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Threatened with Resurrection

I awoke early Easter Sunday morning expecting to feel joy and relief after a difficult Lent in which I was called to finally heal my divorce issues and be internally free. That healing has been a graced conclusion to a multi-year process of letting go of fear, resentment and vindication. In this healing I began to see my ex-husband as a gift in my life. I was letting go of my old hurts and entering into a whole new phase of my life; a life of love.

So I awoke expecting joy and instead I awoke with the title of an achingly inspiring poem in my heart.  It is Julia Esquivel’s magnificent poem, “They Threatened Us With Resurrection.” Julia is an exiled poet, writing about people in Guatemala who disappeared in the political unrest there but who inspired others to move beyond the losses.  I have had that poem and the idea of being threatened with resurrection at the back of my mind ever since I read about it in one of Parker Palmer’s books. But to awaken with this idea of being threatened with resurrection on Easter Sunday was more than coincidence. Something was going on in my inner world that needed tending.

In my prayer time I realized that I had a vague sense of uneasiness in letting go of my pain, which I had been doing gradually for several years. God had been so faithful to me in staying with me during this healing process and I was so grateful. As a result I developed a deeper level of intimacy with God, learned to trust God with my life, and was now living into a season of grace. This journey was my source of transformation; in it God brought me to my knees and then taught me how to stand up again with a heart of forgiveness.

I began to wonder if I was really afraid to move into this resurrection time because I might lose my intimacy with God if I was not in pain. I knew it was not healthy to wallow in pain or stay in an unhealed place, but how would I navigate this resurrection dilemma? Would I need to come up with more pain in order to be close to God or could I trust God for intimacy beyond pain? It did feel a bit threatening.

My spiritual director helped me by listening and then asking me if there were times I felt close to God when I was not in pain. I went inside and got quiet. Of course, there were times of intimacy with God when I wasn’t hurting. But I had lost track of them in this threatened place. I began remembering times I feel close to God when I was not in pain; my tears of deep emotion when I hear about people who sacrifice for others, when I am overcome by beauty, when I am honored to be with people in their times of transformation, when I am writing, when I pray, when I listen to a Tchaikovsky symphony. I felt a sense of relief spreading over me, relief that I do feel intimacy with God in times of calm or joy. That thought led me to a truth that God has been giving me recently in my prayer time but which I had also forgotten in my threatened state.

The truth from God is that joy emerges from pain that is well attended. When we do our inner work, joy is one of the outcomes. When we face into our fears God faces into them with us. When we forgive others for things that never should have happened we are free from the burdens of resentment and anger. When we disentangle from being enslaved by our chronic pain we heal. We let go of the heavy burdens so joy has room to grow.

Another deep truth emerged as I was pondering how joy emerges from pain. This one came from the Fra. Giovanni. “Our joys too; be not content with them as joys. They too, conceal diviner gifts.” This intriguing quote led me to ponder how a consideration of joy might usher in a whole life of resurrection.

I wanted a life of resurrection joy, not the happiness that comes and goes at a moment’s notice. I can feel happy when my athletic team wins or I can feel hopeless when I hear of another tragedy, but how can I feel joy in the midst of everything. I wanted to feel joy somewhere deeper and not have it disappear just because I was having a bad day. Joy, I think lives in a deeper place within us and has a permanent address. It is a life stance, a signature on the soul, a way of seeing God in all things. It emerges from transformation, from pain well attended. It leads to interior freedom and it comes from a life not threatened by its own resurrection.

For me the diviner gift of joy is what emerges in our lives when we drink sacred water from deeper wells and pass that water along to others. As we courageously live out our calling from God joy emerges and spreads. People feel calmer while in our presence even if they are in pain. They long for that calm themselves and it gives them hope. Sometimes we find ourselves gently laughing even in painful times and it casts a softer light on the circumstances, like a balm for the wound. Joy is apparent in people’s eyes and on their faces, even in their physical stance. It can’t be hidden or bluffed. Living it out with gratitude is a diviner gift.

During the time I was writing this essay I was teaching a class in which I had the opportunity to read a poem that helped to tell a painful but healed part of my divorce story, the very story that started me on this essay. In the hearing of my poem and story, one woman in class not only identified with me but felt a call to go deeper into her own healing as a result. Even though I knew it would be painful for her, I felt a deep joy knowing that she would be finding a different part of herself as a result. I could also feel the joy growing in her. She even glowed as she told her story to our small group. And she contacted a friend who she thought might also benefit from her experience. The diviner gifts of joy…When I see this amazing healing grace, how can I be threatened by resurrection?

Joy emerges from pain well attended…

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved.

The quote of Fra. Giovinni is from Prayers for Healing, edited by Maggie Oman, selection for April 20th.

