Tag Archives: Restoration

Going Up, Going Down

Lent 2012 – Path of Restoration              

by Barbara Duffield 

We all do it.  We step onto an elevator with someone we don’t know, and suddenly the display of the passing floor numbers becomes fascinating. Or the shoes on our feet draw our attention, or . . . well, whatever we can look at besides the other person in the elevator.  The ride might only take a few moments, but they are long moments when you are with someone you don’t know and don’t necessarily care to get to know.

Such was the case a few months ago as I was leaving the hospital after visiting a friend. That day the other person on the elevator was a woman who looked extremely tired – that “I’ve been here in the hospital for too many hours and too many days,” kind of tired.  I was investigating my shoes when she burst out, “My father’s in here and I don’t know if he is getting out.  I can’t spend every minute here with him like he wants; I have a family and kids of my own.  I can’t get him to understand that.”  I looked at her, knowing she was in pain, but not knowing quite what to do with it.  So I asked her father’s name.  She said in a rush, “It’s Ed, and he’s in here after a heart attack.  They had to replace a valve and open blocked arteries, and he looks so old and tired and he wants me to be here all the time.”  Then, as quickly as she had opened up, she leaned against the wall and closed her eyes, not saying another word as the elevator continued to descend,

As we neared the bottom floor and she opened her eyes again, I said that I remembered the days of visiting my own father in the hospital.  I know how hard it had been for me to see someone that I had always depended on as an old and frail man.  Her eyes filled with tears and she nodded.  As we reached the bottom floor and stepped out of the elevator, she turned and said, “Thank you for talking to me.”  I was about to say I would keep them in my prayers when I heard myself ask, “May I pray for you?” I was shocked that the words had come out of my mouth, and I knew it had to be God speaking. She gasped and quickly took my hands in hers. “Oh, would you please?” she asked.

We stepped off the elevator and moved to a nearby corner sheltered from the hospital’s front doors. I took her hands in mine and we prayed.  In that blessed moment, however long it was, not one person came to get on the elevator, nor did anyone step off.  Although in a public area, we were completely alone for the time we needed to be.  As the prayer ended she looked at me for a long while and said simply, “Thank you.” 

We walked out the front doors together and, as she turned left and I turned right to go to our respective cars, I realized a moment of restoration had just occurred. For that brief time, we were a Body of Christ that had been brought together in an elevator and held in the arms of God.  

Barbara Duffield is a member of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Universal City TX. Reach her at barbara.duffield@dwtx.org or leave a comment below.

 

 

What Now?


Lent 2012
Path of Restoration

by Terry Pierce

Terry Pierce is a student in the bivocational-priest program of Iona School for Ministry in the Diocese of Texas. She is also a student in the Masters in Spiritual Formation program at the Seminary of the Southwest. This sermon was preached for the Iona School for Ministry program on March 10, 2012. Terry lives in Austin. 

“Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you”  (Mark 5:19).

Two thousand swine rush into the lake and drown.  Thundering noise.  Waves of dust like a Panhandle dust storm.  I come from generations of farmers and cattlemen, but my mom tells about my grandfather deciding to raise sheep high up in the Panhandle.  A norther came in the night — freezing rain and wind whipped across the plains.  The next morning my grandfather found the sheep huddled in a circle, dead.  They had suffocated.  Sheep are the kind of animal that might follow each other into a lake and drown. 

Pigs are an animal of a different type.  Smart, clever.  I asked a Hill Country veterinarian what it would take to run 2,000 pigs into a lake.  He had a good laugh, but he was stymied. A few might run into the lake, but the rest wouldn’t follow — unless, of course, they were possessed by demons who were under the authority of an irresistible power.

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the demons recognized him as the Holy One of God and obeyed his commands. In Mark’s story, Jesus commanded them to come out a man. They did, going into a herd of swine and driving the entire herd into the sea.

The swineherds ran off to tell the people of the city and the country what had happened.  Imagine the urgency they must have felt.  How do you explain that a significant source of the community’s livelihood left in your care has just run into the lake and drowned?  The people came and begged Jesus to leave their neighborhood.  As Jesus was getting into the boat, the possessed man, now clothed and in his right mind, begged that he might stay with Jesus.  Jesus refused.   

