Meditation for Trinity Ashland's Celtic Evensong
I grew up in a tradition that said it took scripture “literally.” I was taught that somehow God was up there, out there, ready to intervene for good in our life if we tried really hard to obey his commandments and punish us if we disobeyed: it was always a he, and always commandments, never suggestions or invitations. One true church, one true way, all cut and dried: submit or suffer.
Yet as I grew up, I realized that there was a whole world out there not accounted for by such “literalism.” Good things happened to bad people, and bad things to good. And many deeply concerned people in divergent traditions seemed to experience the unseen world more deeply than I.
My faith grew first from experiencing the reflection of holiness in the natural world. I have seen beautiful and astounding things that made me yearn deeply. Once I accidentally came upon a clamshell with something in it. It turned out to be an octopus protecting her egg cases. They began to hatch as I held the shell in my hand under the water. Another time I saw hundreds of baby sea turtles hatching on a shore, dragging their tiny bodies by their flippers to the sea. Yet another time, I was surrounded on a small boat by a pod of orcas, who played around the boat and were close enough that I could smell them—not fishy, but definitely large mammal. And I saw a peaceful and pastel brilliant sun rise above a settling sea of clouds from a high mountain slope after getting through a long, cold night in white-out gale conditions. Such awe and wonder taught me that our lives are a small part of a glorious mystery, one that includes love and intention. In awe, our hearts and minds yearn to make sense of it all.
But the natural world is not just beauty and awe. It can at times be horrible, red in tooth and claw. Some say that there is no God because the world is just too filled with randomness, pain, and injustice for it to allow for a loving, provident God.
But my experience tells me that that is not so.
As the years went on, I realized that those stories about Jesus I had learned in my youth were also holy reflections of the awe, love, and intention I saw in creation.
In one story, people who believed in that external, interfering God of rules and commandments brought to Jesus a person born blind. They asked: “Whose fault is this—this person’s or their parents’?” Jesus answered with a smile, “Neither. It was so I could have the chance to heal them!” (John 9:2-3).
Another time, they asked Jesus about people who were worshipping when they were massacred by the Romans. “Why did they suffer so? What great evil did they do that God punished them this way?” Jesus answered, “Who knows? They did nothing any worse than anyone else… The point is not that they were particularly bad, but that we all need to be better” (Luke 13:1-5).
Jesus did not believe that all life’s puzzles were cut and dried with tidy answers: “Don’t ask why, or who is to blame. Ask rather, for what purpose? How can I help?”
And as for a God who deals out weal or woe to settle scores, Jesus said God was a loving parent, sending the blessings of rain and sunshine on both the righteous and the wicked, and we should be just as impartially compassionate as that (Matt 5:45-48)
The very fact that we are repulsed by suffering and horror is actually an overwhelming sign of the presence of a loving God. We are made in God’s image, says Genesis. We are holy reflections of God. So when we see horror, the apparent absence of God, our hearts say not just “no,” but “hell, no!”
For Jesus, loving God and neighbor mattered, not subscribing to a set of correct doctrines and practices. What matters is letting the awe and thanks we feel in the presence of holy reflection to saturate our being and leak out in our acts. What counts is loving, taking care of each other. And this good is contagious—it drives away the horror that sometimes is from our own hearts.
So caregiving, whether in my family or in the community, has become more and more of my daily discipline. It can be emotionally draining: encountering hardship each day can be a pebble in the shoe. But Jesus on the cross reminds me that the blessing of God is not in avoiding pain, but in loving and caring through it all.
So especially in horror faces us, caregiving is a holy reflection.
As a caregiver of my beloved Elena, I say this prayer regularly:
“Loving God, you put us in families and relationships, and teach us to care for each other. Help me to show your love and kindness. Open my eyes to see each act of assistance as an opportunity to show grace, not as a problem to be solved. Help me place shoes on with kindness, not cram feet with force; assist walking or movement with gentleness, not hurrying in a rush; listen and try to understand, not chirp “Say again?” in annoyance. Help me allow my beloved to maintain her dignity, not sink into degradation; focus on joy of being able to do what she still can, not wallow in diminishment or regret loss. Make us closer and closer even as her disease gradually separates us. And may someday my grief and sorrow at her passing be an honest pain of a heart longing to be together again, not regret for love I have not shared. For your mercy’s sake I pray, Amen.”
In this time of Covid-19 separation, isolation, and fear, I rejoice each time I wash my hands. To make sure I wash long enough, I sing to myself Old 100th:
All creatures that on earth do dwell
Sing to the Lord with gladsome voice,
Serve God with mirth; God’s praise forth-tell.
Come ye before God, and rejoice.
Know this, the Lord is God, indeed
We are God’s own, God did us make
We are God’s folk, God doth us feed
And for his flock God doth us take.