Tomb Sabbath…

As I write about my experience of my father’s death, and since we have just come through the Easter season, my thoughts have been with the followers of Jesus in the stories after his death. Actually, I find myself in their stories, which isn’t too surprising because I usually find myself in many characters in the bible.

Obviously there is the trauma of the death, and the practical matters associated with burial. One benefit I had which was denied the followers of Jesus was the formal gathering of family and friends publicly to commemorate his death and celebrate his life: a funeral. Maybe that is what the Easter feast is for: to do as a Church, what our forebears in faith were unable to do. I’d like to mention several ways their experience and mine were similar…

Dreams and Expectations…

Life is full of death. In fact, in the natural world, death provides the foundations of new life. Death is part of the cycle of releasing nutrients back into soil so plants are nourished and seeds can sprout and have access to sunlight. The natural world exhibits resurrection every time a wild fire blows through a forest or prairie. Similarly, our lives are full of deaths. The followers of Jesus experienced not only the death of their friend, leader, and significant public figure; but also the death of their unrealized, and possibly unrecognized expectations and dreams about just who Jesus would become. There is a significant difference between dreams which occur during the day, and expectations. Dreams are manufactured by our imagination as to what would be a bright future. While we have personal capabilities to act towards bringing this bright future into reality, they also require the action of other people in our lives. Dreams are shared hope. Expectations on the other hand, are below the level of consciousness. They are reality as we have always known it to be.

The appearance of Jesus in the cultural life of Roman occupied Galilee, with the manifestation of power through him to bring about miracles, scattered seeds of hope along his path. The seeds especially began to grow and develop in his followers. They could begin to imagine a time when Roman rule would be crushed, and the Jews would once again be a self-confident nation, under the rule of God. Economic and political structures would be overturned, and the disciples would be part of the elite power structure. Although Jesus tried to work counter to these dreams by staying out of the local seat of power, Jerusalem, and teach that God’s realm wasn’t as they understood it to be; the dream still grew. They watched Jesus dragged away in the darkness of the garden, which in itself has symbolic overtones to Genesis’ Eden, taken before the political and military leaders of the Roman occupiers and puppet regime of Jewish leaders, then executed as if on a whim, and finally die. The dreams that had been growing died with him.

Jesus’ death also brought to surface their expectations of what Godly rule would look like, although his life also uncovered those expectations, if they could have heard what he said. However, when the expectations are buried so deeply within, only a crucifixion will uncover them.

Dad’s death was the first crucifixion in my life. I was laid open to the core, and my dreams of a stable, extended family received a knife shot to the ribs. All the expectations I wrote about two blogs ago were brought to the surface and crushed.

What’s Next?

Many of Jesus followers locked themselves away together, afraid of not only the authorities, but also from dazed confusion of what would come next. They sought comfort in being together with those who had walked the same roads with Jesus, heard the same words, and saw the same miracles. Embarrassment may have dogged their emotions, as well. They had believed in the dream, but the dream was now dead.

Emotionally, I did the same. I tried to keep my sadness and growing anger under lock and key as I began to get back into the rhythms of “normal” life, although my anger would often creep out as I continued to coach football. My mother moved from Ukiah to live with me as I finished school. While together, we both were faced with the realities of daily life without my dad. It was awkward and difficult at times, but ultimately beneficial in confronting our shared loss and new reality. I also found solace in one of my professors. Prof. Gary Moore was my voice coach. I took voice lessons from Gary for most of my years in college. While initially it was a little unusual for me to do so, because he was a bass/baritone and I was a tenor, our time together developed a rich friendship. Around the same time frame of my father’s death, Gary’s wife died from cancer. There were often lessons that were spent not in singing, but in sharing our grief experiences and remembrances of our loved ones lost. I fondly remember he brought an arrangement of a beautiful duet for baritone and tenor that we began to sing together:

The King of Love My Shepherd Is
By: Henry W. Baker

The King of love my shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
And he is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow,
My ransomed soul he leadeth
And, where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love he sought me
And on his shoulder gently laid
And home rejoicing brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With thee, dear Lord, beside me,
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spredst a table in my sight;
Thine unction grace bestoweth;
And, oh, what transport of delight
From thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never.
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
Within thy house forever.