Now What?   What do you do with life renewed?

My step-sister is mentally ill.  She is also smart, diligent and kind.  We were very close as youngsters.  She was incapacitated by mental illness as a young adult.  Over the years, I have been a helpless bystander as her illness shackled sanity and reason and left her among the tombs.  The demons she has encountered are overwhelming and fierce. They have convinced her that evil spirits lurk in her closets, that her medication is poison, and that family members are conspiring to take her life.   I’ve encountered lesser demons in my own life – Demons that left me bruised and howling.  The man in this story, broken and living in the tombs, bowed down before Jesus and was given the gift of his life.  He was healed.  He was clothed.  He was put in his right mind. 

Now What?  What do you do when your life is restored?

Here I am.  Healed.   Clothed.  In my right mind.  And my demons have just taken 2,000 pigs that don’t belong to me into the lake.  The people of my community are afraid.  Maybe they’re a little angry too.  Maybe they’re hoping that I’ll get in the boat with Jesus and be on my way.   Jesus does not offer that choice.  He says, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”  And Jesus departs.

 Now what?  What do you do when Jesus leaves?  

Tony Baker, a theologian at Seminary of the Southwest, recently published this on his blog:  “The truth is the movement of God away from where we are is part of the everyday rhythm of Christian faith.”  Tony continues, “The question for us, I suppose: What are we going to do with the emptiness he leaves behind?  Fill it with something else, something more easily attainable, something that won’t walk away?  Or drop our nets and follow?”  Mark’s story tells us that the man began to proclaim in this Greek and Roman area how much Jesus had done for him, and the people were amazed. 

I suspect it wasn’t quite that easy.  There are times when my step-sister has respite from her demons.  I am grateful when that happens and I am holding my breath against the return of the demons.  I imagine this man’s friends were holding their breath, waiting to see what was going to happen next.  I wonder if some people might have wanted restitution for the lost pigs.  Perhaps people avoided him or ridiculed him. How much easier it would have been to start anew by getting in the boat and going off with Jesus.  But Jesus said,   “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you!” 

What now?  How will they know how much Jesus has done for me?

Our story as God’s chosen people begins with the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the story of how God shepherded a whole people from slavery to freedom so that he would be their God and they his people.  Moses called them to teach their children and their children’s children what God had done for them.  God’s chosen people were to observe the commandments and the ordinances so that people might see in the way they lived what it was to be God’s people and how much the Lord had done for them.  Jesus makes his way through the countryside casting out demons and healing the sick while calling us to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We  followers of Christ have many and varied stories; we are not cut of one cloth.  Baptized in Christ and called to serve, each of us is living in the Now What?  What does one do with life renewed?  All of us have made a choice to respond, some willingly and some perhaps reluctantly.  By our baptisms, we have each agreed to live visibly in Jesus’ call. 

I can imagine myself at the shore watching Jesus’ boat depart:  My mind fills with a thousand questions.  How exactly I am to live this new life?   How will I know what to say, what to do?  Can’t I just go with you, Jesus, for a little while?  As his boat draws away from the shore, here I am.

Now What?  What do I do with life renewed?   

Jesus tells us what we are to do with life renewed – Go.  Tell them how much the Lord has done for you and what mercy he has shown you!

 

Reach Terry Pierce at terry.pierce@ssw.edu.  Or leave a comment below.

 

 

Turning it to Good

 

Lent 2012

Path of Restoration 

by the Rev. Stockton Williams

 It could have turned out badly for Joseph. In fact, it looked as though it had in the early chapters of his life story, a tale that takes 14 chapters of Genesis (37-50) to tell. The opening verse blandly tells us we are about to read the story of the family of Jacob (37:2), but gives no hint that we are embarking on the ancient’s rendition of Days of Our Lives.

