The Magnificent Yes/es

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© December 18, 2017

Isaiah 61:1-11 ~ interpreted by Deborah, imagined as Mary might have heard it

“The Holy Spirit has seized me, claimed me, captivated me, anointed me, and sent me forth. I bring you tidings of great joy: good news to the weary, the worn out, the weak, and the grieving. 

“It is Jubilee: the year of the Lord’s gracious compassion and mercy, poured out in abundance. I must tell you — I cannot hold back! Blessed! You are blessed by God: cherished and cared for beyond all imagining. Soon you will see it with your own eyes, know it in your own hearts!

“Blessed! Blessed are you who are impoverished in body, mind, or spirit — riches beyond compare are yours. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness — a great banquet is being prepared! Blessed are you who work for peace — the harvest is ready; you will reap in gladness what you have sown in sorrow. Blessed are you who have been brought low — you will be raised up like mighty oaks planted by the Lord, revelations of His glory.

“You are blessed! Blessed, now and forever.

“And as for me, from now on all generations will call me blessed — for the glory of the Lord radiates from my very being, shining forth like a city on a hill; like a lamp in the darkness; like the sun at its rising.

“I rejoice in God my Savior, my Beloved, my All-in-All, and I will serve Him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength; for He has brought forth in me the good news of salvation as a midwife brings forth a precious child, and has dressed me in the robe of righteousness as a bride is adorned with her gown.

“The earth brings forth green grasses, and gardens give birth to what is sown within them, so the Lord God causes compassion and mercy, joy and gladness to be born in our world in accord with the promise given to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Yes!

She awoke to the sound of her father’s husky recitation of the morning prayer streaming through her window as though carried on the rays of the sun. Miriam listened to the end, adding her own whispered “Amen.” Yes. May it be so. Let it be so, O Gracious One, holy is Your Name, that Your kingdom be made present in our world.

Miriam pondered these words as she arose and straightened the bed linens; this notion of a land ruled in accordance with the divine will. What would it be like to live in a place free from injustice and unkindness, where all people would live in harmony? It would be gloriously peaceful, safe, and … well, heavenly. Earth would be like heaven. She closed her eyes and for a moment Miriam felt herself enter into that Place; she could smell the spring grasses and feel the gentle breeze touch her face, and her heart leapt within her, “Yes!”

“Hey, dreamer-dreamer! Wake up!” Amos was leaning on the doorframe. He struck a pose and declaimed: “‘You shall all bow down before me! I have seen it in a dream!’” He wrinkled his nose and crossed his eyes at her, “All of the dreaming and daydreaming you do, Mom and Dad should have named you Joseph-ah!” He drew out the final syllable as a goatish bray — then ducked out of the way of an expertly-thrown sandal. Missing its intended target, it landed in the hall just as their father was coming in from the garden.

Joachim shook his head, “I hope this isn’t the way you’ll deal with disagreements when you are married.” Handing the sandal to his eldest child, he marveled at how lovely she was — and how grown up.

He reached out to smooth an unruly strand of her hair, remembering, suddenly, the first time he had touched her head; so long ago and yet surely only yesterday — when what had only been imagined was suddenly real: a child, his child, living, breathing, a precious, holy gift. He had placed his hands upon the tiny head crowned by a soft coat like the velvet on a young deer’s antlers, her olive-dark eyes looking into his, “May the One who has delivered our people bless this child. May she carry the name of her grandmother with honor, and be a blessing to our people, to the memory of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Not a son, but a daughter — but not “just” a daughter. The child would be taught to pray and to read the Scriptures as well as to weave and to spin; she would be a fine jewel, a pearl of great price, pleasing to God and a helpmeet to her husband, blessed by her children, doing good, not harm, all the days of her life.

And so it was; he and his beloved Anne had raised a child wise and good and lovely. And soon she would be leaving their nest and making a new home with her husband. As it should be; another stage in life, lived fully. Yes.

“Dearest Daddy!” As if reading the thoughts of his heart, Miriam kissed his hand and held it to her forehead, “I am so blessed.”

After breakfast Amos went off to Torah study “with all of the willingness of Jonah bound for Nineveh,” his father observed.

“He’s just a boy,” Anne felt the need to defend her son; he was a bright, social child, but quite unlike their firstborn. It was as if Miriam had been delivered to them full of grace: she was wise and good and kind; an embodiment of love, of the grace-filled Yes between her and Joachim.

She looked at her daughter, “You’ll understand, when you have children of your own.”

Miriam’s smile faded into a frown and she pressed her hand to her chest, as her eyes filled with tears.

“My child! What is wrong?” Anne put her arm around her daughter.

“I… I don’t know,” Miriam replied, resting her head in her hands, “It’s… I’m all right now.” She took a deep breath and remained silent, unwilling to alarm her parents; it had been a sudden sharp pain — as if an arrow had pierced her heart.

“Fresh air.” Joachim prescribed, “That’s what you need; go out and spend some time in the garden.” Privately he wondered if it had been a reaction to the thought of coming together with her intended bridegroom.

