Thursday, August 9, 2012

Unexpected gift

We have been experiencing a pretty severe drought here in the Land Between the Coasts. I can actually count the three times it has rained since the summer began. This had made me feel somewhat in touch with my Okie forebears, although we have only had two years of below-average rainfall, not ten. However, the weather service has now confirmed that here in Missouri, at least, we have just experienced the hottest summer on record. You know it's pretty bad when 94 degrees feels cool.

But it rained last night. First came the lightning off in the distance, then came the thunder and wind, and then rain. It was so welcome. Even though of course it was not enough, it was still a blessing.

I was sitting in my car this morning while reading. In between pages I would watch my daughter's field hockey practice. They play in a desiccated brown field full of crispy grass and weeds. Yesterday, a man perfunctorily mowed this field, even though the grass had remained in a state of stasis due to the extreme conditions. Instead of Sleeping Beauty, it was Sleeping Ugly.

There were tiny oases of green visible here and there across the sienna expanse, but those were weeds. It's always that way. When the shit goes down, it's the weeds that thrive. It often seems like that with people, too. I don't know about you, but sometimes that just drives me crazy.

Then my eyes scanned and saw one small shocking flash of color jump out from the landscape. There was a tiny yelp of purple hanging low among the clumps of fescue and thatch. A fluted flower-- belonging, yes, to some weed.

What could be more unlikely than beauty in such sere surroundings? What could be more stubborn than this small flower determined to bloom just here regardless of its improbability? What else could remind me that even in the most drab and dingy places there is grace and beauty if only we open our eyes?

And suddenly the weed was transformed into a miracle.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Complete Love Without Complete Understanding

I love the book (and the movie version) of Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It. The story of a family of two sons, love of nature, and our longing to understand those we love is just so beautiful and true. One of my favorite lines is this one below. In the story, a grown Norman listens with his family to one of his father's last sermons. His father says this:

“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.”-- Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It 

So many of us have someone in our lives whom we love but cannot help. All of our natural inclinations and ethical impulses demand that we step in, but this person is as unreachable as a distant star. For a long time, I have been confronted with the misery of such a one. Madness, sadness, resentment, delusion, anger and denial create a magnetic field of misery that pervades this one's waking life, and I cannot even imagine what dreams they may have. I do know that they need love most of all, and yet they cannot accept love when offered.  When we hate ourselves, we cannot love anyone nor accept love from anyone. It is like trying to grow an orchid in the desert.

Our loved ones often cannot understand us, and we cannot understand them. When we speak of love, they think of that which they can gain and from which they can profit. They are drowning, dragged down by the sorrows of the past. They are confused between what they want, and what they need. They demand more things, when what they need is more love. They try to feed their stomach, but they need to feed their heart.

Last week we heard about the feeding of the multitude. They had gone to hear the Word of God, and then received bread to feed their bodies as well. Jesus fed them out of love for them, but the real miracle was the Word. I've always imagined that most of those who were fed by the bread were unaware of the miraculous nature of the feeding, or more would have been made of it. Many of them were unaware of the even bigger miracle of being physically in the presence of God. They walked away knowing only that their temporary appetite had been satiated.

It was the same thing with the crowd in this Sunday's gospel reading. They were busy taking about filling their stomachs, when Jesus was talking about feeding their hearts and their souls. 

John 6:24-35:

So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 

So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 

Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 

They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

The bread of life begins in love. I hope we all are willing to open ourselves to that bread, which will feed us forever. Amen.