Sunday, January 29, 2012

When Cat Hair Ruled the World

I confess. I absolutely loathe doing housework. Don't get me wrong, I love a clean house, I just hate doing what needs doing in order to have it. Unfortunately, not being independently wealthy, the housecleaning falls to the housekeeper (me) rather than the staff of maids. The only staff I have is a staff of five -- me and the four felines who share my domicile -- one of us to clean and four to contribute something to clean. It works for them, anyway.

I can live without frequent vacuuming. The boys (and Phoebe) don't really like the sound of my small but efficient Oreck although Gandhi, for some perverse reason, actually likes having the brush attachment run over his luxurious fur -- provided the motor is as far away as possible. Dusting I can live without too but after a while it gets to me and I have to do it. The vacuuming, though, is what gets to me faster, mainly because, with bare floors, things show up on it that wouldn't normally show on carpets, things like, well, loose aggregations of cat hair.

I have a whole bunch of slippers I like to wear because they have microfiber fingers on the bottom so I can actually dust-mop the floor just by walking (or rather shuffling, which I do more naturally these days). That works for me -- up to a point. They are useful for picking up stray small patches of cat fluff, particularly those under my desk (which seems to be some kind of sanctuary or meeting hall for them), but there comes a point where they do their own form of the Occupy movement. They set up a camp and, if I remove as many as I see, within just a few minutes there are more there. So, in the interest of my runny nose and the taunting of the fluff balls, it's time to dig out the Oreck and mow the floors. Mowing seems like the proper term; it's a bit like taking care of the grass which has to be trimmed down periodically. So it is with my floors because I have no illusions of ever getting every blade -- or every hair -- in perfect trim and order. Never happen. Nope. I will probably be dead for ten years and whoever lives here (if anyone does) will probably still be finding a stray clump or two somewhere.

I wonder -- what did Pharaoh do when some of the representatives of the god Bast besmirched his brilliant-white kilt with dark cat hair?  Has Zahi Hawass found any cat hair anywhere among the mummies and mummy cases under his oversight? My cats certainly haven't forgotten that their distant ancestors were once treated as gods -- they remind me of that every mealtime and about 4 a.m. when they use me as an obstacle in the nightly steeplechase or find their dry food dish empty at 2:30 a.m.  Just as a side note, I wonder how many of Caesar's army, cats tied onto their shields so that the Egyptians wouldn't strike and possibly kill one of their now-captive gods, sneezed their way into Egypt and added it to the empire. Does metal armor collect static and cat hair?  Or did the cat hair just float around and get caught in those tall red crests on top of their helmets?

Oh, well. It's time I gave up, bit the bullet and mow my floors. But so help me, if I go over a space six times, go to do another section of floor and turn around, I am betting there will be another occupier sitting where I just mowed, daring me to try again to remove it from its position. Unfortunately, in this little indoor kingdom, cat hair did and still rules.

Gripe as I will, though, I'd rather have a small kingdom with cat hair than a mansion without it. The boys provide company and give me a bit of fluff to write about now and then.

They don't mind. They know they're still household gods.

January 28 - Sarah Laughed

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’

Then the men set out from there, and they looked towards Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. -- Genesis 18:1-16

Hospitality was one of the hallmarks of desert living in the days of Abraham. Even if your worst enemy showed up at your tent flap, it was beholden of you to take him in, treat him royally for three days and then see him on his way in peace. Abraham found three strangers showed up at Mamre and Abraham practiced the tradition of hospitality as his culture had taught him. He had no idea that these strangers were key to his future.

Sarah, of course, was behind a nearby tent wall. It would be unthinkable for her to take part in the conversation or the meal with strangers, even with Abraham present, but that didn't mean she couldn't hear everything that was said. Her ears must have pricked up when one of the strangers mentioned her by name and asked where she was. Abraham told them and suddenly everything changed for her. This stranger was actually saying he would be back and that she, Sarah the barren, would become pregnant. She and Abraham had tried for years to have a child, in vitro fertilization was several millennia in the future, and Sarah could remember when her menses ended quite a long time ago, so how was this going to happen? She had Hagar's son by Abraham through adoption, but actually bearing a child herself at her age? She did what any reasonable person would do when hearing something totally outrageous, unbelievable, incomprehensible and ridiculous -- she laughed.

