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Mar 20 19

Fires in the spring

by davesandel

Fires in the spring

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Jesus asked, “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” And they said to him, “We can.” He replied,
“You will indeed drink from my cup.”

– From Matthew 20

Most of Zebedee’s family seems impatient, although for Zebedee himself, a fisherman, patience is as important in his tackle box as hooks and line. As for his sons and their mother, they’re in a hurry. They want assurances. What might come later must be promised now.

Jesus turns their question into his question, and then changes the subject entirely. He is not interested in power, and neither should they be. “Can you follow me into the fire?” What comes after … comes after. Let’s take this one step at a time.

Jesus knew that time was short with his twelve disciples and many friends. He had taught them so much, but despite three years of repetition, they still sought power and control. The kingdom of heaven is never about power, but humility, cooperation, and service. James and John, two of his favorites, failed to see.

“Do you want to be stood up on either side of my cross, nailed to your own?” James will be nowhere found when Jesus drags his cross to Golgotha and is crucified. John will stand with Mother Mary, and look up with her at Jesus dying. He cannot leave her. But these few days before the killing, they have no idea.

Taking the suggestion of today’s “Pray As You Go” Jesuit guide, I imagine myself into the story. I imagine being James, taller and stronger than John, asking Mother to speak to the Master. But I am timid, and when Jesus speaks, I shrink. Fire springs from Jesus’ eyes, and he stares right through me.

My feet are hot inside my sandals. My face is red. Tears well up in my eyes. What made me think I could stand beside the throne of Jesus? I’m a wimp.

Can I drink his cup? What cup? Of course, I can drink from his cup.

He doesn’t think I understand. I don’t, but then he uses himself as an example. “Like me, James. I came to serve, not to be served.” And in a flash I knew it was true. His strength always comes as he gives himself to someone: “What do you want me to do for you?” Each time he does this his power grows and grows.

“I will give my life for you, James. Don’t be afraid.” Jesus eyes don’t waver and they never leave mine.

Oh, Jesus, we are approaching Jerusalem. Your strides seem longer, you plant your footsteps hard into the road. You rarely speak, but still you smile and love us, still you stop with us to eat and sleep, still we are your children and you our Master. Surely this never needs to end. Can the spring not last forever?


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Mar 19 19


by davesandel


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Abraham is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into being what does not exist. He believed, hoping against hope, that he would become the father of many nations.

– From Romans 4

Today is a day for celebrating Jesus’ earthly father. It is the “Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

Their son Jesus left his home, was baptized by his cousin, and immediately went to the desert for forty days. When he emerged he began his ministry. From what foundation did this ministry spring?

Between Jesus’ baptism by John and his sojourn in the desert, Luke records Jesus’ genealogy.

Luke begins with Jesus. “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph” (Luke 3:23). But then he lists a total of seventy-seven generations, taking us back to the very beginning, back to Adam, the “son of God.”

As soon as Jesus begins to preach and pray, it becomes evident that he knows the scriptures and the stories of his Hebrew ancestors … like the back of his hand.

A genogram, which is just a simply designed family tree, allows us to quickly sketch physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual connections between our generation and earlier ones. Describing dates and names spawns story after story. These specifics help us value and learn from those from whom we came. Their past becomes our present which leads into their future.

My friend Nick writes a blog brilliantly titled “Mostly Consolation.” Nick is a hopeful, inspired and inspiring Methodist minister who loves to look at both sides of things. But one thing he describes about himself really has no sides:

I myself am temperamentally conservative. That is, I want to live a traditioned life. I am convinced that human beings over time have learned to live life well, to ask and to answer important questions well. I am convinced that to ignore those human voices of the past is the definition of foolishness. When I read a book about any topic at all, I want to go back and read the primary sources. When I listen to music, I want to plot where parts of a band’s or a composition’s sound comes from. And when I do theology I want to dig all the way to the tips of the roots. In fact, when doing theology, I am convinced that ignoring human beings and their thoughts and actions and lives over time is not just foolishness. This is truly for one part of the living, eternal body of Christ to say to another, “I have no need of you” (1 Cor 12:21).