Reflections on this essay

How have you been threatened with resurrection in your life?

What could you do to grow into that resurrection stance in life?

What stimulates joy for you?

How do you distinguish between happiness and joy?

How have you experienced joy as a diviner gift, seeing it pay forward?

Today we begin Holy Week, the week that we remember the gift Jesus offered, his life for our sakes. Jesus said that unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it will not renew the earth. He died and renewed the earth.

As Barbara Brown Taylor, the renowned preacher says, “So here we sit, the local field of wheat who owe our lives to him. If he had not died, we would not be here. Because he did, we are. He has spoken to us about the way of life and the way of death, letting us know that these are the only two choices and that none of us may abstain. When the hour comes, each of us has a grain of wheat with which to cast our votes. It is the grain of our lives, and all of creation is holding its breath to see what we will do with it. Amen.”

Today I am sending you a video on the idea of surrendering to God. It is my way of talking about what we can do with our grain of wheat. Next week I will send you the last of the Lenten essays called Threatened with Resurrection. Just more to ponder. Happy Easter…

Janet

Emptying to Make Space for the Holy

Jesus emptied himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even a death on the Cross. Philippians 2:5-11

In the last several years I’ve sensed God asking me to simplify my life, alter my work, release many of my material things and downsize my living space. In a word; emptying myself of what I hold dear.

It is a difficult process since I cling to my work and my “stuff” as a source of identity and security. It’s even embarrassing to admit why I can’t let some things go. For instance, I have a lovely glass decanter and two aperitif glasses that have survived five moves although I have only used the set once in thirty-five years. When I thought more deeply about why I’m holding onto this set, I discovered that I have an image of myself as an older women sitting in a comfortable chair with my cat on my lap before dinner having a glass of sherry. I must have read that in a British novel when I was in my twenties. The funniest thing about this picture is that I don’t have a habit of drinking before dinner and I don’t enjoy sherry. So out it went!

Some of the things I’ve held onto bring back my most cherished memories and connections. I love those things. But I’ve also held onto a few awards I’ve received so when I die those who clean out my condo will be impressed. Hmmm… Some of my things have even bleaker meanings; some purchases represent addictive behaviors, a few items are gifts I got after marital disputes, and some are just plain status symbols.

This word, emptying, describes for me what Jesus depicted in his last words from the Cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” He was releasing his life, turning it all over to God, giving it up, trusting his faithful Father to make meaning of his life for all time. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says Jesus emptied himself, naming Jesus’ death as an emptying process and an act of obedience filled with humility.

Jesus lived his life to the fullest. He was sorely tempted but never compromised. He healed people in deeper ways than they could even comprehend. He offered a way of life that was too sacrificial for the culture to accept. And now he was being faithful unto death in order to win victory over death forever. But at this moment, on the cross, he was leaving all that he held dear, emptying himself of his earthly life; his spirit leaving his body.

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus spoke these final words from the cross with a loud voice, suggesting boldness and confidence. He had total trust in God to redeem his emptying process.

As difficult as this emptying process is for me, when I trust God and stay open and honest about my reasons for hanging onto my things, a freedom grows within me to release them—usually with a sense of humor about those darker motivations. Along the way I’m finding a new inner space opening. I’m experiencing a de-cluttering of my psyche, allowing for my creativity to bloom. I am discovering more meaningful work. And I am deeply grateful for the material things I have carefully chosen to keep.

God is speaking to me in new ways as I stay faithful to this emptying experience. At times I can even see this simplifying process as a sacred adventure that leads to more creative ways to let go—for instance, making up endearing stories about the people who receive the things I’ve anonymously given away. On Valentine’s Day last year I put two champagne glasses, that I tied with red ribbons and filled with Dove chocolates, in a give-away spot in my condo building and imagined that a young man who was wanting to ask his girlfriend to marry him saw the glasses and decided to ask her that very night, using these glasses as his symbol of their love. It gave me great joy to imagine this story, and it was much easier to part with my glasses.

More important than the actual process of giving is this: I find more intimacy with God the more I am willing to really let go—and I find God in the midst of my emptying.

When Christ emptied himself and turned his whole life over to God, his faithful Father, he fulfilled his mission on earth. Perhaps I can learn from his example and begin to experience empty as divinely full.

©Janet O. Hagberg, 2007. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this Essay

Have you ever felt God calling you to simplify your life? In what ways?

How did you experience this process?

What do you cling to? Why?

Is the word emptying a negative or positive word for you? Why?

Have you given something up that you loved and felt a freedom from the giving, a new feeling of God in your life? Describe what it was and how you were led to release it.

