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Hands of Reconciliation

An icon in the “shiver” series: Janet O. Hagberg, artist, with Joseph Mallard

 

Listen, O people, in the silent chapel of your heart; and the Beloved will speak of peace to you, to the hidden saints, to all who turn their hearts to love. Surely new life is at hand for those who reverence love; O, that harmony might dwell among nations… Restore us again, O Spirit of Truth; burn us with the refining Fire of Love! We cannot live separated from you; cast out demons of fear, doubt, and illusion. Revive us again, we pray, that your people may rejoice in You! Have compassion on your people, O Holy One, and grant us our salvation. Psalm 85 excerpts, Psalms for Praying, Merrill

 

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell in unity! It is like vistas seen from atop a mountain one has climbed…or like the stillness of a sunset after a long day’s work. It is like a shimmering rainbow breaking through a summer rain. When men and women dwell in harmony, the Star of Truth appears! Ps 133 Psalms for Praying, Merrill

 

To you I lift up my Spirit, You who are enthroned in every heart! For, as the young child holds tightly the hand of its parent, as those in the throws of disease look to one who brings them comfort, so our spirits seek the Heart of Love, that we might find mercy and forgiveness. Have mercy on us, O Compassionate One, have mercy, that we might turn from our blind and ignorant ways. Too long our souls have been veiled by fear; have mercy, lead us to the path of wholeness. Ps 123 Psalms for Praying, Merrill

 

 

 

This icon emerged from the idea that people can choose to be part of the solution in the racial reconciliation process, each in his or her own way. My mentor, Joseph Mallard, who is an African American male agreed to draw his arm and hand on a piece of cloth for me. And then I, a white female, drew my hand and arm as well. I put them together to depict an icon of people working together to reach the heart of love in all of us. We chose to represent racial reconciliation but this image could also depict family reconciliation, brothers and sisters, males and females, friends, or colleagues. We hope this image spreads far and wide and gets healing conversations going.

 

 

 

What message of reconciliation do you desire to bring to the world?

 

How will you go about doing that with your gifts and skills?

 

With whom, if anyone, do you have a desire to reconcile?

 

All Loss is Gain

 

Last week God dropped a little nugget into my lap. God said, “All loss is gain.” This is hard to wrap my mind around since the usual arguments ensue: what about babies who die? What about the holocaust?

 

While reflecting on this some particularly challenging scripture came to mind as well; verses about losing your life in order to gain it or giving up important things in order to experience something else or seeing good things coming out of seemingly bad things. These all trouble me and make me wonder whether I would ever be able to live like this—or even want to live like this. Who, in their right mind, would deliberately give up all they have or love with no guarantees for the future?

 

Here are some of the verses or quotes that cause me the most consternation.

 

*Anyone who holds onto life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. John 12:25 Message

 

*All is gift. Teresa of Avila, 16th century abbess, mystic and saint

 

*Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want. I Peter 4;1-2 Message

 

*Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel will save it. Mark 8:35 NRSV

 

But then, after pondering these challenging verses, I decided to see this new little nugget as God’s way of inviting me to more intimacy and to a deeper truth growing within me. I like this shift but I still can’t quite fathom what it means for me to lose my life or to be reckless in my love for God or to embrace loss lovingly. How do I even taste of this radical call to loss as gain? I cautiously asked God to show me little glimpses of it in my own life. What a dangerous prayer. Use only with caution!

 

God gently pointed out a few places in which I am getting a small taste of what it means to count loss as gain, to be “reckless” for what I need instead of what I want.

 

One place I’ve experienced this is cleaning out all the hidden clutter in my condo. I’m sure readers can relate to thisJ It seems deceptively simple until you try it. I now have a list of more than fifteen areas of my condo that need shedding but as soon as I move toward any of them I come up with excuses to keep or cling to my things. I mean things like photos by the hundreds, files of old careers, teaching notes that are no longer relevant, clothes I’ve not worn for a year, rag rugs made by a friend, gifts that I don’t have room for any more. It is just plain hard work to deal with all the memories that come up as I sort through things. And I usually bump into the less attractive reasons I cling to things: guilt, loss of identity, ego, even self-pity.

 

But on my better days when I have more perspective on the bigger picture, and I get into what I call my flinging mode I can release boxes of unnecessary, even sentimental or worn out items and feel cautiously elated, lighter, less burdened. Something within me is decluttering as I toss. It is like a small symbolic act to actually toss or recycle something. Not easy, because it reminds me of moving towards death (which may be the ultimate reason I don’t want to do it) but still strangely liberating.

 

The harder area of my life that illustrates this “letting go and losing” concept is in relationships. I am a relational person and take the nurturing of my close relationships seriously. So when a particularly close relationship ended in a surprising and deeply unsettling way this year, I felt a deep loss. In order to be fully present to this break I called upon God to be fully present and God responded by providing me with clarity, vulnerability and honesty within the hurt, anger and sadness. The parting was emotionally and spiritually excruciating. The loss was great. The grief was intense.

