Sunday, September 27, 2015

My Fear Factor

It's the end of September. it's a time to be grateful for things like temperatures under 100° in the daytime, cool evenings, shorter days and lots of pumpkin goodies like mousse, pancakes, muffins, bagels, doughnuts, and multitudinous other delights. It's lovely to walk out in the morning and had that little tang in the air, and to open the mailbox to lower electric bills. I love chrysanthemums and falling leaves, except when I have to rake them up. It's wonderful not to feel sweaty at 7 AM and to feel the softness of a sweater when it gets too cool at church, in the office, or outside.

With fall however, there comes the beginning of a trying part of the year for me personally. My adoptive mother died on November 2, 1960, a time when I was about 14 and didn't really miss her all that much since she had spent so much time the previous three years in the hospital. My real mourning began about 30 years ago and continues to this day.

This year in October I will have the first of two cataract surgeries, which I am assured will make my vision much clearer although it will change my prescription very much. That's reassuring, because having worn glasses since I was eight years old, just over 60 years of my life, I was dreading having to take off glasses and face the world without that clear wall that feels like a protection. Silly, isn't it?

There are other deaths, and other celebrations like my son's birthday which falls on the same day as that of my elder niece. They were born 17 years, three hours, and half a world apart. On that same day, there is a celebration in my hometown of Cornwallis's surrender to Gen. Washington in 1781. I always miss being home for that, even though I miss being home for a lot of other reasons. I'd love to be there to see the fall leaves and to walk by the river.

Three years ago on September 20th, I had surgery to remove one cancer and a potential one from my body. When I got the diagnosis and my treatment alternatives, all I could think about were Mama's scars from her two surgeries, surgeries which were now part of my own reality. Looking at the odds, I decided that prevention now might be better than a repeat surgery several years later like she had. I made it through the surgery and got back to normal as quickly as I could. I think I only took one pain pill once I left the hospital the day after my surgery. I've been lucky, the things that have gone wrong since that time have been normal processes of aging and accident.

Today however I'm seeing increased postings on Facebook about survivor stories and breast cancer awareness programs, leading up to Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. I ran across one story of a lady who courageously faced her own death from a recurrence of cancer which had metastasized. I applauded her courage but I wish I hadn't read that article.

It brought all my fears to the forefront. I don't dwell on the fact that I have already had two kinds of cancer — basal cell carcinoma on my nose and stage IIb breast cancer., It runs through my brain every time something doesn't work right or feel right in my body that it could be a metastasis of some sort. I've known too many women who have gone through breast cancer and the accompanying treatments of radiation, chemo, medications, or all three but who have found sometimes years later that cancer has popped up somewhere else. I think that's one of my greatest fears. I'm not being morbid, just realistic. I'm not running to the doctor every time I feel a twinge just to make sure it isn't a cancer growing somewhere. I honestly don't fear death, except dying in intense pain and with no dignity whatsoever. Hopefully, it won't come to that, but I can't guarantee that it won't anymore than I guarantee it will.

With Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there will be almost constant reminders of not only my struggle but what others have gone through, people that I have loved who have fought the disease and some of who have beaten it. Among my friends, I see people of courage, people who haven't taken breast cancer lying down and have fought it and, God willing, have beaten it for good. I feel weak for feeling this fear that I have or will have a recurrence because I know it's a negative thing and I can't afford to dwell on negative thoughts. I take my Tamoxifen religiously and check with my oncologist every six months. Even when I go to the doctor, however, I don't feel anybody is checking anything else other than how am I feeling and perhaps giving me antibiotics for an infection or topical creams for arthritis. I have other organs that are diseased and I feel like they should be watched a little closer, but then, I'm not a doctor. I am just my own advocate.

This next month I will wear my pink T-shirt, the pink and white bracelet my best friend gave me after my diagnosis, and try to find a T-shirt that says "Save the Tatas." My friend saw another one that intrigues me, "Yes, they're fakes; my real ones tried to kill me." I like that. Sometimes the best way to face fear is to find something to laugh about in that fear.

