Boxes

where there is doubt, faith;

One of my students at New Brunswick Theological Seminary explained her experience of growing in faith in these words:

Every time I learn more about God and myself, I build a beautiful box to hold onto my ideas and prayers. But every time I get the box built and feel at home with it, God comes along and breaks my box!

It’s one of the best descriptions of growing up in faith I’ve ever heard, and I think of it often. When I get comfortable with my version of self, world, and God, God comes along and breaks my box. My beautiful box is shattered by the grace of God when God, world, and self cannot fit inside it. What’s too small and tight cracks open, giving my faith the breathing room I didn’t even know it needed.

I’ve known teachers and pastors who like to shake people up by dropping verbal bombs to shatter people’s notions of who God is and how the world works. I’ve known others who won’t say anything that might make anyone uncomfortable, afraid to make anyone question their idea of God and self. The first break beautiful boxes without thought, the second cover those boxes in bubble wrap.

It’s not my job to break the beautiful boxes people create, and it’s not my job to keep those boxes whole and safe. My job is to remember that God holds all things fast, and to remind others of this truth. I have no doubt that God will break the beautiful boxes in due time – when it’s an act of grace and love, not a violation.

Injury/Pardon

Lord,

Make me an instrument of Thy Peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

This prayer is attributed to Saint Francis. He was born in 1181 or 1182 into a wealthy family in Assisi, Umbria. He grew up in comfort, turned into a rowdy youth, and eventually looked for glory on the battlefield. His life plan altered when he encountered God. In prayer, he heard God tell him to rebuild the church. He devoted himself to a life of prayer, poverty and service. He is the founder of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), usually called the Franciscans. He died in 1226 after a life of prayer, poverty, and service. His life, work, and words have inspired countless numbers of people.

where there is injury, pardon;

Less than an hour’s drive away, a jury is deciding between life in prison and death for a man in his early twenties. Two years back, he and his brother set bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing several people and wounding many more. For the past several weeks, his face has been a constant presence on screens as well as in print. With the pictures come comments and questions: is he remorseful? is he as human as everyone else? does he deserve to die for what he’s done?

News anchors and reporters talk about closure for the families and friends of those who lost their lives or their health at the end of the marathon. First they said that a verdict in the trial might bring closure, but now it’s linked to the life or death decision that the jury will give. When that’s over, they will move on to another phase: closure when the death sentence is carried out or when he’s confined to a small space for decades. It won’t ever be dropped, really. If another bomb goes off anywhere in the world, the questions and comments will return; whenever the marathon is run in Boston, they will come up again. There is no end to the focus, this rehashing of a tragic event.

Grave injury as been done, and nothing can change that. It shouldn’t be denied or taken lightly. Guilt and innocence, reckoning and responsibility come with such acts. But the unending focus on injury won’t change history and it won’t help anyone find peace or closure. At some point, even this injury must be allowed to recede from center stage. I think that’s what pardon is – the willingness to let someone who has done harm move past it so that all those who were harmed can do the same. Without this, aren’t we all still standing at the finish line, bombs falling endlessly?

Sowing love

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Hatred is a harsh emotion and a destructive reality. It destroys without consideration, boundary, or restraint. It maims the hater and the hated alike; no one escapes unharmed. Anger and vengeance feed it, and it’s passed on from one generation to another, one community to another. Hatred can kill the body and cripple the soul, sending its roots into the deepest parts of life and bearing monstrous fruit.

How am I supposed to sow love where there is hatred? Sometimes it’s all I can do to practice patience and kindness where there is ignorance or disagreement; sowing love in a field of hate is beyond the skill of my hands, the wisdom of my thoughts, and the goodness of my heart. I just can’t do this.

But maybe that’s the whole point. This prayer is a boundary prayer, seeking what is far beyond me. Only God can grow love in a field of hatred. The best I can do is throw the insignificant seeds of love I have and leave the rest up to God. I know the love of God breaks into every human reality, even the reality of hate. My part is to refuse a life of hatred, sow what love is mine to give, and trust to the mystery and power of God’s love.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Eight simple words that can open the gates of heaven.

