We need one another

One Lisa Fotios at Pexels

What do you miss during social distancing?

I miss hugs. Concerts. Attending church. Sharing a birthday cake. Being there in person to feel someone’s joy or pain or struggle.

I miss Singo, a sing-along version of bingo. During Singo, nobody cares about political labels, age groups or religious affiliation. Everyone sings familiar lyrics together, and strangers get up and dance with one another.

Everyone just enjoys each other’s company.

All those activities are on hold as we try to contain the spread of a virus that leaves death and battered bodies in its wake. When the time comes that we can safely be social again, I hope we’ll do it with a renewed appreciation for each other.

I hope the pandemic has taught us how much we need one another.

We needed that lesson. We’ve become so divided that we’ve forgotten we’re intimately bound to one another.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, we’re all “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” Mother Teresa said that “if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”

How did we forget that? How did we lose the pleasure and peace of each other’s loving company?

Perhaps a confluence of factors is responsible for fraying our common fabric.

Our culture worships individuality, the myth of the self-made man who pulls himself up by his bootstraps without anyone’s assistance at all. It’s all about me and my rights.

The Americanized version of Christianity promotes this self-centeredness, too. The prosperity gospel preaches self-absorption. Pad your personal accounts – financial as well as spiritual – while telling those bleeding by the side of the road to work harder.

We’ve got political, social and religious leaders trying to sell us the bitter pill of division as well. They want us to quarantine within political, social and theological bubbles, pushing away everyone who is different.

They frame it as us-against-them and promote nonstop political, cultural and religious wars against anyone not inside our bubble.

No! They’re selling a lie. The last three months have reminded us how much we need to stop the fighting and start reconnecting with one another.

Those connections are what we miss.

God made us as social beings. We’re hard-wired to be together and have relationship with God, with all God’s children, and with all God’s creation. Those artificial divisions deprive us of what we need most.

Hopefully that’s the pandemic’s lesson for when the time comes that we can safely come together again as extended human family.

We need one another.

(photo by Lisa Fotios @pexels.com)

 

 

 

Lessons of restlessness

restless thibaud saintin CC

Restlessness can be a good teacher.

We all feel restless at various times in our lives — I’m feeling that way now, and I’m sure I’m not alone. With the pandemic, many of our routines are gone. Favorite diversions are no longer available.

We’re used to being on the daily treadmill and now the machine is unplugged, and we don’t know what to do next. Every day feels the same. Our usual coping mechanisms are unavailable.

Restlessness abounds. And it has some important things it wishes to teach us.

Normally, we try to avoid the lessons by anesthetizing it with alcohol or other substances. We seek temporary good feelings that are never as deep or enduring as we want.

We buy something, or we watch something, or we start some project hoping it will bring the missing sense of satisfaction. It never provides more than temporary relief.

And then the feeling returns to remind us that something important is missing from our life right now.

Augustine had the famous line about how our souls are restless until they rest in our God of love. We must let that love transform us, heal us and animate us.

Only then do we get the peace and purpose we crave. Only then is our restlessness replaced by an energizing connectedness.

These challenging weeks provide a chance to take a closer look and see what needs to be stripped away to create space for what we really want.

We can see what sidetracks us from where we need to go. We can take inventory of the ways we fall into the trap of merely killing time or relieving boredom instead of living deeply.

We can identify things we substitute for love and fulfillment.

The pandemic has temporarily stripped away our diversions and temporary fixes, creating room to grow – if we choose. May our restlessness point us toward what we really desire.

As Richard Rohr puts it, “If there is no living water flowing through us, then we must pray for the desire for it to flow! Once the desire for something more is stirred and recognized, it is just a matter of time.

“Nothing less will ever totally satisfy us again.”

(Photo courtesy of Thibaud Saintin @creativecommons.org)

 

Wouldn’t a break be nice?

resting in field pixabay

We could all use a short break right about now.

A few days without teleconferencing or swimming furiously against the tide of emails and directives. Some space to let our minds relax for a while. A time to set aside worrying about what will change next, how things will look in a month, how our loved ones are coping.

