HEART TEST

Sun is shining. Cool spring air embraces me. Suddenly sirens all around. “Oh, it’s Friday at 11 a.m. A weekly test of the tornado alert system.”

This is what Sunday worship is for me. A weekly test. It is a heart check. To determine its strength so I can count on it in stormy weather.  This isn’t the heart test several of my friends have taken—getting numbers to indicate heart disease. It is a test to of my courage—my heart’s capacity to do what I believe.

We do four things to test our courage in worship. First we gather with all. We greet friends. We meet strangers. We run into enemies. But we are all there—those who nourish us and those who threaten us. And I gather with them to see if I have the heart to welcome into my life all the creatures created by the divine hand. Sometimes I pass. Too often I balk at the presence of all.

And when we worship, we also listen. We listen to words from tradition, words from the world, words from the hearts of others on the journey of discovery.  And we test our ears. Can we listen well enough to hear a divine word in the words we hear? If so, maybe we can hear the divine spirit in the words we hear everyday. After all, the divine pulses through creation. Do I have the patience to hear? Sometimes I do, but often I don’t take time to listen for love in the others’ voice.

The third test of courage comes when worship calls us to make an offering. How generous is my heart? We come together to practice giving. Do I have the courage to sacrifice what I value for the greater value of divine love and justice in my world. Do I have the heart to risk some of my time and money for the well-being of others.  Sometimes I do. Often I hold back.

And the final test of Sunday worship challenges my resolve. We are sent from worship to be a presence of peace, a champion for the outcast. Do I have the courage, the heart to live my life daily as a loving companion for those around me? I have done that.  And at times I have not.

It is a good thing to test the tornado alert system in our city. Likewise, it is good for me to worship each Sunday to test my courage to live my faith well.

A HOUSE DIVIDED

I watched President Obama deliver his final State of the Union speech last night. I was not only interested in what he had to say, but wondered about the divided house to whom he was speaking. On one side were people dressed in colorful clothes, standing and cheering, smiling and enjoying themselves as if they were at a wedding party. On the other side people were dressed in dark suits, some bored and some somber as if they were at a funeral. (In other years, the house could have been divided in just the opposite way, some partying and some restrained and reserved.)

I thought, “What would it be like to speak to such a divided house?”

And then I thought, “I know what that is like. I do that everyday, several times a day.” Sometimes I make decisions and one part of me celebrates the action. For example, Deb and I bought a new I pad. Part of my internal house celebrated as we moved from the darker ages. The other side of the house sat on its hands and questioned the actions as it wondered if we were being too extravagant. A divided house lives in me.

President Obama suggested that the divided house before him needed to figure out how to work together if the nations problems are going to be addressed. He suggested that each respect the other and that the two parties not accuse each other of being unpatriotic. All are working for the good of the whole even though they disagree with what is good.

I think that internal respect is what must be nurtured if an individual self doesn’t want to be paralyzed and unable to take action for its own physical and mental well-being. The divided parties need to hang out with each other when they are not trying to make decisions. They need to get to know each other as fellow members of the same household. In my internal house those who partied at the purchase of the I pad need to enjoy it, because on other occasions the reserved side of the house will win the day and I will hold on to my money.

CLOSURE IS BULLSHIT

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When I read these three words they felt right. I read them in “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir” by Elizabeth McCracken. The book, a powerful and poignant portrayal of grief, reveals truth about tragic loss.  Elizabeth and her husband lost their first child at birth. Pudding never saw the light of day. The days, months and years that followed helped them discover that they are never the same.

When the ashes had been scattered in the North Sea off the coast of England, the two grieving parents were driving back to their home. The spotted a valley filled with deer, hundreds of them, does, fawns, stags. They had never seen such a sight and were deeply moved. Elizabeth wonders if the reader thinks this were some kind of closure.  To which she responds, “Closure is bullshit.”

I have often felt that the word “closure” was not the best word to describe what happens as one works through grief. Closure implies an ending, or the closing of a door. It suggests some kind of resolution or finality.  My experience in grief work has led me to think that the suffering which consumes us in a tragic loss does not get resolved. The intensity and frequency of it may, over time, moderate, but the aroma of it is always there. Closing a door to that part of your life doesn’t mean you don’t walk down the hallway and discover the scent of the pain wafting out from under the door, transporting you back to the place of pain.

And those who have suffered loss of love do not want closure. They do not want to forget the love they have known. They want the pain of loss to subside. They want an ending to the intolerable suffering of absence. But, closing a door on our memory of love is seldom what is desired.

What one hopes for in grieving is the weaving together the stories of love into the tapestry of our self understanding. And along with the love, weave the pain into the picture so what we become not only those who know the pleasure of love, but also know the pain it brings with it. When we do that, we live our future as persons who know the truth of loss and precious joy of love. When we live this way, we live more compassionately and empathically with those around us. We experience the rich texture of creation in the fullness of its pain and pleasure.

ANGRIER THAN LAST YEAR

I read a recent survey which suggested that half of Americans are angrier than they were last year. White Americans are angrier than blacks and women are angrier than men. The anger has to do with disappointment over things not being the way they want them to be. Women are angrier not only because of the way they are treated but because their empathy makes them feel for the way others are mistreated as well.

The survey also found that those who read something several times a day or week that makes them angry are angrier than those who don’t. Those who read anger provoking things less frequently are not as angry.

Now, we know that anger is frequently a response to threat. So, if people are responding with anger to what they read, what they read threatens something they think is important. It often threatens our sense of security, our sense of justice, our sense of what is right or wrong. I therefore think this survey suggests that people are also MORE AFRAID this year than they were a year ago.

This makes me think about how much our media saturated lives are manipulated by that which is that which is out of our control. If I not only read the news headlines and react to something that is happening in the world, but I am constantly reading of that which angers other people on my social media tree, I can find myself easily sucked into fear, anger and despair.

Therefore, I think we all might have a little more positive outlook on life if we were to consume less digital data. I am not suggesting that stick our heads in the sand, but I am suggesting that we don’t need to consume everyone’s distress several times a day. If we are not always reacting to our friends’ fears, maybe we would have more emotional energy to volunteer our time and gifts to organizations that work to overcome fear and threat. That way we can share the light of hope and courage and contribute to a less fearful world.

SIMPLE RULES

Sometimes I hear something that I think is worth repeating.

Laurie Anderson, performance artist, composer and musician, was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.  She shared that she and her husband Lou Reed, lived by three simple rules:

  • Be afraid of no person.
  • Get and develop a good BS detector—and learn how to use it.
  • Be very, very tender.

I really like these three rules. Fear is the fundamental barrier to living life awake. Fear blocks our curiosity and causes us to hide from the strange and the new. Our energy for living increases as we navigate the space between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the known and the unknown. If we can “be not afraid” we will be open to the rich complexity of our created reality.

Develop a BS detector! Much of what we hear and see is really BS. When we are vulnerable to every smooth talking charlatan we are constantly being manipulated by their words and our emotional responses to them. We live in a time and culture where we are so inundated with the thoughts and opinions of others that it is almost impossible to sort out what is real and what is BS. Sorting that out helps us remember what really matters and we can live more focused and purposeful lives.

And “be very, very tender.” Kindness really does matter. Tenderness is respecting the life experiences of others. It is knowing that everyone struggles to love and be loved, to belong and to find meaning. Tenderness is the best room in which to find what we long for. Tenderness gives people the benefit of the doubt. It is giving ourselves mercy and grace. It is discovering joy in a gracious glance, a simple touch, a soft word.

So, I think I will see if these three simple rules bring me more joy and meaning. I think they might.