We sang together, often with tears in our eyes, and my voice often choked with emotion. Then, at the end of the lesson, we would hug, and bid each other to be courageous through the next week, and know of each other’s love, prayers, and thoughts for the other until we came back together. A safe haven of shared grief.

Tomb Sabbath…

It is significant and symbolic that Jesus lay in the tomb on Saturday…the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a traditional Judaic practice which echoes back to the Creation narrative in Genesis. The Sabbath is the seventh and last day of the week, on which “…God finished the work that God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work God had done in creation.” (Gen. 2:2-3; NRSV…with a little further revision from me…) It is interesting that Jesus…a follower of Torah…would lie in a tomb on the day set aside as holy as a remembrance of God’s finished work and God’s resting. Tomb Sabbath is a symbol that human effort and doing are insufficient in themselves to bring about the Eden of generative, sustainable relationships between people and the rest of the natural universe and each other. Frankly, God is in the mix whether we recognize….or authorize….it to be. Once we personally and collectively, no matter how many are collected, realize this, resurrection occurs. The resurrected Christ met his followers where they were both emotionally and geographically:

Mary by the tomb, bringing spices to embalm the now vanished body…

Friends travelling together to Emmaus…

Followers behind barricaded walls in dazed fear…

Thomas as he returned to the group after doing practical tasks in the practical world…

The resurrected Christ alternatively hid his identity, and walked through barriers to reach his friends. I can tell you that many times in my life I found Christ hiding his identity until I was able to recognize him. Often I was surprised when and where he met me. I must also confess that most of the barriers in my life have been….and still are….

barriers of my own making…

doors I have locked…

wanderings I have chosen…

…and yet…

the resurrected Christ meets me…

behind my barriers…

within the locked doors…

on the road of my wandering…

That is why…

all the death of dreams…

crushed expectations…

isolating fears…

searching journeys…

are blessed beginnings not endings.

Because there is no resurrection without death. Christ calls me…

to my own cross…

to my own tomb…

and to my own resurrection…

Dad’s death was but the first of many more deaths which would  come, and which are still to be. I am convinced that in each death, lie the nutrients for resurrected new growth and life for me, and for others.

That is why I defiantly hold to Christ, and…

graciously…

Christ holds me…

See You in the Morning…

I stopped the story of my experience of Dad’s death in the middle. I felt it important to publish it on Good Friday, to coincide with the celebrated remembrance of the death of Jesus. For me to receive the assurance of God’s faithfulness in the midst of my grief during Dad’s death, there had to be a precursor story, or previous case history, that opened the way for me to understand that death isn’t the end of the story. The story of Easter is just that story.

While I wasn’t there in the early morning hours to watch my dad die, as were Jesus’ followers and his mother while he was crucified, I later heard the stories surrounding the event of Dad’s accident. A little background will probably be helpful…

Dad and Mom were living in Ukiah, California at the time of his death. He was driving a tractor-trailer rig hauling products from a Masonite plant in Ukiah, to the docks in San Francisco and Oakland. He would often haul two loads per day, and liked to drive when there was less traffic, which usually meant at night. On this particular evening, Mom remembered that he was “so tired”. He was 62 years-of-age, and was working hard, but the pay was really good. They were doing the best financially that they ever had. I used to joke that Dad was “semi-retired” from the ministry…get it…semi…driving a semi….OK…pretty lame… He stayed at it, though because they needed money to pay off bills. His employer was Gene Armstrong, and Gene owned property on the side of a hill with a mobile home on it in which Mom and Dad were living. The property was beautiful! They had a little dachshund…Toby…that I played with when I visited from college. In the morning and evening, they often had deer grazing on the side of the hill next to their house. The deer would look up smugly as Toby barked wildly. Gene, and his wife Ruth, previously lived in Elkhart and attended the church in which Dad was pastor, so we knew them well. Also Ruth’s family and my dad’s family lived in the same community during the depression, so there was a lengthy history there.