I think this month I will need lots of laughter. I've got a lot to do and I don't really have time for a lot of negativity. I can't promise I won't think about cancer, or people I have known and loved that I have lost to cancer, breast cancer among them, but I will try to remember them with gratitude and look to them as role models. For those who I love who are in the same boat with me, I will try to be strong for them, knowing they will reciprocate. It's a very big boat.

I think I'm feeling better already.

Lancelot's Prayers

Commemoration of Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop and Scholar (1555-1626)

O my Lord, my Lord, I thank Thee for that I am, that I am alive, that I am rational: for nurture, preservation, governance: for education, citizenship, religion: for Thy gifts of grace, nature, estate: for redemption, regeneration, instruction: for calling, recalling, further calling manifold: for forbearance, longsuffering, long longsuffering towards me, many times, many years, until now: for all good offices I have received, good speed I have gotten: for any good thing done: for the use of things present, thy promise and my hope touching the fruition of the good things to come: for my parents honest and good, teachers gentle, benefactors always to be had in remembrance, colleagues likeminded, hearers attentive, friends sincere, retainers faithful: for all who have stood me in good stead by their writings, their sermons, conversations, prayers, examples, rebukes, wrongs: for these things and all other, which I wot of, which I wot not of, open and secret, things I remember, things I have forgotten withal, things done to me after my will or yet against my will, I confess to Thee and bless Thee and give thanks unto Thee, and I will confess and bless and give thanks to Thee all the days of my life. What thanks can I render to God again for all the benefits that He hath done unto me?  - From Lancelot Andrewes' private manuscript of prayers, published posthumously.

Lancelot Andrewes is undoubtedly someone I would consider a master wordsmith. Growing up reading the King James version of the Bible, I grew accustomed to the language of that time and the beauty it contained. For me, the Psalms in contemporary English are not really poetic, while the Nativity story from Luke is best presented by Linus (of Peanuts fame in the language) that has become less and less comprehensible to modern generations. To me, though, the new stuff just does not sound right. I can do Rite II in the 1979 BCP, but my heart still lies with the 1928 and earlier, just for the beauty of the language.

Where Lancelot Andrewes comes in is that he was a member of the committee who prepared the King James version. The man was incredible: fluent in 18 languages including Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, he also used the vocabulary of the English language to great advantage. Yes he was a bishop, and a scholar, but also a guide, a person interested in his fellow man, one who was also seemingly connected to the world around him that God had created, and the soul who express his intimacy with God through his prayers.

Andrews was a  prolific writer, although his very erudite sermons are not read much less heard outside seminaries. After his death in 1626, a large manuscript of prayers he had written came to light and was privately published. As I read through some the prayers, even a casual reading, I saw that this was a soul unafraid before God and yet humble enough to be honest.  His prayers in the manuscript were intended for himself and God alone. Some pages of the manuscript seemed to have a greater number of scuff marks from the hand that opened the page and prayed the prayers.

The prayer at the opening of this reflection is one that struck me as one any of us could pray but probably would never actually do so. How many of us would actually be so forthcoming about acknowledging the wrongs we had done or the gifts we have received? We often pray for those we love and those we know who are ill, in grief or trouble, but how many of us remember to thank God for the gifts we have received from our teachers, mentors, and parents? We remember our friends, but do we stop and mention the gift that those friends have given us over the years, gifts that have enriched our lives and encouraged us when we most needed it? Andrewes admitted that there were things he had forgotten, things he had done or not done, for which he needed to repent, but his trust that God had forgiven him showed an understanding of grace that we don't always remember or even fully comprehend.

