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Lenten Daily Reflection 2021-04-03

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Job 19:21-27

Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me,
never satisfied with my flesh?

‘O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock for ever!
For I know that my Redeemer* lives,
and that at the last he* will stand upon the earth;*
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in* my flesh I shall see God,*
whom I shall see on my side,*
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!

Oh how much I like reading Job. My response to him is always so deep hearted, my skin crawls with the sense of injustice – I feel right there with him. I’m guessing many of us have had Job moments at some point in our lives, and possibly in the last year. Why oh why God are all these calamities befalling me? It’s really easy to get stuck in a cycle of retribution theology – that is, if I’m good, then only good things happen to me, and if I am experiencing difficulty or am suffering, then God is punishing me. No matter how much we hear or read that God does not work this way, we can’t shake our attachment to this idea that God rewards us and punishes us based on our behavior. I think it is because it is too overwhelming to think that many things happen randomly and that we are not in full control, no matter how much we convince ourselves that we are.

I also really identify with Job because he is so indignant, so angry, so upset by the injustice of what he has experienced and the lack of help he’s getting from his friends and from God. He wants to write his experience down with an iron pen on a rock so that an account of his suffering will be around forever…and his account is still around and yet his suffering had an end. His suffering had an end and then what when his suffering ends? Has he changed? What will he remember of his experience if anything?

In this moment in time when I have so little control and I am desiring for COVID to be over I am so in it and I know I have so many thoughts like: I like that our family is not overscheduled; I like eating dinner together every night; I like my neighbors so much and having time to talk to them on the street; I miss taking the subway; I can make do with so much less than I thought I could; I need my friends more than I remembered and I don’t need to schedule a time to talk to them; I can be resilient even when I think I can’t be, and so on… but what about this time next year? Will I have forgotten what I have learned about myself this year? Or will I be like Job? This time will end and a new period of my life will begin without much thought of what I, what we, have been through? I’ve read that this is what happened after the 1918 flu to the point where there are only a handful of novels written about the theme and those were written in the 1930’s. I hope I’ll hold onto this experience in its totality, writing this on my heart and not on stone, so that it becomes a part of me.

God hasn’t punished me this past year – the chaos of life has swirled something fierce and I have learned from it – that God is always with me, even in my darkest moments and there is much to have learned this year to hold onto in the years to come.


Lenten Daily Reflection 2021-04-02

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You can listen to the reading and reflection by clicking here.

Psalm 22.1-18

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? *
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?

O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; *
by night as well, but I find no rest.

Yet you are the Holy One, *
enthroned upon the praises of Israel.

Our forefathers put their trust in you; *
they trusted, and you delivered them.

They cried out to you and were delivered; *
they trusted in you and were not put to shame.

But as for me, I am a worm and no man, *
scorned by all and despised by the people.

All who see me laugh me to scorn; *
they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,

"He trusted in the Lord; let him deliver him; *
let him rescue him, if he delights in him."

Yet you are he who took me out of the womb, *
and kept me safe upon my mother's breast.

I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; *
you were my God when I was still in my
mother's womb.

Be not far from me, for trouble is near, *
and there is none to help.

Many young bulls encircle me; *
strong bulls of Bashan surround me.

They open wide their jaws at me, *
like a ravening and a roaring lion.

I am poured out like water;
all my bones are out of joint; *
my heart within my breast is melting wax.

My mouth is dried out like a pot-sherd;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; *
and you have laid me in the dust of the grave.

Packs of dogs close me in,
and gangs of evildoers circle around me; *
they pierce my hands and my feet;
I can count all my bones.

They stare and gloat over me; *
they divide my garments among them;
they cast lots for my clothing.

Be not far away, O Lord; *
you are my strength; hasten to help me.

Psalm 22 begins with the cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This cry of utter despair and abandonment is echoed by Jesus on the Cross. This cry cuts me to the core—if even God has abandoned me, what possible hope is there? Here we are, on Good Friday morning and, to me, this psalm vividly tells the story of Good Friday. Here we plumb the depths of human desolation as we walk with Jesus to his death on the cross.

I have always been struck by the extreme language of this psalm--“as for me, I am a worm and no man”, “all who see me laugh me to scorn”, “I am poured out like water”, “my mouth is dried out like a pot-sherd” (my favorite), “Packs of dogs close me in” and many more. I used to think these verses were too extreme, they certainly didn’t apply to me personally!

But, as I think about it more, I think, yes, the psalm is extreme yet isn’t human life often extreme? This is the gift the psalms give us—all the range of human experience and emotion in all its beauty and horror.

Like others, I may have the illusion that I am protected from these extremes, but I don’t know what is to come. Of course, I have not been immune to suffering, loss and feelings of estrangement. Psalm 22 runs the gamut.

