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Archive for August, 2015

Life Notes

Saints-in-Waiting

To the church that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:2-3

Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, says its members are “called to be saints.” The church today refers to members who have passed from this life as saints. The Catholic Church has a formal process by which persons may be awarded “sainthood” after their death. Regardless of the methodology, I have a recent experience with a mostly regular guy receiving sainthood – my brother.

Regular readers of Life Notes know that I lost my brother, Wade, about a month ago. By most accounts, Wade was a pretty regular guy. He had a typical mix of good and annoying qualities. He had close friends. He worked for a living, loved his children and grandchildren, and he valued his family – including his extended family – above all. Still, most people would have considered Wade a “good old boy,” not a saint. Had I called my brother a saint, he would have scoffed, much preferring the “good old boy” title.

Those speaking at his memorial service, however, showered Wade with praise, and appropriately so. He was a close friend and confidant to many; he cared about the marginalized of society; he was generous to a fault. With a unique sense of humor, he was quick to put those around him at ease. Listening to the many who spoke about my brother, one might think he walked on water, which he decidedly did not do. Wade was very human, with all the accompanying disappointments and frailties. Still, I have seen this magical transformation – from sinner to saint – occur repeatedly. Apparently, all a person must do to attain sainthood is to die.

Why is it that we remember people more positively when we are no longer in close, physical proximity to them? Once loved ones are gone, an outsider might believe we worshipped the ground they walked on – something far from the truth in most cases. Numerous artists died penniless, only to have their works worth millions after their death. Coincidence? I doubt it. Sins are quickly forgiven, once we know they cannot be repeated. In addition, we are quick to value that which is no longer readily available to us. Ultimately, I think we are all saints-in-waiting. Our good and true selves cannot always shine through our earthly failings, at least not until the earth falls off of us. It is not easy to live up to the expectations of ourselves, let alone those of others. The good in each of us is so much more apparent when there is no less-than-good competing with it. This is not to diminish sainthood in any way. It is deserved – for my brother and the other saints. An oft- forgotten requirement for saints, however, is to first be human.

Come home to church this Sunday. Let your inner saint shine through!

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Life Notes

Old Prayers

There was a tree at the center of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew strong, its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth. Its foliage was beautiful, its fruit abundant, and it provided food for all. The animals of the field found shade under it, the birds of the air nested in its branches, and from it all living beings were fed. Daniel 4:10-12 

An ancient chant begins: Silence my soul, these trees are prayers. I have had a life-long love affair with trees. I climbed them as a child, built tree-houses in their branches, swung from their limbs, and researched them in college. I have admired, planted, and cared for trees all my life. I love gazing through their branches and watching the sunlight dance from leaf to leaf. I love the sound of the breeze meandering through them. I am spellbound, walking through forests of trees. I am in awe of the stark contrast their dark, barren branches create against the cold blue of a winter sky, like cracks across a plate of glass. I love trees, but I have never considered them prayers.

And so, when I read the chant: Silence my soul, these trees are prayers, I was intrigued by the possibilities. First of all, I associate trees with silence. Certainly, many trees grow in noisy environments, but they rise above the noise and bustle of the lives they cover. They stand still, unnoticed, watchful, and mostly unaffected by the chaos below. Second, trees – particularly old trees – reach up to the heavens, weather storms (although most bare scars), and meticulously record and secure each year of their lives in the rings of their wood. They provide shade and shelter for all types of living creatures. We say of old homes, “If these walls could talk…” The same can be said of trees: “If these trees could talk…” If these trees could talk, we might hear an old prayer.

What would the prayer of a tree sound like? I suspect it would include the passionate promises of young lovers and the wordless grief of the widow. Such a prayer would stretch across years and generations, and so capture moments measured in decades, not minutes. The prayer of a tree would not be caught up in the now, but in the then and now. It would be a long, deliberate prayer, and it would resonate with a timeless beauty. To hear such a prayer would require listening with the heart and not with the ears…

Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.

I asked the tree, ‘Tell me about God;’ and then it blossomed.