Prayer is something we are encouraged to do. It is a line of communication between us and God that we establish and nurture as a necessary part of our lives. I often wish Christians had something like the Buddhist prayer wheels, a device that could be set in motion by turning the wheel and the spin of carried the prayers to heaven. Someone would probably come along not too long afterwards and give another push that kept the wheel turning sending up yet more prayers. These people were on their way to work, the well, the market, or any one of a number of errands, but they were confident as they went about their life their prayers were still going up. The Celts had a prayer for just about any every occasion. The Jews often pray beginning with "Blessed are you, Lord God of the universe, who has …" The prayer continues with a thanksgiving for something given by God that affected something else in life.

Christians basically have two forms of prayer, with subsets of each. First there is the spontaneous prayer which in some denominations is basically the only acceptable form other than the Lord's Prayer. A subset of this is the arrow prayer, short bursts of "Lord help me with…" or a quick petition for mercy for someone else. Episcopalians and Anglicans use the Book of Common Prayer which owes some of its great beauty to men like Lancelot Andrews,

Written prayers have a lot to commend them. Many feel less awkward about praying something that someone else has written that touches their heart and puts them in closer communion with God. Many relish the language, some of it from a bygone era, that is somehow comforting and familiar. Some of it is designed for family use or even in a large community, while some can be done individually with their own petitions included. The point is, though, to pray, whether for ourselves, for those in need or those who have passed on. Andrews used his manuscript of prayers as a focus.  His prayers were intensified by his writing them down as he prayed and returning to those prayers at various times. For me, that writing of prayers rather than just shooting an arrow or possibly reading one from a prayer book, might be a more genuine form that would make me more mindful of what it is I am saying to God, not for God's sake but for my own

The lesson I learned from Lancelot Andrewes is the power of words and their beauty. Had he not written them down, and merely spoken them aloud or even silently, they would have been lost to history and we could not read them now and find ourselves praying with him. Many saints and mystics have written prayers, or have had others write their prayers down, and those are very powerful in of themselves. I doubt Lancelot Andrewes ever planned on anyone else reading his prayers, yet he wrote the for himself and God and we are the beneficiaries of those prayers.

I have not been very familiar with Lancelot Andrewes but I think now I need to dig into his life and words a bit deeper. Will I start writing my prayers down, focusing on each word with intention and attention, and return to some of those prayers as needed? I think it might be worth a shot. I doubt that after my death anyone would care to publish them, for I am nowhere near the wordsmith or deeply spiritual person that Lancelot Andrewes was, but I can look to him as an inspiration and do my humble best to follow him in his life of prayer.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 26, 2015.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Life's Palette

Every year, Education for Ministry (EfM) begins the term with class members writing a spiritual autobiography. It can be a fairly straightforward timeline of one's spiritual growth, or it can be a theme like stepping stones or different "worlds" we have lived in. This year, our invitation came in the form of colors. Not that every year isn't interesting, but this one (for me anyway) was fun.

This year one choice was to create an artist's palette and name the colors that went into our spiritual growth and maturity. As long as I don't have to actually draw anything, I'm fine with this.  I found a drawing of a palette with some splashes where colors would go and I was off.  Someone on the mentors' list sent around a chart of colors and what they represented in various religious traditions. That was interesting. There was also another that listed colors with equivalent emotions, things, and drives that those colors represented. My challenge was to come up with some sort of color coding for various parts of my life that reflected on who I was spiritually. It was both easier than I had expected and more difficult. Not being an artist, I had no idea how to set up a palette, and being a lover of colors of all kinds, it was hared to choose which color to put where.

I chose brown to represent my house, my comfort, refuge and place where I most want to be. It recharges my batteries and holds my beloved cats, lots of books, and bits and pieces of life in various places. There's Mama's cedar chest and several tiny pitchers from her collection. There is a brass trivet with the monogram of William and Mary, symbolizing the place I will always call home, no matter how long I live away from it. Of course, there are many others, things that bring me joy and remembrance.

Orange represented energy, balance and warmth, things that brought people to mind. There are so many friends, past and present, that served as guides and examples of living a Christian life. There were some who kind of fostered me both growing up and going through many life changes, without whom I would have been totally lost. They are friends to laugh with, commiserate with, and just be silent with, which is the truest test of friendship. I'm grateful for all of them, far more grateful than I will ever be able to express.