Earlier in the evening of Dad’s accident, Dad and Gene met at a diner for a cup of coffee together. They ate…pie, or something…and as they were leaving, heading in opposite directions, Gene said Dad’s words of departure to him were, “Good night, Gene, I’ll see you in the morning…” Those were my father’s final words to anybody of which I am aware. After that farewell, Dad climbed into the cab of the truck, and began his final trip. The accident occurred outside of Santa Rosa, California. There was a cattle auction yard on the outskirts of town, and a trucker had pulled in to unload his cargo of Black Angus cattle. The report I heard was that there was nobody at the yard to help him unload, so he tried to do it himself. As the cattle were unloading, some of them got excited, broke through a gate to the holding pens, and scattered along the highway. The trucker then had to call to find help in rounding up the cattle and putting them back in the pens.

Black Angus cattle wandering along a major state highway in a dark night…

Before the cattle could be put back, or a policeman was on the scene to warn traffic, Dad arrived. The auction yard, and the scattered cattle were just over the rise of a hill. I saw the police report of the accident, and it states that the driver behind Dad never noticed his brake lights come on before the crash. So…Dad was driving up a hill, and just as he topped the hill he ran into at least two black cows, killing both of them, which caused the rig to go over the side of the hill, throwing Dad out of the cab, and the truck landed on top of him. Dad never knew what hit him…..

I was able to get copies of the official accident report as well as the autopsy that was done on my father afterwards. I wanted to try and piece together his final moments on this earth, and know the scope of his injuries. The autopsy stated that he sustained several broken vertebrae in his neck, and massive internal injuries. His death was basically immediate. I was glad to know that… What also is interesting is that, while I no longer have those documents, I still remember some of the contents. Knowing he didn’t suffer has been helpful.

Also helpful is the memory of a conversation and prayer he and I had before they moved to California, when he was driving a truck over-the-road, travelling across the nation often by himself, while my mother was living near Elkhart and having emotional issues related to her Bi-Polar disorder. Those were particularly hard days for Dad, and he had stopped in Olathe, Kansas, where I attended college, to see me between stops. We attended church together, and as he was getting ready to leave, we talked a little bit about his next stop. Then I asked if I could pray for him. I remember asking Jesus to sit in the seat next to him and help Dad imagine His presence there through the lonely miles. After his death, Mom told me that he really appreciated that image, and lived with that reality close to his heart and mind. I now imagine Dad coming over the crest of the hill with Jesus in the seat next to him, and  Jesus saying, “Ok Ivan….this is our stop!”

The resurrected Christ…lovingly present…guiding Dad into his  own resurrection.

“See you in the morning…” indeed!

Morning

By Billy Collins

Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?
This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—
maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,
dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,
and, if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/28812

August, 1985: Great is Thy Faithfulness….

It’s been 30 years since August, 1985. A lifetime ago, it seems, yet my memory of it is fixed in my mind, heart, and soul. But I have never told the story publicly. It was a life changing experience, yet I haven’t recorded it as part of my story.

It was Sunday evening, and I was in choir practice in St. Paul’s Church of the Nazarene, which was a small church about a 30 minute drive from the college I was attending: Mid America Nazarene College (now a university). I had been attending St. Paul’s mainly because it was the home church of my girlfriend, and future wife, Greta. Dick Wasson was the director, and as he passed out a new piece of music for the choir to rehearse, he said to me, “There is a tenor solo in this piece, would you take it?” I responded that I would. The song was a traditional hymn I had sung my entire life, but I was unaware of just how prescient the lyrics would be in just a matter of three short days. The piece began with my lone voice, accompanied by piano and organ, singing the first verse and chorus:

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;

There is no shadow of turning with Thee.