The words "laugh" or "laughter" are mentioned a number of times in the Bible; add in "laughingstock" and it comes out to more than 60 times (per my Bible software), including 4 times in just this passage. In almost every mention of the word, the laugh/laughter context is that of scorn or derision. Even God laughs, but always at those who were due for punishment, unbelieving, at enmity with the chosen people, sinning or the like. Abraham laughed when, in the previous chapter, God told him that that he would be the father of of a son at 100 years of age. Is it any wonder Sarah laughed as well? Was it the laughter of derision or scorn, or the laugh of disbelief in the promise of something too incredible to be believed?

I think about how I use laughter. I know I laugh when there is a funny joke or story (although I do have standards as to what I feel is funny). I laugh when I'm embarrassed, when I meet a friend unexpectedly, or to communicate the idea that what I am saying or just said were not meant to be taken personally or seriously. If I'm honest, though, I have to remember that I also laugh at the discomfiture of others when they say, write or do something that is clumsy, ridiculous (to my mind, anyway), or inane. I'm not always kind with my laughter, and I don't like it when people laugh at me for the same reasons I may laugh at them. If God showed up at my front door and told me I would become pregnant at my age, or that I'd won Publisher's Clearing House or written a book that had won a Pulitzer or become best-seller of the year, I'd probably do more than give a quiet giggle or ladylike snort. Still, there would be a modicum of hope that this time, jut this time, there might be truth in the announcement. I have a feeling Sarah had a similar feeling.

There's an old joke that states, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Her your plans." The intimation is that God will be highly amused but somewhat derisive or scornful of the feeble ideas I have for myself, my duties and my future. But what if I get it right and the laughter of God is of delight and encouragement?  I wonder.

Sarah had her baby, a son she named Isaac ("laughter"), and rejoiced that others around her would laugh with her.  The laughter of disbelief had become the laughter of delight, like the winning of the Clearinghouse and the Pulitzer and more all at once. 

Perhaps I should remember the other positive mentions of laughter in the Bible, "...a time to weep and a time to laugh," (Eccl. 3:4) and " Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" (Luke 6:21c). No derision or scorn there, just encouragement to see beyond the immediate and the promise of joy to come. And the reminder that nothing is too great for God, whether it is an elder woman bearing a live child (which is more and more common today), or winning a prize.

Next time when someone tells me something that seems too improbable, maybe I should check for barely discernible wings before I laugh too loudly?

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café on Saturday, January 28, 2012, under the title "Laughter".

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 24 - The Cost of Saying "Yes"

Commemoration of the Ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved;
for you are my praise.

See how they say to me,
‘Where is the word of the Lord?
Let it come!’

But I have not run away from being a shepherd in your service,
nor have I desired the fatal day.
You know what came from my lips;
it was before your face.

Do not become a terror to me;
you are my refuge on the day of disaster;

Let my persecutors be shamed,
but do not let me be shamed;
let them be dismayed,
but do not let me be dismayed;
bring on them the day of disaster;
destroy them with double destruction!

--Jeremiah 17:14-18

Jeremiah was getting it from both sides. His adversaries are scornful because his prophecies have not happened and God didn't seem to be too attentive to him at the moment. One can forgive Jeremiah for being a bit unhappy with the situation of the moment; however, he does remind God that he has been obedient, faithful and dutiful in proclaiming the message he was given to pass on, just like he was supposed to. Furthermore, God knew it because Jeremiah did his proclaiming to God's face, so there.

There was a woman, millennia later, who would have had every reason to ask why despite her faithful service, her ministry was limited and God didn't seem to be in too big a hurry to change that. Li Tim-Oi, "Much Beloved Daughter", was both a pioneer and a lightning rod. Ordained as the first woman priest in the Anglican Communion in 1944, serving as a priest in the Japanese-occupied colony of Macau (at that time, Maçao) when male priests were prohibited to travel from Hong Kong to Macau to bring the sacraments. She served quietly but effectively until, after the war had ended, her ordination became a cause célèbre around the Anglican world. She voluntarily gave up her license to act as a priest in the name of peace, but never relinquished her vows and anointing from her ordination. She served and suffered in China during some of the most brutal years of the Communist takeover, but was able to start again in public ministry when the churches in China were reopened in 1979, sixteen years after their closure. In 1981 she was able to visit family members in Canada where she later settled, and on that visit was licensed once again as a priest, this time in the Diocese of Montreal and later Toronto. She died in Canada in 1992.

