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Archive for November, 2007

A few days ago our friends went in to check on their two year old son Tristan who was sleeping in his bed and discovered that he was not breathing. All attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. Now our friends are dealing with a grief that I’m sure reaches right to the core of who they are. As a parent, I can easily let myself imagine the grief they are experiencing. They are living every parent’s worst nightmare and my heart breaks for them and their extended family.

When I told my children about Tristan’s death they were surprised and saddened for him and for his brother and parents. We recently spent time with our friends at their home and the memories of that lovely evening are fresh in all of our minds. Ben, my eight year old, was particularly shaken up. He has known other people who died but they were all older folks so the news of a child’s death was shocking to him as it is to all of us. “I didn’t know kids could die” was his initial response and he has worried each night since then that, like Tristan, he will not wake up. Both my children have, however, expressed their faith that God is taking care of Tristan. Last night as I prayed with them before bed Julia prayed to God to “keep Tristan close to your heart.” When talking about Tristan’s death, Ben expressed his belief that while his body was dead, he is in heaven with God and “God will take good care of him until his parents get there.”

As a Christian, I place my faith in the belief that death is not the end of life. I believe that life continues in the presence of God after this life is over. That is my faith; my “assurance of things hoped for, [my] conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1. The question I have been dealing with lately, however, is not about the next life but about this one. How do we live in the present with the grief and sorrow that life brings? When we allow ourselves to love anything or anyone we open ourselves to the potential for loss and over the course of our life these sorrows accumulate. How then, do we live and not be overwhelmed by the weight of sorrow and grief?

While I don’t pretend to have this all figured out, I have come to some conclusions about things that help me:

1. Stay connected. Being part of a community that can support you with love, friendship, humor, compassion, mercy, comfort, and the occasional meal is vital for all of us. As humans, beings created in the image of God, we are built for community and connection. We suffer when we are isolated and our grief and sorrow is amplified.

2. Cultivate stillness. If prayer is talking to God, then being still and quiet is listening for the answer. The temptation is to numb the emotional pain we are feeling with busyness, work, entertainment or mindless distraction (computer solitaire anyone?). As Elijah discovered when he was running for his life from Jezebel in 1 Kings 19, God was heard not in the drama of the great wind, the earthquate or fire, but in a still, small voice. God offers us the comfort of divine presence but we must quiet ourselves to experience that presence. Stillness, quiet and meditation is universally valued by virtually all religious traditions because there is great power in being able to be still enough to open oneself to the presence of God. In western culture quiet and solitude are essentially counter-cultural. If stillness is hard for you, find someone to mentor you in cultivating this spiritual discipline.

3. Find ways to redeem your suffering. Suffering and loss can, over time, be transformed into a powerful energy for doing good in the world. There are countless stories of those who took their suffering and allowed the pain to motivate them. The movie “Lorenzo’s Oil” relates the story of Augusto and Michaela Odone who’s relentless search to find help for their son’s degenerative nerve disease, adrenoleukodystropy (ALD), led to the discovery of a particular kind of oil that is now a standard treatment for children who have ALD. Their discovery did not heal their son (though it did halt the disease’s progression) but their work did help them to redeem their suffering for good. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus offers us a beautiful picture of God’s redemptive power. Even the worst human cruelty and suffering can be redeemed through the power of love.

I don’t offer these thoughts as any sort of pollyanna “three easy steps” to dealing with pain and sorrow. There is nothing easy about this process. My friends who are grieving for their son will be grieving for a long time. I do, however, offer up what I am learning about this terrible, beautiful, painful, joyous process of being a human: created in the image of God for relationships and therfore vulnerable to the sorrow that accompanies the joy of loving.

May each one of us find the comfort, the presence, the redemption that is available to all who seek.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. ” Matthew 7: 7:8

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Giving Thanks to God

  • For family
  • For friends
  • For having more than enough of all I need
  • For health
  • For beauty
  • For joy
  • For love
  • For laughter
  • For comfort in sorrow
  • For peace in the face of fear

Thanks be to God.

