Diana Butler Bass writes in a recent article in the Washington Post about the emotional stress that has filled the days and weeks since the Presidential election. Not just stress from who won or lost, but the increase of uncivil behavior towards one another.
It’s wearying to the mind and the Spirit.
(I’m not immune to the fits of snarkyness on Twitter. But I have not threatened anyone’s personal safety or denigrated their faith.)
“Advent recognizes a profound spiritual truth — that we need not fear the dark. Instead, wait there. Under that blue cope of heaven, alert for the signs of dawn. Watch. For you cannot rush the night. But you can light some candles. Sing some songs. Recite poetry. Say prayers.”
So for Advent this year I am going to Watch for the Light. I will be posting photos on Instagram (@HolySpoons) and will occasionally write here on my blog about the places and scenes which give me glimpses of God in this Advent season.
You can join me in this exercise. The liturgical season of Advent begins tomorrow, November 27th. Let’s find those points where God breaks through and use them to encourage one another.
A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these, she said, is roots, the other, wings.
Quoted by Hodding Carter in “Where Main Street Meets the River”
We had our annual family reunion last week. It was full of pun-offs, adventures, and close living quarters. We feasted on fresh Carolina peaches, sweet corn and brick oven pizza.
I realized as I listened to the laughter and conversation swirling around the dinner table that our stories are entwined in so many ways. We share history as well as DNA. We share losses and joys. We fight to the death to keep the essential, clarifying, and off-debated Oxford comma. (See what I did there?)
We shared peaceful views at sunset. Hiking at childhood haunts. Competitive card games. And hugs. Lots of hugs.
The genealogists in the family (my mom being the most experienced) will share interesting bits of family trivia. Through years of research, Mom, (as well as my Dad and maternal grandmother) have uncovered when a specific ancestor emigrated to the US, what wars they fought in, how they worshipped, and where they homesteaded. The ancestral “fan chart” is impressive with the names and dates going back to ten generations!
For my daughters, I wish for them this same sense of rootedness and belonging. A place to be accepted and encircled with love. A reminder that they are loved and prayed for daily. A retreat from the world when its suckiness seems to out-weigh the promises of the future. A secure take-off. A safe landing zone. And enough love in their buckets to spill out into the world around them.
It’s something I wish for all… Not a wall. Not belligerence and hate. Not ridicule and judgmental scorn.
It’s really quite simple:
Roots. Belonging. Acceptance. Love.
The true mark of someone who loves God is one that demonstrates their rootedness in the Divine. And the fruit that grows from it.
You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
I was running to my car in the rain, doing my best to not get completely drenched. The promised wind and rain arrived and that meant traffic would be worse than usual.
Lovely. My shirt and hair were drenched, my glasses smudged, and my shoes squished. I hate seeing patients when I’m little more than a frumpy, wet noodle! Grumbling, I took a deep breath and tried to re-focus. The last visit was very taxing on me emotionally and spiritually. I leaned back against the headrest. And there it was…
One maple leaf, just turning golden, plastered on my windshield. The raindrops around it glistened, and the sun peeked through the clouds, illuminating from behind like a stained glass window.
My car became a cathedral, and my heart was encouraged. God’s Spirit blew in through that mystical moment and lifted me up. “I can do this work… God help me, I can do this!”
Words from Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved came to mind:
The movement of God’s Spirit is very gentle, very soft… but that movement is also very persistent, strong, and deep. It changes hearts radically.
I had multiple reminders that day to stop, rest and see God’s Spirit at work. This was the first of many. There are times my work is exhausting spiritually and emotionally, but God’s Spirit is always there to guide, change, and move.
Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see — how good God is. Blessed are you who run to the Lord. Psalm 34:8 (The Message)
This last week has been a whirlwind. Patients, families, meetings, charting, phone calls, and driving over 750 miles. And that’s just for starters.
The reason I logged all those miles was to attend a committee review of my application to be recognized as a Board-Certified Chaplain through the Association of Professional Chaplains. I’ll spare you the details, (you can go to the link and read all about it), but it has taken me almost five years since I graduated from seminary to achieve this recognition.
Professional chaplains engage in an intensive learning process. It is the process of learning how to use your “self” as a resource; being aware of your strengths, weaknesses, blind spots and potential triggers takes time. Lots of time. It requires prayer, reflection, writing, talking, and applying what you discern. It’s long hours for crap pay (no lie… for one of my placements I earned minimum wage!) It’s trying to understand someone from a radically different background. And always, always ALWAYS listening to the Spirit of the Living God.
So when I came to today’s Photo-a-Day prompt, FORGIVE, I was immediately drawn to search for a photo of Antietam. The bloodiest battle on America’s soil where over 23,000 were killed in a day. In some parts of the United States, the shadows cast by The Civil War are decidedly UNcivil. I was reminded of that fact as I drove around North Carolina. And later today, as I drove up I-95 and saw the huge Confederate flag in full view of I-95. (Read more here.)
It’s true: in some places, the South has not forgiven the North. Funny how that applies to many other issues in the US today…
But it is also a part of my chaplain’s journey, as I have learned to view people who reject my ministry with compassion instead of getting angry. Yes. I’ve been rejected. And many times, I don’t know whether it’s because I am the wrong race, gender, denomination or something else I don’t know! (I’m wearing pants? My head isn’t covered?)
I’ve had to leave a lot of baggage behind. It’s too much emotional and psychological effort to carry all of that extra enmity. I am learning that life is too short, and the world has much to celebrate and cherish.
Family, friends, beauty, joy, hope… all are worth the extra time and energy that I can give them.
A quote I read recently brought it home:
Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace. – Jonathan Lockwood Huie
The Apostle Paul had some good advice about forgiveness too:
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13 NIV)
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV)