Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,

“This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

A poem for today ...

Poetry has been saving my weary soul lately.

I have been reading Padraig O Tuama's spiritual memoir, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World and it is rich with his poems.

Here is one that took my breath away this morning.

Collect

God of watching,

whose gaze I doubt and rally against both,

but in which I take refuge, despite my limited vision.

Shelter me today,

against the flitting nature of my own focus,

and help me find a calm kind of standing.

And when I falter, which is likely,

give me the courage and the kindness to begin again with hope and coping.

For you are the one whose watchfulness is steady.

Amen.

God of silence,

who watches our growth and decay,

who watches tsunamis and summer holidays,

who cares for the widow, the orphan,

the banker, the terrorist, the student,

the politician, the poet, the freedom fighter.

We pray to be nurtured in our own silences.

We pray that we might find in those silences

truth, compassion, fatigue and hearing.

Because you, you, you see all, and are often silent.

And we need to hope that you are not inattentive to our needs.

Amen.

God of darkness

You must be the god of darkness

because if you are not, who else can we turn to?

Turn to us now.

Turn to us.

Turn your face to us.

Because it is dark here.

And we are in need. We are people in need.

We can barely remember our own truth, and if you too have 

forgotten,

then we are without a hope of a map.

Turn to us now.

Turn to us.

Turn your face to us.

Because you turned toward us in the body of incarnation.

You turned toward us.

Amen.

 

 

 

Why?

Why?

Why is the Old Testament filled with God's constant command for God's people to care for the orphan, the widow, the alien?

Why did the prophet Micah state that God has shown humankind what is good - Acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God?

Why did the prophet Isaiah state that God wants a religious fast that looks like loosing the chains of injustice, untying the cords of the yoke, setting the oppressed free, sharing our food with the hungry, providing shelter for the wanderer and clothing the naked?

Why did the prophet Amos cry out - Away with the noise and pomp and circumstance of your festivals and worship services! But let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream?

Why did Jesus say - Whatever you have done to the least of these, it is as if you have done it to me?

Why did Jesus say - Anyone can love those who love them! But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?

Why did Jesus say - The greatest among you will be the one who serves?

Why did Jesus say - It is by this one thing that people can know you are my followers, if you love each other?

Why did the apostle Paul say - Because you are God's chosen people, clothe yourselves with things like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Why?

And why, oh why are followers of Jesus allowing the American political system to pull us off course so badly right now?

Why?

 

Let's try these beautiful responses

If you read my post yesterday, you know I cited a list of things we should stop saying to struggling friends or acquaintances.

This list was composed by Kate Bowler and can be found in the back of the incredible memoir about her life with Stage IV colon cancer. The book is called Everything Happens for a Reason ... and other lies I've loved.

As promised, here is her suggested list of things to say to those who are hurting.

She calls it - Give this a go, See how it works: A Short List

1. "I'd love to bring you a meal this week. Can I email you about it?"

Oh, thank goodness. I am starving, but mostly I can never figure out something to tell people that I need, even if I need it. But really, bring me anything. Chocolate. A potted plant. A set of weird erasers. I remember the first gift I got that wasn't about cancer and I was so happy I cried. Send me funny emails filled with You-Tube clips to watch during chemotherapy. Do something that suits your gifts. But most important, bring me presents!

2. "You are a beautiful person."

Unless you are of the opposite gender and used to speaking in a creepy windowless-van kind of voice, comments like these go a long way. Everyone wants to know they are doing a good job without feeling like they are learning a lesson. So tell your friend something about his life that you admire without making it feel like a eulogy.

3. "I am so grateful to hear about how you're doing and just know that I'm on your team."

You mean I don't have to give you an update? You asked someone else for all the gory details? Whew! Great! Now I get to feel like you are both informed and concerned. So don't gild the lily. What you have said is amazing, so don't screw it up by being a Nosy Nellie. Ask a question about any other aspects of my life.

4. "Can I give you a hug?" *

Some of my best moments with people have come with a hug or a hand on the arm. People who are suffering often - not always - feel isolated and want to be touched. Hospitals and big institutions in general tend to treat people like cyborgs or throwaways. So ask if your friend feels up for a hug and give her some sugar. 