Joseph is born into an amazingly dysfunctional family, with deceit, jealousy, lust, parental favoritism, and sibling rivalry in abundance.  (And if God can use that family, he can use ours!)  Joseph grows up a mama’s boy, more than a little spoiled.  He never has to tend the sheep, but lounges around the tents with mama.  He loves to tell his brothers about dreams he has in which they have to bow down to him.  He tattletales on his brothers to his parents.  Then, to top it all off, his Daddy Jacob gives him a special coat of many colors.  Joseph loves to flaunt that coat in front of his brothers’ grungy, gray robes.

It really is no wonder his brothers want to drop the brat down a well.  And they do, with the intent to kill him.  Surely Joseph prayed, “God, get me out of this well,” though I doubt he added, “so I can be sent to a foreign land as a slave.”  But that is exactly what happens. The responsible oldest brother, Reuben, talks the others out of actually killing Joseph. Instead, the brothers sell Joseph to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites. To cover their sin, they kill a wild animal and smear Joseph’s coat with the blood, taking it to Jacob and telling him the boy has died.

In slavery in Egypt, over a period of years, Joseph slowly rises to the position of official in Pharaoh’s court.  But another official, Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard, buys Joseph and puts him in charge of his household.  Genesis 39:6 records that the teenage brat has grown into a “handsome and good-looking” young man.  Potiphar’s wife notices the young Hebrew and repeatedly tries to seduce him.  Joseph always says no, and finally she grabs his robe as he runs off.   Things do not look good for Joseph now:  running away dressed only in his boxer briefs, with Potiphar’s wife holding his clothes. Potiphar, of course, doesn’t even want to entertain the idea his wife may have wanted this slave, and so he throws Joseph into jail.  Surely Joseph prayed, “God, get me out of this jail immediately.”  Joseph rots in jail for over two years.

Only it’s not all rotting in jail; Joseph interprets dreams for the head baker who is also in jail, and when the baker gets out and Pharaoh is troubled by dreams, the baker remembers the Hebrew slave in jail.  Joseph interprets the dreams to mean that Pharaoh needs to start storing food for a coming famine.

Meanwhile, back in the Promised Land, Jacob and his family are dying of starvation due to the famine.  So Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to try to buy corn.  There’s more intrigue as Joseph does not identify himself, asks for the one brother left behind (Benjamin), silver cups in backpack, and more.  It’s a great story. Better than Days of Our Lives.  When Jacob finally dies, the brothers are in fear, but Joseph tells them, in Genesis 50:19, not to be afraid: “Am I in the place of God?”  In other words, brothers, you don’t have to bow down to me, despite what I told you in childhood.  And then v. 20, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”  God doesn’t prevent Joseph from being thrown into the well, from being sold into slavery, or from being thrown into jail.  But God turns it to good. The brothers commit grievous sins in giving in to their jealousy and anger, but God turns it to good. Even Jacob suffers from the loss of his favorite son, but God turns that to good, also.

The story of Joseph has been a touchstone in my life – a perpetual provider of hope for me. As I have read it again and again over the years, I have found five lessons that have stood me well in my spiritual journey.

1.  It took many years.  Depending on how you count, it took 22 years, (or 40, if you count until Jacob dies and the brothers face Joseph) for God to turn things around.  So often I expect God to turn things around for me instantaneously.  When I pray for something, I never pray, “God, please turn this around in 22 years.”  But, in reality, that’s what often happens.

2.  I usually have to look back to see God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm at work in my life.  In the well, I seriously doubt that Joseph thought, “Oh this is cool; 22 years from now it’ll all be OK.”  Yet God was already working right then.  Perhaps he prompted Reuben.  Perhaps he worked through the Ishmaelites. Looking back, we can see that our lives are indeed a sacred journey.  Looking back we can see all that God has brought us through.  What makes us think God’s going to stop?

3.  Keep on keeping on.  Joseph didn’t just sit around moping, for Joseph was a dreamer.  He girded up his loins (as they say in the Bible) and tried to make the best of things.  In time, Potiphar put him in charge of his household.  Then he had another setback: jail.  He worked in jail, made friends with the baker, and in time became trusted by Pharaoh.

