Joshua 4: Message for a facility memorial service

I thought I’d pass this recent message from a memorial service our hospice hosted at a personal care facility. They had started a rock garden and we donated a tree to serve as a memorial marker.

…Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:4b-7

This scene marks a pivotal point in the history of Israel. This nation of former slaves has survived forty years in the wilderness, scraping by only at times by means of miraculous intervention, to arrive at the land promised to them several generations before. Nobody who heard that promise is alive to see it fulfilled. Even Moses, who lead the bedraggled group for those 40 years and who was for all that time their closest connection to God, died before this scene. This nation of nomads has finally arrived at the end of their journey from slavery to freedom.

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Calling, Pt. II

At times it seems like the biggest question in life, taking a line from Kenny Rogers, is knowing when to hold ’em and knowing when to fold ’em.

I was driving today and turned on to one of our local Christian broadcasts, where the minister was extoling the virtues of perseverance.  He used the story of the calling of Matthias to the Twelve after Judas’ death as an example of sticking around and waiting for the fruit of your labor to be ripe for the picking.  He extended this to show how Christians need to keep going through rough times, to never give up, to endure at all costs.  “God rewards those who endure”, I think he said.

I can see this applying in some situations, but there are other examples where I think it leads to harm.  On the very same station later in the day I heard people (mostly wives) calling in to get advice on how to deal with unendurable situations.  I never heard the counselors say “just keep going and you’ll make it” once.  Granted, they never said “call it quits” either, but the call to change was apparent and clear.  Patient endurance does not always win and is not always good.

Christ does call us to endure through difficulty and hardship.  Indeed as followers we are expected to have hardship because of Christ, and we are frequently exhorted not to fall away because of that hardship.  Endurance does count for a lot, but it isn’t everything.  I think too often we can be short-sighted in our view, thinking that God called me to a certain path and that only by persevering and enduring on that path are we being faithful to God.  Changing course is not an option, for that can be seen as weakness.

However I think God’s paths are often much more open than we think.  For example, I may honestly and prayerfully believe that God has called me to be a missionary to India.  Say that in that process of preparing to go to India I run in to a million different problems: lack of financial support, inability to get a visa, health problems, lost tickets, lost paperwork…let your imagination run wild.  I can take all these things as obstacles that must be overcome on my path to becoming a missionary to India.  But what if there is another message in these obstacles?

Maybe I am not ready yet.  Maybe I’m not called to India.  Maybe I’m wrong.  If I am wrong, the worst thing I can do is push on to some goal that is simply my own invention.

However if I take the tack of “God called me to be a missionary”, then there is much more freedom in that calling.  You can be called to India, or China, or Minneapolis, or the homeless shelter.  And I think that this is more often how God presents our paths.  The narrower your perception of what you think God wants you to do, the less freedom you have to deviate from that, and the more fear you have of deviating from it as well.  You also stand more chance of persisting merely to persist, not because you feel that God is still in it.  If you widen your call and become flexible in it, God’s ability to use you also increases.

To take a page from Thomas Merton’s life again, he definitely felt called to the monastic life and to life as a hermit.  I think he felt called to Gethsemani.  Yet I also get the impression that the specifics of that call were merely circumstancial.  He could have been a hermit anywhere, and I don’t get the impression that there was something about where he was that was irrevocably tied to a particular call.  He was flexible and looked for what God was calling him to do that day, not projecting a certain path that extended for years down the line.  And reading his journals you can see that he struggled but also found that every day his calling was reinforced by his own experience and desire to simply be with God.

I think sometimes we try too hard to hold on to things that we were never meant to hold on to, losing track of the focus of the call to serve and live in God’s grace because we get so preoccupied with how that happens.

Living with Thomas

I’ve taken up reading Thomas Merton.  I happened upon him in the usual roundabout back-door way in which I tend to find most anything.  Regardless of the process I’ve found his journals to be very interesting and his writing challenging.  His journals are especially interesting and helpful.  They are not highly thought-out or doctrinal, which I like.  I can pick them up and put them down easily.  The main things that I’ve gotten from them is his own joy in simply reflecting on life around him and the conscious desire to be simple, not because it’s somehow more holy or better, or because of a command, or because of self-despising humility, but because he loves God and finds that the best way to love God fully is to love Him simply.

When I stop and reflect as Merton does, I feel joy and gratitude.  Not all the time of course.  Today I have a splitting headache for example and even writing this through my blurry glasses makes my head hurt more.

The fact that Merton still struggles with the need for acceptance, self-acceptance, and all the “shoulds” that go along with it also make me feel more normal.

Awareness, Part II

I wrote already of awareness in terms of being aware of problems and issues in one’s life.  However this time I’m thinking of awareness in terms of simply being aware of one’s self in the world.  Yoda’s basic criticism of Luke came to mind:

“All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was! What he was doing!”

I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s journals and one thing I find is that every day is not filled with some kind of inspirational masterpiece or heavy thought on life or whatever.  Often it’s simply what’s going on:

“The sun, the clear morning, the quiet…” June 3&4, 1963

“Brilliance of Venus hanging as it were on one of the dim horns of Scorpio.  Frozen snow.  Deep wide blue-brown tracks of the tractor that came to get my gas tank the other day…” Jan 5, 1968

When I started CPE I saw awareness as being aware of what was going on with me at that time.  And that’s fine, but I’m seeing more that awareness involves not a narrow focus on me, but on me in the world.  I’m getting used to not putting on the iPod when I go out for walks.

I’m even a bit self conscious as I write this, knowing that this sounds a bit like navel-gazing or flaky or something.  But I’m appreciating the experience.

CPE Unit 2, Thomas Merton and drag racing through the Bible

I started my second unit of CPE last week.  One question that I’m looking at this term is “how do I love God?”  This came up during our last unit as one of my fellow students described his theology as simply “love” – which says a lot and nothing at the same time.

As part of this, I’m reading Thomas Merton as well as engaging in a church group which is reading the Bible in 90 days.  I’m interested in Merton because of his incorporation of eastern thought in his spirituality.  Buddhism lends itself to spirituality in hospice care a great deal, and this may help me grow in this area.

Reading the bible in 90 days will lend some much needed discipline and meditation to my ongoing CPE education.  Also, I think that having a topic on mind as I read will guide me a bit as I do this.  I’ll give my impressions as I go.