I think Nick learned that deep respect for earlier generations from Jesus. Jesus learned from and valued everybody and everything, in the past and in the right-here-right-now. “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Come and see.”

Jesus knew before Paul that we are all one body, and all of us matter to each other. Jesus was, as Nick calls it, “traditioned.”

That’s the way it is with family trees. I learned from Roland and Angie, who learned from William and Dora and Herman and Tasie. And they learned from … in just a few decades the tree spreads wide to eight branches, then sixteen. I’ve been made from all those who came before me. And so have all of us.

I hope I can follow the example of Jesus. Rather than ignore the histories of those who came before me, can I honor their experience? Learn from it? Share it as best I can?

Lord, I hear trite phrases in my mind: time flies, time does not stand still. But trusting your invitation into the always-has-been, right-now and forever-will-be Kingdom of Heaven sets us apart from time and death. Let me hold this truth as self-evident, and know that it resides in the center of my being, beyond the crush of emotions and incomplete conclusions, beyond above all the frantic fragments of daily life. And Lord, let this bring me peace.


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Mar 18 19

Sacrament of reconciliation

by davesandel

Sacrament of reconciliation

Monday, March 18, 2019

Help us, O God our savior, because of the glory of your name; deliver us and pardon our sins for your name’s sake.

– From Luke 6

Us Protestants, we walk into an old Catholic church, walk past the beautifully carved wood of the confessional and wonder, “What happens in there anyway?” I’ve experienced confession at retreats a couple of times. I know the first words: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been a week/a month/awhile since my last confession.”

And then you just begin to talk. It might take a little while, but there’s no hurry. The more I uncover my own hidden places, the more there is to share. A silent, anonymous screen separates me from the priest, but more and more I feel like we are both in this together.

G. K. Chesterton, who was born in 1874 and came to Catholicism in 1922, converted because this old religion of the popes was “the only religion which dared to go down with me into the depths of myself.”

With me, he said. Chesterton knew he was no longer alone. When he confessed from the depths of his sin, God came and clothed him with a new skin. Covered, loved and forgiven by God, Chesterton could at last accept his limitations. As he read in Genesis:

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’” There are limits. We are not as strong as we think we are. And that’s OK. Really, it is.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was profoundly grateful for this companionship and new acceptance. He had always loved to play with children, and now he felt like one himself:

When a Catholic comes from Confession, he does truly, by definition, step out again into that dawn of his own beginning and look with new eyes across the world… God has really remade him in His own image. He is now a new experiment of the Creator. He is as much a new experiment as he was when he was really only five years old. He stands…in the white light at the worthy beginning of the life of a man. The accumulations of time can no longer terrify. He may be grey and gouty; but he is only five minutes old.

I find my own rituals of reconciliation. I have a confidant, I have a spiritual director, I have Margaret. I can talk to my journal, and all these things make me feel more whole. I am thoroughly grateful whenever I get below my surface scum and see more of who I am.

When I hear the words, spoken or silent, “David, all your sins are forgiven,” I know God is speaking right to me. I am not alone. Like Chesterton, I breathe the fresh air like a child again.

This confession thing, carefully defined or not, is absolutely ALL it’s cracked up to be. Thank you, Jesus.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free spirit. (from Psalm 51)

G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography, Chapter 16, “God and the Golden Key”


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Mar 17 19

God’s gift of darkness

by davesandel

God’s gift of darkness

Second Sunday of Lent, March 17, 2019

Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram stayed with them. As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him. When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces. – From Genesis 15

Jesus took Peter, James and John and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he prayed his face changed. His clothing became dazzling white … a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They all fell silent. – From Luke 9

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? – From Psalm 27

In the dark I can simply switch on the light. Just a hundred years ago we could not do this. When darkness came, we went to bed with the chickens. We got enough sleep. Life was not so fast. But we have nearly extinguished the miracle of darkness with our newfangled electricity. We lose our balance when all is bright.