What I find encouraging is that such a despairing psalm keeps going back to the goodness of God. Even at the beginning the psalmist recalls that their ancestors had put their trust in God and were redeemed by God. The psalmist acknowledges God’s care from birth. This is a reminder that God has cared for me all my life, even when I was totally unaware of God’s presence. Or the times when I felt abandoned and alone, even abandoned by God.

For this year of pandemic, I am thinking of last March, when suddenly our lives were constricted, almost everything shut down and we were confined to our homes. We were surrounded by the threat of the coronavirus. I think of the verse “Packs of dogs close me in, and gangs of evildoers circle around me.” The psalmist prays: “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.”

Late in March both Martin and I came down with Covid. For ten days I ran a temperature. Meanwhile, the quiet was disturbed by the wails of sirens from the ambulances rushing to the hospitals near us.

Several times the ambulance did not go rushing by, but stopped in front of our house and went into the home of our next-door neighbors. Martin witnessed our neighbor Eda being carried out the house by EMS workers. Later, we learned that her husband Roy had died of Covid.

We were lucky; we both recovered. We got through it. Yet, in thinking back, I seemed to be operating on automatic pilot; my fear had shut me down. So this is what the psalm means to me now. The cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—it doesn’t mean that God has actually forsaken me, I know that God will never forsake me. Instead, it is the human feeling of being forsaken by God (and by everyone else). It is I, in my fear and aloneness, who has forsaken God. I have shut off the connection, just when I most need the comfort of God’s presence. Over and over, us humans retreat into ourselves in time of trouble. Over and over, we must teach ourselves to be brave and open ourselves to the love that God provides.
This is the journey of the Cross.


Lenten Daily Reflection 2021-04-01

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You can listen to the reading and reflection by clicking here.

Psalm 142

I cry to the Lord with my voice; *
to the Lord I make loud supplication.

I pour out my complaint before him *
and tell him all my trouble.

When my spirit languishes within me, you know my path; *
in the way wherein I walk they have hidden a trap for me.

I look to my right hand and find no one who knows me; *
I have no place to flee to, and no one cares for me.

I cry out to you, O Lord; *
I say, "You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living."

Listen to my cry for help, for I have been brought very low; *
save me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.

Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your Name; *
when you have dealt bountifully with me,
the righteous will gather around me.

Sometimes scripture comes uncomfortably close. I get this one. You know? It resonated. I do cry to the Lord with my voice. I do pour out my complaint and tell him all my trouble. I can tell the psalmist has an active and healthy prayer life. You get a real sense that this person knows what it is like to be having an ongoing conversation with God.

The psalmist knows God is with them throughout their life, both at this moment when they feel they have nowhere to run to escape their life, and no one who cares for them. And when God deals bountifully with them and all the righteous will gather. To have that kind of deep confidence in God’s enduring presence, and be maintaining such a deep prayer conversation with God is really great.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel so good, warmed and embraced when I am praying and meditating. The way I feel I can best describe it to you is like being in a super cozy blanket. It’s this powerful feeling of safety and being surrounded by God’s love. Recently this feeling has been so grounding for me. I have really appreciated this feeling of being so surrounded by God especially at a time when much of my life feels chaotic and random.

Okay, but then, I am out in the world, often stumbling into a frustrating situation with my children or with the contractors at church and I am so far from that feeling of being surrounded by my cozy God’s love blanket! What happened? Do I just need to sit in a room by myself at all times to maintain that feeling of closeness to God? Or maybe the question is, I know God and feel God so clearly in my quiet prayers, but how do I keep feeling God when my child is having an insane fit about the way pants feel on her ankles and when the construction project has some unforeseen crisis? Because I feel dispirited and hopeless—not warm and fuzzy.

The psalmist reminds me though that there isn’t only one God feeling. It doesn’t have to be surrounded by blanket of warmth and love or nothing at all. The psalmist is feeling God when they’re in the midst of despair, loneliness, and frustration. The palmist isn’t like me, who just wants to be back in some perfect cozy surround, not in my real life feeling. The psalmist is frustrated and they say, “you are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” The psalmist doesn’t say “GOD! What do I do, my child is being irrational about pants and I just want to be away from this situation so we can be cozy together.” Nope. The psalmist is in all of the worldly struggles that we might have and in the midst of that, instead of wishing for some other way of being with God, is right with God right then. “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”

This psalm reminds me that faith can feel many different ways, it can feel like that cozy blanket but it can also feel like “my spirit languishing within me.” And I am reminded that prayerful, and constant conversation with God like the palmist has can grow in me so that I too can have that same feeling of relief, “you are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” The palmist might not have started out with this kind of faith. By prayer, commitment to being steadfast with God and maybe even just life experiences, the psalmist (and you and I!) Can indeed grow our faith so that by and by, more and more, our refuge can be in God.


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