Come home to church this Sunday. You may hear a tree blossom.

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Life Notes

 

A Divine Spark

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:11

There is a divine spark within each of us. It burned before we were born, and it continues to burn after our earthly passing. Some call it our soul, our spirit, our True Self, our essence, but it is that which connects us to God – and to each other. When the Bible records in Genesis that we are made in the image and likeness of God, it is because this spark within is from and of God, as if a candle lit from the flame of God.

When we come to earth, that spark clothes itself in a human body, grows, and gets lost in the various phases of our earthiness. The spark within often becomes buried so deep underneath our busy schedules and many obligations and material distractions that it is hard to find or even sense its presence. But it continues to burn. When our earthly body gives out – as everything of the earth eventually does – that spark, which makes us who we are at our core, exits its physical body and continues on, because it is inseparably connected to our eternal God.

There are moments in life when we find ourselves very close to that spark – times when we feel most like our true, genuine, and naked selves, most at home, most contented, most at peace, most loved, and most loving. Simone Weil writes, “In everything which gives us the pure authentic feeling of beauty there really is the presence of God.” Sometimes those moments occur in periods of great sorrow, but it is in those moments we may catch a glimpse of God shining through others and us. It is in those moments we learn something of the nature of God, and the nature of ourselves in God. In those grace-filled times, we experience a connection that stretches into eternity, and we know with a knowledge beyond all knowing that God is good – that God is Love. Once we have approached that fire we cannot keep ourselves away from it. We are drawn to it like a moth to a flame. We are baptized by fire, to use an image provided by John the Baptist.

Like all fire, we may be warmed, or we may be burned, but we will be changed. When we trust in God’s goodness, we know that however the fire of the spirit changes us, the change will be for good.

Come home to church this Sunday. Draw near to your divine spark.

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Life Notes

Resurrection

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:5

Lately, I have been contemplating resurrection. Among the images conjured up by the word are revival, rejuvenation, and rebirth. Earlier this week, I got a call from a police detective. He was at my brother’s apartment and called to tell me my brother was dead.

There was a time when Wade and I were best friends. We learned to snow ski together. We vacationed together. We played basketball, golf, and mud volleyball together. He was the best man at my wedding, and I at his. He had a quirky sense of humor and was always fun company. And then about 20 years ago something in Wade’s brain chemistry shifted, and he ended up in a mental institution for the first of many hospitalizations. At first, his illness was something we dealt with together. As the years passed, however, a wedge developed between us – a wedge due in part to his illness and in part to my anxiety. There was the day in court as his wife and I sought to have him involuntarily committed. There were several nerve-wracking drives, taking him to the hospital as his psychosis raged. A part of Wade became suspicious of me, as if I were looking for any reason to send him back to a mental ward. A part of me resented the need monitor Wade’s mental state with every encounter. Was he in a common realm of reality, or was he only pretending? When he was pretending, he could be unnerving. Perhaps my biggest fear was that his illness would incapacitate him and I, as his oldest sibling, would need to become his legal guardian.

Today, as I reflect on my life with Wade, I realize the discomfort, the anxieties, and the challenges of the past 20 years are gone. The wedge between us has been removed as surely as the stone of Christ’s tomb was rolled away. They, along with his body, now belong to the earth where they can sprout into new life. Wade’s soul is once again free to be the truest and freest version of itself — funny, quirky, loving life and those with whom he shares it. In a fit of unexpected resurrection, I have my brother back.

And this is the essence of resurrection — making things new and better, restoring what is good, healing what is sick, removing that which stands between us and love. In the sadness of losing my brother as a physical presence, I have regained the unfettered memories of the brother I loved dearly. And I can immerse myself in those memories without worrying about when, where, and how the next manifestation of his illness will occur. Part of me always knew those episodes were the illness and not my brother, but sometimes it was difficult to separate the two. Not anymore. Wade’s human frailties are committed to the earth, and he is free. For that, and for the extraordinary experiences, I rejoice.

Godspeed, my brother!

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