Faith, hope and love are born out of their opposites. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.  Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.  And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.” And we could add, light brightens what is dark, or it is no light at all.

Abram had no protective fires in the night. He had obeyed God’s voice and gathered his sacrifices. He was patient through hours of waiting. Then before night fell, God anesthetized him. Otherwise, Abram could not have handled what was about to happen. Even then the darkness was terrifying.

Out of nowhere came a smoking firepot and flaming torch, suspended in the air. They touched the “pieces,” and fires of God surrounded Abram. Then God’s voice broke in, just before dawn, with promises of countless descendants and lands where they would live.

Jesus too was surrounded by fire on the mountain. He himself would soon become the sacrifice. This “transfiguration” prepared Jesus, as God prepared Abram, with terrifying fire and enveloping darkness.

Mysterious things hide their faces in broad daylight. The big stuff, the stuff that dreams are made of and destinies shaped by, usually comes in darkness. Like Aslan of Narnia, God’s darkness is always good, but never safe. Sometimes God comes alongside in ways we barely survive. If I could see what’s coming, I’d run. I’d shy away. I’d say, “No!”

But I need not fear. Darkness and light carry us, step by step, toward God. I can close my eyes and rest, I can open them again and be still. Nothing I do changes the mystery of being loved. Poet David Whyte writes:

Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.

There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.


The dark will be

your womb tonight.

The night will give you a horizon

further than you can see.

Our local SSCM sisters shared a beautiful image at their Lenten retreat. “During moments of transfiguration God penetrates the hardened regions within us, and he leaves upon them the imprint of his own face, in all its radiant and dazzling glory.”

Oh Lord, please light the fire that once burned bright and clear. Replace the lamp of my first love that burns with holy fear. Oh, Lord, you’re beautiful. Your face is all I need. And when your eyes are on this child, your grace abounds to me.

G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, Chapter 12, “Paganism and Mr. Lowes-Dickinson,” p 67, 1905

David Whyte, “Sweet Darkness,” from River Flow: New and Selected Poems, Revised Edition, p. 348, 2012

SSCM is the abbreviation for Sisters of the Holy Heart of Mary.

Today’s prayer is part of a Keith Green lyric, “Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful,” from the album So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt, 1980


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Mar 16 19

People matter

by davesandel

People matter

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Jesus said to his disciples, “Pray for those who persecute you.”

– From Matthew 5

Dad could hem, haw, and holler at his sometimes stubborn cows. Moving them up a cattle chute or through a gate really took it out of him. Inevitably he was quiet afterward, and I can only guess what he was thinking.

When it came to people-matters, Dad smiled often. He told jokes. His laugh was infectious. And he forgave. Another farmer reneged on a signed deal with dad, which cost him a bunch of money, but he did not pursue. No one went to court, and no lawyers were called. The dispute blew over. I didn’t forget it, but I think Dad did.

On Saturday mornings at 7:30, he drove three miles to Faith Lutheran Church for a get-together with alumni from a renewal program called Kogudus. Like Cursillo and Walk to Emmaus, Kogudus weekends sparked loyalty and enthusiasm in old-time Christians that went far beyond the three day retreats. I usually went with Dad when I lived at home.

Pretty simple, really. A little coffee, maybe doughnuts, song, a short liturgy unique to Kogudus. We took turns leading discussion about a bible passage. Not many folks came: another farmer, a teacher, an accountant, a politician, occasionally a preacher. One of the men, a retired farmer named Al Schmidt, became one of my best friends. Al is at the top of my list of mentors.

Dad’s gentle way with fellow humans rubbed off on me. I got to watch him “pray for those who persecuted him.” What I never noticed in him was any sense of superiority. He was far more publican than Pharisee, which showed not so much in his words as in the gentleness of his glance.