We need a break from all that.

We all could use some sabbath.

The concept goes way back in time. Sabbath was a day to rest, to regain our bearings, and to let go of what’s less important so that we can consider what really matters.

Sabbath amounted to hitting the pause button.

Rabbi Brian Mayer notes that in those days, there were 39 types of work involved in making the tabernacle. Folks were urged to refrain from those expressions of work for one day.

They understood that when we get too caught up in the process of building, we lose sight of the reason we’re building. We get too caught up in the work itself and forget about the goal. Our work loses its sense of purpose and its significance.

That’s why we need time to rest and refocus. It’s especially true for us with the coronavirus upending our routines and leaving our brains processing information and change at a fast-forward speed.

So, let’s declare today a day of rest that’s needed and deserved. In our own ways, let’s unplug from stress and plug back into the Source of life and love.

Unplug for one day, as best we can, the part of our brain that obsesses over all the uncertainty.

Unplug from the voices that peddle falsehoods and unfounded fear.

Unplug from the noise around us that wears us down with its steady drip.

Unplug from the temptation to think that we’re all alone in this.

And then, plug in.

Plug into the goodness that flows through each of us.

Plug into the creativity that helps us get through such times.

Plug into new ideas, new thoughts, new inspiration that refresh us.

Plug into the love that is still all around us and within us.

For one day, let’s indulge ourselves in the things that we love, the activities that recharge us.

Bake something. Take a nap. Listen to your favorite music. Dance. Garden. Watch a program that makes you laugh – laughter has holy and healing properties.

Watch birds eat from a feeder. Read an inspiring story. Take a walk and enjoy the greening grass and the blossoming spring flowers. Call someone you haven’t spoken with in a long time – now is a good time.

If you feel like doing absolutely nothing, then give yourself that gift. Allow yourself to rest and heal and recharge from the last few weeks in whatever ways you need.

Enjoy your sabbath. Get recharged. Tomorrow, we get back at it!

(photo courtesy of  Pixabay)

Just one normal day, please?

crocus-flowers-colorful-color-69775

A friend messaged me Thursday evening after she finished some annual prep work on her garden – clearing debris, preparing the soil for planting.

She was sitting on her front porch watching rain clouds move in. She wanted to share with several of her friends how good it felt in that moment – outside getting fresh air, tending the garden that is her passion, and reconnecting with folks.

She said it felt so good to be doing normal things.

A few hours later, a storm moved in and sirens went off – a tornado warning had been issued. Of course! That’s how things are going these days, right?

Doesn’t it seem like we can’t get through a day without some curveball thrown our way? Fortunately, the storm rumbled through without major incident, and we all went back to living in the moment.

Don’t you long for just one day of normalcy?

Yesterday, temperatures in southwest Ohio reached near 70 degrees, our warmest day yet this year. I jogged in the afternoon and passed young people zooming down the street on skateboards – one had a freshly scraped nose, presumably from a fall.

Families were walking together, keeping a distance – I don’t know if it was to maintain a safe space or the result of being cooped up together for a week. People were jogging or walking their dogs.

Everyone smiled and waved, even the scratch-nosed teenager.

The Bradford pear trees were unveiling their white petals. Purple, yellow and white crocuses were sunning themselves. The daffodils’ trumpet-shaped flowers kept their own beat in the wind.

It all felt so refreshing, so familiar, so … normal.

As we struggle with our new circumstances and wonder what “normal” will be in the future, it’s comforting to be reminded that there’s familiarity all around us and within us.

Nature is doing its long-anticipated, seasonal thing. People are still showing kindness and love, if from a distance.

It’s a reminder that we, like God, are in the business of constantly weaving together the old and the new into something that will be filled with grace in its own ways.

And it will be very good. Challenging? For sure! But also good.

_ Joe

(photo courtesy of Pixabay)

A ride home on Christmas eve

pierogi ornament 2

I was 6 years old on that Christmas eve. The traditional Slovak dinner was prepared — mushroom soup and pierogies. My mom, my younger brother and I were waiting for my dad to get home from work so we could eat.