Had he and Anne been wrong to arrange this marriage? Joseph’s family was a good one, descended from the line of David, and Joseph was a skilled tradesman who could provide for a family. He was a kindly fellow, a bit older than Miriam, it was true — but not past his prime; more important, he seemed to genuinely care for her, and she for him. Joachim looked at his wife, “Oh, my dear Anne, have we done the right thing?”

In the Garden

Out in the garden, Miriam took a deep, cleansing breath: “Ah, yes,” she sighed. She delighted in this blessed space; this, her sanctuary. Surely the first Garden could not have been more glorious than this one; each tree giving abundantly: persimmons and pears, olives and lemons and trailing lilacs. Here her father spoke his morning prayers as he had done for as long as she could remember; here her mother praised God as she planted, nurtured, and harvested; here she and her brother had laughed and played for hours. And here she found peace and contentment.

She had brought Joseph here after their betrothal, taking his hand and leading him, timidly, as though entering the bridal chamber itself; revealing this most intimate space, allowing him to see where her soul took its pleasure. He had been gentle, admiring each bud and blossom, and taking special care not to disturb the plantings.

They had lingered in the garden, breathing in its peace, learning about one another in tender silence. It was then that she became certain that he was the right man; a man who had eyes to see the reality beneath the surface, as seeds deep in the soil begin to sprout before green shoots appear in the ground above.

Miriam was certain that her Yes to Joseph had been right. He truly was as wise as he was good.

She closed her eyes and tried to imagine their life together and immediately remembered throwing her sandal at her brother this morning. The thought made her smile, and then brought sadness: she would miss her family. Would there be a place for her in Joseph’s world? He was busy nearly every day in his shop, and his family was originally from Bethlehem; what if he decided to move there?

Miriam sat down on the bench beneath the ancient olive tree, so large it could hold “all the birds from everywhere,” Amos had said when he was young. She resolved never to forget it, no matter how far away she went; she would remember and tell her children and her children’s children of this wonderful garden, this wonderful tree, this garden paradise, and all future generations would say that she was blessed.

“Thank You, O Holy Lord, for this place, this day, and my part in it,” she said aloud.

The Scripture

As she had often did when troubled or uncertain — as her father had taught her — Miriam turned to the Scriptures to calm her spirit and seek Wisdom’s leadings. On this day she opened the text of Isaiah and began to read.

“The Holy Spirit has claimed me and anointed me to bring tidings of great joy: good news to the weary, the worn out, the weak, and the grieving. Jubilee: the year of the Lord’s gracious compassion and mercy, poured out in abundance.”

Miriam blinked and tilted the book back and forth, but in sunlight or shadow the letters appeared the same — as if they had been written in gold, bright, as if on fire. Their meaning thundered off the page and made her soul tremble: it was not a story of long ago, or the expression of a distant hope; it was a description of this very day, and this very place, calling for the world to be redeemed.… and it was speaking directly to her.

This very day. Her very own life. It seemed so real, and yet unbelievable. “How can this be,” Miriam asked, “I’m nobody; an unmarried girl, powerless. And the world is so big, and the troubles so enormous.”

A dove cooed softly in the branches.

A dove. Doves were made as offerings in the temple when a child was newly born. Could it be, Miriam wondered, that her child would bring about the Holy Kingdom?

“How could it be me?” Miriam shook her head as though to banish the thought.

But the words spoke to her again, “Good news. Good news. Good news. Comfort and joy.”

“Yes.” Miriam said, “If it is Your will, O Holy Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. I will love and serve You forever.”

At that moment the sky clouded over. Miriam looked up, expecting to see the beginnings of a rain storm; the dove fluttered down from the tree and landed at her feet as if he, too, sensed the change — but, in an instant, the sun shone brightly again. A flock of songbirds from somewhere beyond the garden began to sing, a distant rooster crowed; it was as if a new day had begun.

Miriam closed the book and cradled it in her arms. She felt the stirrings of new life within the very center of her being.

❤︎

May this story, which is offered with respect and reverence, increase our understanding and our admiration of the blessed Mary, Mother of the Lord.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Imagine a life lived in service to the Lord.

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Without Warning

 

This was written prior to the outbreak of the new Southern California fires; we pray for the safety of all involved there.

Deborah Beach Giordano
© December 3, 2017

Mark 13:24-37 ~ told by Deborah

Jesus said, “But in the days that follow, the sun will grow dim, the moon will go dark, and stars will be falling from heaven, and the cosmic powers will be shaken. 

“Then the Son of Man will make a dramatic entrance — in grandeur and power. He will send forth angels to gather his chosen ones from the farthest corners of the earth to the distant reaches of heaven.

“Take the the fig tree as an example: as soon as leaves begin to form on its branches, you know that summer is coming. So, too, when you see these things happening, you know that he is near by, right on the doorstep.

“I’m telling you truly, all this will take place during your lifetimes. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But nobody knows the day or the hour when it will happen — not the angels above, nor the Son — only the Father. So be on the alert, because you don’t know when the time will come.