Thou changest not; Thy compassions, they fail not.

As Thou has been Thou forever wilt be.

Chorus:

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

I was at football practice. It was Wednesday, which is a full-pad work day, and practice wasn’t going well. My playing eligibility was through, so I was a graduate-assistant coach in charge of receivers, and I was frustrated. I remember having offensive play sheets inside plastic covers in my hand, my whistle on a cord around my neck clenched in my teeth, and my Pioneer baseball hat tilted back on my head. One of the managers, I think, called my name, “Coach Williams…you have a visitor.” Turning my head, I looked towards the field house with a semi-scowl on my face. It was Greta, slowly walking towards me, and I also noticed her father, Loy, hanging back next to the field house. Although I had recently asked Greta to marry me, and we had become engaged, I was still a little irritated at the interruption of practice. This irritation was the young me so engrossed with football, which felt as important as life and death, that anything which got in the way brought at least irritability. However, something I noticed in her body language…and a subtle, inner argument which reasoned that she would not break into practice without an important purpose…focused my attention upon her. As I came to a standstill before her, she went straight to the message:

“Larry….your dad was killed in an accident early this morning…”

She might have said “I’m so, so sorry…” but if she did, I couldn’t hear it, because for a moment, I was shocked into deafness… I remember quickly saying, “No!” I then turned threw my play sheets up in the air, my body saying for me, “football doesn’t mean anything right now.” I stood motionless for a moment, my mind trying to find some semblance of purpose for her statement, thinking, “this can’t be” yet knowing Greta wouldn’t tell me this unless she knew it to be true.

Trying to emotionally hold myself together, I bent over, picked up the play sheets, then quickly walked over to the head coach, in order to let him know about my dad and that I was leaving practice. As I told Coach Degraffenreid about my dad, my voice began to break when I mouthed the word “killed”. I then quickly turned and began to walk very quickly away, placing a sensory shield between me and anyone else. I was numb, yet beginning to sob deeply as I walked up to the football field and then aimlessly around the track. I looked up into the sky and choked out, “Why God?” All the while knowing that death is part of life from which my dad was not exempt. I walked fast, and a part of me observed my actions, and suggested that I was trying to walk away from the truth of Dad’s death. It was true…but I didn’t want it to be true, and if I could walk fast enough, the truth would change, it would turn out to be a dream from which I would awaken.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,

Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,

Join with all nature in manifold witness

To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

On one of my laps around the track, headed back to the bleachers, I found Coach D there to meet me. His face was ashen, and he asked me how it had happened. Greta must have told me more of the story while I was blanked out from shock, because I was able to brokenly say that he had been driving truck at night, hit some cattle on the highway, and was thrown clear of the truck cabin. Killed instantly. Coach Degraffenreid is a short, stout former offensive lineman, and he wrapped his arms around me in a fatherly hug. I heard his voice catch with emotion as I continued to cry in deep, wracking sobs.

I’m not sure how the timing went, but it seemed at the time that Pastor Dan Vanderpool, (the team chaplain and associate pastor at College Church of the Nazarene, which was located adjacent to the football complex) was immediately there. After a few moments of consolation, Coach D turned me over to Paster Dan, and went back to practice. Pastor Dan suggested we go to the church, pray, and contact the members of my family.