The waiting was no surprise.

My dad served as a paratrooper in the Korean war. He was wounded during a mission. The experience changed him. He brought demons home from the battlefield.

The demons tended to emerge during the holidays. My dad would get off work at a marketplace in downtown Cleveland and head across the street to a tavern with co-workers. The co-workers would have a holiday drink and go home; my dad would stay and drink. Maybe he was trying to drown those demons.

Meanwhile, we were home waiting. And getting hungry.

Mom decided we’d eat without him. After supper, my brother and I got into our new pajamas. We got new PJs for Christmas every year, the kind with footies and cool designs like race cars or superheroes.

Snug in our sleepwear, we sat on the couch and waited some more. It was getting late. Mom was anxious, afraid that something bad had happened.

A surprise visitor

Finally, headlights illuminated the driveway. We looked out the front window. We could see a car, but it wasn’t my dad’s car. There were two silhouettes in the front seat — a driver and a slumped-over passenger.

The slumped-over passenger? My dad. Someone had given him a ride home. Not the first time.

The driver helped my dad walk up the driveway. When my mom opened the door, we saw both figures in the light and got a huge surprise.

The man who drove my father home was black.

We lived in an ethnic neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side. There were no black people there. Many people in my neighborhood wouldn’t welcome a black person to their door. This was the 1960s. The civil rights movement was in full swing. There was much racial tension in cities like Cleveland.

This black man had great courage coming to my house, not knowing how he would be received.

After they got my dad inside, my mom invited the man to stay and eat – her way of saying thanks. He accepted. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with him. I’m guessing it’s the only time in his life that he had pierogi and mushroom soup.

He saw he could help, so he did

Years later, I asked my mom about that night. The man told her that he knew my dad, saw him at the bar, realized he was in no condition to drive, and decided to get him home safely.

The man could have found any number of legitimate reasons to avoid getting involved. It was Christmas eve. He’d be putting someone drunk into his car, risking a mess. He didn’t know my family and whether we would welcome his gesture or even appreciate it. Besides, my dad would probably just get drunk again and be in the same predicament, so what’s the point?

Why bother with him?

Instead of walking away, the man thought about how my dad could get behind the wheel and kill himself, and maybe someone else, too. The man could do something about it, so he did.

He changed everything about my life – more than any of us can ever know.

Months later, my dad recognized that his drinking was a problem. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous, confronted his demons, and courageously transformed his life. My family had many good times together over the years, times we might not have received if not for that courageous man on Christmas eve.

And who knows how many other families were affected that night? Many people were on the road. How many other lives and other families did the man save?

One act changes everything

I never saw the man again. I’m thankful for what he did and for what he taught me. He showed me how race and other differences need not divide us. Love knows no boundaries.

He might be alive today, totally unaware of how his kindness that long-ago night is still remembered and treasured. Every Christmas eve, I pray for him and for the courage to be a little more like him.

Maybe you could, too.

A ride home on Christmas eve

pierogi ornament 2

I was 6 years old. It was Christmas eve. The traditional Slovak dinner was prepared — mushroom soup and pierogies. My mom, my younger brother and I were waiting for my dad to get home so we could eat.

The waiting part was no surprise.

My dad served as a paratrooper in the Korean war. He was wounded during a mission. The experience changed him. He brought home some demons.

The demons emerged during the holidays. My dad would get off work at a marketplace in downtown Cleveland and head across the street to a tavern with his co-workers. They would have a holiday drink and go home; my dad would stay and drink. Maybe he was trying to drown those demons.

Meanwhile, we were home waiting. And getting hungry.

Mom decided we’d eat without him. After supper, my brother and I got into our new pajamas. We always got new ones for Christmas, the kind with footies and cool designs like race cars or superheroes.

Snug in our sleepwear, we sat on the couch and waited some more. It was getting late. My mom was anxious, afraid that something bad had happened.

