Emily Dickinson, Czeslaw Milosz and Cat Power go into a bar...

Being faithful to me is living in a way that is open to the awe, hurt, beauty and challenge of each moment.  Today, once again, I was reminded that even as I get ready to enter a weekend of celebration and merry-making, there are people in my community whose loved ones are dying - or battling addiction - or just making stupid and mean-spirited choices.  It reminds me of those I know who have died on Christmas Eve while the rest of us have been singing "Joy to the world - or those who have betrayed their beloved knowing all the while the agony it will cost - because living by faith is always paradoxical and complicated.

In one of the great prayers of the Church - the Great Litany - all sorts of paradoxical blessings are lifted up to the Lord:  ... may it please Thee to preserve all who are in danger by reason of their labor or their travel... may it please Thee to preserve... all women in childbirth as well as widows and those whose homes are broken or torn by strife... may it please Thee to forgive our enemies...  and so much more.

The poet, Emily Dickinson, put it like this:

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading - treading - till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through -

And when they were all seated,
A Service, like a Drum -
Kept beating - beating - till I thought
My Mind was going numb -

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
The Space - began to toll.

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wreaked, Solitary, here -

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down -
And hit a World, at every plunge
And Finished knowing - then -

In the early days of ministry this used to make me crazy - how could I enjoy my blessings knowing that others were suffering - and it is still very humbling.  It should be.  But over time, rather than go insane, I have come to trust that God is God so I don't have to be. Czeslaw Milosz puts it like this in his poem, "Faith."

The word Faith means when someone sees
A dew-drop or a floating leaf, and knows
That they are, because they have to be.
And even if you dreamed, or closed your eyes
And wished, the world would still be what it was,
And the leaf would still be carried down the river.

It means that when someone's foot is hurt
By a sharp rock, he also knows that rocks
Are here so they can hurt our feet.
Look, see the long shadow cast by the tree;
And flowers and people throw shadows on the earth:
What has no shadow has no strength to live.

As I start a weekend of basking in the love and encouragement of my family, friends and faith community, I also trust that God will be and is present to those who are in need of the Lord the most.  Resting in this truth is a great blessing and I give thanks to the Lord.


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