Lord, Make me an instrument of Thy Peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

This prayer is attributed to Saint Francis. He was born in 1181 or 1182 into a wealthy family in Assisi, Umbria. He grew up in comfort, turned into a rowdy youth, and eventually looked for glory on the battlefield. His life plan altered when he encountered God. In prayer, he heard God tell him to rebuild the church. He devoted himself to a life of prayer, poverty and service. He is the founder of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), usually called the Franciscans. He died in 1226 after a life of prayer, poverty, and service. His life, work, and words have inspired countless numbers of people.

Practice, practice, practice

Make me an instrument of Thy peace;

I took up the violin at fourteen when a friend found a forgotten instrument and a bow in his grandmother’s attic. Twenty-five dollars for new strings and a sound post, mineral oil and some polishing got the violin in working order. I bought a beginners music book, took up the violin and bow, and began learning how to play.

Anyone who plays violin (or lives with someone learning to play) soon learns that producing a pleasant tone, even just a single note, isn’t easy and doesn’t happen quickly. Drawing the bow across the string with just the right tension requires practice and an ear to know when the note sounds right. It isn’t something that can be learned in theory: it’s a practical learning, requiring time and intentional devotion. The difference between music and noise is playing, listening, playing, listening, playing, and so on. Every day builds on the every other day. Bringing a Bach Sonata to life through the violin’s four strings takes only a few minutes, but it’s years in the making. There is no shortcut.

When I pray to be an instrument of God’s peace, I’m asking for years of devotion and work because I don’t know how. Becoming an instrument of peace requires actively playing my part, listening for God’s voice, playing my part, listening to my neighbor, playing my part. When God grants peace through who I am and what I do, it may seem like a gift from out of the blue. More likely, it was years in the making. No shortcut, but the work of a lifetime. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Prayer of Saint Francis: Lord

 

Lord,

Make me an instrument of Thy Peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

(This prayer is attributed to Saint Francis. He was born in 1181 or 1182 into a wealthy family in Assisi, Umbria. He grew up in comfort, turned into a rowdy youth, and eventually looked for glory on the battlefield. His life plan altered when he encountered God. In prayer, he heard God tell him to rebuild the church. He devoted himself to a life of prayer, poverty and service. He is the founder of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), usually called the Franciscans. He died in 1226 after a life of prayer, poverty, and service. His life, work, and words have inspired countless numbers of people.)

 

Lord

I don’t use this term much outside of A Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings conversations. It’s an antique word that evokes images of knights, castles, queens, and serfs. Outside British royalty, real or fictional, the only Lord I’ve heard of recently is Lord Voldemort – not a great credit to the title.

The only other place I use Lord is in prayer. Lord Jesus, Gracious Lord, Lord God. When I say and pray Lord, I’m admitting and accepting that someone else is in charge. I am serving someone other than myself. I am not the ruler of the universe, just a servant in the kingdom that is this creation. Sometimes I am at peace with this, and sometimes I’m not.

Jesus says that “no one can serve two masters,” that I “cannot serve God and wealth”(Mt.6:23) The underlying assumption is that I am serving someone or something. It might be money or fame; it could be a worthy cause or a particular country. Knowingly or not, I serve something or someone. I suspect this is true. If it is, then I’d better choose my Lord carefully…

The Value of Change

 

[Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”]

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:1-10, NRSV

One silver coin out of ten, so small and worth so much. The woman careless to lose this small silver fortune. Would I call together friends and neighbors if I’d lost and found something so valuable? Would you?

I wonder what the pharisees and scribes thought of this coin parable, standing in the company of tax collectors and assorted sinners. Losing, seeking, and finding the silver coin wouldn’t be something to tell friends and neighbors – at least have the sense to keep quiet about the whole thing. Such a silly story for a rabbi to tell.

I don’t wonder so much about what the tax collectors and sinners thought of these two lost and found parables. They know they are the lost sheep and the lost coin. But something else must have dawned on everyone there: the lost coin and the wayward sheep were so precious and valuable that a woman and a shepherd risked reputation and life to bring them home.  Jesus claims the angels in heaven break out the cake and party hats to celebrate such a homecoming.

Why? Because the lost aren’t strangers or outsiders; they are the sheep of my flock and the same silver as I am. Perhaps I can only discover and accept such a big, holy truth when it’s wrapped in a parable.