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When we decided to fast from TV for a year I had an idea in mind about what that would be like: more reading, more time to do things together as a family, more time for prayer and meditation, and somehow I believed that I would have more peace. While most of those expectations have been met I have been surprised by how unsettling it has been in recent days. The first month was great. We were outside more, getting more exercise, doing more things together and I felt better than I had felt in a long while on a variety of levels. After school started things got more challenging as our schedule picked up with kids activities, church activities, etc., but still it felt good. The last six weeks, however have been quite unsettling. As I have been reading more about the serious problems facing our world due to climate change, political unrest, social inequity, etc., I have experienced more anxiety than have had at any time previous in my life. This experience of anxiety has given me a new empathy for those that live with panic and anxiety on a daily basis. I can understand more now about how it can be debilitating.

As I have worked to manage my anxiety through prayer, exercise, meditation, play, and writing, I have gained a new understanding about how our culture uses TV and other forms of electronic media and entertainment to self-medicate. Karl Marx said that “religion is the opium of the people” but it seems to me that in 21st century North America TV and/or electronic media is the opium of the people. One can spend an evening watching most network or cable programming and other than the few minutes of news programming which brings in a bit of reality, albeit mostly about things that happen to other folks, one can convince oneself that all is well. (sigh of relief) However, if we turn the TV, computer, radio, CD player, or iPod off or put away the book we are reading and sit in the silence it doesn’t take very long for most of us to feel uncomfortable and unsettled.

Why is it that we, who are among the most privileged humans on the planet, fret when faced with silence and feel the need to be distracted? What is it we feel that is so uncomfortable? I have come to understand that we need to be distracted because much of what we invest ourselves in does not satisfy us on the deepest levels. We are investing in things that will not, that cannot, last and somewhere deep inside we know it.

In these past few weeks I have had to come face to face with some things that scare me, that unsettle me, that feel out of my control and it has not been comfortable. I have been challenged to look beyond myself and move out of my comfort zone and what I have encountered challenges me on many levels. But in the process I have also encountered the “peace that passes all understanding” as I have prayed and invited the Holy Spirit to transform my anxiety into an energy that can be a force for good in the world. I feel as though for the first time in a long time I’m really paying attention in a more sustained sort of way to what God has to teach me and what I need to learn about living as a faithful disciple of Jesus.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Isaiah 55: 1-2

Thanks be to God.

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As I write this we are gathered preparing to watch a movie. The kids are alternating between playing and bickering. Not watching TV means that they have more time on their hands to try to fill. Consequently, they seem to bicker more which is maddening to me. I have no idea how my parents stood having six kids in the house at one time. I’ve asked everyone to come upstairs where our computer is so that we can have a discussion about our fast and I can attempt to transcribe it as we talk.

Betsy: “Ok…what do we want to say about our three months without TV?”

David: “It’s only been three months? Time really crawls when you are not watching TV.”

Julia: “Don’t watch it until two thousand hundred thirty seventy five years.”

Mom: “Why?”

Julia: “So we can get more healthier.”

Mom: “How does not watching TV make us healthier.”

Julia: “Too much TV makes you get jello in your brain.”

Ben: “Not watching TV is fun because you can play with other stuff like your legos or you can read books. We can talk with our family at dinner.”

Mom: “What books have you been reading?”

Ben: “Guardians of the Ga’hoole, Harry Potter, Hank the Cowdog, The Island,”

Mom: “What is hardest about not watching TV?”

Ben: “Nothing, I already told you, it’s fun.”

Mom: “You don’t miss any TV shows?”

Ben: “I don’t miss any.”

Mom: “What would you say to other families that might think about fasting from TV?”

Ben: “No one in my school is going to do that. I’d tell them it can hurt your brain. ”

Mom: “Do you tell people you don’t watch TV?”

Ben: “No. They would think I’m stupid cause everyone watches TV.”

Three months. Now that we’ve moved the clocks back an hour it gets dark so much earlier and it seems a little harder.  I’ll write more later about some surprising things I’ve discovered in these three months but the kids are clamoring to watch the movie (Evan Almighty) so I’ll close.

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Buy items that are produced locally. It take a lot of gas to ship food and products produced far away to your area and thus produces more carbon emissions into the atmosphere. There is more locally produced food now available as the demand for local products creates a market for farmers and producers to sell their goods. To find local producers and outlets in your area click on the links below.

http://www.localharvest.org/

 http://www.sustainabletable.org/

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