I always thought he was shy. I think now perhaps he was simply humble. Like me, he was an oldest son. But while I have been a rebel, he was not. While I have made too much noise, he made too little. He told us that at Kogudus, God turned his heart toward home. What had been mere compliance, God transformed into obedience. Outwardly so much looked the same, but inwardly, Dad became a man of prayer. He obeyed God.

Years ago at Saint Meinrad’s Abbey in southern Indiana I met Father Coleman, who reminded me of Dad. He and I were the same age, but Father Coleman had been at Saint Meinrad since he was 16. Over the years he taught philosophy and theology. He polished his music and became an accomplished organist. For a few days he was my spiritual director, and we had spirited conversations.

I knew the way Father Coleman set his roots had blessed him. Dad set his roots too. And neither of them made enemies. Instead, I think they prayed for those who “persecuted” them.

I have been a wanderer. The roots I’ve set have only come in the last couple of decades. I still suffer from “monkey-mind.” But I am so thankful for these men who showed me their ways of obedience, faithfulness and prayer.

Most of these men have died, Lord. Thank you for loving them and teaching them to love. Thank you for teaching me through them. Let us all dwell in your house forever.


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Mar 15 19

I desire mercy, not sacrifice

by davesandel

I desire mercy, not sacrifice

Friday, March 15, 2019

If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

– From Matthew 5

Look up! The west wind blows our clouds away and blows them in again. The sun shines high in the sky and then sets on our Father’s world, to rise again tomorrow. All nature sings, and around me rings the music of the spheres.

At the altar, my small world meets its Maker. There is bowing, and kneeling, and scraping of my conscience to find what’s left beneath the scars. This is my time to recover perspective and remember that I am not God. “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” This is the place of reconciliation.

But there is more to this re-gathering than my own humility. God reminds me, just as Jesus told his congregation on the Mount, that we are all children of God and we are all in this together. “Mother, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.”

*           *           *

Thomas Merton’s day of springtime shopping in downtown Louisville, begun without expectation, took a different turn. “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.”

Whether in a church or on a street corner, altars carry the sweet residue of years of communion. I remember an altar where I visited as a tourist at the downtown Chicago Temple, home to First United Methodist Church. A “skyscraper” church across the street from The Picasso and City Building, its steeple rises above forty floors of offices, 568 feet into the sky. For six years after it was built in 1924, the Chicago Temple was the tallest building in Chicago. Clarence Darrow once had an office on the sixth floor.

As we approach the altar, several homeless men and women sleep in the empty pews. Dimmed lights reveal carved wood, stained glass, and candle stands. We knelt and prayed, and there were silent whispers around the altar of a hundred years, residue of communion, of prayers of men and women, of sins and forgiveness, of reconciliation, of God’s love.

Thomas Merton was a priest at the nearby Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. At 4th and Walnut Streets in Louisville, any sense of Merton’s “separateness” fell away. “I have the immense joy of being human, a member of a race in which God became incarnate … it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

No way. But we can work hard to clear out differences with one another. The gift God desires far more than “sacrifice” is that we love one another even as we love ourselves.

I trust in you, Lord, and my soul trusts in your word. My soul waits for you more than sentinels wait for the dawn. You are kind, and full of redemption. Let me follow in your steps.

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 140-142, 1966

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Mar 14 19

The art of tidying up

by davesandel

The art of tidying up

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Ask, and it will be given to you.

– From Matthew 7

What a dangerous invitation. Like many of us, I am already crushed by too much stuff. I don’t need more books to read or cans of food to eat or beautiful things for my office shelves. I don’t need more DVDs or musical instruments or electronic screens. I don’t need more places to go, and I don’t need more miles to go before I sleep.

Today I am in a thicket of close-knit thoughts. I have enough time, for once, to consider these words I write. Ask and it will be given. For what, in God’s name, should I ask?

