Monday, May 30, 2011

When children suffer

Many of us in the northwest have been praying for 5-year-old Kate and her battle with leukemia. She’s been struggling for much of her short life, and at one point it seemed she was breaking through. But a few months ago, the news that the disease was reasserting itself shocked and saddened us, and so the battle continues.

On Saturday Kate successfully received a bone marrow transplant using cord blood, and now our prayers are for her body to receive the transplant, as we continue to pray for her family and for the light of Christ to fill her and heal her. The road ahead is not clear, but our commitment is.

All of this highlights the ongoing discussion about the mystery of human suffering, and especially the suffering of children. The Psalms of Lament and the book of Job are some of the passages we turn to. Other recent reading has also been helpful. Last week I re-read Stanley Hauerwas’ God, Medicine, and Suffering (1990) in which he specifically addresses the suffering of children. Hauerwas is uneasy (to put it mildly) with theodicy (the discipline that tries to explain evil) as a legitimate theological enterprise and exposes the shallowness of some of the arguments given for why good people suffer: “I believe that the most decisive challenge which the experience of childhood illness presents is our inability to name the silences such illness creates….I cannot promise readers consolation, but only as honest an account as I can give of why we cannot afford to give ourselves explanations for evil when what is required is a community capable of absorbing our grief” (xi). (Hauerwas’ own recent memoir, Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir 2010, shows how his own suffering has honed his views).

Another book I read earlier this year, Peter Greig’s God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer (2007), also encourages us to rest in the mystery of God, even as we search for answers. The background of the book and informing all its arguments is a brain tumor that continues to torment the author’s wife. Greig, himself a leader in a national movement for intercession, asks the same hard questions that Hauerwas addresses, and in spite of continuing questions, encourages us to faithfully keep praying.

For me the best resources on the subject, other than the Bible, are Gregory Boyd’s treatments of theodicy and suffering: God at War (1997) and Satan and the Problem of Evil (2001), among others. Boyd’s academic, yet pastoral approach gives depth to the subject. His strong chapter on intercession encourages me to keep praying, in spite of unanswered questions, and to keep affirming my faith in a sovereign, loving God.

But one of the most encouraging things I’ve read recently is a blog posting by a young Quaker whom I’ve known since her birth. Part of the same Quaker meeting that I still call home, Emily was born with all sorts of physical problems and, at the age of two, underwent a risky liver transplant. A recent university graduate, Emily is currently working as an intern at the Friends Twin Rocks camp on the Oregon coast and exploring the possibilities of graduate school.

She writes, “Glory be! To God for His incredible love for us! It’s May 20th again, and again I am humbled and awestruck by the power God displayed, and continues to display, as each year this borrowed liver holds out. Each year I hear another amazing story from one of my parents that I had never heard before, and each story is further evidence that God intervened every step of the way through my illness and the transplant.” Go to her blog, "A Ray of Sunshine," to read the story she refers to here.

Emily concludes by saying, “I am humbled at the heroic and miraculous efforts God made on my behalf. I may sound like a broken record when I say I sincerely hope I can live up to the person God had planned for me to be even back then….Every day really is a gift!”

I remember the way the congregation gathered around Emily and her parents in prayer. I remember occasional feelings of hopelessness. I am glad for the stories of answered prayer; I draw courage from them. And I am learning from the stories of unanswered prayer.

I bring all this to a focal point in my commitment to Kate and her family. I commit myself (again and again):

--to the courage to face hard questions;

--to faith in the goodness, power, and sovereignty of God; to respect before the mystery;

--to the task of prayer;

--to the body of Christ, realizing that my prayers join those of many others, and together we call down God’s mercy and power, the manifestation of God’s kingdom in this child;

--to support for the family in whatever practical ways might be appropriate, including silent accompaniment (realizing that my closest link is to Kate’s grandmother who happens to be my long-time friend).

Lord Jesus, have mercy on us all. Have mercy on your beloved child, Kate. Let your healing love and light surround and penetrate. Thank you for the wonders of medicine; let the transplant “take,” the medications be effective. Strengthen and encourage Kate’s family. Be glorified in all of this. Keep teaching us how to pray so that we might cooperate with you in your purposes. Amen.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Doing it right

"You need to learn to swear," he told me.
"A Quaker like you, so controlled
--it's not healthy."

I wondered if he might be right.
I did feel choked up at times
by the undone dishes and frayed edges,
not to mention the major injustices of life.

Leaning into memory, I brought up
words from TV and novels, phrases
my grandfather had used when provoked.
I rehearsed them mentally,
avoiding the mirror.

A few weeks later,
something he said (I can't remember what),
--a twist of sarcasm, a patronizing hint--
and a voice whispered, "Now."
I looked straight at him
and with a keen and measured ferocity said,
"I just don't give a hell."

In the following silence, I realized
I hadn't quite brought it off.
Finally he said, "If you're going to swear,
at least do it right."

Warning: I'm practicing.
Next time I'll get it.
Mountains will quake.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On googling my name

Recently I googled my name to see what information was out there on the WEB. The search reminded me of just how common my name is. Even a check that included my middle initial, J., netted some 14,600,000 sites! It was hard to find me in all the Nancy Thomases scattered throughout the virtual universe.

Actually, I did find me on page 5 of one of the searches, with a link to my Barclay Press blog. Further down the list (and many pages later) I came up with my own blog, mil gracias. It took a bit of patience; I’m well hidden.