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

College Church was hosting a yearly conference of all the Nazarene churches in the organizational district, which included St. Paul’s. While I don’t remember him doing so, I suspect Loy, Greta’s father, went into the meeting to get Alan Thompson, the youth pastor at St. Paul’s at the time. Dan escorted me into Garret Chapel, and we went to the altar to pray. I have no idea what was prayed, but I felt both surrounded by care, and completely alone at the same time. Kneeling together, crying at the altar, an assurance began to take hold deep in my soul. A phrase began to repeat itself in my mind: “Dad died in what he lived for.” I felt and knew, in the depths of myself, that God was, and is, real, not an impersonal force of nature; but a caring, loving, living Presence, who can and does step into time and place at God’s impetus. I understood that God was present in the horror of my father’s death, yet didn’t cause it or refuse to stop it. I also felt the reality of Jesus as the Incarnation of God in a human body. I was assured of it, not intellectually convinced. I just knew it. I knew that God was in pain about my pain, yet also IN the pain to redeem it. Although it is quite difficult for me to adequately articulate, all of this seemed to become part of my being, yet not in an intellectual way. It was an intuitive ascent to the message of God’s Spirit, written into the fabric of my humanity.

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning, new mercies I see.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Sometime during the prayer, I began to be impressed to take action in a particular way. Actually, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I needed to tell the football team…my brothers in blood and sweat and blunt force trauma…about my understanding. Since Dad was a preacher, and evangelist, I suppose you could say I was just being my father’s son. There might have been some of that, but more pronounced was this feeling of being compelled to share my experience with this particular group of young men. As we rose from kneeling at the altar, I said, “I know what I am to do…I want to speak to the football team about my experience of God, in this moment.”

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,

Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide,

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Before going back to the field, I called my mom, brother, and sister. Bill, my brother, told me about the plans that had been made already for the funeral, which was to be held in Elkhart, Kansas in the small church in which Dad formerly was a pastor while I was younger. Dad was to be buried next to his mother and father in the cemetery there. The placement seemed appropriate. Dad’s sister and family still lived there, and Dad’s family rode out the Great depression, and Dirty Thirties in the surrounding area. (After reading about life in the Dust bowl, I find dark humor in the fact that although they are all once again covered in dust, still the incessant wind will never move them from their home in their beloved High Plains prairie.)

My little crowd of supporters and I walked across the parking lot from the church to the practice field. As we walked, I wasn’t exactly sure what I would say, except the phrase, “Dad died in what he lived for.” I approached the team, which was now huddled together in mass surrounding Coach D. As I approached, the human blob opened to allow me into the center. “I just found out that my dad was killed in a truck accident.” I began, my voice quivering slightly. “I wanted to tell you guys, that at this moment, I am more assured of the reality of Christianity than ever in my life. Dad died in what he lived for. I would like to encourage you to love your family and parents, right now. Don’t wait. Love God, right now, because God loves you.” While I don’t remember verbatim what I said, the message was what I have written above. As I spoke, I turned around, looking each player in the eyes, hoping they could hear my heart. As I turned, I saw these hulking young men with tears in their eyes, and not a few of them openly crying. As I finished, Coach D suggested each player call their parents that evening, and we pulled in close for one last shouted exclamation: “M. A. N. C. MANC, Win Manc, Win!” just as we did after every practice. Many of the guys I had played with during my playing career came by to hug me and wish me condolences. They told me then, and have in the years since, the impact my experience had on them. (The team bought a plant with what seemed like hundreds of small flowers and sent it to the funeral. When the placard was read during the service, I immediately teared up, my throat also tightening as I understood each flower to symbolize each player and coach.)

After speaking to the players, Loy suggested I get some clothes from my apartment, and he would drive me to their house, where I could rest and plan for the trip to Elkhart for the funeral. We stopped by my apartment, I got my stuff, and as I was leaving, two of my roommates, Dave Diehl and Randy Snowbarger (a football player) hung around until I was ready to leave. Randy wrapped me in a bear hug and said, “I love ya, man.” I mumbled “Thanks!”. Dave and I, while friends, were not really close. We hung out with different crowds of people, and although I was closer to his brother, Don…also a football player… Dave and I liked each other, and were friendly, but didn’t share a lot in common. However, Dave’s comments and actions to me in my grief bonded me to him immediately: “I love ya, man, and I’ll be praying for you,” he said as he hugged me…A trite phrase, is might seem. But his eyes and voice communicated a depth of caring and friendship that comforted me deeply. I am mindful, now, of how important gentleness and kindness are to someone going through grief and loss. There are really no words of “wisdom” or “explanation” to one in the depths of sorrow as to why someone close to them has died. Better to save your breath other than to confess your promise to love and pray for them; then follow up later by listening to their anger and pain, which will eventually come. At the time of loss, no explanation really explains, and no wisdom is wise. Listen…love…and pray. For me, at least, God brought thoughts that comforted. I remember thinking that  my sorrow and grief were a tribute to my father, for he was worthy of my grief. Losing him at that time in my life meant…