I keep coming back to poetry, swift words caught out of thin air, like a bird at rest before its flight, captured on the page, still for just a moment, waiting to be read.

Poems open my closed mind. Poems relax me in their simplicity. So I turn the page, open my hands, and begin to read.

“Quietness” (a poem by Persian jurist and theologian written around the year 1250)

Inside this new love, die

Your way begins on the other side.

Become the sky.

Take an axe to the prison wall.


Walk out like somebody suddenly born into color.

Do it now.

You’re covered with thick cloud.

Slide out the side.

Die, and be quiet.

Quietness is the surest sign that you’ve died.

Your old life was a frantic running from silence.

The speechless full moon

comes out now.

 Marie Kondo “tidies up” by discarding everything that does not spark joy. She has inspired many of us to empty our closets and bookshelves and pantries and then refill them more simply. Her secret is to take out everything, pile it up in the middle of the room, and put back only what gives you joy.

This can be difficult. Joy comes in disguise and often surprises me.

“The Coat” (by Canadian poet Dennis Lee, a favorite of writer and speaker Fr. Ronald Rolheiser)

I patched my coat with sunlight

It lasted for a day.

I patched my coat with moonlight

But the lining came away.

I patched my coat with lightning

And it flew off in the storm.

I patched my coat with darkness

That coat has kept me warm.


I imagine Jesus knocking at my door, holding a package he wants to give me. Like all good parents, God never brings bad stuff, but only good. Not rocks, but bread. What is in this package Jesus has for me?

I open it. I am surprised and look at Jesus with dismay. But I must not judge too quickly.

Mary Oliver wrote a very short poem called “The Use of Sorrow:”

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift.

*           *           *

In this afternoon’s simple silence, Lord, I open my eyes to see that darkness need not hold fear, ignorance, evil or despair. If I make space for it, your gift promises mystery, potential, and renewal. My “unknown” is not unknown to you. Hand it to me, Lord, I will receive it. Standing like this with you, at the open door, there is only joy.

The Essential Rumi, 2nd Edition, translated by Coleman Barks, p. 22, 2003

Dennis Lee, “The Coat,” from So Cool, 2005

Mary Oliver, “The Use of Sorrow,” from Thirst, p 52, 2007


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Mar 13 19

The story of the dancing cow

by davesandel

The story of the dancing cow

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.

– From Luke 11

Michael Banks saw a red cow walking down the street, and Mary Poppins told Jane and Michael that her mother and the red cow had been great friends.

The red cow had a red calf, and they lived together in a pasture full of yellow flowers. They were very happy with the same life every day, until one night the red cow began to dance and could not stop. She danced all day and all night and couldn’t even stop to eat. Her calf was confused and they were both unhappy. After seven days the red cow went to see the king.

The king had been busy making laws, but he stopped to listen to the red cow’s woe. Looking closely, the king saw a star hanging from the red cow’s horn. But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t get the star off her head.

“You will have to try jumping over the moon,” the king suggested. And that did the trick. High in the sky, the star fell off and the red cow found herself back in the pasture with yellow flowers.

She felt great relief. The red calf began to nurse again, and hour after hour, the red cow chewed her cud. But a few days later the red cow began to feel unhappy. This had never happened to her before. She was no longer satisfied with the old way. Something was missing.

She went to talk with Mary Poppins’ mother. They thought about this problem together. Finally, they decided that the red cow missed her star. “You know,” said Mary Poppins’ mother, “millions of stars fall out of the sky every night! But they fall in different places.”

“So I’ll go and look for one,” the red cow said. And “a happy look came into her eyes.”

Michael realized, then, that the red cow was looking for a falling star right there on Cherry Tree Lane.

*      *           *

Seven days of dancing with a fallen star changed the red cow forever. Three days in the belly of a whale changed Jonah forever. When something like that happens and upsets our apple cart, it really sets us thinking.