4.  Weakness turned to strength.  God changes things and turns them to good, but not necessarily in the way that I want or expect.  And along with that, there are spiritual changes.  Joseph became a better person, as shown in Genesis 50:19: “You don’t need to bow down to me.”  Paul prayed repeatedly that some affliction would be healed (2 Corinthians 12:7).  Did Paul then think God must be callous when it wasn’t healed?  Later in life, Paul looked back and could see that out of this affliction he gained strength (2 Corinthians 12:10).

5.  God uses ordinary events and people.  God used here a very dysfunctional family, and in all those 14 chapters there are no “miracles” in the sense of dramatic, supernatural events.    More normally, God is nudging here, tweaking there, slipping here, sliding there, pushing, pulling, maneuvering, twisting, turning.

Thus, Genesis 50 ends with the resurrection principle itself, though Joseph did not have the resurrection of Jesus as proof.  The authorities meant the crucifixion for evil, but God turned it to good — to life for many people.  God is constantly working in our lives, even through the bad stuff, to turn evil into good, darkness into light, winter into spring, death into new life, crucifixion into resurrection.  He does this because that’s who he is; that’s what he does.  More importantly, he does that because he loves us, with a love that is infinite, and that goes all the way to the cross for us; a love that will never ever let us go.

 

The Rev. Stockton Williams is rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Kerrville, Texas. Reach him at stockton@stpeterskerrville.com or leave a comment below.

Doing Handstands

Lent 2012
Path of Restoration

 

by Tracy Donley 

I have been struggling for some time now in my yoga practice to do a handstand. To do one with any grace while avoiding breaking a wrist — or a neck — requires lots of strength and balance, but someone who has been practicing yoga as long as I have should easily be able to pull it off. I’ve worked at strengthening the necessary muscles, I’ve read the instructions, attended the classes, watched the DVDs, but still can’t quite do it. 

But a few days ago, I was driving past an elementary school playground, where a large group of second and third graders were running around, laughing, and taking turns doing handstands in the grass. Effortless, giggling handstands. Sometimes, they’d fall over — which only led them to pop up and try again. Sometimes, they’d achieve that brief moment of lightness, of grace, before folding back down to their feet. 

Please. Do these children work out in their spare time? Do they take classes to learn to balance like that? 

That was, of course, when it occurred to me that children can do handstands, headstands, cartwheels, and the like because they hold the real secret without even realizing it: they are light. And they are light because they’re not afraid.

Aha moment! So that’s the reason I haven’t been able to do handstand. It was never something that was missing from my equation. It was something that I had mistakenly added to it. Strength plus balance is a good start. But throw in a healthy dose of fear and all bets are off. 

While we’re on the subject of fitness, I’ll tell another story. This morning, as I was huffing and puffing my way along on a morning run, checking my watch to see how much time was left, I turned to glance at my front yard as I passed my house. There, dancing between trees and morning rays of sunlight was my daughter — and she was running.  

We’re talking here about a 12-year old who isn’t interested in organized sports, but who probably runs for more than an hour a day, simply because she thinks it’s fun. She leaps and bounds and smiles to herself about some daydream she’s playing out in her mind. There is strength and grace in every movement. But mostly, there’s joy. If I popped the earbuds of my iPod out long enough, I am sure I would hear her singing.  

In that moment, I realized what Jesus was talking about when he told us we would have to be like children. Full of faith that life is good, and people are good, and God is good. When did I load myself up with doubt about that? And why? 

As we prepare for the joy and lightness of Easter, Lent is a time for experiencing transformation. And where my old self would think you’d need a reading list and tickets to a lecture series in order to be transformed, these children — with their running and their handstands — have taught me that maybe there is less to it than all of that. Maybe transformation is about unlearning. Maybe God set me down here with a kiss on the forehead and a clear understanding which I have somehow piled high with bags of disappointment, doubt, fear, routine, and all the rest. 

Maybe Easter transformation isn’t about becoming something new, but about going back to what I was meant to be in the first place. Maybe it’s all about setting down the fear, planting your hands on the ground, and kicking off. Maybe it’s about grabbing onto that moment of lightness and remembering who you are. 

Tracy Donley is a member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Seguin TX. Reach her at tracydon4@aol.com or leave a comment below.

