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Leave behind a blessing

by davesandel on February 17th, 2021

Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021 (today’s lectionary)

Leave behind a blessing

Return to me with your whole heart, says the Lord. Rend your heart and not your garments and return. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind a blessing.

Driving home from PromiseKeepers with my dad, I reveled in that football feeling, a hundred thousand men praising God, singing, praying, believing they could be God’s kids and lead their families. Then we heard that my cousin Richard, much younger than me, had died. I felt a strange collapse inside. How do you keep family promises when the family buckles and needs you the most?

The next day I watched our black dog Bear wandering on the other side of busy Lincoln Avenue and shouted at him, “Bear, get over here!” I realized my mistake the second the words came out. An ambulance with lights but no siren flew past just as Bear came running to my call. The ambulance ran right over him.

Ambulances on the way to hospitals don’t stop for broken Bears. Our dog stood up somehow and dragged himself to the sunshine on the side of our house. There, he collapsed. And so did I.

I screamed, I wept and wailed, I cried and cried as loud as I could. For several minutes I had no desire to stop. Sometime along the way something fell together inside me. I noticed, as if I was watching myself from above, how hard I was crying. I wondered why. And I knew God wanted to show me.

When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

It didn’t happen that day, or overnight. Dad and I had another trip planned, this time to a Minnesota conference for charismatic Lutherans in a couple of weeks. The organizers offered appointments for personal intensive prayer with a trained helper. I scheduled one of those for myself. In Minneapolis my prayer partner got me started, and then I spent a couple of hours alone, crying, praying, listening, and discovering a simple hole in my soul.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, take not your Holy Spirit from me.

I was crying as hard as I could in my crib. No one came, and I was afraid. I cried harder, I became terrified. I was alone. Sometimes when you scream like that, your ears get plugged up, and then you can’t hear much. You’re more alone than ever. My ears plugged up.

Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and sustain me with your spirit. Let my mouth proclaim your praise.

My mother never abandoned me. Generally she followed Dr. Spock’s advice to pay close attention to how I showed her my needs. But on this day, all those good intentions mattered little, and in the afternoon sun, waking up from a nap, I screamed and screamed and no one came.

Bear recovered. Dr. King examined him and said, “Well, I don’t believe it but there are no bones broken.” We left him in the clinic while we made a memorable two week trip to North Carolina and the Outer Banks. When we got back, Bear wagged his tail harder than ever. He lived for several more years.

Richard’s family did not recover, of course, at least not in the same way. But they loved Richard into his grave, they loved Richard in his absence, they each knew how much they had been blessed by their sensitive sibling, sensitive son, year by year by year.

And I felt God’s filling of the hole in my soul. Offering my forehead for the ashes of this first day of Lent, I close my eyes and give thanks. I know no matter how I feel, I am not abandoned, I am not alone. When I watch an ambulance speeding down the street, I can pray for who is inside, and love them.

Return to me with your whole heart, says the Lord. Rend your heart and not your garments and return. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind a blessing.

(Joel, 2, Psalm 51, 2 Corinthians 5, Psalm 95, Matthew 6)

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