“It’s like a man going on business trip, when he leaves the office and puts his managers in charge, each with a particular responsibility, and orders the staff to keep the place secure.

“That’s how it is: you don’t know when the CEO will arrive — it could be while you’re at dinner, or before breakfast; it might be in the middle of the day or the middle of the night, at sunset or just before dawn; any time at all — so be on the alert, otherwise he may find you asleep when he appears.

“I say to all of you: Keep awake.”

All of a Sudden

It is impossible to read Jesus’ warning as given in this passage without thinking of the terrible fires that rampaged through our region of California. For many people, it happened just as the Lord said: without warning, at an unexpected time; suddenly a firefighter was pounding on the door, shouting that they must leave their home immediately, this very minute, for an almighty conflagration was on its way. All at once, in the midst of a tranquil, ordinary day, their very lives were at stake.

Burning embers rained from the sky, igniting new blazes miles away like fiery “stars falling from heaven,” and the smoke and soot was so thick that it “dimmed the sun and darkened the moon.” It was as if it was the end of the world.

And for several days the terror continued, unabated, out of control. Our powers were as nothing against the sea of flames.

Nothing and no one was safe: the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, the aged and the young. The disaster struck “the good and bad alike”: devouring houses, hotels, and apartment buildings; gated communities and trailer parks; cars and campers and fire trucks, farms and forests and vineyards; crops and clothing and computers; birds and bees, livestock and wildlife, and forty-four human lives.

Awakened

Those of us living in the area were made vividly aware of the destructive force of fire, and the fragile nature of life as we know it. All at once, without warning, everything could change — everything could literally vanish; disintegrated into ashes, into nothingness.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Just as Jesus said.

It’s easy to take our safety for granted; surrounded by civilization we are lulled into a false sense of security: the fire station is less than a mile away, there’s a fire hydrant on the corner, emergency services is just a phone call away. Besides, disasters happen to other people, and if — God forbid! — anything were to go amiss, we’d have plenty of time to prepare.

But the firestorm proved that we might not.

It might happen when we weren’t expecting it: in the middle of the night, or late in the afternoon; it might happen at dinner time, or just as we stepped into the shower.

“The end of our world” might come suddenly. As Jesus warned.

The greatest threat to us isn’t wildfires — or hurricanes, or floods, or earthquakes — what they destroy, generally, are mere things: earthly “stuff” that can be replaced. What if, instead of a fireman pounding on our door, shouting out that we had only a few minutes left, it was the Angel of death?

Suddenly, often without warning, our lives are ended. Nobody gets out of here alive, that’s a fact. How, then, have we prepared ourselves?

Is It Well with Your Soul?

One of the traditional questions asked in faith-supporting communities is, “Is it well with your soul?” In contemporary terms: Are you ready to go, if that Winged Messenger came calling today?

What would you need in order to be ready to leave this life “at a moment’s notice”?

Are there any essentials you’ve let go by the wayside, any important issues you have avoided or neglected? Any promises you’ve failed to keep? Any joys you have postponed?

Is your heart filled with compassion and lovingkindness? Is your spirit infused with gratitude and delight? Do you trust in God’s goodness and mercy? In short: Is it well with your soul?

If Death came knocking at your door today, are you prepared to go?

It Can’t Happen Here 

As the Lord said, we need to be awake: aware and ever-mindful of the reality of our mortality. We don’t have “all the time in the world” to prepare; none of us knows the day or the hour when life as we know it shall come to an end.

I’m not afraid of death;
I just don’t want to be there when it happens.
~ Woody Allen

It’s natural to put off thinking about such things, just as we’re prone to do with disaster planning. It’s not pleasant to imagine our dying: the world going on without us, the events that we would miss, how our end might come, or how long it might take — but that doesn’t prevent it from happening. We mustn’t be lulled into a false sense of security because of our youth, or health, or family history of longevity. How often have you heard it said, “If I die…” as though it’s an option?

Awakened to Life

“Be awake, therefore,” not in fear-filled sleeplessness, but in daily alertness. Be aware that today is all we have for certain. Today — not tomorrow; today — not last week. Mindful of death, we will be fully awake to life: to seeing this world, our world, without expectations of tomorrow.

Today, with no guarantee of tomorrow, be alive, awake, aware, and supremely grateful. Perhaps this time will be the very last time your eyes see that face, your ears hear that music, your tongue tastes that flavor, your nose smells that fragrance, your fingers touch that texture, you think those thoughts, you feel those emotions, you say those words….

What if, in the midst of these things, Someone came knocking, announcing that the time had come: that you had to leave, at once? Some day it will happen, but no one knows the day or the hour. It can happen at any time: in the middle of the day or the middle of the night — suddenly, without any warning. And we will have to leave everything behind.

A Departing Blessing

When we go we will leave everything behind — including those who love us. If it is well with our souls, our legacy will be a blessing. Our loved ones will grieve, but not without hope, for the Light will have shined in our lives, and through our lives, leaving a legacy of lovingkindness and compassion; we will have demonstrated what it means to be Awakened and Alive in Christ — in this world and the next.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:
Are you prepared to leave at a moment’s notice?
Is it well with your soul?