5. "Oh, my friend, that sounds so hard."

Perhaps the weirdest thing about having something awful happen is the fact that no one wants to hear about it. People tend to want to hear the summary but they usually don't want to hear it from you. And that it was awful. So simmer down and let them talk for a bit. Be willing to stare down the ugliness and sadness. Life is absurdly hard, and pretending it isn't is exhausting.

6. ******Silence******

The truth is that no one knows what to say. It's awkward. Pain is awkward. Tragedy is awkward. People's weird, suffering bodies are awkward. But take the advice of one man who wrote to me with his policy: Show up and shut up.

A FINAL PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT TO SUFFERING PEOPLE:

Just remember that if cancer or divorce or tragedies of all kinds won't kill you, people's good intentions will. Take the phrase "but they mean well ..." as your cue to run screaming from the room.

Or demand presents.

You deserve a break.

* Note from Alice -

No hugs during Covid, unless you are part of the quarantine pod of the struggling person!

One more note from Alice -

So many people are hurting right now.

People we know are suffering all kinds of tragedies, large and small.

The very last thing we should do with our words is add to their misery.

If you have to, keep this list close by. Refer to it before you get together with a hurting friend.

And if all else fails, try silence, a small gift, a hug and a smile.

Lord knows we could all use some serious kindess these days.

 

No more of these dumb statements, please

These days I am reading Kate Bowler's fantastic memoir called Everything Happens for A Reason ... and other lies I've loved.

Bowler has Stage IV colon cancer.

She is also a young mom, a brilliant professor, a wife, a follower of Jesus.

She cites, at the end of her book, a list entitled: "Absolutely Never Say This to People Experiencing Terrible Times."

I feel compelled to share.

Here is her short list, along with her commentary:

1. "Well, at least ..."

Whoa. Hold up there. Were you about to make a comparison? At least it's not ... what? Stage IV cancer? Don't minimize.

2. "In my long life, I've learned that ..."

Geez. Do you want a medal? I get it! You lived forever. Well, some people are worried that they won't, or that things are so hard that they won't want to. So ease up on the life lessons. Life is a privilege, not a reward.

3. "It's going to get better, I promise."

Well, fairy godmother, that's going to be a tough row to hoe when things go badly.

4. "God needed an angel."

This one takes the cake because (a) it makes God look sadistic and needy and (b) angels are, according to Christian tradition, created from scratch. Not dead people looking for a cameo in Ghost. You see how confusing it is when we pretend that the deceased return to help you find your car keys or make pottery?

5. "Everything happens for a reason."

The only thing worse than saying this is pretending that you know the reason. I've had hundreds of people tell me the reason for my cancer. Because of my sin. Because of my unfaithfulness. Because God is fair. Because God is unfair. Because of my aversion to Brussels sprouts. I mean, no one is short of reasons. So if people tell you this, make sure you are there when they go through the cruelest moments of their lives, and start offering your own. When someone is drowning, the only thing worse than failing to throw them a life preserver is handing them a reason.

6. "I've done some research and ..."

I thought I should listen to my oncologist and my nutritionist and my team of specialists, but it turns out that I should be listening to you! Yes, please, tell me more about the medical secrets that only one flaxseed provider in Orlando knows. Wait, let me get a pen.

7. "When my aunt had cancer ..."

My darling dear, I know you are trying to relate to me. Now you see me and you are reminded that terrible things have happened in the world. But guess what? That is where I live, in the valley of the shadow of death. But now I'm on vacation because I'm not in the hospital or dealing with my mess. Do I have to take my sunglasses off and join you in the saddest journey down memory lane, or do you mind if I finish my mojito?

8. "So how are treatments going? How are you really?"

This is the toughest one of all. I can hear you trying to understand my world and be on my side. But picture the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Got it? Now try to put it in a sentence. Now say it aloud fifty times a day. Does your head hurt? Do you feel sad? Me, too. So let's just see if I want to talk about it today because sometimes I do and sometimes I want a hug and a recap of American Ninja Warrior.

 

Do you love her as much as I do?

I highly recommend her book. It is incredible.

Stay tuned for her very short list of statements to try if you want to speak a word of hope and help to suffering friends.

Until then ... silence is a great option. Along with a hug or a home-cooked meal.