Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Sound of Silence, Longest Night

My reflection for the Longest Night. 
(OK so the service was on December 18th. Not the Longest Night. But Long Enough.)

The Sound of Silence, Longest Night


“Silence like a cancer grows.”

Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence” is a powerful and prophetic song.
It speaks to fear that cripples us and causes us to turn away from what is unspoken
but needs to be spoken.
Silence is a weapon by those who would oppress others.
It allows them to work in secret while suffering people are not heard.

Too often the stories of the victims don’t make the news.
No matter how hard they cry, how hard they try, still…

“no one dare
Disturb the sound of silence.”

The Presbyterian Church in its Brief Statement of Faith speaks to this deadly, cancerous silence:

“the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.”

The faith statement knows the contrast between silence on one hand
and justice, freedom and peace on the other.
It isn’t the oppression that is most deadly; it is the silence.

The Spirit’s response is the courage to witness,
to bear witness to what we see and hear.
It isn’t anything dramatic or heroic or even difficult on the surface of it.
Speak. Speak what you see and hear,
not what others in their fear tell you what you should see or hear.

“Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see?”

How can we break this deadly grip of silence on our culture and in our church?

It is more than just being loud, like the flashing neon lights.
It is about bearing witness.

Now there is another silence that is not deadly nor cancerous.
This is the silence that comes to us in our yearnings beyond words.
In our weakness, when we don’t know how to pray.

St. Paul writes:

“God’s power comes to the aid of our weakness—we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but God’s power intervenes with yearnings beyond words. The One who searches human hearts knows what the divine intention is. God’s power and presence intervenes on behalf of the people of God in accordance with the purposes of God.”

This is the silence that is the appropriate response to Divine communication.

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence.”

That is not about being silent in the face of injustice, no.
This is the silence that is the response to grace.
This is the silence imposed upon Zechariah
when he couldn’t fathom the miracle
about to be visited upon him and his wife, Elizabeth,
–a son in their old age.
Best keep quiet, Zechariah,
than busy your mind with thoughts too large for your mind.
This is the response to the presence of the Holy.

This is the response when we are too earthly-minded,
too shallow in our thought,
too stumbling in our faith,
when the Divine One “intervenes with yearnings beyond words.”

Then we are known as we know.

“Silence like a cancer grows.” True.

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence.” True.

Both are silence.
One deadly.
The other,
life-giving.

“Spirit intervenes with yearnings beyond words.” True again.

Grief is love that has lost its object.
Grief is still searching.
Grief is still yearning.

It has been six years since we lost our son, Zachary.
I give myself permission to say his name and what I am feeling
during this Longest Night service.
I am grateful that you are here to hear it.
If I don’t say his name on a regular basis,
it is deadly.

The yearning is sharp at Christmas.
So often I have no idea how to pray,
how to process,
how to think or even
how to feel.
The grace is that I don’t have to know how to do any of it.
The grace is that God intervenes with yearnings beyond words.
God searches my own heart,
bringing out what is Divine within.
My heart is known.
In that I trust.

Of course, not just me. You, too.
I am just making it personal.

You may say, “So, God does all that for you, huh?”

That is rather funny.
I wouldn’t have said that six years ago
when I told my counselor that God was like a dead tree stump.
I guess it is true what the prophet said
that a root will grow out of the stump.

I bear witness to that.

No matter what happens, it is good.

It is possible to be changed for the better.
It is possible for one’s heart to be known by God.
It is possible to have a sense of peace about who one is and what one is to do.
It is possible for the healing power of silence that comes from grace,
to be transformed into words on behalf of those who suffer in deadly silence.

It truly is possible to be moved through grief and grace to life and purpose.

For that, on this dark night, I bear witness and I am grateful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Sacred Darkness and Holy Grief


I am preparing services for Christmas. Christmas Eve and our Longest Night Service (December 18th, 7 pm) for those who are, in the words Robert Frost, "acquainted with the night." I ran across what I wrote last year at this time about loss and love.
Reflections on Darkness… 
I like sitting in the dark. It doesn’t have to be pitch black. It should be mostly dark, though. I find the darkness peaceful, embracing. It doesn’t demand anything of me. It doesn’t even know I am there. I don’t need an agenda. I don’t need to work. I don’t need to play. I don’t need to be busy. I don’t need to do anything. The darkness is healing. It flows through me.