Yellow is imagination, hope, and joy, things that I find in EfM. Every year I learn more and more, and that to me is joy.  Yellow, however, is also jealousy, covetousness and several other major sins, ones that I have in abundance it seems, no matter how hard I try to control them. Yellow needs to be a balance point between the two.

Green is one of my favorites, representing nature and renewal. In my spiritual life, I chose green to represent the thin places I've experienced, those places where the veil between heaven and earth is very close and almost permeable. One is my river back home where I always felt the presence of God in the lapping of the waves on the shore or the crash against the rocks. I miss it. Another place is the National Cathedral, a place I have visited a number of times with the dear friend who invited me to the Episcopal church she attended and where I found myself thoroughly at home. Christmas Eve about midnight is a very thin space, as is the Eve of All Souls.

Red is for passion, desire, power, love -- things that I find in reading and writing. I love writing and honestly desire to be a much better writer than I am. I read almost constantly and have done since about third grade. Love is also what I feel for those I feel close to, people I can trust implicitly and who, I hope, can trust me the same way. These are the people I rely on.

Show someone the color purple and they will think of royalty (so do I, as a totally unabashed fan of the Queen). It also stands for spirituality, ceremony, mystery, and wisdom. I'm a student of various kinds of spirituality. I fell in love with the Episcopal church because of its ceremony and liturgy, things I felt I lacked in the church of my childhood. Purple is also for wisdom, something I crave and try to practice whenever possible.

Blue is peace, tranquility, calm, and confidence. It's the color of water, sapphires, the clear sky, the Virgin Mary's mantle, and modern Advent candles (three of them, anyway). It's also a symbolic color for depression, something with which I am quite familiar.

Black for me represents death. There have been so many deaths in my family and throughout my life and each one seems to chip a little piece of my heart away. I am not afraid of dying myself; I am ready whenever it comes. For me, black also represents cancer. Having had two kinds of it already, I have a fear (also a black emotion) that it will come back again. I call it "Cancer brain." I don't dwell on it constantly, but I'd be lying if I said it never crossed my mind.

There's a white spot of paint in the middle of my palette. White is reverence, simplicity, and humility. White is a color that mixes with any other to make tints and shades. Reverence, simplicity and humility are traits I try to cultivate but fear I will never really succeed. I keep trying, though.

So where is God in all this?  It's very simple: God is the palette upon which I rest my colors, mix my shades and tints, live my life, and work  to be the kind of person I am supposed to be. I can hold on to God with one finger through the thumb-hole of the palette, but God supports the rest of my hand and life.

And there it is. Maybe not much of a spiritual autobiography as someone else would recognize it, but it's what I think and feel. I've gained some insights from it, even if it isn't perfect. Thank God that there is no one and only "right" way of doing these things. I'm looking forward to seeing what next year's will be like.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Being a Good Steward

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they should be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.
 I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, ‘Nothing beyond what is written’, so that none of you will be puffed up in favour of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?  - 1 Cor. 4:1-7

Fall is one of the nicest times of year, especially in Arizona. There is general rejoicing when the thermometer hovers on the area below 100° and early in the morning one can walk outside and not feel like they stepped into a furnace. Fall in Arizona can start anywhere from mid-September until the day before Christmas. I usually judge it by when the leaves fall off my tree in the front yard. They have just begun falling, the temperature has gone down a bit, and I'm declaring it Fall.

Fall is also the time of year when churches go into stewardship campaign mode. For about a month whether in the fall or at various points throughout the year, there is usually a presentation every week about stewardship and its importance as well as blurbs in the bulletin and parish newsletter. The campaign is designed to encourage people to contribute to the upkeep and growth of the church and its ministries, salaries for paid workers like priests and musicians, and such mundane things as payment of taxes,electric and water bills. The stewardship campaign is an important thing since it gives the finance committee a figure upon which to base the financial picture for the coming twelve months.

