raise a glass and say thank you. And now, I will look for someone to feed. Or to touch. Or to say, I see you.
Quote for the week…
May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be confident knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.
St. Theresa’s Prayer
Photo credit: Kenny Wickline, Texas
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Learn by little the desire for all things
Learn by little the desire for all things
which perhaps is not desire at all
but undying love which perhaps
is not love at all but gratitude
for the being of all things which
perhaps is not gratitude at all
but the maker’s joy in what is made,
the joy in which we come to rest.
Wendell Berry (“Leavings”)
We are all great rivers flowing to their end.
Swirling inside us is the silt of ages and creatures and lands
and rain that has fallen for millions of years.
All this makes us cloudy with mud,
unable to see God.
As we struggle for clarity and the open sky,
the Lord keeps saying the same thing:
Come to me now and be blessed,
Hafiz (1320 – 1389)