A surprise visitor

 

Finally, headlights illuminated the driveway. We looked out the front window. We could see a car, and we could tell it wasn’t my dad’s car. We could see two silhouettes in the front seat — a driver and a slumped-over passenger.

The slumped-over passenger? My dad, no doubt. Someone had given him a ride home. Not the first time.

The driver helped my dad to the front door. When my mom opened the door, we saw both figures in the light and got a huge surprise.

The man who drove my father home? A black man.

Understand this: We lived in an ethnic neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side. There were no black people in my neighborhood. Many people in my neighborhood wouldn’t welcome a black person to their door. This was the 1960s. The civil rights movement was in full swing. There was a lot of racial tension in cities like Cleveland.

This black man had great courage coming to my house, not knowing how he would be received.

After they got my dad inside, my mom invited the man to stay and eat – her way of saying thanks. He accepted. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with him. I’m guessing it was the only time in his life that he had pierogies and mushroom soup.

He saw he could help, so he did

Years later, I asked my mom about that night. The man told her that he knew my dad, saw him at the bar, realized he was in no condition to drive, and decided to get him home safely.

The man could have found any number of legitimate reasons to avoid getting involved. It was Christmas eve. He’d be putting someone drunk into his car, risking a mess. He didn’t know my family and whether we would welcome his gesture or even appreciate it. Besides, my dad would probably just get drunk again and be in the same predicament, so what’s the point?

Why bother with him?

Instead of walking away, the man thought about how my dad could get behind the wheel and kill himself, and maybe kill someone else, too. The man could do something about it, so he did.

He changed everything about my life – more than any of us can ever know.

Months later, my dad recognized that his drinking was a problem. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and courageously transformed his life. My family had many good times together over the years, times we might not have received if not for that courageous man on Christmas eve.

One act changes everything

And who knows how many other families were affected that night? Many people were on the road. How many other lives and other families did the man save?

I never saw that man again. I think about him every Christmas, though. I’m thankful for what he did.

Every Christmas eve, I pray for the man who had the kindness to drive my dad home and change my life and my family in unknowable ways. And I pray for the courage to be a little more like him every day.

Maybe you could, too.

Wait a while

Hose

One of my favorite summer activities as a youngster was setting up for our church festival. We lived down the street from our Catholic church – Our Lady of Lourdes — and got paid to do the grunt work.

The pastor was a kind man known as Father John. He’d directed many festivals and knew the process. He was wise about many things, including the importance of patience.

He was always slowing down us youngsters.

For instance, we wanted to drag the tables and chairs out of the creepy, cobweb-filled church basement and set them up in the food court as fast possible, checking that nasty job off our to-do list. Father John knew better.

He’d tell us: “Wait a while.”

As we toted the dirty tables from the church basement, he’d have us unfold them and set them on their sides. He’d get a hose and spray them clean, reminding us that nobody wants to sit at a dirty table.

He’d also spray us a time or two, which was part of the fun on a hot June afternoon.

Only when the tables and chairs were clean and dry were they ready to be moved to their proper place. Father John was right about this, of course. He knew that in our rush to move onto the next thing, we’d be creating problems down the line.

Just slow down. Do what needs to be done now, and do it well – even if you end up wet and dirty in the process.

Wait a while.

No fast-forward button

That three-word expression has stuck in my head all these years. It’s taught me not only about setting up chairs and tables for an event, but also about getting through many difficult challenges in life.

Sometimes, you just have to wait a while.

I’ve had so many times when I wished I could hit a fast-forward button. I’d think about something exciting that’s just over the horizon – summer vacation, graduation, a new job, a fun trip, starting a family – and I’d spend a lot of time daydreaming about it and looking forward to it.

And in the process of fixating on days to come, I’d miss all the good stuff in the current one.

I think that fast-forward feeling is particularly true for all of us in the tough times. We lose a parent or a spouse or a child, and we wish the pain would go away instead of scraping our insides day after day. We lose a job or a relationship or a role, and we want to move onto the next thing right away.

Something happens that bruises our self-confidence or our self-worth, and we wish the wound would heal overnight.