As much as Li Tim-Oi suffered at the hands of the Japanese and the Communists, the rejection by her church of her priestly vocation must have been one of the hardest battles she had to endure. This time the adversary wasn't the armed enemy but those who were members of the same family. Jeremiah must have felt sort of the same way. It's hard to be a prophet, and it's hard to be the first. It's hard to face an enemy but even harder to face brothers and sisters of one's own spiritual family. Li Tim-Oi was the first but not the last. Two women were ordained in Hong Kong in 1971, eleven women in Philadelphia in 1974 and four in Washington in 1975. Canada approved women's ordination in 1975. Other provinces have followed but not all have yet accepted the ministry of women in the priesthood. For those early women priests, however, it was a struggle, and it still continues to be a struggle in some parts of the world. Florence Li Tim-Oi, though, was and is a beacon that will shine brightly wherever women are called by God and assent to that call.

Like Mary at the annunciation, there is a choice to say yes or no to God’s call -- and the ramifications of an assent is life-changing. Jeremiah said yes and, even when whiny, kept his focus on what his job was. Li Tim-Oi had that choice and said yes in her turn. It probably would have been easier to renounce the whole thing when oppression came, but she never succumbed to that option.

Florence Li Tim-Oi never made a big noise in the world with powerful speeches and public appearances, but her faithfulness, dedication and grace in the face of hardship and suffering mark her as truly a "holy woman."

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pony Rides

For years I didn't dream at all, not even a fragment during that brief moment between sleep and waking. For some reason, not all that many years ago, I began dreaming again.  I couldn't remember the whole dream but bits and pieces stuck with me.  Sharing them with Mouse, she declared they were rather exotic, like the one of her on the Eiffel Tower, or me walking through gardens with Her Majesty (I think I had been watching a news clip of her at a flower show on TV). I've been driving around on roads very much like the Coast Highway in Oregon or dirt roads that look like something out of a  commercial for the Tuscan wine country. I've gone back in time to places I loved as a child while as an adult enjoying the company of friends and loved ones who have passed on years before. Some are upsetting but not terrifying, some are puzzling and the fragment I remember is a piece that I have to keep replaying in my mind, searching for the key to its relevance. On the whole, dreaming is a lot more interesting than not dreaming.

The other morning I woke up from a dream to the memory of being a child, perhaps four or five, the time before Mama had her first bout with cancer. I know it was a memory, dredged from the dusty corners of the file cabinet of my mind. We were driving home from shopping in the medium-sized city some miles from our house when, in a small clearing on the side of the road, there was a fence, a sign, a pole and a group of small equines with saddles. Being the child I was, I wanted to ride the ponies and Mama obligingly pulled over and paid for my entrance. I chose a brown and white spotted pony from among the five or six there and I was the only rider. In an instant I was Dale Evans riding Buttermilk across the country or Tonto riding with the Lone Ranger. I can still smell the scent of horse and the smell, feel and sound of the leather saddle beneath me. For a small child it was heaven.

In my recent dream/memory, though, I noticed something different. I was still enjoying the sight and sound and smell, but I noticed the ponies themselves, each one saddled and tied to a pole, only allowed to move when the man clicked his tongue at them, otherwise doomed to stand in one spot until another car stopped, another child climbed in the saddle and the click came again. In a flash I saw what those ponies saw -- a bare patch of dirt, a pole and a rope keeping me in place, and when I moved, I could only follow a prescribed circle rather than being able to choose when and where I wanted to go. I could look down at the ground and see the slight indentation in the ground where I as pony and my companions had walked many times over that ground and I could smell the dust kicked up by the pony in the next enclosed space just ahead of me.

