Monday, November 24, 2003

The light of a city on a hill still gleams

There are several things I want to write about tonight, all interrelated. First, I haven't blogged all week because (1) it's been excessively busy at work and I've been putting in some extra hours and (2) I've been hit by a little down-draft of depression.

That Old SOB, Death, has been hanging around a lot lately. With facilitating a bereavement group and being involved in the kind of ministries I am, it's inevitable that I'll run into him often.

A few weeks ago, Mary, about whom I wrote back in September, died after a valiant and sustained battle against cancer. She beat the odds and broke the doctors' diagnosis because God heard her prayers and those praying for her and gave her the extra time she needed.

I was in the throes of my own family crises and hadn't even seen her in a few weeks when she died. Mary was the light of a city on a hill--her spirituality and her trust in God radiated through her. I told her that a couple of times and I'm very glad I did. The last time I saw her, I told her that her son would remember her, and I'm glad I told her that, too. The look on her face told me she needed to hear it, and it is true. She lived long enough that he will remember her. I wish I had followed through with plans to see her again, though. She was gone before I knew it.

Mary, your light will always shine.

Another lovely woman, from my parish, confined to a wheelchair for the last while and no stranger to pain, died a couple of weeks ago. Though her body failed her, her spirit did not. She was cheerful and had the kind of genuine sweetness, despite her pain, that is rare. I will miss her kind and gentle presence very much.

A man I knew from work died this past week. I didn't know him well; he worked from his home and came into the office occasionally. I have a number of co-workers who knew him well, though, and took his sudden illness and death very hard. It's been an emotional week at work.

Then there's the little premature, stillborn baby I baptized one Sunday morning.

It's enough to piss me off. What is this deal, God? Why so much suffering and death in this world? Why do you put us through all this? I think of all the other deaths and the illnesses, misery, hatred, sin and evil I've seen in the last couple of years. Some local and some not.

It's not an academic question. I've been thinking about it a lot. Why?

Tonight, weary with all the things I've been grappling with, I heard the words come out of my mouth, "God, please pray with me about this."

Not revolutionary words. We're often told to pray to know God's will for us. This was a form of asking God to direct my prayers, but also to be a direct partner in them. I thought about it for a minute, then repeated my plea.

I've heard that physical activity is a very good way to clear the mind so that we can hear God talking to us. Monks do it a lot--the simple acts of kneading bread, crushing grapes or scrubbing a floor help them free their minds. My plan for tonight was vacuuming and shampooing the carpets. As I worked, a few meteors of ideas blazed through the blackness of my mind:

"God is Great and God is Good." Even on my darkest days, I can't believe God lets us suffer out of indifference or cruelty. These are the earliest words of prayer I can recall learning and I guess they stuck with me. There must be a purpose to what we call history.

A few years ago (pre-9-11), I was teaching English to some foreign students, mostly Arab, and explained this belief in a discussion of story we were reading. Shocked, one of them said, "But that's what WE believe." I'm not sure exactly what his take on the Christian view of God had been, but I saw something change.

"Our God is an Active God." God is neither dead nor sleeping. He didn't wipe the dust off his hands and retire a couple of thousand years ago. He is still intimately involved with the human race. He is calling us as individuals and as a race to new understandings, new insights. He's still working on us.

I was struck by the image of Peter, forcing himself to eat at the same table with unclean, uncircumcised gentiles who didn't even practice the dietary laws. This went against his grain and most of what he had learned through scripture, yet he did it, because he realized God was calling him to something new. God is an active God. To be open to the new things God is doing, because he is still creating, doesn't mean we disrespect scripture. In fact, we find the things God is doing He has already planted in scripture. We just get caught in our ruts and don't see it.

"God Has a Plan." And if God is great and God is good, then so is His plan. We can't understand much of what God is doing. We just don't have the capacity for it. I just have to believe that He is working a plan of redemption that takes time (at least to us) to unfold. There is a point to all this. I can't offer up proof of this, I just feel a reinforcement of this after my prayer time tonight.

All the hurts we endure will be redeemed/have already been redeemed. I was reminded of God's promise of this tonight.

God, please pray with me again.

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