 

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Burned Out: the Parable of the Bridesmaids

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© November 13, 2017

Matthew 25:1–13 ~ retold by Deborah

Jesus said, The kingdom of heaven is like this: 

Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 

The foolish didn’t bring any oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil along with their lamps. 

The bridegroom was delayed for several hours, and as it got later, the bridesmaids fell asleep. 

But at midnight someone shouted, ‘Look! Here he is! Come out and greet him!’ 

Then all of the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. 

The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 

But the wise replied, ‘No! there won’t be enough for you and for us; you’d better go to the shops and buy some for yourselves.’ 

And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the party began. 

Finally, much later, the other bridesmaids arrived; but the door to the reception was shut. They knocked and yelled, ‘Hey! Open up! We’re here!’ 

But the bridegroom said, ‘Who the heck are you? My friends are here with me.’

So be on the alert, because you never know when you’ll need to be ready. 

Is that Right?

The behavior of the five “wise” bridesmaids has always made me a bit uncomfortable. Is that really the right way to act? Shouldn’t they have given the other bridesmaids some of the oil that they had brought with them?

You know: sharing.

From early days we are trained to help those in need, to share what we have, to give and not hold back. To be a Christian is to engage in compassion-fueled generosity: abundant giving with no thought of self.

But this parable turns that belief upside down. In it Jesus describes as “wise” the bridesmaids who did think of themselves. We’re meant to admire the ones who held something back.

What can that mean?

Give until…. 

For many years a major charity has used the slogan: “Give until it helps.” Each time it is broadcast, the older, entrenched admonition echoes in our ears: Give until it hurts.

The phrase distresses and at the same time goads us; pinching our consciences: we must give more, do more, work more, pray more…. until it hurts. There it is: the classic Christian notion of sacrifice: if our Lord loved and gave so much — then shouldn’t we do the same?

How much is enough?

Must we, too, bleed and die? How severe must our pain be, how weary our bodies, how worn down our spirits before we can rest from our labors? There’s always more that can be done, more that should be done, more that we might accomplish. It still isn’t “on earth as it is in heaven”: so our work is not finished.

But we also need to consider the bridesmaids in the Lord’s parable; the wise ones who held onto enough oil for themselves to see their way through to the wedding feast. Christians are supposed to be joyful Light-bearers, not grim-faced taskmasters — not even if we assign the tasks to ourselves!

Sour-faced Saints

From silly devotions
and from sour-faced saints,
good Lord, deliver us.
~ St. Teresa of Avila

The idea that we must give until we are hurting, subjecting ourselves to extreme or unceasing fatigue or suffering, can lead to terrible trouble. It puts our health at risk, erodes our spirit, creates conflicts in relationships, and turns our faith into a business transaction.

When we become “suffering saints,” our acts of lovingkindness turn into ordeals; we persist with growing resentment — angry that our sacrifices are unacknowledged and under appreciated; our thinly veiled hostility and hubris sabotaging the spirit of charity. We become prideful of our labor, delighting in our misery, convinced of our own holiness, unwilling to accept assistance or advice; martyrs to our own egos. There is no joy in us, no gratitude, no warmth in our hearts. We confuse suffering with sanctity, and mistake pain for piety.

We have given all that we have. The Light has gone out from us.

In the Dark

As the bridesmaids in the parable demonstrate, if we don’t reserve something for ourselves, the time will come when we find ourselves in the dark; hopeless, lost. If we don’t tend to the holy Flame within us, we will burn out.

It happens. It can happen to the best of us; a slow, steady decline in energy, enthusiasm, and hope; a gradual dimming of our faith — eclipsed by exhaustion, disappointment, or sorrow.

It happens when we fail to keep holy oil in our own lamps: when we act without prayer, without reflection, without humility, without love. It happens when we forget to be gentle and compassionate — to ourselves as well as to others. It happens when we forget who we are and Whose we are.

We are indeed called to the work of building the Kingdom of Heaven — but it isn’t up to us to complete the task, and certainly not to do the work single-handed! When we walk humbly with Christ we can do great things, but in stubbornly pursuing our own way we can do great harm — to ourselves as well as others.

Keeping the Light Burning

Even the noblest and most worthwhile projects — particularly those — can drain us: they can consume our attention and energy, becoming the sole focus of our concern. We give our all to the “Good Work,” and leave no time for God. Then one morning we wake up and realize that we’ve been running on empty.

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest. ~ Matthew 11:28

We don’t have to do it all, we don’t have to do it all today, and we don’t have to do it alone. Jesus Christ is our savior; we are his disciples, not his replacements. Stop. Take a breath. Allow yourself to stand in the presence of the Beloved. Allow yourself to be loved.

It is all right. You are all right. You are loved and cherished beyond anything you can dream of or imagine — just as you are. You don’t have to earn God’s love, you are awash in it: like a fish in the ocean, that love surrounds you, flows through you; it is within you and you are within it, inseparably, inescapably.

All is well, and all is well, and all will be well.