Finding Joy and Wonder

Lent 2012
Path of Restoration

by the Rev. Mary Earle           

 Some years ago, when I began work as an associate rector at the Church of Reconciliation in San Antonio, I inherited a prayer desk that had seen better days.  The pad on the kneeler was ragged, and the stuffing was gone.  The wood had been painted over many times.  I was on the verge of relegating it to the youth room when the sexton, a feisty redhead named Linda, offered to take the prayer desk home and see what her husband could do with it.  He loved working with old wood, she  said, and had a heart for this kind of restoration.

            Weeks later, she knocked on the door of my office.  She’d brought back the prayer desk.  Her husband had carefully removed all of the layers of old paint.  He’d discovered that underneath all of that grime and grit was sturdy oak.  He had stripped off the last layer of old varnish and then lovingly sanded the wood.  Clear varnish, applied with care and attention, now allowed the natural beauty of the oak to shine through.

            Linda had made a new pad for the kneeler; it was a beautiful cotton print, simple in design and evocative of altar hangings.  She’d made sure there was sufficient padding for my sore knee.

            When she handed it to me, she said, “It’s been fully restored, and made beautiful all over again.”

            As I write these words, my forehead is adorned with a cross of ashes.  Every Ash Wednesday, I recall the prayer desk.  I remember all those layers that obscured the inherent beauty of the oak.  I remember the painstaking effort involved to remove the gunk so I could see the beauty of the wood, shining through again.

            This Lenten journey, in the words of one traditional Gaelic prayer, reminds us that we are “fashioned for joy.”  For all sorts of reasons, we discover that we, too, are covered over with layers of gunk and grime.  Our innate beauty, the beauty bestowed when the living God brought us forth in God’s own image, gets obscured and hidden.  Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and self-denial are intended to allow the Holy Spirit, through this sacramental life, to return us to that first beauty, and to begin transforming us into the divine likeness. 

            We cannot do this by ourselves.  And we cannot allow it to happen merely by being grim, earnest and zealous.  The Celtic Christian tradition has bequeathed to us a living sense of robust confidence in Jesus’ willingness to heal us and make us whole.  From those prayers, both ancient and contemporary, we remember to sing, “Be Thou my vision,” and to enter these 40 days trusting in the abounding mercy of the God who keeps us in being at every moment.

            I am drawn to the Celtic Christian tradition because of its willingness to look sin and evil straight in the face, name them, and forsake them.  John Philip Newell hands on a story from his mentor, Noel Dermot O’Donoghue, an Irish scholar and Roman Catholic priest.  O’Donoghue was presiding at a baptism in the west of Ireland.  When he asked the gathered faithful if they were willing to renounce the devil and all his works, they responded with joy, “We do, the dirty bastard!” 

            Their exuberance overflowed.  The congregation was not mumbling their response, wondering when the service would be over.  They took the vow to heart, knowing that they and the baby being baptized were fashioned for the “gift of joy and wonder” in all of God’s works.

            The living God and the God of the living desires deep restoration for each person, and for the entire created order.  This Lenten season offers us space and time to remember, to give up our habitual busyness that leads to forgetting and addictive self-importance.   As we let go of those habits and behaviors that lead us away from our deep identity in Christ, we will need to encourage one another along the way.  We will need to name the good, as Archbishop Tutu as pointed out.  We need to remember and invite the restoration God so desires to work in us through Jesus.

            In the words of one of Newell’s prayers,

            “In the morning light, O God,
            may I glimpse again your image deep within me
            the threads of eternal glory
            woven into the fabric of every man and woman.

            Again may I catch sight of the mystery of the human soul
            fashioned in your likeness
            deeper than knowing
            more enduring than time.

            And in glimpsing these threads of light
            amidst the weakness and distortions of my life
            let me be recalled to the strength and beauty deep in my soul

            Let me be recalled
            to the strength and beauty of your image in every living thing.”

(from Celtic Benediction, by John Philip Newell, Eerdmans, 2000)

The Rev. Mary Earle is author of several books and is writer-in-residence at The Work+Shop in San Antonio TX.

