Friday, February 19, 2010

Love, Life and Death: A Valentine's Meditation

Love lives at the junction of life and death. Death is the reminder that our time is too precious to waste it on what and whom we don’t love. Life is the permission we have to keep loving until death takes us and then only our memory will serve as love’s force. When I first began my ministry I would pronounce a couple married until “the death in two people’s hearts”. What a self-help cop out! That was almost permission to throw in the towel! Then I shifted to pronouncing them married “until death do us part”. That was more like it. But only after I did a wedding for a former Mormon couple did I realize that I was still missing the point. Mormons believe that marriage is for eternity. In some ways, we are still married to the ones we first loved, still parents to the children we have lost, still connected to the parents now gone. I have revised my pronouncement once again, “I will love you, from each sun to each moon, from now to forever.”
Love never dies. It may be as immortal as time itself.

With grace and grit, John

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lost and Found

I was once interviewed by the children and I asked them what they think I do. They thought about this, and one boy said, “You talk to people on Sunday…" pausing for a moment and then adding “and they listen”. Amazing! Another girl said "the minister is one who marries people!" Nicely done! And then ensued an open discussion of what marriage means, and who in the class of preschoolers is in love with whom and who loves who but finds that love unredeemed and so on. There I was dispensing pastoral care and marriage advice to a bunch of preschoolers. Who says a young person's life isn't complicated?

When they got to Administrator’s job the kids were a little more perplexed. Just what does our administrator do? (Of course for those of us in the know the question is really what doesn't he do?!) Finally, one little girl hit upon the answer "Isn’t the administrator the one who runs the lost and found?" Indeed! An important function if you are a little person who has lost a favorite toy or blanket. Well, of course, the administrator is the lost and found department. In fact, we all are. The more I thought about our church as place for the lost and found, the more I realized that it was so true.

Why wouldn't our homes and communities be a place for the lost and found? We come having lost our way, lost our soul, lost a mate, lost a job, lost our shoes, lost our hope. I would hazard to guess that almost all who first come to my church come because something was lost in your life. Something needed desperately to find again even if it is just a reason to go on living. It might not be something as desperate as your life, but perhaps you are looking for something. What might that something be?

The days are growing longer but our troubles seem just as dark. Our economic recovery is slow and slower. People are out of work and in need. From ancient times we have been searching for a reason to go on through the darkness, lighting huge bonfires at the solstice to ward off the darkness and welcome the sun back into our lives. Every holiday harkens back to this primal urge to find what was lost. And so with each season, also with our lives. As the 23rd psalm reminds us "Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death... " We go through the darkness to find light in our lives again, we don't stay there. Whether that light is Jesus, Mary, Krishna or any child born into this hurting world.

As Spring approaches, this season of expectation is a reminder that while darkness comes, lights always follows. While we may lose everything something or someone will take its place.

Twenty seven years ago I thought I had lost it all. Bankrupt, alone after a failed marriage, I was walking the streets of New York around Rockefeller Plaza on Fifth Avenue. I had turned onto a side street walking for no reason at all, It was cold, bitterly cold, Across the street hovered over a heating grate was a homeless person wrapped in a thin blanket. I couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman. Just then walking around the comer with great purpose came a well‑dressed businessman. He passed the person on the grate without looking at all. Suddenly, about 10 feet away he stopped, turned around and walked back to the homeless person. Without a moment's hesitation, he took off his expensive camel hair overcoat, draped it over the shoulders of this homeless person and reached into his pocket, pulled out a wad of money and put it into her hand, Then picking up his briefcase walked on even more briskly as if he were trying to make up for lost time. I stood there watching this awe struck. True, that overcoat, which easily cost close to a thousand dollars, probably meant little to the rich man but to the homeless it was life itself. Leaving aside all the systemic reasons for homelessness for which the rich man was more part of the problem than the solution, I felt as if I was in the presence of a divine moment. Not the rich man, not the homeless person but the action of giving. It was a radical epiphany for me; a moment of profound realization that somehow life would be all right again. Whatever was lost in me (and to this day I couldn't tell you what that was) I found witnessing this holy act of love. Through the darkness new light was found.

I implore you to join together in searching for what was lost. I believe the light is what we all yearn for. If ever there was a place to begin your search for the lost, this is that place for the lost to be found. It may not come to us all at once. It may only be a hint, a small clue to our search, but let this place and this season be the time to search for it. You won't find it in the lost and found box in the close. But you may find a way through the darkness and back to the light with those we love.

With Grace and Grit, John