Suddenly something is missing. What is God doing? Nothing is the same. We don’t know what to do. We are in a liminal moment. We have reached a turning point.

The red cow went to Mary’s mother. Jonah went to the Lord, more willing than before to do God’s work. Like the red cow, Jonah walked through every neighborhood, calling out the word of the Lord. The people of Nineveh fasted, heard the warning of Jonah, repented and were saved.

What happened with the red cow? The story doesn’t say. But I think she enjoyed her walks, many people learned from her, and at last she found her star. As the book of Jonah ends, God says to Jonah, “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left – and also many animals?”

Jesus loves the little children of the world, and red cows too.

When we take to the streets, Lord, walking here and there searching for a star, praying for the people, looking up and down for you, please give us living water and food from your table, and a place to sleep so we can begin again tomorrow.

P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins, Chapter 6, 1934


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Mar 12 19

Arise and call her blessed

by davesandel

Arise and call her blessed

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Look to him that you may be radiant with joy.

– From Psalm 34

When I spend time with Mom at her house in Lincoln, she smiles, kisses me, welcomes me, and then we spend the day together. We work on jigsaw puzzles, go out to lunch, look at the books we’ve read the last two weeks, share whatever treats I’ve brought and talk a bit.

Mom hears what I say, at times. We rarely have an important agenda. The sun comes up, and the sun goes down. She will be 97 at the end of June this year. I am pretty sure she is healthier than I am.

But yesterday we went to Springfield, to an eye clinic, for her every-six-weeks-shot. Not a shot in the arm, this is a shot in the eye. Using a very thin needle the doctor injects a miracle drug into each of her pupils, thereby protecting her from further macular degeneration. Consequently, the shadows, dark spots, and virtual blindness experienced by earlier generations, passes her by. She still reads every day.

Look at him that you may be radiant with joy.

She wants to have lunch before these appointments, because her eyes are sore afterward. Oh, really, sore? Actually, I’m amazed at how quickly she recovers. We were Outback’s first customers, and we devoured bowls of each of their three soups. She had some grilled shrimp and coffee. She might have been nervous, but her appetite was terrific.

In the old days (she was born in 1922), her memory was wonderful. She has always been a history buff, those names and dates stayed in her head forever. Not so much now. If I asked her to memorize the serenity prayer, she couldn’t do it. But … it doesn’t matter. She lives the serenity prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Mom is a little frail. She huffs and puffs when she climbs a stair or two. She is very happy to get home and sit back down in her chair after an outing. But she walks on her own or with a walker. The wheelchair we bought several years ago sits mostly unused in a corner. Most of the time she gets around the house without help. I was sleepy coming home today from Springfield and she offered to drive. I turned her down.

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.

The days of doing everything in a hurry are over for her. Count that as blessing! She began teaching elementary school when she was 17. She graduated with an education degree from the University of Illinois a decade later. She taught grade school kids for many years, she taught P.E., she taught inmates at the Logan Correctional Center, and later she got a masters degree in counseling.

Her family – her husband, her children, her parents, her sister, and countless friends all benefited from Mom’s unrealized desire to be a nurse. She taught me to read when I was four. When I joined anti-war demonstrations in 1968 and then got slammed after describing them in the local daily paper, she defended me. She has been a helper all her life.

Mom brims over with gratitude for her three kids: Mary Kay her nurse, John her helper, Dave her entertainment. We don’t say enough about our gratitude for her. In our different ways, we love her to pieces. And have for a very long time.

Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to his will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.

Spending time with Mom yesterday, I heard echoes of Lutheran churches from my childhood. We sang the old hymns alongside each other, sitting in wooden pews. I surely had little interest in following the sermon, but I sat there every Sunday, we all did, together.

I recalled the words of Proverbs 31:

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her. Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done.

Driving home with Mom, feeling a little sleepy in the warm spring sun, I thought about these things and touched her hand.