Paul didn't have a stewardship campaign, so to speak. They did not take one month out of the year and focus on giving to support the church. Paul had been known to ask groups to take up a collection to help support another group, the church in Jerusalem which was the main base for Christianity at that time. From what we read, it was successful. In our modern day, however, we have made it a part of the church year and emphasize the need and the importance of giving.

In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul is not necessarily talking only about gifts of money. Stewards were caretakers, responsible to the owner or master for all things that went on in the household and properties belonging to the master. It included proper use of the land, upkeep of the household, other buildings on the property like sheds and barns, and even the land itself and anything that grew on it. The steward was responsible for this day in and day out. A good steward was one who kept everything going and who could be trusted to do a good job even when the master was not directly overseeing his work. The workers judged the steward by his fairness to them and concern for their well-being. Such a steward would be in high demand and, if he chose to leave his master, his reputation would probably get him another job very quickly.

We are all stewards of what we have been given, not just our treasure (money) but also our time and our talent. We are stewards of what we earn and what we return to God, but we are also charged to give our time and our talents for the work of the kingdom. The Sunday school teacher who faithfully performs his or her duty teaching our children and teens (and adults too) is giving of their time and also their talent for a good purpose. The farmer who practices water conservation and wise crop decisions uses his time and talent to grow food for others. The list could go on forever, but I think the point has been made that all of us have talents to give the world and need to find the time to give those talents with open hands.

Giving from one's treasure, a tithe or declared amount of one's income, is a private decision between the person and God. It doesn't all need to go to the church, it can also support charities and other activities that benefit others. Still, the church should be a good steward of what they receive by making good and wise decisions as to how much of those gifts will stay in the church itself, will support the ministries within the church and also the ministries outside the church and in other areas.

The result of good stewardship on an individual, congregational, diocesan, or national level will be a testimony to the world as to how well each steward performs. It doesn't have to be a large amount; the woman at the Temple gave two coins, all that she had, not just a part of it. Jesus commended her for that and used her as a lesson for those around him. It's a lesson we should learn, but we should also remember that God only asks us to do our very best, not necessarily the impossible

The crisp air of fall reminds me it's time to think again about my stewardship and what I can pledge this year for the work of the kingdom, both in and out of church. I also have to consider what gifts God has given me that maybe I am not using to the fullest extent I could be and, also, am I using those gifts or flaunting them? The judgment of God will be made partially on that difference.

Thank goodness I have time to work on that because I know I can do better and not depend on the judgment of others for praise or condemnation. Time to get busy.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 19, 2015.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

September 12 - Run, Elijah, Run!

Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of rushing rain.’ So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; there he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. He said to his servant, ‘Go up now, look towards the sea.’ He went up and looked, and said, ‘There is nothing.’ Then he said, ‘Go again seven times.’ At the seventh time he said, ‘Look, a little cloud no bigger than a person’s hand is rising out of the sea.’ Then he said, ‘Go and say to Ahab, “Harness your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.” ’ In a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind; there was heavy rain. Ahab rode off and went to Jezreel. But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; he girded up his loins and ran in front of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. - 1 Kings 18:41-19:8

Ahab was in a mess. His land had been in a drought for several years, and, for those of us who live in the desert, and even those who live elsewhere, know how destructive a drought can be. Of course Ahab, like most human beings, looked for somebody to blame, and so he blamed the prophet Elijah.

Elijah warned him to feed himself and get out of town because the rain was coming and for once Ahab did what he was told. He had his chariot hitched up and raced for Jezreel while Elijah was almost superhuman (thanks to God's intervention) and raced ahead of the King's chariot the whole nineteen miles to the capital. When he arrived his queen, Jezebel, learned of Elijah's killing of their prophets and she swore that Elijah would meet the same fate within 24 hours.