…he wouldn’t officiate my wedding…

…he would never meet my children…

…my children would never know my father…

…I would never have him to talk through decisions with…

…he could never tell me his story, when I was an adult and would listen more deeply…

I remember thinking that God must have deemed me capable of learning how to be a man, because he took Dad so early in my adult life. Older me understands the theological problems with that thought, but at the time, I needed the assurance that I was capable of learning how to be a father and husband. The last one…husband…didn’t end as I expected. My marriage ended in divorce, and that was totally out of my father’s realm of life experience, but I am finding my way courageously. I think he would respect that.

There is certainly more to the story, but I would like to end this portion with some comments on how the experience of Dad’s death has stayed with me…spiritually. If Dad were alive today, and still believed the same doctrines and theology I remember him to hold; the two of us would likely have some quite spirited conversations. Conversations about the interpretation of scripture would probably be at the top of the list. My life and experience in our culture, and the church culture have led me to ask questions…continually. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t believe in God. I just see God differently. Just HOW differently is what the questions are all about. I have experienced God’s interaction with me…personally…too many times to doubt God’s existence. I also consciously choose to trust the veracity of the Gospels in presenting the Incarnation truthfully, if not always concretely. I’m still searching to make sense…deeper sense…of the scripture of the Bible and the scripture of Creation. I am skeptical of either Sola Scriptura OR Sola Naturalism. I believe Truth is informed by both and they ultimately don’t conflict. It is our interpretations and prejudices of both that bring them into apparent conflict.

Or at least that is where I stand at the moment. My experience of God in August, 1985 still resonates…

…even after 30 years.

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Great is Thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Valentine’s Day 2015…

Valentine’s Day 2015…

 

This is usually a strange day to me. Not strange because I have anything against a day to celebrate the wonderful gift of love, but strange to hold that gift in such high regard, yet be alone in the party. My daughter wrote a great Facebook status today:

“Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!!!

My favorite day of the year, has come again. If you’re in a relationship, if you’re married, if you’re single and loving it, if you’re single and hating it, today is about LOVE. It may have started with romantic love (I see you Saint Valentine, get it. Holla) it certainly is about more than that now. Love on your parents, love on your pup, love on your siblings, love on your friends, love on the guy you find annoying at work (you can go back to being annoyed tomorrow), love on people you don’t know (no one wants a creep though, use some tact), of course love on your significant other if that is a thing in your life. I don’t care who you love on, just adopt an attitude of LOVE today, and you know…it might bleed into tomorrow…and the day after that…and then maybe you won’t feel so down when its Valentine’s Day next year because you’ve decided that, significant other or not, you will love on SOMEBODY this day. Give a rare compliment, give a hug, give eye contact, give someone attention you might not have before and you know…you might create a new friend. Happy V Day!

Love,

Your Friendly Neighborhood Hopeless Romantic,

 Hannah.”

  

As I read it, I was blown away with her perspective. Such optimism and generosity of heart in her words!

