I love and am loved.
I. Locked out:
Are you walking away or toward faith?
I was 8 years old sitting alone on a dark, wood stained bench in a church. The large brass pipes from the organ were neatly lined up by height. Their symmetry seemed a contrast to the fluid images that filled my head. The music: mysterious and haunting, the pictures: vibrant in color but dark in theme, the bells: soft and announcing, the stained glass windows: illuminatingly told a story, the scent: old and musty - a fragrance I could not identify.
As a child, the sense of reverence hit me the moment my fingers touched the water at the entrance of the church as I symbolically made the gesture of the father, son and holy ghost. I faithfully recited at bedtime a ritual of 5 sets each of 3 different prayers, all of which were taught to me by my grandmother. Because I had not gone to "catechism class", I sat alone while the rest of my six aunts and uncles (all about my age) went to the front of the church.
I sat alone concentrating on the image of Jesus hanging on the cross before me. The red painted blood splotches on his hands, feet, and the piercing in the side of his rib-cage were frightening. His eyes closed, the crown made of thorns gashed into his forehead; his face hung in surrender; I wondered who this Jesus was.
This was my first introduction to church. I asked my own parents if they would take me to class so I could also partake in the Eucharist but because they were "soured" by their experiences with the church, they thought it was a decision best made soberly as an adult. For years, I was to wrestle "privately" with faith. As a child, I imagined the pain He must of felt being nailed to the cross. I thought of my own hands bleeding.
II. Locked in:
Has your perspective clouded objectivity?
In contrast to the rest of the world, I speak from an advantage of privilege. A Caucasian women living in an affluent community, casts me into an arena of a rose colored lens. I started this website a year ago, January 2014 was the first post. I wanted to start my blog with this post but instead started it twelve months later. This entire process of building a website has been an exercise in faith and obedience. What have I discovered? I need to write. My lofty goal of reaching others has turned into a savior reaching into me.
Has your opinion of religion locked you in? Has the lens in which you live enslaved you to a limited world? Jesus turns your perspective upside down. As promised, Christmas and Easter will always be a post about the cross.
A childlike faith and a child's pain: innocent and penetrating
I was in the fifth grade: I went to the teacher and pleaded with him to allow me to skip going out on the playground for lunch. I feared this day more than any other. There had to be compromise and compassion. Couldn't he sense the urgency in my words and the expression on my face?
Grace did not shine on me. Although I could run fast, I could not outrun the group of boys and girls that chased me down, heavy laden with an agenda. They won that day; pinning me down, they stuffed as much grass as they could pick from the soccer field into my clothing. Loosing the race wasn't so bad but the humiliation in my modest spirit was. Thinking back to the image of Jesus, scarcely dressed, didn't he endure humiliation on the cross?
"God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and grateful heart" Izaak Walton
A Godspeed blessing
Thinking back to September 2014, my aunt and mother responded to my invitation to fly in from out of town for the purpose of attending a benefit fundraiser concert for men and women with Alzheimer's. My aunt, aka: "Wife" , out of necessity, had to admit her husband of over 50 years into a facility. It was a gradual, painful good-bye; this was the first trip she had taken without him.
Husband has absolutely no idea who the wife is, or who he is. He was a PE teacher for Jr High School kids and could "charm" the socks off of anyone he met, says his wife. Her strength of character and compassion shines brightly as she speaks softly how it is a blessing to see him happy once again. Although he no longer recognizes her, his sweet, loving disposition, the person who loves to be around other people, has returned. Sitting in a circle passing a large bouncy ball, the husband orchestrates and encourages the other residents in a simple game of passing the ball as he would have done many years ago.
What is remarkable to me is my aunt's response to her husband's lady friend who always thanks her for coming. "You both mean a lot to me" is her reply; she barely knows her. Each resident has his/her quirks but the human need for love and affection transcends everything. A gentle touch to the hand and a softly spoken name speaks volumes of compassion; we may not think it makes a difference to someone we think is no longer there but love is a common denominator that reaches into the lonely, dark places of our souls; it is a soft whisper that grabs our spirit and casts it into the light of day.
At close to 80 years old, my aunt has gone back to college- brushing up on Italian conversation.
What is your lens?
If your lens is this world, you will encounter discouragement; your hope anchored in your own ability, in those around you or in your possessions and identity. If your lens is heaven, you will encounter discouragement anchored in hope; a hope evidenced by a cross. You have a choice.
What is joy?
This is the time of year where, in my opinion, joy can get crushed beneath the weight of trying to create happiness. The subtle and, not so subtle, attempts of reeling in emotions; the fishing pole is cast through songs, images and the merchandizing of Christmas. We are the fish that willingly take the bait. We buy the trees, display the decorations, sing the songs, watch the movies and hunt for the gifts but have we, somehow, lost the meaning of Christmas in the midst of our activity?