 

It’s difficult for me to see clearly the bigger picture for both of us but I do catch small glimpses of the larger story this break is a part of. And I do trust God to show me some day what the ultimate gain will be from this loss, as hard as it has been to endure.

 

What I am experiencing is a deeper internal cleaning so that I am available with more energy and presence for something else, perhaps more of the holy to fill the empty space. I feel God gently calling me to more creativity, both in my writing and with my icons. I feel like I have more compassion for myself and for others who lose people they care about.

 

I also feel as if the process of navigating the loss brought me to a new place within myself, a place of deeper honesty, relative calm, new self-regard and an understanding of the other person—ultimately the capacity, for the first time, to stay present to the searing but cleansing power of pain. None of this would have happened without God’s help. I would have just withdrawn or found a way to blame myself or the other person.

 

I feel like I’ve found a new part of myself through this loss. I believe I am learning to be a healer, a compassionate truth teller. While I am still very sad, I feel the sadness is creating a cleaner heart in me. I’m reminded of David’s words in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. (v 10). Another verse from that same chapter resonates in me as well, “Behold you desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. “(v 6).

 

Oh, to have that wisdom that only God can give… Maybe there is gain in this loss after all. And it occurs to me that maybe my two glimpses of “loss as gain,” of cleaning out my condo and cleaning out my heart are more related than I realized.

 

 

 

ÓJanet O. Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved.

 

Reflections on this essay

What comes to mind when you hear the words, “all loss is gain”?

 

Which of the verses listed trouble you or draw you the most?

 

How have you experienced loss that resulted in some gain; freedom or new life for you?

 

How do you embrace God in the difficult or unfathomable realities of your life?

 

What have you learned about yourself or about God that enables you to trust God in the process of life?

Baptism: Bane or Blessing

 

Baptism is one of my favorite rituals of the church. It is like a ceremonial rite of passage for an infant (in most traditions). The sight of parents entrusting their little ones to God is heart warming. The unexpected response of the babies can be quite entertaining. Even the baptismal clothing, sometimes passed from one generation to the next, is ceremonial.

 

I love when the pastors and the congregation surround the baby/child in love, welcome him or her into the community and pledge to help form them into God’s best intention for them.

 

What truly upsets my heart about baptism is the theology that has risen up around it that, in my experience, robs it of its splendor and its original intention. By original intention I mean how Jesus’ baptism is a model for what ours can be.

 

Two of the predominant theologies about baptism are both related to sin and death. One says that we were born in sin and that baptism cleanses and saves us from that sin (and from destruction). I learned, as a child, that unbaptized babies would go to hell. So much for 80% of all the babies ever born on this planet. The other main teaching regarding baptism is that, as we dip into the water, we are entering into Christ’s death and resurrection. Again, this is death and sin related, very abstract, and not related to Jesus experience of baptism at all. And I cannot connect it with the baptism of a real live baby who is six weeks old, or even a twelve year old.

 

This born-in-sin theology comes straight from St Augustine in the fourth century. He introduced the original sin idea and, if you ever read his autobiography, it becomes understandable how he got there. His life before his conversion and his mistreatment of his 15 year common-law wife, sending her back to Africa alone, without their son, because his mother had found a wealthy adolescent girl for him to marry, is fraught with confusion about himself and women. His acquiescence to his mother’s dominance all his life seems to speak of his disordered relationship with her and her strict theology. But that is another essay. In this case, I think his theology is autobiographical!

 

Yes, I do believe in sin BUT I do not believe the shame-based theology that we ARE sin. I believe that sin is anything that separates us from intimacy with our loving God. So some forms of work can be sin; not accepting love because we cling to unworthiness can be sin; unforgiveness of self and others can be sin; staying in an abusive marriage rather than leaving can be sin.

 

My view of baptism (and I’m aware that no one is asking me and few are listening!) is that it comes directly from God, it is totally based on love, that it is solely a blessing and a way for God to embrace us and then mark us as his beloved sons and daughters forever. The mark, a touch with oil on our foreheads, is a sign that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are present in this moment. And always a family and a community gather around us, promising to accompany us on our life’s journey. Baptism is God’s way of publicly greeting us, inviting us into this life with him and promising to walk with our families.

 

I base this on two scriptural passages that express my experience and a conversation I had with a wise pastor. I start with Genesis 1: Creation. God created us in God’s image—male and female. And God saw that it was very good. The fall from grace came later but we were created without sin, in God’s image. The second scripture is Christ’s baptism. At Jesus’ baptism the heavens opened, a dove came down as the Spirit upon Jesus, and God said “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” In another version, “This my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” Jesus baptism of God’s Spirit surpassed and replaced John’s baptism (even by John’s admission). So a wise pastor friend asked the question, if we need baptism because we were born in sin, why was Jesus baptized? Good question…

 

What if Baptism is our first personal and intimate blessing from God, his way to love us, to mark us with that love, and show his delight in us too. What if it is just the first of many blessings God showers on us, others being our unique gifts, our friends, our ways of handling loss and disappointments, our intimate partners, our passion for the world, our sense of calling, our gift of faith. What if, at baptism, we also bless and mark the foreheads of the parents and god-parents of the child, placing our hands on them and holding them in love, showering God’s love upon them?