Maybe my thoughts were human thoughts rather than pony thoughts, but it made me think about how much of my life is like that pony ride. Like most ponies who work at pony rides (and people who work at people jobs), I'm not totally in charge of my own life. I have responsibilities to my employer, my creditors, even my cats. I have a routine where I seemingly walk around in circles for a prescribed amount of time, then I am released to eat, sleep and be my own pony -- within limits.  Tomorrow will be the same, and the day after that, and the day after that until I am either retired to pasture or I die in harness. 

But I have an advantage over the pony, I believe (although this is pure speculation since I don't know what goes on in equine minds). I have options, even though I am figuratively tied to a pole and walk in circles all day, whether at work, at home or anywhere else. I can think; I don't have to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other but can think about the latest book I'm reading, a post I'd like to write, an anticipation of a lunch or dinner with a friend. I can dream, going places in my mind that my physical body can't follow. I can plan, working out what to have for dinner or where to spend the rest of my life. I can remember, revisiting people and places long past. And I can pray, not just asking for quitting time to get here sooner or to get the bills paid with some funds left that I can use just for fun, but for people, situations they find themselves in, and areas of worry and concern in the world.

I can pray for all the ponies on pony rides wherever they are, whether or not they are real or figurative ponies. Somehow, that makes my own plodding seem of more value and the circles in which I plod more bearable.

Am I hearing the click that means to get started?  Or is it God saying "Giddyup"? 

January 21 - Children and Millstones

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. -- Matthew 18:1-6

Reading the passage today I picture a Jesus sitting on a rock surrounded by his disciples, and with a small child sitting on his lap, looking at him trustingly and possibly with his head on Jesus' shoulder, listening intently.  I admit, my picture is based on the Sunday School illustrations which, while good teaching tools for me when I was a child myself, but which doesn't really show life at that time. Besides, the idea of a child being humble is rather odd; most children with whom I have been acquainted (including myself, I must add) are egotistical little beings, sure that they are the center of the known world and their demands are to be met forthwith,beginning from the day they were born until they learn that the world doesn't revolve around them (which, admittedly, some never do).

Children in Jesus' time weren't humble in the sense that we use the word; they were expected to act as miniature adults, helping with the family business or housework from the time they were very young. The rate of stillbirth was high and by the time a child got to the age of 16 he or she had already outlived 60% of children conceived at the same time they were*. During the years between birth and 16, however, children were at the bottom of the figurative ladder, the ones most helpless against disease, famine, war, loss of parents, genocide and abuse. They were loved and treasured, just as our children are, but that didn't mean that life was easy, comfortable or even safe for them.

Children almost always have to accept what happens to them. They don't have the knowledge or ability to fight back, to create for themselves a safe, nurturing environment where nothing bad ever happens, especially when there are things like famines and natural disasters or even the atrocities of human beings against other human beings. They have to rely on adults around them to provide safety. They have to trust that someone will be there to help them, even if it is another child and only a bit older than they.

Children in the US are generally privileged. Most have clean water, access to medical care and schools, toys to play with and leisure time in which to play with them, and parents to keep them fed, clothed and loved. Not all children in this country are so lucky, though. It isn't their fault. Sometimes parents make bad decisions, but quite often it is other adults, those with power, who want to reduce the national debt by cutting survival programs for the poor and the helpless while looking out for their own benefits.  Think about it. Who is being hurt by the cuts in programs that people need in order to survive and to care for the children, programs like health care for the poor, funding education programs, more resources for families in crisis?  Who wins when the humblest among us are hungry, homeless and hope-less?  Who ends up wearing the millstone of which Jesus spoke -- the adults who have the power to cut the programs or the children and families who need them? How did they get such power?  We as a nation handed it to them and tacitly approve of their doings by continuing to support them. We are all guilty, whether we accept that or not.

The disciples asked who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven but I don't think they liked the answer. We as a people, particularly Christian people, still don't like the answer. Becoming as a little child doesn't mean sitting on the floor playing with toys; it is about giving up competition for the sake of competition and then working to empower the powerless. Jesus is still asking us, "Who wins?  Who loses?  What did I tell you to do?"

I think I feel some chafing around my own neck right now, sort of like a rough rope and a heavy weight, and my feet feel a bit of dampness that wasn't there a few minutes ago. I wonder -- what kind of world would there be if we all felt that millstone and decided to do something about it? 