Faith in the Darkness

But there are times when we cannot find that place of Divine Acceptance: when we are in stillness we find, not peace and comfort, but angst and fear and doubt. And so we keep doing and working and busy-ing harder than ever — to keep the terrors at bay. It is the vicious cycle of burn out: the emptier we are, the more we do in search of meaning, which makes us feel emptier and more frantic, which drives us to do more, and on and on..…

That’s when faith must take the lead. It calls us to Stop, in the midst of the hurry and busyness. Stop and breathe and trust in the Light. Know in your heart that God is love and in that love there is no darkness at all. Have faith that it is all right, that you are all right. Breathe and be at peace.

Perhaps that was the situation with the five foolish bridesmaids: perhaps they weren’t really locked out, perhaps they were so burned out that it seemed as if the door was closed to them. Perhaps they assumed that Christ was sending them away when he was actually calling out, “Come to me, all you who are weary and weighed down, and I will give you peace.” I know which version I believe.

Trust in the Lord!

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Be mindful of what nurtures and nourishes your soul, and partake of it often. Keep the light of Love aflame in your soul.

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A Cry from the Heart

Deborah Beach Giordano
© October 2, 2017

Again

Once again we learn of “man’s inhumanity to man.” And we grieve and cry out to God.

A Cry from the Heart

Holy One, be merciful to us and bless us.

We lift up our hurting hearts to you.

We cry out in sorrow and confusion;

why is there pain,
why is there grief,
why is there
suffering,
death
and separation?

It is beyond our understanding, beyond all reason;
how can You allow such things to be?

We grasp at every trace that remains;
notes and photographs, a pair of shoes,
a favorite food, a half-read book, a lock of hair,
a voice message, an old worn-out sweater…

to stay connected, to stay in touch –

to hang on
to one we can no longer hold;

constructing a bridge

to bring us nearer

to that farther side.

Holy God, be merciful to us and bless us.

The world is a weird and meaningless play;
a series of acts in which others recite pat phrases
and go through the motions
that pass for normal life

but we miss our cues,
we forget our lines,
we stumble as though in a fog,

we are deaf, near-sighted, and numb;

our steps are slow and weary, weighed down
by a burden too great to bear,
held in place
by memories too dear to release.

Dear God, be merciful to us and bless us.

Give us the courage to cry
as much and as long as we need.
Give us the strength to go on;
in time
let our sadness be transformed
into strength.

Turn each memory
into a ray of light
that warms our hearts
and uplifts our spirits.

Help us to forgive all faults and failings –
of others as well as ourselves.
Fill us with compassion and understanding,
free us from rage, resentment, and despair.

Dear God, be merciful to us and bless us.

The days ahead will be difficult, Lord,
so don’t expect any outbursts of praise.
But I will stay beside You,
as I know You always stand by me;

And I have faith
that we will get through this
together.

May God, our God, bless us;
and may all that lives
find peace
and comfort
in God’s unfailing love.

Amen.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise: Be kind to one another.

Isaiah 40:28 ~ told by Deborah

Take heart
and draw strength
from your faith;
the testimonies
that stretch
from age to age;

the Beloved is eternal,
whose glory
extends throughout creation,
whose wisdom
is beyond our understanding,
whose strength
is greater than we can imagine,
whose love
is everlasting.

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A Season of Abundance & Hope

Deborah Beach Giordano
© September 18, 2017

Psalm 27 ~ as interpreted by Deborah

The Beloved is my guide and my life
so there is no one to fear.
The Beloved is my shelter
from every storm and danger
so nothing can frighten me.

When evildoers attack
with biting remarks
and sarcastic comments,
seeking to tear me down,
they will trip and fall.

Even if I am set upon
by a legion of devils,
I won’t lose my nerve;
I may be encircled by foes,
yet I will stay strong.

I ask only one thing of my God,
the goal I will always pursue:
to live a life of awareness
mindful of the countless glories,
and possessed of a thankful heart.

Hidden under the brightling wing
trouble will never find me;
nestled in downy softness,
secure on holy ground,
no predator can hurt me.

From the divine perspective
my enemies hold no power;
they are mere pests, not pestilences,
easily brushed aside
with the wave of a hand.

I arise with radiant courage
and look down upon
every trial, trouble,
and lurking temptation;
with God beside me
I will overcome them all.

In gratitude or longing,
whether chanting dirges
or singing hymns of thanksgiving,
in sunshine or in shadow,
I lift up my voice to You.

My heart will not be still,
it flutters with ceaseless longing,
to always and forever,
O Most-Glorious One,
be near to You. 

Amen

L’Shanah Tovah: a New Year Blessing

Wednesday marks the beginning of the celebration of Rosh HaShanah, the “Jewish New Year.” The traditional greeting for this holiday is L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu: “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.” This may be understood as simply a Hebrew variation of “Happy New Year.” But, as is so often the case when we encounter the familiar in a different cloak, the expression gives me pause.

