LOVE OF ENEMY

A poster on my desk.

A poster on my desk.

LOVE OF ENEMY

I have been thinking about freedom and integrity lately.  How do we sustain a sense of our own values when others around us seem to be threatening them? How do we live as people of faith who have been taught to love our enemies when those who threaten us hurt us with their actions or inactions?

Jesus advice was to love our enemies—to pray for those who persecute us. To pray for those who seem to wish us ill-will is not easy. To love those who would hurt us seems counter-intuitive. We are inclined to strike back, to wish ill for those who hurt us.

But, when I let other’s behavior determine my behavior, do I lose my freedom to be myself? I do not like myself when I am a hating person. I do not like myself when all I can do is respond in kind to those whose actions hurt me. When we do unto others what they do to us, we are not free. We are controlled by them.

So, praying for those who hurt us keeps me centered in what I care about—spreading kindness and love. To love those who hurt me is to pay attention to them as humans—as people who may be hurting me out of their own hurt—to see them as complex and maybe even confused—to see them as people who are unable to see my hurt and pain.

But, I want to maintain my integrity—my freedom to define who I am and how I will act. And when I pray instead of pout, when I love instead of lash out, I am able to continue to define who I am and work to be who I want to be.

SILENT SERMON

As we sat in church this morning listening to a beautiful violin solo, a young mother came in with her young son and sat beside us. He was cute and around two years old.

He did really well throughout the service, whispering “shhhh” during the lengthy silence we have as prayer during Lent, making his Star Wars figure chase a horse across the back of  the pew, and staring entranced when the modern dancers bore witness to welcoming all people, regardless of how different they may be from us.

Toward the end of the service this little learner was hunched down on the floor between the pews and when he rose up, he hit the lip on the back of the pew in front of us with his head.  His eyes got big, he whimpered and began to cry. His mother leaned down, kissed his head and wrapped her arms around him and pulled him onto her lap.  She held him as he cried, soothing him. In just a minute, he settled down and was ready to move on playing.

How often is this arm-wrapping, lap-sitting, head-kissing the only sermon we really need to hear? How often are our hearts weeping silently over wounds too deep for words and all we need is someone to just hold us? So many times there are no words to heal. Only a gentle touch of empathy will do. All we need to know is that someone else understands how bad it hurts. Sometimes all we need is for someone we who loves us to kiss our “ouch" and remind us that we do not suffer alone.

When we feel that silent sermon, then we can relax, open our eyes, and delight in the singing, the dancing and the loving that is going on around us.

PIVOTAL PERSON

Some people are pivotal in our lives. They are present to us at just the right time with just what we need. Fred Craddock was one of those people for me. This dear man died 2 days ago.

As a sophomore in college, I was in Dr. Craddock’s class on spirituality in novels. The seminar helped us explore the sacred in the mundane. I presented a paper to the class for my final. I wrote it and then presented the essence of it orally. I then turned in the paper. When I got the paper back, I had 2 grades. An A+ for presentation in class and a B for the written paper. The note from Dr. Craddock below the grades read,  “The moral of this is always speak, never write.”

So, I became a preacher. I heard a call to speak and I did.  But, I also wrote. I worked hard on writing sermons and articles, on communicating as well on the page as I did orally. Sometimes a word at the right time gives insight and challenges growth.  A pivotal point in my life.

After I had graduated from seminary I was preaching. I was struggling. My early training in preaching taught me to give a speech structured this way: “tell them what you are going to tell the, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.” (And occasionally end with a poem!) I struggled to know, “Where do I get the right to tell others what is truth?” And then I read the newly published book by Dr. Craddock, “As One Without Authority” and my life was changed. I remember the first sermon where I guided people on a journey of discovery rather than trying to tell people what to do.  I had much more fun and the listeners seemed to enjoy the journey of discovery much more than my telling them what I thought was true.  A  pivotal point that made preaching the delightful center of my ministry.

I think about Fred Craddock as I grieve his loss. His presence in my life was sheer grace. He had the courage to share his gift which struck me at a point where I needed that gift. Neither he nor I manufactured the relationship nor knew what would happen when we met. But my need and his gift resulted in my life changing. I call that grace.

And Dr. Craddock had another gift. His humility. He simply offered who he was, not forcing himself on others, not trying to control what others thought or did. He shared with quiet passion and compassion his insights and his wisdom. I never felt coerced. I was simply invited into his journey of discovery as he allowed me to run my fingers through the treasures of his  mind. I call that grace.

So, Fred Craddock is a pivotal person in my life. And no one can ever know how grace changed me. But, in this time of grief and loss, I can only say “Thank you” to God for having my life touched by such a kind and graceful soul.

TABLE CONVENTION

It was a beautiful day. The sun angled her morning light—trees casting shadows across the new fallen snow. The temperature had risen to a balmy 25 degrees—a veritable heat wave! More birdsongs drifted over the unmarked snow.

My heart was here—present—slave to the moment—absorbed. My soul sang with joy at the world of wonder that enveloped me.

And then I notice something. The picnic tables, snow laden and waiting, seemed to huddle together as if they were talking. They seemed to be in a winter convention, telling stories of better, less lonely days. They were remembering butts sitting on their benches, elbows leaning on their tops, chicken-fry crumbs staining their wood. 

And they seemed anxious for warmer days when snow would disappear and children would play around their legs while adults sat and spun stories into the air. They longed for the crowds of people, all nationalities, coming to share food and fun in the open spaces.

How is it that I created this fantasy? After all, I was so connected to the icy moment of sun and snow. Joy in the morning light had so overwhelmed me and here I was creating a table convention about warmer weather.

I think we are such complex and interesting creatures. We can celebrate the present with complete absorption—fully present to the world as it is—and at the same time lean into longing for a day that lies un-lived before us. At the same time winter wows us spring seduces us.

What an amazing thing to live this human journey!

DIGGING DEEP

The winter air was still, icy. More silent than usual. The only sound; my boots crunching in the snow.  Then I heard it. A scratching, a dry leaf rattle. I looked, and there on the white ground a red tailed squirrel, head in the snow, feet frantically scratching the brown leaves under the snow. It pulled out an acorn and ran up the dry limbs of a bush.

There, hunched over against the cold and with its tail wrapped, shawl like, over its back and looking like a mohawk on top of its head, it peeled the nut, dropping shells onto the snow. It worked its magic till finally it nourished itself on the nut.

When winter comes in our souls, we sometimes need to dig deep to find nourishment. When the icy wind of disappointment or betrayal freezes our hearts, we find it hard to get under the soul’s hardened ground to something that would nourish our hope. Fear piles up like snow over  the heart’s vulnerable membrane and we can’t find courage to move forward.

So, we have dig deep. We know life will wither in the winter if we do not dig through the cold and find the food that is hiding under the dead leaves of fall. The ground of our being harbors life in its dark and frozen soil. There are tastes of light, whispers of hope, scents of love. They may be small and hard-shelled, but when we take time to look, when we take time to unwrap them, they will give is enough to get through till the thaw comes.