I imagine a field of tall green blades of grass, waste high blowing softly in the wind. The fragrance is fresh, earthy and inviting. I run through it, my arms stretched to the heavens, intoxicated by the freedom. In the midst, a few single flowers grow tall. Their beauty captivates me. That is the beauty to be found this Christmas; that is the beauty to be found in the church; that is the beauty to be found in a nursing home; that is the beauty to be found; the blades of grass are there but so too, are the flowers.
Where happiness is created by our circumstances; joy is chosen despite our circumstances. If we don't run wild through the tall grass, intoxicated by the freedom in our spirits, how will we find the whispered joys that speak to our hearts? How will we find joy in the midst of our happiness? Babies. Babies are the same across cultures. I love the images of babies because they embody joy.
IV. Christmas Eve:
I have been to Italy twice. The first time in 2003; the second 2010. Two images:
"I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth
there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge,
will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing".
2 Timothy 4:7-8
I love the opening scene in the official trailer for the 2010 movie, "Babies". It demonstrates our human nature at such a primal level. My inherently rebellious character that would smuggle songs in simply because I was told I couldn't, is such a part of who I am. As a young child grappling with faith, I thought I did everything right; what did I have to confess? I tried to come up with things. As an adult, I have no trouble figuring out my sin; it is inherently in who I am. Thinking back to my image of the tall grass, what if I added a tree to that image? A tree whose roots run deep. A tree that is not easily knocked over in a storm; a tree whose roots "seek" water and stretches itself toward the sunlight. What if rather than a blade of grass, I strive to be more like a tree resting in the arms of a loving gardener?
You have a choice?
I have a choice but so do you. This is the time of year that beacons us to evaluate where we have been and where we are going. Young, old, man or woman, each of us has the need to be loved. If someone was to see the real you, the deepest part of your soul, what would they say?
It is not too late to make a change. God's currency is not in the possessions of this world but in the things that outlast you. The lens is from the inside, looking out. Will next year be the same as this year? This Christmas, rather than immersing yourself in tinsel, allow the decadent freedom of a humble spirit to transform you.
V. The promise:
Jesus is not just a guy. He is not just a coach. He is not just a teacher. He is not just a healer. He is not just a friend. He is all of these things. He is all of these AND more. He is God. In the midst of the tall grass, there was one perfect flower that grew but rather than admired or picked, it was trampled and crushed. That flower was Jesus and he took all of the sin; yours, mine and everyones and nailed it on the cross once and for all. Because of him, we can entire into heaven. Scientific research indicates that a normal man could not have endured the violent beating that was the price he paid. Remember: he didn't do anything wrong. We did.
One of my favorite illustrations of love is a gesture from his friend, Mary to Jesus. She takes perfume, her most prized possession, kneels down in a humble posture of affection and not only pours the perfume onto his feet but takes her hair and wipes his feet with it. It was an expression of love. Love that transcends our understanding; love outlasts us. Love reaches into the deepest, darkest, loneliest places of our hearts and grasps our souls into the light of day; His light.
I began this post with an image of Jesus and the nails in his hands and feet and then heard this song for the first time, by Chris Tomlin (Love Ran Red album- download from iTunes) The title this month: I love and am loved was a daughter's response to a letter I wrote about her parents. Canon Rev John and Susie Yaryan's impact on me was profound. He was a canon with the Episcopal church; Sometimes ironing the vestments, i watched him prepare sermons, invest in people's lives and "push the envelope" in cultural and church through music. She, on the other hand, pursued people and made them feel important through the parties she put on, paying attention to every detail. They invested their time in me and without me knowing it, laid a foundation of church and Christ and relationships that would far outlast themselves. I will see them one day in heaven, alongside others their age who planted dreams of "living bigger" into my heart. At my age, it is now time I do the same for others. We are on this earth but a breathe and I want my relationships and friendships to be so deep that the resulting love outlasts me... that when I get to heaven, people are not just a vague, cloud-like shape but deep, abiding intimacy with people of a life well spent. "I love and am loved". Are you?
May this Christmas be filled with finding flowers in the midst of the grass: joy in the midst of happiness, a whisper in the midst of the noise. You may find it in a gift, a song, a picture, a hug, a smile, a touch or a prayer but when you do, it will speak of love.
Note: Interestingly, I took the first picture at a church. It struck me that ominous chains locked the doors going into the sanctuary while a life-size replica of Jesus hanging on the cross was outside in the elements of sun and rain. I took the second picture during the rainstorm that came out of nowhere at the Mamertine Prison in Rome; the moment was poignant and unforgettable A fan of clouds, I took the third picture strolling the ruins of Rome. The song was an excerpt from Chris Tomlin's latest album. The movie clip was the official trailer for "Babies", 2010 movie by Thomas Balmes.
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.