If I’ve thought about it at all, I would say that “Happy New Year” is a one-day-only sort of wish; lasting, perhaps, at its longest, for a week or two of the late-holiday season. L’Shanah Tovah encompasses the entire year and, in its form — “May it be so” — feels like a blessing, a prayer that the Holy One will bestow good things upon us in the weeks and months ahead.

And how hopeful for the new year to coincide with the late harvest: a time of bounty; the season of grains and grapes, of bread and wine. All good things. Let’s celebrate!

I’ve been needing that sense of hopeful optimism, that perspective of “many blessings.” My life is, thanks be to God, quite good; our family is healthy, we have a cupboard full of food, a secure roof over our heads, and a recently-replaced furnace to keep us warm over the winter. Yet my heart has been sorrowful often of late. I miss my mother. It would be her birthday on the 24th; her “new year” celebration.

The strange thing is, she’s been gone for twenty-six years.

A New Reality

Of course you never get over the death of a loved one. As I always say, you “get through it,” and you learn to live with a new reality in what can feel like an alien land. The important thing is to focus on the good that you experienced, not what you no longer have; otherwise their memory will become painful, rather than a source of joy. I know that, and I seek to practice what I preach.

And yet…. I miss my mom.

My mom looked for the best in everyone. She found something good in every person she met, and — somehow, almost like magic — people responded accordingly. Grouchy salesclerks would end up smiling after a two minute encounter; sniping committee members would find common ground; sullen repairmen would end up staying for a cup of coffee; neighbors told her their troubles, knowing they would get a sympathetic (and confidence-keeping) ear.

A life-long Methodist who believed in a loving and merciful God, and delighted in His creation, my mom didn’t preach her faith, she lived it. She encouraged the downhearted, taught grownups to read, adopted stray dogs, and was a friend to anyone in need. I don’t know how many casseroles and bags of groceries she brought to invalids, or how many miles she drove to visit the sick and take folks to doctors appointments. And never once did I hear her criticize or condemn a single soul.

At the end, two of the nurses stood next to her bed and wept alongside us.

I miss her.

What’s Missing

I miss her notion of hopefulness, her example of kindness and courage and charity — in the face of all that happens.

My mom endured a long and painful illness, but never complained. Instead, she worried about how others were doing: she once told her doctor that she thought he was working too hard. (I, on the other hand, fuss something awful when I have a headache.)

I miss her absolute confidence in doing what is right and good. They say that the emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned; if my mom had lived while Rome was burning, she would have continued to do what she knew to be right. She would continue to be kind and compassionate, to help to those in need, to cheer the downhearted (and take some cookies to the fire department); whatever befell the world, no matter how badly people behaved, she would continue to look for the best in everyone — and, somehow, just like magic, they would respond accordingly, I’m sure of it.

Holding the World Together

There is a tradition within Judaism that there are always thirty-six holy people living whose goodness basically holds the world together. They are called “hidden saints,” because nobody knows who they are, not even they themselves. Therefore, all are encouraged to act as if he or she might be one of the Tzadikim Nistarim. It is said that if one of these thirty-six dies, another person arises to take that place; thus the world is preserved.

I’m not sure if that is a tremendously hopeful idea or deeply terrifying one: that there are only 36 people keeping things from a descent into chaos, or that it takes only 36 good people to bring about goodness throughout the world. In the spirit of the season and in honor of my mother, I will adopt the idea that goodness spreads forth across the earth like a healing balm — after all, that’s how things worked out with her.

Thanks-giving

Thank you all for listening to the story of my mom, and for the ways in which every one of you brings goodness to the world. May this Season bring to all the earth an abundant harvest of hope, that we may feast on joy and live in peace. L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu!

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
and Happy Birthday, Mom!

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:  How do you help to hold the world together?

 

Note:  I do not possess an authoritative knowledge of Jewish faith or traditions (nor do I intend to lay claim to these traditions), but hope that we may share in our celebrations of God’s goodness.

 

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Passover: A Time for Celebration?

Deborah Beach Giordano
© September 11, 2017

Exodus 12:1-14 ~ told by Deborah

While they were still in Egypt, God told Moses and Aaron: “This month will be the beginning of the year for you.

“Tell all the people of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to get a lamb for each household…. and keep it until the fourteenth day; then all of the Israelites will assemble together and slaughter it at sunset.

“They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.

“They shall eat the lamb that same night. It is to be roasted over the fire, whole, served with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

“Don’t leave any leftovers; whatever remains in the morning you shall burn.

“You are to eat it dressed for departure; your shoes on, your coat buttoned, and your bags packed; and eat it quickly.

“It is the passover of the Lord because I will pass through Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land, human beings and animals alike; this is the judgment I pronounce on all the gods of Egypt: I am the Lord.

“The blood will be a sign on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and you’ll be safe when I strike the land of Egypt.

“This day will be a day of remembrance for you. You will celebrate it as a festival to the Lord perpetually; you will celebrate it for all generations to come.”

That Night

“Feast on lamb with your families … and that night I, the Lord your God, will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, human beings and animals alike; but will pass over your homes.”