The children can't wait forever.

* Malina, Bruce J. and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, (1992) Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 117.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, January 21, 2012.

Monday, January 16, 2012

January 14 - Floods

These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.’ Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.  -- Genesis 6:9-22 (NRSV)

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't know the story of Noah and the ark.  Illustrations in Sunday School book showed animals in a curved line, marching two by two up a ramp and into a boat that didn't look a thing like any boat I'd ever seen. Still, that must have been how it looked or the Sunday School book wouldn't have shown it that way, would it? Somehow the animals moving into the ark made more of an impression than the reason they were going into the ark -- God's cold anger at the way creation had gone since its beginning when everything was "Good".  Oh, knowledge of the anger was there, but to a child, animals marching in perfect lines was much more visibly interesting (not to mention wondering how all of them got there, including elephants, giraffes and bears).

Thinking about this passage this morning, I realized that I characterized God's anger as cold, something I certainly had never given any thought to before when studying this story. I usually think of anger as a hot something, a flash like the striking of a match that causes repercussions that can burn down a house or destroy a life or relationship. But when I read words ascribed to God, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth," I hear words about a decision that has been thought out, planned and is now ready for execution. Somehow that kind of anger is, to me, worse than the flash, as disastrous as even that can be. It was this cold anger that was going to end the world and the lives of all that existed, including those who surely should have been considered innocent -- like deer and kittens and infants. This was deliberation and somehow it is more frightening than the flash that can come and go so quickly.  Hot anger strikes, cold anger plans and refines a plan of action with equally deadly results. There is no doubt, that the flood was deadly.

But then I thought of floods and what they meant, besides natural forces that disrupt and destroy lives and property. There's the kind often called a "flood of emotions" that make a person feel totally overwhelmed and awash as if they were figuratively drowning in an interior torrent of feelings and thoughts, whether good or bad. Then there are floods of tears, sometimes as a result of the emotional deluge, sometimes as a result of outside events that hit somewhere in the neighborhood of heart -- or perhaps the conscience. Guilt, remorse, fear, grief, pain, even anger (hot or cold) can produce them, and the result is usually a release of tension and anxiety as well as the emotion that initially produced the flood.

The odd thing is that both these related floods are, in a sense, like Noah's flood. His flood was physically catastrophic but also cleansing to the earth of what was considered unclean, unrighteous or corrupt, erasing that which was wrong and leaving a place where the earth could heal itself and where Noah and his passengers could re-create a second Eden. The flood of emotion and/or tears often signals a release of feelings and sometimes internal dis-ease, but also provides a space for cleansing and healing, giving space for new growth to take place. 

I still have a lot of thoughts and questions about Noah, the flood and God's place in all of it. I'd still like to know how every animal got in there and still had room for enough food to keep them alive for the duration. I'd like to know how the bears, elephants and the giraffes got to where Noah was building the ark. Did God send two mosquitoes along on the trip or just creeping bugs? Mostly, though, I think I need to consider the real stories: the story of wrongdoing, the story of anger, and the story of cleansing and healing, with or without imported elephants and bugs. I have to consider where sin, repentance, judgment, and redemption play their parts in the floods of my life and the life of the world around me. Where is God in the story, and where are the plans for the boat? Those things bear consideration because they are universal, as are literal floods and their aftermaths.

I still wonder about the mosquitoes, though.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, January 14, 2012.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

January 7 - V8™ Moments

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. -- Colossians 1:1-14 (NRSV)

Next to Advent, Epiphany is my favorite season. It seems that although I have insights from time to time during the year, it is during Epiphany that they come more easily and more frequently. If a season were a thin place, Epiphany would be mine. It's more than a season, it's an enlightenment, a revelation, a seeing of things in a new way and it can happen any time of the year. One year I seemed to have had little epiphanies almost every day and kept track of them by writing about them. It was like a series of those "WOW! I coulda had a V8™!" moments when suddenly the world shifts and a new way of looking at things comes through.