For the first 49 years of my life, I lived with somebody. Often several somebodies. In the fall of 2010 my youngest child, Hannah, left home for college and I was left alone, living in a depressing basement in the house of an elderly couple in Kansas. The basement was quite small, with a bathroom, but no kitchen. After Hannah left, I appreciated the extra space…she’s a clothes collector…but I missed the thought that she no longer lived with me. https://blueeyesseeingclearly.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/last-week-with-hannah/

I found myself opening the gate to a new pasture on my journey. I have learned a lot about myself in these years. For instance, I have found that:

…I crave natural light in my home. A well-lighted space is cheerier to me.

…I enjoy choosing the colors in my house. Although I didn’t have much experience with interior design for most of my life, I like the creativity of decorating my space, and then continuing to add new touches from time to time.

…When my home is clean and straight, I feel more relaxed and less anxious. Allowing the space to become cluttered and dirty is a sign that I am being disrespectful to myself, and that I am probably running from something in my life that I don’t want to deal with, but for which I am responsible.

…When I am watching TV, or more likely, on the internet excessively, I am probably running from something I either want to do, but it is difficult (like writing) or time consuming (like changing the landscape of my yard).

Living alone has allowed me to get to know….me…and given me the opportunity to realize my own responsibility for my life; to either grow or run from growth, and be faced with the realization that I was doing so.

So…where is love in all of this, and what does it have to do with Valentine’s Day?

 

I have a growing belief that if a person is to learn how to love other people or another person, they must learn to love their self. Maybe better stated: I love others in direct relation to the manner in which I respect and love myself. As Christian…a preacher’s son…and a man who has spent many years attending, thinking about, and criticizing the Church; my thoughts seem always to return to the bible when I consider my life and how it is structured. So, once again I turn to the bible to help me understand where I have been, where I am currently, and what comes next. I think it was to this principle, about how to love in greater fullness, that Jesus’ response to a question by a Pharisee points:

“One of the scribes (teacher of the law…a lawyer) came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he (Jesus) answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is,

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one;

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your

Heart, and with all your soul,

And with all your mind,

And with all your strength.’

 

The second is this: ‘You shall love

Your neighbor as yourself.’

There is no other commandment greater than these.’

And the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” Mark 22:28-34

 

If you are reading this and didn’t grow up in church or in a preacher’s home or spend your life wandering through the maze of differing interpretations of the bible and Christianity in general; the passage above may sound like a code language that you find hard to understand, from a different time and place… all this talk of “scribes” and “kingdoms” and “whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”. You are right! It is from a different time and place. And it could be considered a code which invites us to dive underneath the ancient cultural and religious context to find deep meaning and principles for life which are life giving in any culture or context. Honestly, even those who have heard the code their entire lives, or studied deeply the code and context from which it comes, may “miss the forest because of the trees.” We….I…..have a tendency to miss the simplicity of the message:

Loving God deeply changes how we love our self and others.

I would even change the first two words above to: Receiving love from God…

Now back to my story…

Living alone has helped me begin to understand how I have responded to the events in my life, and the ways I have read the code poorly. Somewhere along the line, I came to believe deeply that I must do something considered significant in order to be loved and accepted. Part of the problem was determining the valuation and definition of “significant.”  I have begun to call this my search for the Perfect Something…

You know…the

Perfect job…

Perfect relationship…

Perfect girl…

Perfect community…

Perfect church…

Perfect idea…

That sort of thing…  What I have really been searching for was love which I deeply felt had to be earned in some way. Love earned from God, friends, family, lovers…

Whomever…

Love had to be earned, and although I tried to accomplish the tasks, I always fell short. In fact, my failings often seemed both self-inflicted and destined to be my fate.

But…

As my life crashed…

My dreams crushed…

My expectations collapsed…

My blood continued to course…

I was alive…

Alone…

Yet not alone…

During Advent of this past year, I became impressed to embrace simplicity in my life. Maybe not to the level of the ancient mystics and ascetics, who ran into the desert to find God…that would be too…uncomfortable….OK, that was a joke…a TRUE joke but a joke nonetheless. Besides… chasing that level of simplicity, at least for me, would be just another pursuit of the Perfect Something. So, my aim is to receive my life in the simplicity in which it is given.