 

So try this: Insert your own name in this declaration from God and see how it feels to you. “_______, you are my beloved son/daughter, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” Breathtaking!

 

What if, as my pastor friend suggested, the church or its representative or a group of friends was present to us at each major transition, to bless us in God’s name again, to mark us with God’s love, to delight in us. I’ve had a wonderful experience of a community blessing its members when I participated in a centering prayer group for five years. We were what I would call a “blessing group.” Whenever one of us was going through a moment that cried out for blessing, we blessed that person by laying hands on them, waving a blessing wand over them, praying for them and then singing the Amen song. We blessed people who were traveling, facing serious illness, experiencing a death in their family, or the death of relationship, entering new jobs or leaving jobs, and we even blessed people’s new homes or apartments. We went to the space and blessed every room, using candles and bells to invite love into that space. Then we ate and celebrated together. It was the most important thing we did as a group, in my experience.

 

What if we all created these blessing times in our lives and among our own families and friends? What a difference it would make!

 

ÓJanet O. Hagberg, 2015. All rights reserved.

Jesus’ baptism accounts are in Luke 3:21-22, Mark 1:8-11 and Matthew 3:15-17. Scroll down to see the two responses to my essay from pastors with different perspectives.

 

 

Reflections on this essay

What does baptism mean to you?

How do you embrace the fact that you were created in God’s image?

How have you most felt God’s mark of love and blessing on your life?

What blessing do you wish from God for whatever life experience you are facing now?

 

 

Two responses to this essay from people with different perspectives

 

This response is from Rev. Kelly Chatman, the pastor of an inner city multi-racial church in Minneapolis.

 

My reflection on baptism goes a little different than your essay.   While I am less invested in the idea of sin as God needing humanity to atone for our sins I think of sin as a social/corporate reality.  Baptism is and was a call into a community of faith that stood and stands against the empire.  Baptism is the ritual washing into the body of Christ less about our individual need for sin and atonement and into the reality and relationship with God and away from empire.  Baptism, being God’s beloved is to live into a reality where we know our true selves as children of God and this (sin) is to say there is no middle ground.  We live in relationship with God or empire.  We love God and ourselves or empire.  The grace which comes in baptism is we loose this battle with ourselves and God daily, and yet God forgives us.

 

I am open to your deconstruction of baptism and sin because I agree that God does not “need” us to wallow in how bad we are.  I do however believe God has investment in us living into how good we can be as co-creators and caring for one another rather than exploiting one another.

 

When I think about sin I think about the civil rights movement and how this was a manifestation of beloved community and folks living into their baptism.  I also do not think of baptism as a focus on judgment.  I think of baptism calling us into a deeper reality, a new way of seeing myself and the world.  I also thank God for my baptism because it calls me to be in relationship and responsible for people I might not otherwise feel response-able for/to.  With G/L/BB/T it was important to me to imagine that I share the same baptismal liberation with those who are outcast and I therefore am accountable to treat and advocate for them as God’s beloved, just as I am, no better, no worse.

 

Lastly, the example of baptism with centering prayer communicates to me a more mystical and intimate community experience of the depth of baptism.  I am drawn more to where I experience baptism in tension and struggle.   I think this is partially due to being Black and urban and unsettled with the presence of injustice, poverty and racism.  I feel that sense of fulfillment when I see a child in the neighborhood smile, when an outsider displays enough trust to join the church and when a person of power and privilege commits to be a part of Redeemer Church.

 

 

 

This response is from Rev. Mike McNichols, a pastor, author and a Fuller Seminary professor in Southern California.

 

I agree that the baptism of Jesus is key to getting a grip on the significance of baptism. John was baptizing Jews, calling them to repentance and submission to God’s rule and reign. Yes, it was a recognition of Israel’s damaged relationship with God, but it was an invitation to come home (so to speak).

 

When Jesus was baptized by John, John resisted. But Jesus claimed that it was to be done in order to fulfill all righteousness. My interpretation of Jesus’ claim is that in his baptism, he was identifying with all of Israel (and, by extension, the world). He fulfilled all righteousness (as in putting things right) in that identification, coming alongside the human race as brother rather than as condemner. It is then that God speaks, declaring Jesus to be his beloved son.

 

It may be that the most significant aspect of baptism is that we are now baptized into the baptism of Jesus, not as a qualifier or cleanser, but rather in a way that we now come alongside him, sharing the blessing of the Father as beloved sons and daughters.

 

That’s my take on it.

Dear Subscribers

I’m taking a few weeks off to hear what else this blog wants to send out to the world. Any ideas, I’m open…

Janet

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