As I read this passage I remembered an evening several years ago. We had hosted a particularly delightful party at our house in honor of a friend’s 40th birthday; there was lots of laughter, good conversation, and fun that lasted long into the night. We went to bed filled with good cheer and good food. 

The next morning we were awakened by a phone call. John’s cousin Gianna had died during that night as she gave birth to a baby daughter. 

We were stunned into wordlessness; beyond shock, beyond tears. While we had been laughing, one of the kindest and gentlest of souls had been breathing her last. It was so incongruous, and just wrong. I felt somehow guilty, tainted: how could we have been celebrating in the midst of death? How could we be rejoicing at a time of sorrow?

Passover Celebration

I imagine the Israelites on that first Passover night, gathered together with their families as the angel of death stormed over the land, wantonly destroying the eldest of every creature. Can they have looked at the faces of their children and rejoiced, when all around them others — who loved as deeply, and hurt as profoundly — were suffering grief and despair? 

Can they have found cause to celebrate, knowing that the doting new parents across the street would awaken to a silent cradle, that the little girl next door would desperately tug at the cold and lifeless hand of her beloved grandfather? Could they have been joyful when, in the field outside, a ewe nuzzled the lamb who lay so still and silent, a white dove circled her fallen mate, and the hillsides echoed with the wailing of the wolves mourning their dead? 

Inexplicable Grace

How can we sing the Lord’s song
in an alien land? 
~ Psalm 137:4

No. I do not think it was a festival of rejoicing, but of recognition. As Death raged outside, sweeping its victims away in a bloody tide, without regard for guilt or innocence, the Israelite families sheltered together, fully aware that it could just as readily have been their lives that were taken. Only some inexplicable grace had kept them safe. Unmerited, unearned, miraculous.

This was not a celebration of the suffering of their neighbors, but a thanks-giving for their own salvation — and for the awareness this night of destruction had brought: to remain would be to risk almost-certain death; they had to escape. It was not safe to stay in Egypt.

Somehow they had missed that fact. The pattern of illness and decay, of harsh labor and slow disintegration, had become normal. Death was familiar; it was expected, anticipated, accepted. Even desired.

They did not know what it was to live.

The Gods of Egypt

The Israelites had struggled, suffered, and perished by the hundreds, perhaps hundreds of thousands, enslaved in unending, wearying work. Great pyramids were constructed as tombs for the pharaohs, mausoleums to preserve their bodies and enshrine their spirits. To the laborers far down the food chain, uninitiated in the religion, the gods of the Egyptians traded only in death — for those who worshiped them, and for those who built their temples. 

It was as if the divine spirit that was unleashed on the Egyptians that Passover night was their own god, turning against his own people, bestowing the only gift that a god of death could give. Whatever it was, and whatever the cause, the message was clear: in order to survive, the Israelites had to get away.

On that night several thousand individuals became a community, aware of their shared hopes and fears; the weak discovered their strength, the worthless realized their value. A new people was born out of a culture of death. The God of the living made Godself known.

Remember!

As the night begins God informs Moses and Aaron that this event must be embedded in the national consciousness; it must be celebrated each and every year, down through the generations. The divine mandate is given: Passover must never be forgotten. 

Passover must never be forgotten. It is a consecration of life’s value and extraordinary potential. It proclaims hope and new beginnings even in the midst of terrible troubles. It is the recognition that in the midst of life, death swirls around us — but it is not the end; death’s authority is temporary and temporal. God’s power to lead us to life is far greater than all that would enslave and degrade us.

Passover is the celebration of the birth of the Jewish people. It commemorates the beginning of their long and difficult journey to becoming the People of the Living God, the journey that we Christians aspire to be a part of. 

A Passover Mentality

Our tradition has claimed that what we know as “the Lord’s Supper” / the Eucharist was first a Passover (Seder) meal celebrated by our Lord Jesus with his disciples. To understand our Great Feast within that context is to honor the fact that our Jesus of Nazareth was born, lived, and died a Jew: “they” are our sisters and brothers. It is also a warning that we, like the Israelites in Egypt, can be enslaved by our culture: demeaned and disempowered as being “of no value or importance.” It is a statement of faith in God’s lasting power to save and restore.

When we take the Bread and Wine standing up, with our shoes on and our coats buttoned, we affirm our readiness to respond to God’s call immediately; it is also a humble admission that we may be headed the wrong way — and are willing to turn around, and to go as the Beloved leads us. This very day.

Perhaps the most important aspect of such a “Passover mentality” is a grateful heart. We come to the Table thankful for the life we have been given, the good we have enjoyed, the love we have known. And we remember, tenderly, those who are no longer present; their memories a blessing. 

Let us give thankful praise to the God of the Passover, who leads us on the path of life.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

It has been suggested that the god we worship is the god we get. As presented in this short-form version of the Passover, the Egyptians’ obsession (idolizing/worship) of death appears to have turned against them. What might that mean for our culture? What do we idolize that might turn on us and destroy us? 

On a personal level, who is God for you? What is the defining characteristic of the One you worship?