Grieving and healing work in their own time, in their own way, for each of us. It’s no fun being in those moments, but the only way to grow through them is to accept them while without slipping into despair.

Yes, this moment really sucks. But it’s not the end. Be a little patient.

Wait a while.

Many faith communities recently observed a wait-a-while day, the one between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It recalls the day after a group of followers saw their leader publicly humiliated and executed as an insurgent.

Their response? They ran and hid behind locked doors. They felt totally crushed. Their lives had just crashed and burned — or so it seemed. All their aspirations of transforming the world with their message of love-one-another felt so foolish.

It’s time to get real, give up and move on. Go back to fishing or doing whatever.

But wait a while. The story isn’t finished. You’ll see, soon enough.

The story isn’t finished

None of our stories is ever finished. The author of life never gives up on life, or on the love that infuses all of it and each of us. We go through many times when it feels as though we’ve been crushed. All our hopes and aspirations seem buried, and a big old stone has been rolled in front of the tomb.

We need to hold fast a little longer, and to listen as we do. We’ll hear the sound of the immovable stone somehow getting rolled away. Soon, the morning sunlight is peeking into the cold, dead space inside of us, infusing us with life again.

It takes time. It never happens in an instant or an hour or a day. There’s no fast-forward button to healing and growth – and it’s probably best. If there was, we’d wind up zooming past life itself.

So, hold on. Wait a while. Your story isn’t finished.

In many ways, it’s starting all over again.

Did you hear the news? God is pregnant

Image

It’s interesting how we consider birth and death as complete opposites, one a beginning and the other and ending. But are they really? Or are they maybe different words for the same thing?

Is death the end of our story or the beginning of a sequel that opens with a familiar scene?

Try to imagine yourself the day before you were born.

You’re floating in a dark, temperature-controlled bag of fluid. All of your senses work, but they’re mostly useless where you are. You’re growing inside of your parent, literally surrounded by her and attached to her by a cord that brings you everything you need to live and grow and develop.

Of course, you don’t comprehend any of this. You’re in the world, but not fully part of it yet. Oblivious to most of it.

If someone could somehow communicate with you in the womb and tell you about the world that is all around you — so much to taste, touch, feel, smell, see and experience — it would sound like fiction because it’s so far removed from what you’ve experienced. Too good and too weird to be true. It might even scare you a bit.

You’re safe in your little womb, which is all you‘ve ever known. And you would want to stay there, even though it’s getting cramped and uncomfortable.

But you don’t get to choose. Ready or not, you’re born. You emerge into the greater world. Someone cuts the cord. And there waiting for you: Parents with outstretched arms and tear-stained cheeks, ready to pull you close, hug you and tell you that they’ve waited a lifetime for this moment.

Your parents have probably retold the story of that amazing moment many times. They may have embellished it along the way, though that doesn’t make it any less true. On one special day every year, you celebrate the story of how your life began.

It’s a wonderful story, and it isn’t finished. The story of our birth is still being written.

We’ve traded one womb for another. Simply put, God is pregnant with us. We’re living inside our parent, literally connected to the one who made us. We stay in our latest three-dimensional womb for days or weeks or years or decades, ideally growing and developing into a person who loves and lives like our parent.

Just like the first time, there’s much beyond our womb that we don‘t know and can‘t understand.

We like our womb and want to stay here, even as we outgrow it and feel confined by it. Eventually, we have another cut-the-cord moment.

And we shouldn’t be surprised to find our Parent waiting for us with tear-stained cheeks and outstretched arms to pull us close, hug us and tell us this moment has been an eternity in the making.

And then what? Only the sequel writer knows.

None of us knows what that moment is like until we experience it. The thought of it scares us. We don’t want to leave here. What comes next? Whatever it is, it’s beyond our comprehension. But that’s OK.

All we can do is trust that the Parent who loves us enough to give us that first birthday has much more in store for their beloved child. A sequel full of surprises, if you will, with an opening sentence that sounds familiar.

It begins with a birth.