Eucharist and Homelessness

The meaning of Eucharist changed for me on a Maundy Thursday, when I attended the service of humility at my church in preparation for Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. The change was not that I came to a new way of thinking about Communion but to a new way of living my life. My emphasis changed from what Eucharist meant about Jesus to what the Eucharist asks of me.

I have for years felt a strong connection to Communion as an intimate connection with Jesus and a way to feel a concrete reminder of Jesus’ presence in my life. It is, for me, one of the most meaningful rituals of the church, and every time I partake it renews me. It feeds me on several different levels and involves my sense of taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. I even like walking to receive the sacrament, since that asks me symbolically to take a journey to experience the connection.

That night, though, the minister took a new approach to Communion in his meditation. He said there are four steps that we reverence in the Communion experience: We take the bread, bless the bread, break the bread and give the bread. These steps represent how Jesus lived. He was sent by God, he was blessed, he was broken and ultimately he was given out to the world. But these steps, the minister said, are also what we are called to do: let ourselves be taken, blessed, broken and given out.

I had never heard the Eucharist explained in that way—that personal, graced, emptying way—before. Perhaps because I am in the middle of a time of solitude and hollowing out, it was particularly meaningful for me. The four steps reminded me of the way my faith journey has been first called, second loved and blessed, third broken and in the process of healing, and fourth given out to the world. It is on this journey that going inward before we can go outward rings most true. This is the self-emptying taught by many of the saints, including Saint Ignatius and Saint Teresa of Avila, two of my favorites. Hearing their teachings paralleled with Communion in this way connected the teachings to my life in a new way. It was one of those holy gifts that dropped into my life out of nowhere and touched me in a deep place. I felt a little shift within, telling me I had arrived at a new level of understanding. Sheer gift.

On the way home, I knew I would be pondering what this meant in my life for some time, since those inner shifts do not occur for me very often. This being Holy Week, I knew the change was a gift related to my inner growth toward intimacy with God.

It didn’t take long to find out what I was being taught.

Take, bless, break, give. I was going over this four-step process as I drove home. As I left the freeway and stopped for a light at the end of the entrance ramp, I noticed a homeless man standing at the side of my car with a homemade sign asking for money. I paused at the light and looked back at him with compassion. Our eyes locked for an instant and I felt he was offering me compassion as well.

Then my mind started on the old dialogue I always hear when I encounter the homeless.  What can I do? Nothing I can do seems adequate to their problems. If I give them money, they may spend it on alcohol. If I offer encouragement or advice, I may insult them. Opening my car window at night could be dangerous. All the old fears and beliefs get caught up in that one moment of decision. And I don’t usually do anything. I ignore them. But I have seen them and it haunts me.

I read a book recently about a woman of faith who worked with prostitutes and homeless people in Chicago, and it gave me an insider’s view of their lives: how they got where they are, how much self-hatred and hopelessness they live with, how much they need love and care, and how difficult it is for them to make permanent changes. After reading that book, I recognized that I might not be called to the front lines of the struggle with homelessness and that I don’t have the answers to the issues but that I could be a point of love and light in their lives if I could figure out a way.

And now this homeless man was looking at me and asking me, through the closed window on this cold night, for money. I was not anywhere near his level of desperation, but I had been through several months of solitude without any of my props—no work, no escapes through travel, no busyness to cover my anxiety. I had had to face my brokenness and my addiction to staying busy and being high on life. I felt alone. I felt alienated from my old life. I felt confused. I felt vulnerable. When I asked for answers, none came. I knew what it felt like to be a little bit broken.

So as our eyes locked for that instant, I was stunned at my inability to do anything but look at him. But something moved within me for the second time that night and I knew that I could no longer drive by without doing anything. I had to get past my blocks about this issue. As I turned the corner, I noticed a McDonald’s that was still open. And it hit me: Why couldn’t I offer this man food? He was probably hungry. I could do that small thing. I drove to McDonald’s and ordered several coupon books. I felt a calm spreading over me as I wrote the check.

Then I drove back near the corner where the homeless man was standing, and he was no longer there. I wished him well in my mind and thanked him for the gift he gave me. And I put the coupon books in my glove compartment and in my purse so that the next time I saw a person asking for help I would be ready with what I am capable of giving. I felt, finally, free to give.

Take, bless, break, give.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2005. All rights reserved.

 

Reflections on this essay:

What have been your experiences of Eucharist? Any changes over time?

 

How do you experience the four steps; taken, blessed, broken, given in your life?

 

Which step frightens you the most? Why? What image of God does that call forth in your mind?

 

What experiences of brokenness have you had? Have they brought you closer to a feeling of compassion? How?

 

Do you relate to a homelessness within you? What is it? How might you heal it or soothe it?

 

 

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