As I have thought about it, I realized that God’s first gift to me was the gift of God’s Self. This thought relates to the first “commandment” which Jesus mentions. I understand “commandment” to mean that I learn to understand and honor this gift, and relate to God in the totality of my being and activity. I receive the gift of God’s self as parent, confidante, closest friend, and even the most intimate lover. It is through this first gift that I learn about and how to receive God’s second gift to me: ME. From the first moment the two half-strands of DNA received from my parents twirled together to form the amazing catalog of unique genetic information which carried the instructions to created me; I was being formed into a distinctive bundle of talents, capabilities, qualities, and yes…weaknesses. In a wonderfully strange sense, this human quantity is an ongoing gift to itself. But I must learn how to receive it, as well as honor, respect, and love myself as both a gift from God, but also as having innate worth and beauty. There is the rub…the last part.

I have had great trouble with the last part. For a multiplicity of reasons, I have had a difficult time receiving my Self with joy, humility, and thankfulness. I have hidden annoyances and animosities about myself. Whether it is…

Where my body naturally stores its fat…

The apparent slowness of my brain to process information…

The ease with which I become distractedwow, its really raining…

The size of my….hands…..

And many other qualities that I become irritated with are part of the incredible gift I have been given. Much dysfunction is but an over-compensation for my distrust and judgment of the Me I have been given. I am realizing that the life I have received…

The experiences in that come in that life…

Are parts of a process to help me receive, respect, and love myself at steadily deeper levels. God interacts with me in and through my life in each new day, to show me not only that I am loved, but that I am worthy of that love.

Wow….the phrase “I am worthy of that love…” was still difficult for me to type…

Still in process….

This process gives me more access to qualities that greatly affect my relations to others, too. As I

accept my self…

respect my self…

receive my self…

enjoy my self…

forgive my self…

love my self…

more fully, I am freer to do the same in a weird sort of connectedness, to both God and others. Psychologists call this Self-differentiation, I call it Joy.

Valentine’s Day, 2015 was still hard, but I am trying to remember to receive love that is difficult to receive.

That is my process…

Stones… Again

Originally posted on Blue Eyes Seeing Clearly:

This is a re-post of one of my favorites…

A beautiful young woman walked the cobblestone street which traversed a steep incline through stately homes within view of both Herrod’s palace and the Temple. Beside her strode a stately Roman Centurion, both young and handsome, with a commanding saunter which showed confidence derived from youth and station. As the couple approached a narrow alleyway, she quickly surveyed the surrounding area, grabbed the man’s hand, and they furtively slid from direct view from anyone travelling the wider avenue. Moving quickly, the two approached a gate and stepped through. Closing the gate behind them rapidly, they emerged into a lush courtyard. Stepping underneath a vine-covered archway to conceal their actions from the view of wealthy gossips, the woman turned quickly to face the Roman and gave a deep, guttural laugh. The soldier looked down and flashed a slow smile, grabbing the woman…

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Sometimes….. FM

Originally posted on Blue Eyes Seeing Clearly:

Sometimes…

Life opens up in a wonderful way…

Nothing complicated…

Just the simplicity of being fully in one pleasant place.

Like today…

I finished a job in a condo on the beach, overlooking the Gulf…

Driving in my pick-up…

Windows down…

Shirt soaked with sweat…

Cool breeze from the Gulf sweeping through…

Listening to Steely Dan…

Bright sun…

The smell of newly cut grass seducing my senses…

Alive…

Thankful…

Living in Eden…

Using my body to make a living…

Allowing my mind to search…

Think…

Question…

Remember…

The promise of my son and his girlfriend visiting Saturday…

Middle-aged men riding their bikes in colorful lycra….

Hmmm…….

Beautiful women driving their convertibles…

Couples walking their dogs…

“No static at all….”

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