Elijah, not being a dim bulb, hastily departed Jezreel, dropped his servant off at Beer-sheba, and went out into the wilderness. He sat down under the only tree for miles and began to wail that his life was over, he couldn't do anything, he was afraid, and didn't know what to do. He fell asleep and God, an angel, or God in the guise of an angel, woke him up, fed him with bread and water, and told him to eat all that he could because he is going to need it. That one meal lasted Elijah forty days and nights in the desert. Forty days in the wilderness, sound familiar?

Droughts are not trivial or just inconvenient. We see the results in Africa, and even in our own country, especially in the West where rainfall isn't all that common in many places. When even that little bit doesn't show up, it can be catastrophic: crops don't grow, livestock can't eat, and people are forced to limit their water use. Watering their lawns, filling their pools, and washing their cars is forbidden or severely curtailed, and restaurants may not give out glasses of water unless someone asks for it. The human toll, in our country anyway, may be inconvenience, but in other parts of the world it is like the wind is a death rattle blowing through the land.

It's so easy to see politics when reading stories like this one about Elijah. We see so many things that are pointed out in the biblical books that bears some resemblance to what we see around us every day. Take, for instance, global warming. Many have warned us that global warming is a catastrophe not waiting to happen but actually happening now. Alaskan villages are being flooded out because the water level in the Arctic is rising due to the ice melting. Massive calving of huge sheets of ice off the Antarctic shelf give us the same view. Excessive heat and drought in the west,  freezing temperatures and floods in the east, all these are signs of a process that is a natural one but also to which we human beings have contributed greatly. We don't want to admit it, so of course it can't be our fault. We're just doing what God told us, being fruitful and multiplying, and increasing our houses and lands. Well, that's what the Bible told us to do, wasn't it? Some read it that way.

Elijah was right to fear for his future. Prophets often have to fear for their future. Somebody is always out to get them, either by discrediting them or outright eliminating them. The world dislikes prophets, unless those  prophets tell them what they want to hear. And sometimes all they can do is run.

The trick is to pick out the prophet who is telling God's truth and not what somebody wants to hear. Martin Luther King Jr. was a prophet and it cost him his life. He prophesied in his last public speech that he might not get to the mountain with his people but that they should keep trying to reach the pinnacle of equality. In all the years since Martin Luther King's death, strides towards the equality for which Martin Luther urged them to fight have been made. They haven't gotten to the mountaintop yet, but neither has anybody else except those who have unlimited personal resources and unlimited drive. Being a prophet is a dangerous business, but is also God's business, therefore our business since we are God's children. We all need to help one another on the hard climb.

How to tell one of God's prophets from mere fortunetellers who want to tell us what the future is going to be? Listen. Are they telling us what we want to hear or something we don't? Often the message we don't want to hear is the one we need most. At least, that's how it seems to me. And it is what I get when I read through the Old Testament prophets and find their messages are valid today.

So am I going to be a Jezebel who wants to kill the prophet or am I to be somebody who listens to them? That's a good question. With all the sadness, sorrow, horror, war, pestilence, you name it, going on in the world right now, we need good news and we need it soon. But we are not going to get it until we do something to make it happen; we can't just leave it all up to God. So what we have to do is to listen to more prophets and then follow them, but only if they speak God's truth. Never mind that we don't like what they're saying, we have to  look at it through different eyes, try to see the other side, really try, not just a halfhearted attempt. And not with the eye of negativity, a "That will never work," but rather, "I never thought of it that way."

Maybe I need to go out and be in Elijah. I may have to do some fast running, but I might also have a message from God that people need to hear. I guess I'd better get out of my chair and start practicing for a marathon.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 12, 2015 (with corrections).

