Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Keeping watch...with Jesus

On Sunday in unprogrammed worship, the gathering word was from Matthew 26:36-39.
“Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’”
As I sat there in the community of silence, I pictured Jesus agonizing in prayer, with his disciples nearby, supporting him (or not). The darkness of the garden matches his shadowed spirit. Sorrowful. Full of sorrow.
What I brought to my meditation that morning was a preoccupation with death. We just lost Hal’s 95 year old mother two weeks back, and then a few days ago we received news of the death of a close friend our own age, Dwaine Williams.
We had expected the one death and were privileged to be at her side when Mom gently stopped breathing and went home. We cried but we also experienced relief that the suffering was over. We felt joy in the sense of her home-coming. In a few weeks, family will gather from different parts of the country to share memories and honor her life.
But with Dwaine, it feels totally different, and our grief has a strange tenor. I’m having to intentionally affirm my faith in God’s loving sovereignty as a way of combating a sense of tragedy. And I struggle with knowing how to respond to Becky, Dwaine’s wife and my dear friend of many years.
So sitting in the silence of unprogrammed worship, seeing Jesus at prayer in the dark garden, my vision shifted to Jesus at the right hand of the Father, still praying, interceding for his people. I saw his eyes going throughout the earth, seeing deeply into the pain and struggles of all of us, and holding that pain tenderly in prayer.
And I heard him say to me, “Stay here nearby. Keep watch with me.” An invitation to co-labor with him in intercession. Even when I don’t know how to pray. Even when all I can do is hold the pain and lift it up to the One who does know how to pray.
This is Holy Week. This is the week we remember Gethsemane and Calvary. Dwaine’s memorial service is on Good Friday. That seems appropriate. And we know that Resurrection Day is coming.
The darkness of the garden will continue in the weeks ahead, but we do not grieve as those without hope. I’m comforted to know that I can keep watch with Jesus, join in his intercession for those who will experience pain in the weeks and months ahead. I will undoubtedly need help to stay awake, but my intention is to sit still, watch and pray. With Jesus.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.

Friday, March 27, 2015


(“The practice of resurrection encourages improvisation on the basic resurrection story….” Eugene Peterson)

The day Grandma died
something quickened in the atmosphere.
A breeze sashayed
through the cherry orchard.
Unseen stars kicked up their heels
in the day-blind sky.

Cancer ward. My friend Sandi
fights nausea. Hope hides
its bright face but refuses
to disappear altogether.
Outside in the evening
pond frogs croak,
“Kyrie eleison.
Kyrie eleison.”

Peter turns seven.
At his request we go to Red Robin
for hamburgers. As the waiters
gather at a neighboring table
to sing a loud and public “Happy Birthday,”
Peter leans in and announces,
“They’re going to do that to me next.”
And they do.

On my early morning walk,
hundreds of calendar-defying daffodils
greet me, all of them grinning
like stewardesses.

Dwaine’s death stuns. My friend
and colleague, a husband, father,
grandfather. Running on the beach.
Not old. Not old at all. It’s like
those something-is-wrong-
with-this-picture puzzles I did
as a child. Lord, help us trace our way
through the shadowed places. Splash
in some resurrection hues.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sacred passage

Last week Hal and I had the privilege of being with Hal’s mom as she died. We had spent the night with her in the hospital, and that morning five of us brothers and sisters (including spouses) stood around her bed singing hymns and reading the Psalms that she had underlined in her Bible. We watched her becoming less and less responsive.
And then, at exactly 12:00 noon, she stopped breathing. Without a sound or movement. Very gently, she went home. It was a holy moment.
We stayed there by her body for just under an hour, crying, praying, remembering, laughing.
Later this week the family will gather at the burial site to worship, in the same spot we gathered five months ago to honor the homegoing of Hal’s father. They’re together again. In three weeks we’ll remember her life with the extended family and many friends as we hold a Quaker memorial service.
Mom, Esther May Thomas, was 95 years old, and Dad, William Thomas, 97. It was time.
The day after Mom’s death, I went to the Newberg Bakery with my 19 year old granddaughter. Breanna is a university student, newly engaged, and faces her future with hope and anticipation. Her face is as lovely and smooth as her great-grandmother’s face was lovely and wrinkled.
I have such a sense of the ongoing seasons of life and of the beauty of each season. I have a sense of the beauty of resurrection and the brightness of the hope we have in Jesus. I’m closer to one end of the cycle, but I face my own seasons with the same hope and anticipation I see in my granddaughter’s face.
God is good. Life is sacred.  All of it.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Prayer on growing older, 17th century

Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will someday be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody. Helpful, but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom--it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end...

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point swiftly. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others' pains, but help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a sour old person--some of them are so hard to live with and each one a crowning work of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Everyone's right

I’ve decided that everyone’s
right about everything.
And that if I listen carefully
to whoever’s talking about
whatever subject, I just might hear
the part he’s getting right.
The only thing is,
I can’t speak.

When I’m alone again,
I remember the words, ideas and stories
and I toss them high. I play. I
juggle. I watch the colors
sparkle in the sun. And when they
all fall down, I let them stay
where they land. Most end up
on the ground. The ones I catch
I throw up again and again until
I’m left with a singular
truth. I sometimes forget
where it came from.