By the Time…

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they get to where I work they’ve already been through the system and this is pretty much the end of the line. Wards of the state, their illness, injury, or tragedy has brought them to the nursing home, the last stop in the medical/industrial complex.

Here they will have food, shelter, and medical care until the end. The least we can do, I suppose, for people who were once lovers, friends, workers, leaders, everything that any human being is, and now are laid low by the nature of things. In this place, stripped of most every possession except a room, or half of one, they will pass their days and rage, as the poet says, against the dying of the light.

No one wants to be here, of course, and everyone who is has a trail of loss that led, like bread crumbs on the ground, to this place. Provided by a long ago charity as a way to help the poorest find some dignity in their ending days this place has become the place of choice for world too busy to share the lives of those who have succumbed, as we must all, to the sometimes debilitating end of life. We’ve grown too old for our own good and we’ve added years for the sake of themselves and so we’ve come to this place, a charity for a culture so caught up in its own busy life that it hardly recognizes itself let alone its frail grandparents.

There is a certain sadness here. Those who’ve chosen to serve in these places know that we can never do all that needs to be done and meet every need. There are simply too many of them and too few of us. People who’ve already fallen through the cracks will fall again despite our best intentions. Everyone we throw our own life’s energy into will die no matter what we do. And we will watch it all from the time we clock in until the time we, often exhausted, clock out.

There is also, though, goodness and love here. It’s an imperfect system in an imperfect world but the people who care and have made this system their cause will also fill this place with a kind of love and goodness, both given and received, that only those within can completely understand. It comes mostly in fits and starts, moments in the continuum where a person who has traveled along the medical assembly line finds connection, rest, something to laugh about, or just a dry bottom to make them feel more comfortable. We’re all tired, the people who help and those who need help, but those moments are precious because they’re more real than any wealth and more human than can be possibly imagined.

Jesus is here, too. He just looks like an old man trying to move down the hall in a wheelchair after a stroke. One leg pulls, one arm tries to keep the wheels straight, and Simon of Cyrene is a young woman from Africa who works as a nursing assistant and helps him get where he needs to go. In its own way it’s a place close to God, close for the people who are ending their lives within it’s walls and close for those who serve God in the frailty and even the chaos of those who call this place, for lack of a better word, home.

In the end, it would be a better world if the old could stay with their loved ones for the entire journey and our culture would see that as a value and shape itself around this reality rather than keep the busy busier and discard those who no longer have the strength to make money. Until that time we have these places and the people who try to make the best of a bad situation. While you sleep we’ll keep the light, in all its forms, on and every time we clock on will be a silent witness to what makes us human in the best sense of the word.

 

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Craving the Mundane…

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Thoughts wandered while driving though the Minnesota backroads near Welch, a tiniest of settlements formed in 1860 with great hope on the banks of the Cannon river but now mostly a wide, but scenic, spot on the highway. Everywhere around the car autumn was settling in. Colors slightly changing. The sun dipping below the horizon ever earlier in the day. The cool in the air that reminds both man and beast that seasons are in flux.

As the road wound through the hills, thoughts followed the same circuitous route. Memories of a younger man so excited to go to seminary, so wanting to change the world, so sure the future was as wide and high and bright as the skies above a prairie farm. Amazing, the dreams of a young man with a Bible, a seminary degree, and the whole world in front of him.

Time has tempered that. The ideals remain. The hope is there. But as the years behind grow more than the years ahead experience has taught its lessons, sometimes gently and at times with great violence. It’s not that the world doesn’t need some major work. It’s just that great, broad strokes are most often not the way this is done and like it’s the work of ego to think that one person can rule the world it’s also ego to think one person can save it.

I don’t know if it’s wisdom, fatigue, or some combination of them but there’s a craving inside for the mundane, the every day. The young man’s dreams, illusions really, have been through the sausage maker of time and the result is things are both the same and different. Every ideal that spurred the young college graduate to not pursue a career in their field and take the leap to seminary remains but the applications have changed.

The world, in the end, is saved by the mundane, the everyday. Occasionally an apostle of some sort emerges on the face of the earth for a time and a place but for the most part  the work of this Kingdom is done every day, a baptism here, a sermon there, a moment to help a struggler, even the seemingly endless meetings are a part of it. And there’s a craving inside for that kind of mundane, a parish, a home, a city, a place and the everyday life that once seemed like so much of a compromise and now seems like something that should have happened a long time ago.

In fact it did, and still is happening, but perhaps it takes a drive through the backroads near Welch to figure it out.

One of the Questions…

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I ask myself is “Do I love God?” I wouldn’t have been able to think of that question myself but over the years, and especially reading the lives of the Saints, I’ve found myself asking the question on more than a few occasions.

I think there were times in my life when I was afraid of God. There were times when I tolerated God. Some times I needed God like an alcoholic needs another drink. If the truth were told there were times when I felt like I didn’t much need God at all. As many possible emotions and states as there could be I suppose I’ve felt that way about God at one time or another.

But do I love God?

For the Saints and holy people of times past one of their qualities was a genuine love for God. They wanted to be in relationship with God. They wanted to be present to God. They valued God’s company and craved Him when they felt He was distant. It was at that point where they went from tolerating God, or honoring God out of fear, or seeing God as some kind of escape from the painful realities of life that they began to love. It was also at that point where they began to be transfigured into something numinous and holy.

So do I love God?

The answer is “I am trying.” I would like to move from lesser relationships with God to love and though there are often fits and starts I would like to think that one day, perhaps, I can return to God a tiny fraction of the love He has for me and for the whole creation. Even the attempt, I suppose, to do this is considered by God to be a kind of love but often it seems so little returned for so much given.

Still, the answer, however feeble it is some times is “Yes”.

Praying for Revival…

In our American context the word “revival” has a special kind of spiritual significance. If you watch Christian television there will always be some kind of “revival” planned or happening or coming and much of it has to do with some kind of charismatic speaker and people becoming emotionally charged as a sign that they are being “revived” by the Holy Spirit.

These moment, more often than not, are temporary and when the shouting and singing are done and people leave the arena very little may have changed. In fact, sometimes people actually wander from place to place seeking out the latest “revival” almost like an addict seeks the next fix. The spiritual life becomes, in a sense, a series of mundane days only broken up by the next big thing and so on and so on.

That’s not really revival, though, because any good speaker can get you to jump up and down but only the Holy Spirit can help you change your life towards Christ in the day to day world that marks most of our existence. It’s actually more of a mark of revival in the Church not so much when people fall on the floor in an emotional outburst as it is when the entire moral tenor of a place is transformed. Real revival means bars have less customers, business people are moved towards ethics, and the people themselves become holy in a deep, profound, and long lasting way.

At it’s core revival is really about a rediscovery of love for God and all the good things that flow from that love. This isn’t love the emotion but love, rather, as an act of the will where the person who loves seeks the genuine good of the other. If we love God our hearts will be drawn that way and our life will be colored and transformed by that love. And when our love tires from time to time because we are human we need to do that which rekindles it in ourselves whether that is our love for a person or for God.

If there is to be true revival in our culture it’s not going to be about emotions per se but rather about a rekindling of something more important, our love for God in response to His love for us. Those caught up in the emotions of a moment are transformed for that moment. Those who are caught up in love for God are transformed for eternity.