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Covering the Flaws

 Commemoration of Gregorio Aglipay

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.  - 1 Peter 4:7-11

Often when I read these readings something pops out at me as if it were in boldface type and several points larger. I made it past statement that the end was near because this was written 2000 or so years ago and the and hasn't gotten here yet (so far as I know, anyway,) I got past the part about maintaining constant love, which is a very familiar admonition then I got the boldface 20 point part "for love covers a multitude of sins." Whoa boy

We know what sin is, at least we have a nodding acquaintance with the definition. Sin is doing something wrong, that part I think everyone agrees with. Problem is, everyone tends to define sin just a little differently. It seems a number of people tend to judge sin as what other people do that irritates them or goes against their principles. Of course, the shoe is always on the other as well. Many will admit to little things like telling a white lie someone's feelings or even to get out of doing something you don't really wanted to but don't want to say no to either. Still, nodding acquaintance or not, we have some idea of what sin is all about, namely doing an injury to self or others, consciously or not and not necessarily having it be a physical act.

When Peter, or the writer of this letter from Peter, wrote this he was more interested in love than pointing out sin. The thing about love is that it will usually get or ignore smaller perfections in a loved one but not necessarily the big things. It's easy to overlook (even if it's as irritating as it can be) someone who is habitually late because when they arrive, there's such wonderful conversationalists and wonderful company. The same person or known to be having an affair were abusing their children, it would be hard to love nearly as much without wanting to say something about.

It is easy to forgive little things especially if they make you laugh, but it's harder to forgive big things. Love can't always cover those big sins, in fact, it can be dangerous to do so. The battered woman who says she can't leave her husband because she loves him even though he beats her regularly and severely, isn't showing love as much as fear of retribution and not being able to stand on her own, raise her kids, and build lives for themselves without the batterer or, at least, the income he brings in. It doesn't always work that way, and far too many women return to that "love," to the their detriment and that of their children.

The thing with love is that it wants to see the best in people. So what if they're always late, don't remember to pick up milk and bread on the way home, plan a hunting trip when your mother is coming for a visit, or even remember your birthday. Love covers them more easily than a gambler who doesn't pay the bills but instead puts their entire paycheck (or most of it) on a racehorse or a roulette wheel. We are told to love the sinner, not the sin, but too often that isn't good enough. To protect their own purity, families cut off a loved one for various reasons, like coming out as gay, lesbian or transgender, there is adultery or substance abuse (or any other kind of abuse). Love will try to cover some of that, but it doesn't always work. Love isn't enough; there needs to be action of some sort and too often it is expressed in casting out rather than trying to help or even see the other as not just a child, family member or friend but a child of God who needs help or, in some cases, just understanding and compassion.

We are told in the New Testament that Christians were known by their love They shared what they had, they protected one another from discovery, and loved one another. There were glitches, like rich people who came early to the communal dinner and ate most of what was there before the working people could arrive, but a way was found so that all could be fed and harmony restored.. That was love, the thing that made the whole thing work.

As I considered this covering a multitude of sins thing, it occurred to me that if I put the phrase under a microscope and looked at it what I came up with was an epiphany. I can gauge how much I love a person by how many flaws I see or how often I find fault with them. Sure, I don't know anyone without flaws of some sort, be it anger, egotism , or just about anything else, but the love I have for them makes me want to overlook those things that I do not see as minor flaws, not destructive to them or to others, because I love them. It's that simple. With other people however, it isn't that easy. I can't overlook rudeness, mistreatment, cheating, or overt acts of privilege. I can't love enough to cover those.

God covers a multitude of our sins, that's a given. Our asking for forgiveness from God is not so much for God as it is for us. We need to acknowledge and ask for forgiveness, not because it's going to change anything except us. God's already forgiven us, but we need the lesson, and hopefully not a repetition of that which we have just asked to be forgiven. God's good about that. God is a lot better at it than we are; many of us can hold grudges for decades over faults and flaws, large or small.

The thing I have to work on now is learning to see past flaws in people and see the child of God in each of them. That's hard. It's hard especially if those people do something to me that hurts me or injures me in some way. I imagine I'll have to learn to do it somehow, because I know God wants me to do it that way. It seems almost difficult to believe God would forgive me a big things when I can't forgive others smaller things.

So that's my task. There are multitude of sins out there, and I've got a learn to love enough to cover them, at least to the best of my ability. God help me.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 5, 2015.