The Colossians obviously experienced some epiphanies as they heard Epaphras preach and teach. I sorta wish we had record of what it was that he said that produced such rich fruit . Certainly the Spirit was moving among them and they responded. Paul, or whoever was writing in his name, is certainly encouraging them to continue their growth in faith and the fruitfulness of that faith. The sudden switch from "you" to "us," though, becomes a thanksgiving that reminds the Colossians that they are not an isolated community but rather one connected to people of the faith all through the growing Christian sphere.

What I sense from the passage is that for an epiphany to be of value it has to be acted upon, not just observed and then forgotten. Like anything else, it must be recalled, cultivated carefully and then actually produce something positive, something of value and purpose. The Colossians obviously were doing this and, in the process, increased in strength, dedication, faith and good works, all signs of a focus on God. Epaphras evidently taught them well.

Epiphanies are gifts from the Spirit. They can't be exchanged like a bad Christmas tie but, in a sense, they can be re-gifted, passed on to someone else in the form of good works, looking and listening for subtle calls for a shoulder to cry on or even a chance to ask if someone has a need we can help fill. The Colossians seem to have learned this, and I marvel that their example still inspires more thought of how to do the same thing in a very different world.

I still have epiphanies now and again, situations and experiences that make me stop and think about how I suddenly see something from a different angle. The first thing I have to do is not just see it differently but react to it differently, making something good and useful happen because of it. Most of all, I must not just sit back and wait for an epiphany to show up but actually be awake and aware enough to see even tiny ones that I might otherwise overlook , then do something with the insight.

All the faith in the world is of no use unless it is reflected in the difference it makes in the world.

I think I have just found a new mantra, a V8™ moment for sure.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul  at Episcopal Café Saturday, January 7, 2012.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

December 31 - Wanting

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.” ’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. -- John 5:1-15 (NRSV)

Patience is a virtue. We're usually taught from early childhood to practice patience -- with more or less success. When I was four or five, being told to be patient and that Santa would come, in so many days or hours wasn't a really understandable thing. Five minutes at that age can seem like a year, and anything longer is interminable.  At 16, waiting until Saturday night when I had a date with the cutest boy in the world (at that time, anyway), from Thursday afternoon until he showed up on the doorstep seemed to take forever. Hopefully, anyway, I learned patience by now -- at least in some areas. In others, though, I'm still five years old and waiting for Santa.

The guy at the pool must have had the patience of Job. Granted, he wanted a cure for whatever ailment he had, and he wanted that cure badly enough to keep trying to get to the spot where he could get into the waters of the pool and be healed. He didn't do it  just for a few months or even a few years but for thirty-eight years! My son is thirty-nine. I look back over those years and realize it has been a long time since the day he was born. This guy at the pool didn't have a measuring stick like the life of a child to measure the time of his suffering, just a day-in, day-out struggle to try to get to a place where he could be ready to slip into the pool when the water bubbled and prayers for the alleviation of his pain.

I wonder, for what  would I be willing to be that patient and that persevering? It's a hard question to answer because I've never had to walk in his sandals. He wanted to be cured, but something kept getting in the way. I've done some fancy wanting, usually stuff I couldn't afford and even if I could, getting it and scratching that itch was only good for a while. Something else took its place so I was back to wanting something else. I could say the closest I can consciously come is wanting a job, a ministry, a profession in which I could excel and feel I were making a difference somewhere to someone. Mostly, though, I plug along, wanting but not always getting. The guy at the pool would probably look at me like I were nuts; he wanted and wanted so badly he dedicated thirty-eight years of his life to that want. And it wasn't just wanting, it was needing.

I'm pretty sure I've been wanting the wrong things all these years. I should be more interested in a great relationship with God and serving my fellow human beings than iPods and Kindle Fires, but I am flawed. Still, the iPod carries the hymns, evensong services, oratorios, and masses that keep me connected to God as I go about my work. My Kindle rides in my purse, ready at an instant to open books of all kinds -- including prayer books and those of writers who inspire me spiritually. Without either one I feel incomplete, yet even then I can still personally connect  to God -- wirelessly and without memory chips and a hard drive.

Maybe at the deepest level of my consciousness I have been wanting something all these years. Maybe what I have been wanting is to be able to get in the pool of God's grace and feel healed, not necessarily cured.

Maybe the man at the pool and I have more in common than I thought...

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, December 30, 2011.