A Book Finder search uncovered quite a list of publications by Nancy Thomas, and interestingly enough a book I edited, Footprints of God: A Narrative Theology of Mission, led the list. Other books by Nancy Thomas in that list included The Great American Afghan, The Great Tiki Drink Book, When Love Is Not Enough: A guide to Parenting Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, and Infectious Diseases of Wild Birds. I had no idea I was that versatile!

In other words, if someone met me, remembered my name and then tried to find out more about me on the Internet, here’s what he might learn:

--that I am one of the leading authorities on parenting emotionally disturbed children;

--that I am a nationally-known contemporary folk artist who does prints, abstract children’s art, children’s calendars, ceramic figurines, sculpture, hooked rugs, pins, stained glass, all kinds of stuff for home and garden. My work is prized throughout the country. My latest abstract, “Couple Dancing in the Snow,” sells for $100;

--that I am a celebrated documentary photographer whose “ART captures the Physical, Mental and Spiritual experiences that constitute LIFE.” (I’m really good);

--that I am a taxi driver in Milton, Vermont;

--that for more than 25 years, I have “been the editorial voice of the most widely circulated knitting magazines, including Vogue Knitting, Family Circle Easy Knitting, and Knitter’s Magazine.” My latest book is A Passion for Knitting, hot off the press;

--that the Nancy Thomas Award was set up in my name to honor professionals who are addressing the issues of the inclusion of young children with disabilities;

--that although I hold a degree in electronics and engineering, I am a story-teller at heart and believe that “writing is a door into a world of possibilities;”

--that I have been a non-dieting fat woman since 1976 and am one of the founders of the FAT LIP Readers Theater;

--that I own and run the Duncanville Feed Store in Texas;

--that I practice clinical psychology in Ponte Vedra, Florida.

I even came up with a site that invited me to read my obituary, but I declined.

A bit overwhelming, to say the least. It tempts me to feel generic.

But I’m not generic. None of us are. I am unique, in spite of my common, ordinary, repeatable name. Actually, I began to love my name when I discovered what it meant. Both names, Nancy and Jane, mean “grace.” I don’t think my parents knew that when they named me; Nancy and Jane were favorite aunts and cousins on both sides of the family.

But they did indeed name me “Grace Grace,” God’s double-whammy grace child. My unique name/person is etched on the palm of God’s hand, and God needs no search engine to find me.

Neither do you.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The shining prepositions

Several weeks back the gathering word in our unprogrammed time of worship came from 2 Corinthians 4 and contained this verse:

For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 2:4).

I responded in two ways. The first was amazement at the scope of what Paul is saying, almost to the point of incredulity. Secondly, my professional editorial self kicked in and I thought, “You can’t string together five propositional phrases. That’s not good writing. At least not in English.” That’s true. If I found that many prepositional phrases all in one line, I’d re-write the sentence.

But here you have it. Creator God, the one who said, “Let there be light,” shines that light into our hearts to give an incredible gift:

The light
--of the knowledge
--of the glory
--of God
--in the face
--of Jesus Christ.

And I’m not about to edit any of it out.

Actually in Greek, there is only one prepositional phrase and four possessive nouns (genitive case, for you Greek scholars). In other words, God shines into our hearts the light pertaining to the knowledge that pertains to the glory that belongs to God in the face (the lone prepositional phrase) that belongs to Jesus. Technically, it still seems to need some editing.

Beyond the technicalities, I continue to bask in the amazement. It’s simply too big to take in with my mind. But I feel my heart expanding.

What is it exactly that God beams into our hearts? Basically, it’s knowledge. The knowledge of God’s glory. This has to be a knowledge that goes beyond rational possession of information. It’s experiential, intuitive, deep-level revelation, the how-can-this-be-true sense of wonder at something utterly beyond and above us.

“The glory of God.” Perhaps we’ve heard and repeated that phrase so much we’ve become immune to the wonder. The glory of God—the beauty, might, mystery, majesty of the Creator—a theme that runs through the Scriptures from that first “Let there be light” to the final vision of the glorious city with her shining King. A theme that runs through creation, that roars in the oceans, whispers through the trees, teases us with hints of more in all the mountain wildflowers of all the far and near places in all the world. The glory of God.

And how do we have access to the knowledge/experience of this glory? It comes as we gaze at the face of Jesus Christ. Intimacy with Jesus opens us up to the shining gift.

How can this be? How can I just keep walking around, conversing with people, eating sandwiches, opening and closing drawers just as though life should go on as normal, when I know of the very real possibility that God will zap my heart with the knowledge of glory. Is possibly doing it right now. I think of the line from ee cummings’ poem about the good Samaritan who lifted the wounded man into his arms and “staggered banged with terror through a million billion trillion stars.” That seems like a more appropriate reaction.

Yet life does go on as normal. And I’m glad, not yet being prepared to handle too much glory. I think of all that’s happened since my last blog:

--the media images of the killing of Osama Bin Ladin, scenes of people rejoicing in the streets of New York and numerous small towns across our nation, and my mixed reactions—patriot, Quaker pacifist, compassionate missionary;

--a week of work both stimulating and tedious, interacting with students, preparing documents, getting ready for a trip;

--time with family, celebrating the 16th birthday of my granddaughter, long phone conversations with my daughter on how she’s dealing with her son’s autism, early morning walks with Hal.

All of the ordinariness and holiness of life. Normal, common life in a small town on planet earth. But it’s here where that amazing, shining string of prepositional phrases begins to operate. God, shining into my heart, the light

--of the knowledge
--of the glory
--of God
--in the face
--of Jesus Christ.

Oh, my Lord, how can this be?