A member of one of my previous churches shared with me that after she had lost her husband, people would wish her well, that she would be embraced by light and love, and so forth. She, of course, appreciated the caring, but she told me that the wish to be in the light was not something she really wanted. She wanted the dark.

Grieving may best be done in the dark. Grief is too vulnerable, too personal, too fragile to be left in the light. The darkness allows for thoughts and for feelings to move around a bit more freely, feelings of sadness, or even the less sociable feelings, like anger, annoyance, fear are free in the dark to move around the space with you. When the light goes on those feelings hide. The darkness creatively plays with them, shaping them, teasing them, making something new.
We need the darkness of the womb or the cave to be a place of birthing. I am fond of the dark. In the dark I am free from display. Robert Frost said it so beautifully.

I have been one acquainted with the night.I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.I have outwalked the furthest city light. 
I have looked down the saddest city lane.I have passed by the watchman on his beatAnd dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain. 
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feetWhen far away an interrupted cryCame over houses from another street, 
But not to call me back or say good-bye;And further still at an unearthly height,One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
--Robert Frost, Acquainted with the Night 
Part of me is sad to see the night begin to lose its battle with the light at Winter Solstice. Oh yes, the light is coming back, the sun, the longer days are promised. Yes. That is good, too. But, now, I like, I need, I want, I treasure, I embrace…the dark.
Reflections on Loss and Love…

The last time I played chess with my father, I admit I let him win. It wasn’t obvious. I made more risky moves than usual and overlooked opportunities. But, nonetheless, I did and I didn’t particularly feel good about it. We never played that way, that is to let the other win. But with the arrival of Winter Solstice, he is now closer to his 100th birthday than his 99th. He sits out his days in a Veterans home, even though he isn’t a veteran, but sometimes he makes a convincing case that he once was one.

His mind is mostly jumbled. Several times a day, he remembers that his beloved Olive May, who he married in 1948 is gone. Gone for over two years now. He shakes and he cries, everytime he remembers which is several times a day. Something he rarely would ever do. In fact, never, in my memory. My father didn’t cry, didn’t hug, didn’t say he loved people. But he could laugh.

Our house was filled with laughter when I was a child. My father loved to joke and tease and my mother was, well, I always thought she was sinless, like Mother Mary. When I think of her not being there for any future visits, phone calls, emails, or letters, it is almost unbearable to go there. Never is a long time. I am missing my parents this Christmas.

And, of course, my son. Five years since his exit. I can think about my mom, or look at a picture, and be happy without the wince, mostly. You know what I mean, the wince. The wince is overwhelming with my son, Zach. I can’t look at a picture and just enjoy the memory. It has a cost to it. That cost is the feeling of loss and all the myriad feelings that come out and play when I sit in the dark. That is why I have to sit in the dark if I want to go there. You have to plan for these things.

A good friend, who I trust, told me there will be a time, at least it was for her, that the wince goes away, and the memory of a lost daughter, in her case, a son in mine, will not force its way into the joyful memory. But that time isn’t this Christmas.

Christmas is what it is. I like it. There is a magic to Christmas Eve that I love. It must be so much humanity poured into one night that it has taken on a life of its own. But sometimes it is that time a few days before Christmas, somewhere around solstice, that some darkness, and some loss, and some articulation of sadness, some Christmas blues from a piano man, is what demands airtime.

I’ll be back. But for now, some time, some space for sacred darkness and holy grief. In his book, Lament for a Son, Nocholas Wolterstorff wrote about his son Eric and his grief and he was questioned if grief ever lessens. Yes, he wrote.

“The wound is no longer raw. But it has not disappeared. That is as it should be. If he was worth loving, he is worth grieving over. Grief is existential testimony to the worth of the one loved. That worth abides.”