You always tell me, Lord, to let you lead. There’s no hurry. The urgency I feel to Get Things Done is unnecessary. Thank you for infusing that wisdom into my mother over all these years, and giving her children time to learn that kind of quiet peace from her.

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Mar 11 19

They shall not grow old

by davesandel

They shall not grow old

Monday, March 11, 2019

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me.

– From Matthew 25

In a faceoff with Jesus, who among us would be so foolish as to cast the first stone? What business could I possibly have in killing another? But if I were hauled before the Roman tribune, could he say about me, “I find no fault in him?”

Saturday night at the Art Theater, hunkered down cozy in my seat, I was quickly surrounded by World War I, and I surrendered to it. The narrators of They Shall Not Grow Old DID, after all, grow old, but most of their friends in uniform did not. These survivors, more than a hundred of them, had much to say about their war.

Their outdoor, bed-less brotherhood was built on contrasts of boredom and terror, singing and silence, sunshine and drenching rain, bright spring flowers and thick, sucking mud. A million of them died, facing death together as if they knew anything about it. The war wore on far longer than either side expected, and soldiers discovered their commonality and shared mutual respect. Captured, they were mostly given food and drink, clothing and compassion. Jesus was everywhere then, in those trenches.

They left Britain to cheers of crowds but returned to unintended misunderstanding. How could anyone know what they’d been through together? There are poems, there are songs.

Some men could shrug off the constant threat of death and sing, laughing:

Mademoiselle from Armentieres, parley vous?

Mademoiselle from Armentieres, parley vous?

She got the palm and the croix de guerre,

For washin’ soldiers’ underwear,

Hinky-dinky, parlez vous?

Others could not. Richard Burton’s reading of the poetry of Wilfred Owen settled on my soul forty years ago; it sits there still. A bit of Lt. Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth:”

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?

Only the monstrous anger of the guns …

No mockeries now for them; no prayers, no bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

Wilfred Owen was wounded in 1917 and spent time in an Edinburgh hospital. As he recovered, he might have remembered the words of Jesus to Peter he had known from childhood:  “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

The poet-soldier returned to the Western Front after fourteen months. He took part in heavy fighting and was awarded the Military Cross. He wrote to his mother, “I came out again in order to help these boys; directly, by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can.”

Helping his men get across the Sambre Canal in northern France, Lt. Owen was killed, exactly one week before the November 1918 armistice. His poetry survived. He wrote of misplaced glory:

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of gas-shells dropping softly behind …

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace

Behind the wagon …

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori

Were my grandfathers in this “war to end all wars?” I don’t think so; as farmers they were needed at home. My father was born in 1922, just in time for WW II; he enlisted in 1943 and went to fight in the Philippines. He returned home to an adoring, grateful America.

My friends and classmates, some of them, fought in our generation’s war: Vietnam. Some of them were killed, and some of them came home to the same misunderstanding that met the veterans of World War I. Napalm and jungle ambushes replaced the horror of trenches and mud. How could any of us, safe at home, possibly understand? For so many of these soldiers, night sweats and terrors really never end.

Of course we are never called to repay evil with evil. Still, Jesus’ non-violence and compassion toward the stranger get lost so quickly when we feel threatened. Our evil is never as bad as the other guy’s.

But every day, in my own life, I have another chance to turn that around. Jesus’ words alternately haunt me and inspire me. “I was hungry, and you gave me food.”

Jesus, you wrote something in the sand that day when the woman was thrown in front of you. What were you writing, as her accusers became more and more uncomfortable with your silence? Let me too, be quiet, before my words betray me. Help me see my own sin more clearly than that of others. Please, Lord, let me see your eyes in the faces of my enemy and fall on my own face, loved and loving.

*           *           *

The Latin phrase “Dulce et decorum est” was written by Horace and means, “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”

The story of Jesus and the accused woman is found in John 8.

Poems are from Complete Poems of Wilfred Owen, 1920

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