Reach her at mcearle48@gmail.com or leave a comment  below. For a list of Mary’s books, visit http://marycearle.org/

Art: “Puddle in the Park” by Terry Gay Puckett.  Puckett is one of several artists from around the Diocese of West Texas whose work is part of a special exhibit, “Lent through the Eyes of the Artist,” that will hang at Cathedral House Gallery at the Bishop Jones Center in San Antonio until mid-April. The opening wine-and-cheese reception is Sunday, Feb 26, 4 to 6 p.m. The public is invited free of charge.

The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The address is 111 Torcido, San Antonio TX 78209. For more information, contact Marjorie George at marjorie.george@dwtx.org or 210-857-5387.

           

           

Down the Garden Path

Lent 2012
Path of  Restoration

by Marjorie George

Is it going to freeze again (or maybe, ever again)? I ask myself that question while surveying my backyard and planning for the annual spring makeover, 2012 edition. Is it safe to start putting plants into the ground? The TV weathermen are hedging.

Even as I implore Mother Spring – who continues to toy with us — to reveal her plans, I know that this year is different. This year there will be no hydrangeas; no orchids; no delicate, frilly, does-well-in-zone-5 (that would be Connecticut) plants. I am throwing in the trowel. After the decimating drought of the last several summers, my backyard is going native Texan – columbine, Turk’s cap, and Mexican bush sage will own the day.

This idea is not original to me: on the air and in magazines and newspapers, I am hearing and reading that it’s becoming smart to go back to our roots, so to speak. “Plant Native” is the rallying cry.  Needs continual watering? Gotta go. Can’t stand 106 degrees for three weeks straight? Outta here. Doesn’t embrace the searing afternoon sun, facing west? Nope.

I see now that my backyard was not happy being forced into something it was never intended to be. No amount of pushing that round root ball into a square hole in the ground worked. I actually broke laws trying, sneaking water when no one was looking. Still the plants shriveled.

And just so, our souls are shriveling as we force them to accept what is so anathema to them. I’ve learned that plants that are not native to an area are called “exotics.” Such an alluring word; we mean it as “attractively out of the ordinary.” Its first meaning, however, is “originating in or characteristic of a foreign country.”  In how many ways do I push my soul to live a tortured existence apart from its place of origin?

I don’t even have to hire geologists and archeologists to find my birthplace; it’s there in Genesis 1, right up front: “So God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them” (1:27). And then he said, “Wow, that’s really good!”

And we, because we think ourselves so very wise and clever, sought to improve on the basic model. But here’s the thing: in our bumbling and stumbling and climbing over each other and renaming our needs, we moved away from God’s desires for us. And I don’t much like it here in this foreign land. I’ve been trying to live in places and in ways God never intended, and it’s not so good any longer.

Our ReflectionsOnline series for Lent 2012 will explore the path of restoration – how do we get back to that “good” in which God created us? How can we once again become those who were created in the image of God? What obstacles must we overcome, and what gifts has God provided us with to make the journey? How do we look at the soil of our lives and rid ourselves of those exotics that have crept in and are masquerading as native?

Several writers from across the diocese will contribute to our Lenten online reflections and provide us with some guidance — some sunshine and some rain, perhaps a little compost – for the journey. We hope you will add your thoughts and comments as more fodder for all of us. Our reflections begin on Ash Wednesday, February 22.

You can receive our online reflections in your e-mail inbox by subscribing in the box on the right. And please invite others to join us.

Marjorie George

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine, published by the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. Reach Marjorie at marjorie.george@dwx.org or comment below.

Art: “Pensive” by E. Gordon West.  West is one of several artists from around the Diocese of West Texas whose work is part of a special exhibit, “Lent through the Eyes of the Artist,” that will hang at Cathedral House Gallery at the Bishop Jones Center in San Antonio until mid-April. The opening wine-and-cheese reception is Sunday, Feb 26, 4 to 6 p.m. The public is invited free of charge.

Of this piece, West says, “Lent is a time of reflection. This piece depicts a single individual in a relaxed position gazing out to a glorious sunset.  He has to be filled with the wonderment of God’s creations.”

The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The address is 111 Torcido, San Antonio TX 78209. For more information, contact Marjorie George at marjorie.george@dwtx.org or 210-857-5387.