 

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The Fire on the Hillside

Deborah Beach Giordano
© September 4, 2017

Exodus 3:1-6 ~ told by Deborah

While shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep, Moses led them through the wilderness to Horeb, the mountain of God. And there the angel of God appeared to him in a fiery blaze from within the dry brush.

Moses saw that it was on fire but didn’t burn up. He said, “That’s amazing! I’ve got to go over there and take a closer look at that, and see why the brush doesn’t burn up.”

When God saw that he had gone out of his way to see it, God called to him out of the brush, “Moses, Moses!”

And he answered, “Here I am.”

God said, “Don’t come any closer! Take your shoes off, because you’re standing on holy ground.” God went on, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

And Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Fire!!!

Yikes. Moses and the burning bush: that’s an unpleasant tale to tell during this Summer of Conflagration, when vast swaths of our forests and open spaces are aflame or have burned. Reading the passage I say to myself: Moses certainly should notice a fire on the hillside “and go out of his way to see it” — and put it out before it spreads. 

For those of us living in the dry western United States, fire in an open space is a bad thing. A very bad thing.

Who is This?

What are we to make of an image of God that provokes alarm and even outright fear? Isn’t God our Friend, our Comforter, our Shelter in times of trouble? Who is this who announces Godself with flames — and later, as we know, with pillars of smoke and fire? Anyone who has seen those kinds of pillars rising on a hillside or from within a forest knows they are terrible to behold: signs of fierce destruction and great danger. 

Yet for the Israelites in the time of Moses, columns of smoke and flames served as evidence of divine guidance and protection as they trekked across the wilderness, and fire was understood as God’s primary manifestation — even though this ferocious power could break the boundaries and turn against them (see Numbers chapters 11 and 16). 

For the people of Israel, “to walk in the Way of the Lord” was like keeping a pet tiger: at any time it might get loose and devour those around it. It was impossible to control. 

And that’s scary. It is an alarming concept for most of us; it isn’t the way we are used to thinking about God. It is a vision of the Almighty as dangerous, wild, and free. Unmanageable. Impatient. Impetuous.

The God of flame and smoke cannot be controlled or contained. It engulfs and overwhelms. This extraordinary power can strike without warning; illuminating, igniting, inspiring — wherever — and whomever — It will.

Fearful and Glorious

The fiery aspect of God helps us to understand “the fear of the Lord” as a term for worship. It describes the human experience of the Utterly-Other: of divine majesty; a recognition of the awesome power of God that eclipses all that mere mortals can achieve or imagine; a terror-provoking encounter with the Ultimate that transforms into “a peace that surpasses all understanding.”

This “fear” is not servile cringing, but awe-beyond-astonishment: what philosopher Rudolf Otto described as an encounter with an “awe-inspiring mystery.” It is fascination, enchantment: we are overwhelmed, gloriously aware; caught up in the Presence of something far greater than ourselves.

Unmanageable

It was the experience of the fiery aspect of the Divine that sparked Moses’ curiosity (“I need to see what that is,”) and set him off on a journey that changed his life and the lives of literally hundreds of millions of people who followed. The encounter both terrified and energized him: here was a God of great strength and long history, one that could be relied upon; a Power that warmed and illuminated…. but could also overwhelm — and even destroy.

For the rest of his life Moses would struggle with the enthralling Presence that spoke to him from within the flames. It was a rocky relationship filled with disagreements and disappointments and difficulties — and sometimes Moses’ temper got the best of him. In the end, the great Task was left to be finished by another. 

Moses’ story isn’t one of “happily ever after”: it is complex, complicated, uncomfortable. It holds no promises that a life of faith will be one of simplicity and ease. Instead, it tells of a God who surprises, shocks, and alarms those who are called to serve. 

It is the story of an utterly unpredictable God.

And For Us?

So what does it mean to us? How does this testimony about an unpredictable God of fire and smoke relate to our experience and belief in One who is gracious and merciful, loving and compassionate?

Or does the question itself reveal our temptation to confine God; to narrow the Divine’s capabilities and characteristics to a few familiar and comforting aspects? It has become a cultural pattern to view the world in the least generous way, as one thing or the other: it is either/or, this/that, black/white — and never both/and. The God of fire and smoke destroys these false limitations and breaks down arbitrary divisions: this God transforms a stuttering shepherd into an inspiring leader; turns a sea into dry land; creates a single people from a collection of runaway slaves.

When God showed the fullness of Godself to Moses, it was all goodness. And the revelation was accompanied by an assertion of autonomy: God will do as God chooses, not in obedience to any demands we may make or regulations we set forth. God cannot be controlled or contained:

Moses said, “Please, I beg You, show me Your glory!” And God said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim My Name to you; and I will be gracious to whomever I will be gracious, and I will show compassion on whomever I will show compassion.”
~ Exodus 33:18-19

The God of fire and smoke, the God of the Exodus, is also the God of Extraordinary Grace and Abundant Compassion whose power can transform lives and change the world. God is not either/or, but All in All.

May we have the courage to, like Moses, “turn aside” (from our assumptions) and see the awesome, extraordinary, glorious power and grace of our God.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:
Where do you experience the power of God?

 

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